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A Newspaper Chain Sees Its Future, And It's Online and Hyper-Local

Chuck Myron is one of more than a dozen
Chuck Myron is one of more than a dozen "mobile journalists" -- mojos -- for the Fort Myers News-Press. He doesn't have an office or even a cubicle, so his car is his newsroom. The paper's parent company, Gannett, hopes the mojos' local focus will drive readers to its community-specific Web sites. (By Frank Ahrens -- The Washington Post)

The newsroom has mixed opinions of the new ways. Many are enthusiastic. "There is so much more creative energy than we can harness into actual journalism so far," said managing editor Cindy McCurry-Ross. Others are irked by such practices as mojos posting stories directly to the Web without editing -- a breach of newspaper editing protocol.

"It makes me crazy," said Gale Baldwin, a News-Press assistant managing editor and newspaper veteran. "But I grit my teeth because I know that things are changing."

Some staffers, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, worry that the zeal to feed the Web with fresh material has led to publishing "fluff" in addition to news. They recalled one recent incident in which Marymont walked through the newsroom and strongly noted that the Web site had not posted any fresh material in three hours, and urged them to publish something quickly.

Though the News-Press has largely been insulated from the industry's travails, it has not been immune. The paper showed a circulation decline this year, and Marymont must eliminate three staff positions by the end of the year to meet the budget set by Gannett headquarters in McLean. The paper has offered buyouts to older staffers.

Are readers buying the changes?

On the one hand, the News-Press Web site had grown from an average of 58,000 unique visitors per week in 2002 to 140,000 per week so far this year. Traffic to the paper's community micro-sites in August-October of this year is up 106 percent over the corresponding period last year. Carol Hudler, the paper's publisher, said it's too early to tell if the changes have made a material impact on the paper's revenue.

On the other hand, none of the sources Myron dealt with in two assignments on consecutive days seemed to grasp that what he was reporting and writing about them would go to the News-Press Web site.

"They ask me, 'When's what you wrote about me going to be in the paper?' " Myron said. "I have no good answer."

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