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Friday, December 17, 2004

Mr. Velveeta

Some people just can't take a joke. But today I met someone who can.

Kevin Cosgrove is the editor-in-chief of OregonLive.com, the well known website owned and operated by the same folks who bring us The Oregonian. From time to time, folks in the local blogosphere rag on that site pretty hard. Most of the criticism has to do with the difficulty readers have getting at the content of the newspaper via the site. And even when bloggers find something good on it and blog about it, we tend to take a slap at the site in passing.

Not too far back, while mentioning a good blog hosted by OregonLive, I called it and the paper "all the same Velveeta to me."

Cosgrove promptly sent me an e-mail message entitled "Mr. Velveeta here." Next thing I knew, he and I were having lunch together (his treat -- my second blatant conflict of interest in a single day) and discussing various aspects of the blogosphere, his site included.

My conclusion? OregonLive's current state reflects major, major corporate politics. The Advance (formerly Newhouse) publishing empire is feeling its way into the digital age very slowly, being careful to come up with a platform from which all the players in its multi-faceted operation can work together smoothly. It's a daunting task. And of course, the tight-fisted, closely held giant is not about to buy a system from Microsoft if it thinks it can devise one on its own.

So don't expect OregonLive to look like The New York Times site any time soon, or ever for that matter. But expect it to improve, slowly but surely.

Thanking Cosgrove for lunch, I vowed not to call him Mr. Velveeta any more. No, no, he said, please do.

My kind of guy.

Comments (16)

I'm sure Mr. Cosgrove is charming and well-meaning. The site, and all its close kin (a number of newspapers run the same one) are horrible.

That is much less an issue than that, in my view at any rate, The Oregonian functions like a stingy gatekeepers of the news of area business and government to its lowly citizens whom it feels entitled to spoonfeed on what it determines a "need to know" basis.

The paper has always been criticized as being dull. That, too, is much the lesser complaint. I heard many people note, over the last three years, that the biweekly Tribune was both more entertaining and more informative.

I'm not the person to make it, but I believe a strong case could be made that the Oregonian serves the public, and its own journalistic role, spectacularly poorly even in an era of lowered expectations. No improved website will do anything to remedy that.

I don't know if he made this clear, but that site is identical to many other newspapers across the country -- meaning, it must be some kind of "off the shelf" newspaper site template. It is surprising that a newspaper that large would stay with something that low-tech and clumsy for that long, but it's not like they're the only one, though they may be the largest, I don't know.

They should take a serious look at the Seattle PI site, which was brilliant before its fairly recent makeover and still is. It's a joy to use.

I'm well aware that there are a half-dozen or so Advance/Newhouse sites, and they all look the same (Kraft American slices from the same package, perhaps). My old hometown gets nj.com, for example, which is a dead ringer for OregonLive.

The technology is all controlled by the Advance folks on the East Coast. The news content, of course, is controlled by The Oregonian newspaper, which is about a 10-minute walk from where the OregonLive staff sits and is technically a separate entity. In several ways, then, the website is betwixt and between.

Okay, so first you've sold out to Marquis and now you've sold out to the Oregonian. How many more folks do you have to sell out to before you are a certified prostitute?

Just kidding, of course, but I thought it might be fun for you to see what it feels like from the other side, where everything you do is subject to criticism from people who would rather question your motives than deal with the substance of what you are doing or supporting.

Jack, I asked myself the same question, and I have no doubt that some readers feel that way. I prefer to think of myself as a high-class "call blogger."

Nice touch. Now I wonder what that makes us, your regular customers?

On the Internet, Portland has no local daily newspaper. I envy other mid-sized cities. Compare p-i.com, honoluluadvertiser.com, denverpost.com, sltrib.com, sacbee.com, spokesmanreview.com, signonsandiego.com. These sites provide the function of a newspaper in the Internet age.

Newhouse is doing the absolute minimum they can get away with in order to protect the printed-paper version of their product. For the Internet, they've created "portals" like OregonLive and cleveland.com -- a concept that was dead at least 5 years ago. Please, Newhouse, give us a "newspaper" not a "portal" with news as an afterthought.

(By the way -- ever try to access OregonLive late at night? You'll get some very weird HTML instead of news.)

Jack, this guy is the editor-in-chief? Aren't editors supposed to edit? Here are some headlines from todays Oregonian (online version):

  • "HIGH PRIORITY" (sic) (story is a run-on sentence followed by a phone number to call for flu shots)
  • "Tomato outlook peachier A supply shortage that sent prices soaring this fall is easing" (sic)
  • "Holiday gifts worth their weight in gold -- or silver"
  • "Holiday gifts worth their weight in gold -- or silver" (twice in a row)

"Nice touch. Now I wonder what that makes us, your regular customers?"

Uh ..... rich?

Local football heros, the Linfield Wildcats from McMinnville, won the NCAA Division III championship today. Go Wildcats!!!!!

alumn '92

Actually, the best local newspaper sites I've ever used is the Arizona Republic's -- it's maddeningly simple to navigate and have integrated print news, TV news from the local NBC affiliate, and classifieds and entertainment, all gathered together. The best part is that it's even laid out to demonstrate a hierarchy of headlines. It's also a reasonably attractive newspaper site.

In short, it's nothing like the Oregonian's site. I know it's not their fault (sort of), but still. When even the Tribune's website is better than yours is...

I've met Kevin before, too. Nice guy (I met him before he was EIC at Oregonlive -- I think he was the sports guy or something). I've actually talked with several people not only on the newsroom staff at the Oregonian but on the O-Live staff who all said the same thing: There's a pile of political BS that goes on there and that's why they will always be well behind everybody else when it comes to their Web site.

It does not matter at all how nice he is -- or isn't! It's all about the job the website does, and the job the newspaper does.

The biggest irritation of having such a bad website is that one almost must read The Oregonian. As bad as it is, it adds injury to insult to have to pay for it.

Not that they likely care, but the poor website probably just decreases readership a whole lot more than it increases subscriber rates.

If anyone wants to send me suggestions - apart from make it look like the Arizona Republic - about what kind of local news you want, do.

Jack, since I find myself posting on your site this week, I thought I'd pass this along about Velveeta.

Your Mr. Velveeta remark reminds me of a line that Alfred Lubrano once used in a restaurant review: it was the kind of place that served "Velveeta with honor."

He's used it a number of times since. I always loved that line.

And, heck, as I'm posting, might as well take the obligatory swipe, too. Oregonlive has been terrible for as long as I can remember.

Agreed, but the problem is in New York, not in Oregon. And they know it's bad, so there's hope.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Mr. Velveeta:

» Please ignore the Man behind the curtain. Or not. from BlueOregon
As I wander around the state, there are folks who think the Oregonian is too liberal - and there are folks who think the Oregonian is too conservative. But the one thing that all readers of the Big O agree [Read More]

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