12:46 pm Oct. 5, 2012
In the war between New York City's two daily tabloids—the New York Post and the Daily News—there's one battle that's been a rout: the battle for the web.
Maybe that's why a group of editors from the Post were called to a country club in Garrison, N.Y. on Saturday, Sept. 29, for an all-day "off-site," according to multiple people with knowledge of the meeting.
The location was remarkable for being the same Hudson Valley hamlet that's home to one of the News Corp. family's most powerful consiglieres: Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
Sources however had few details about what exactly happened there. But several said the meeting was meant to educate Post editors about the importance of the web, a platform which digital editor Remy Stern has been trying to make more of a priority in the face of old-guard tabloid hands for whom print will always be the only medium that matters.
One source said various Wall Street Journal editors were on-hand to assist in the teaching session. Others confirmed that Alan Murray, the Journal's deputy managing editor and executive online editor, was one of them. (The Journal, like the Post and Fox News, is owned by News Corp.)
But that's about all we know. Stern did not respond to requests for comment, and spokespeople for the Post and the Journal had nothing to add when reached by phone this week.
The Post, with its almost universally loathed website, is competing with a Daily News that is several years ahead of it now in terms of retooling for online, and which has been further energized by the appointment of Colin Myler, himself a Post/News Corp. veteran, as editor in chief.
Within News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch's orbit, there's been talk of improving the Post's web operation for some time now. Back in March, longtime Murdoch lieutenant Jesse Angelo, editor of iPad newspaper The Daily, became more involved in the direction of nypost.com. The following month, Angelo roped Stern, a former Gawker editor, as a consultant.
Stern was hired full-time in August, since which time he's been "more forceful," as one Post insider put it, about "making sure reporters and editors are working with the website," which is manned by a staff of roughly 20, including web editors (never more than three or four on duty at any given time), video people and developer types.
But there's been resistance: Many Posties would still prefer to hold their stories for the next day's print edition rather than put them up online as soon as they've been finished. Ironically this is largely for fear that if their versions of the stories go public before press time, the News and other venues might be able to match their "exclusives."
At the News, meanwhile, following the repositioning in July of its homepage as a nationally-focused website called Daily News America, traffic surged 21.6 percent to 19.1 million unique U.S. visitors in August from 15.7 million in June, according to comScore. (The Daily News America totals include traffic for the website of sister title U.S. News & World Report.)
U.S. traffic to nydailynews.com alone for the month of August was 13.6 million, up from 9.9 million in August 2011, according to comScore. Traffic to nypost.com, on the other hand, fell to 5.8 million in August from 6.7 million a year earlier.
Myler's new strategy, implemented with the help of his new digital deputy, fellow Briton and Fleet Street alumnus Ted Young, has resulted in a redesigned, click-baiting, photo-heavy homepage with plenty of celebrity beach-body slideshows, news of the weird, video bloopers and second-hand celebrity gossip.
With this strategy the News has found a way to repurpose national viral stories (like the case of University of Tennessee student Xander Broughton, accused of "butt-chugging") and has been generally more successful getting tomorrow's print stories out over the web in advance (though News staffers will note that there is still tension between print editors and the web folks to this day).
In the other corner: Cluttered and difficult to navigate, nypost.com is long overdue for a redesign. Some insiders have heard an overhaul was supposed to be on schedule to happen before the end of this year, but has been delayed. The site did get a "refresh" recently, resulting in new article pages with a quicker load time. But it still has a long way to go compared to the sleek makeover of its main competitor.
As for Stern's mission to get the old-media people more on board with the web, that also looks like it will be an uphill battle.
"It seems unlikely that any of those editors will ever comply with that notion," said a former staffer. "At the Post, the paper comes first. Period."
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