The Telegraph, technology and the truth*

It took a Canadian to show the Americans how a British publication may be single-handedly saving the newspaper industry.

Open up the July issue of Vanity Fair and you’ll find an Editor’s Letter from Graydon Carter discussing a recent example of journalistic excellence at London’s daily Telegraph.The paper, which is more than 100 years old, has landed the scoop ofthe year, at least within the U.K. – it has published a detailedanalysis of the expense accounts of British Parliamentarians whichrevealed flagrant use of taxpayer money. Some MPs were forking overthousands to have odd jobs done around their house, taking care of petsand much, much worse. The Telegraph’s exclusive coverage hasled to countless government resignations, and pressure for PrimeMinister Gordon Brown to do the same.

Before it broke the scandal, however, life at the Telegraph,under the leadership of editor Will Lewis, sounded a lot like what’sgoing on at IT World Canada. “(Lewis) was also a technophile whobelieved that news was not just something you read the next morning,”Carter wrote in Vanity Fair. “He revamped the paper’s Website and got the reporters to blog, produce Webcasts, and even Twitterto bring in a broader (and younger) audience. To many in the business,it seemed the Telegraph had fallen prey to the same near-lunaticfascination with its Web site that has been bedeviling American papers,not least the Times. You might think the Telegraph was following the general battle plan for all papers going off a cliff everywhere.”

I don’t think moving online is akin to going off a cliff, nor isthere anything unusual about trying to use whatever medium possible asa journalist to serve your community. The point here is that, alongwith an emphasis on the Internet, the Telegraph also kept itsfocus on great reporting. Getting the MPs’ expense accounts involveddogged persistence, access to information requests and who knows whatelse. Poring through the data once they had it took the editorial staffmonths. The result has not merely been controversy within the Britishpublic sector, or even a surge in traffic to the Telegraph’s Website. In fact, the print edition of the paper has been flying off thenewsstands. As its credibility among its readership has increased, sohas the value of holding what it publishes in your hands. In this case,a rising tide has lifted all boats, including the one medium everyoneelse is writing off. Talk about a paper of record.

We can learn a lot at IT World Canada from the Telegraph, or even the Toronto Star, which ingeniously followed up the U.K. story by asking Canadian MPs to voluntarily hand over their own expense records.(Only four did so). We may not be trying to expose governmentcorruption, but we can do a lot more to look after our audiences’interests, whether it’s picking about the intricacies of an unfairsoftware licensing scheme, poking holes in bogus research reports orsimply following up on products or projects that were supposed tolaunch years ago but mysteriously, and quietly, evaporated.

When I attended a conference recently on search engine optimizationI hoped to learn some tricks we could use. Instead, every speaker keptcoming back to the same basic premise: if you put up good content,people and search engines will find it somehow. In our haste to simplyadd volumes of content to our Web sites we have to also make sure we’reworking on the stories that transform our communities. The best trafficis generated by valuable information. As the Telegraph is proving, instead of merely chasing page views, the media needs to be chasing the truth.

*reprinted from our employee newsletter.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Shane Schick
Shane Schick
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