So it was interesting to listen to Mickey Ciokaljo, community editor of the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Gazette, part of MLive Media Group, speak to the Kalamazoo Rotary about the venerable newspaper’s experience in emphasizing digital ahead of print.
Ciokaljo—pronounced “chi-KY-loh,” in case you wondered—explained that the incredible growth of information resources through the World Wide Web has forced newspapers to change.
“The old model eroded beneath our feet,” he explained. Two years ago, when the Gazette embraced digital-first, he characterized it like this: “We’re building the Ark, and it’s raining.”
“News is still part of the landscape, but there is so much other information out there,” Ciokaljo said. It prompted a fundamental rethinking of the Gazette’s mission, which is now about creating “an economically sustainable model that will serve our community with quality local journalism for years to come.”
Ciokaljo said the digital-first model has allowed the Gazette to do some things differently and other things that print alone didn’t offer:
Breaking news. “The Internet put us back in the breaking-news game,” he said—but better than before. When Sarkozy Bakery, a beloved local business, was destroyed by fire in 2012, the Gazette was able to post stories, updates and photos during the fire and in the aftermath, which in turn fed comprehensive coverage in the print version the next day. Ciokaljo also pointed out that the Gazette’s print-honed practice of “sticking with the story” kept it covering Sarkozy’s recovery all the way to the opening of a new bakery this year.
In-depth journalism. The decline of print has raised the concern that investigative and enterprise journalism would fall off as well. Ciokaljo begs to differ; he pointed out recent Gazette stories—the Portage Public Schools superintendent search that might have violated the Open Meetings Act, the coverage of infant mortality rates in Kalamazoo County, and juvenile arrest rates in the region—prove that the 177-year-old news provider still pursues in-depth journalism.
Community engagement. Gazette reporters are expected to engage in dialogue with readers who comment online. Because some stories generate a lot of feedback—not all of it constructive—that’s a significant time investment on top of their regular assignments. The Gazette also hosts live chats with newsmakers and provides opportunities for quick rebuttals to its editorial stands.
In Ciokaljo’s view, digital-first isn’t an option, or at least it isn’t if one expects a newspaper to survive in the 21st century. Not everyone is convinced, though. Ciokaljo fielded at least one pointed comment lamenting the decline in certain news items covered more robustly in the print-only past. And based on recent studies, the print model is far from dead.
As I’ve stated before, I think the argument between platforms is less about “that vs. this” as it is about finding the right balance. I’m not sure any news outlet on the planet, including MLive, has struck that balance quite yet. Indeed, I’m not sure anyone really knows what that balance is. But I commend Ciokaljo and his team for continuing the effort in a thoughtful, journalistic manner.