How one reporter helped launch his paper’s new aging section Date: 08/29/16
By Gary Rotstein
So why would an old-school, late-50s, resistant-to-digitalization-of-his-duties reporter persuade his newspaper to create a new website section focused on aging issues? And even start blogging about it.
Hmm, good question.
I’ve been covering aging issues off and on for two decades for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The beat has covered the gamut of daily stories and longer projects: nursing home problems, Alzheimer’s growth, death and dying trends — all that fun stuff.
But as with nearly every newspaper, the news hole has been shrinking along with circulation and revenue. Most stories on the beat don’t fit the this-needs-to-get-in-the-paper tomorrow mold. Pieces became increasingly likely to spend days or weeks languishing unseen.
Meanwhile, after tuning out editors’ blather for years about increasing our focus on web content, I realized that just maybe – just once – they were right.
I began thinking about how we could use our site’s infinite Internet capacity (at least I think it’s infinite – never bothered to ask anyone in IT) to post in one place not just my own stories but other content in the paper related to aging.
We also could run detailed Q&A’s with experts in the field of aging that were too long for the paper. Plus, we also could archive old stories online in some helpful, organized fashion as well as include relevant stories from The Associated Press, The New York Times and wire services for which the print edition has no room.
To make it the best one-stop shopping site for anyone caring about such things locally, we could provide our own permanent resource guide of background information, websites and phone numbers for topics such as government assistance, long-term care, dementia and health and fitness.
Editors in charge of the overall newspaper and of the website itself couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. Many had themselves recently gone through challenging issues such as finding home care or an assisted-living facility for parents. “It’s news you can use!” one gushed.
So how quickly did we bring it to fruition, considering this unusually positive inner-newsroom vibe?
Um, about a year. There were my own distractions in the way of creating necessary material, as well as a reduced IT staff that already was juggling multiple priorities A name for the section had to be determined (the managing editor eventually came up with the pithy Aging Edge) and then there were bugs during testing. The deputy managing editor for web content and I kept pushing off launch.
Finally, Aging Edge launched in last April as a “vertical” (still don’t know what that means) on our website.
Writers from the Columbia Journalism Review and Editor & Publisher called afterward and asked about reader response. I had to be honest, it hasn’t been huge. In fact, when a story in the print newspaper announced Aging Edge, a few older readers called to complain that they don’t use the Internet, so why weren’t we also giving them all this great new content in the printed pages. I politely explained the difference in available space between a newspaper and a website – though my Luddite heart actually was on their side.
Older adults are the fastest-growing users of the Internet, but starting from a base where they use it the least. But Aging Edge also is targeted to their younger relatives and caregivers who likely care about these issues too.
I don’t ask anyone on our web team about the volume of page views or clicks (or whatever). Nor do I check in with our ad reps about their success in pursuing related web ads. The dinosaur side of me prefers to focus on writing relevant stories – which still eventually find their way into the newspaper as well as online – and on managing the day-to-day packaging and content growth of Aging Edge. Until some higher-up questions whether it’s a good use of my time.
And, oh yes, and there’s also that blog to write.