The websites for the Inquirer and Daily News will shut down in December, leaving Philly.com as the sole website distributing the journalism of the two papers.
“In December, we will fold the Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com sites back into Philly.com, our flagship digital brand,” journalists at Interstate General Media, which owns all three entities, were told in a memorandum today. “What this means is that the standalone newspaper-branded sites will no longer exist and will instead redirect readers to Philly.com, where users will find Inquirer and Daily News journalism featured more prominently and have access to branded Inquirer and Daily News section fronts that represent the editorial voice and judgment of the newspapers.”
The announcement came just a year and a half after the websites launched, but they ran into trouble immediately. The problems? They were hidden behind tough paywalls meant to generate digital income for the papers — but users could only access the sites if they had a digital subscription, or a subscription to the papers, or had a daily access code. (Other major papers had easier-to-navigate paywalls that permitted readers an occasional free story.) That might’ve succeeded, but virtually all the content from both papers remained free for the reading at Philly.com.
The websites had backtracked from their hard paywall approach in recent months, letting users read stories available through social media links on Twitter and Facebook, but the change was apparently too little, too late.
This marks at least the second time the websites for the papers have been shut down in favor of a unified effort at Philly.com. All three sites existed separately at recently as 2010, but Philly.com became the single digital voice for the organization as it moved out of bankruptcy during that time.
But the new effort appears to be accompanied by some journalistic muscle: IGM will create a “universal” breaking news desk comprised of journalists from all three entities. “This will make us more efficient and responsive, particularly in the traffic-heavy morning and afternoon hours,” the memo said.
The full memorandum is below.
From: Tevis, Jonathan P.
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2014 12:00 PM
To: All IGM Employees
Subject: Announcement on Behalf of Our Digital and Editorial Leadership
To All Employees:
We’d like to share with you some significant steps we’re taking to unify our digital efforts across the company. Our goal is to simplify and enrich user experience and produce more innovative digital content. This marks the first phase of what will be an aggressive approach to growing audience engagement and digital revenue by improving the quality of the region’s most-visited website, Philly.com.
In December, we will fold the Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com sites back into Philly.com, our flagship digital brand. What this means is that the standalone newspaper-branded sites will no longer exist and will instead redirect readers to Philly.com, where users will find Inquirer and Daily News journalism featured more prominently and have access to branded Inquirer and Daily News section fronts that represent the editorial voice and judgment of the newspapers.
We also will begin reimagining the Philly.com experience over the coming months, with an eye toward improving usability, showcasing visual journalism and promoting distinctive voices and unique content from all three newsrooms and beyond.
As we embark on this aggressive path, we are making some significant moves to speed up the process:
n The online technology team, directed by Nadya Tan, will play a lead role in realizing both this initial transition and subsequent feature and functionality advancements on Philly.com. This group will supply the development muscle necessary to streamline and improve both our outward-facing products and our internal user interfaces and workflows.
n We will accelerate our efforts to build a universal breaking news desk that will be staffed with journalists from all three newsrooms. This will make us more efficient and responsive, particularly in the traffic-heavy morning and afternoon hours. We will be posting a breaking news editor position in the coming days, and we expect the desk to continue to evolve in the coming weeks.
n We are actively recruiting for several key positions, including a digital design director, audience development director and infographics and data visualization specialist, all with the aim of improving the news experience on Philly.com. They will join another new addition to the staff, Erica Palan, who is helping us focus and coordinate social media efforts across the organization.
n Frank Wiese, a driving force in the creation and evolution of Inquirer.com, will become Director of News Experience, a role that will take full advantage of his visual journalism background and his expertise in editorial workflow and user-centered design. Frank has produced many of the Inquirer’s best digital presentations since arriving here in 2009. He was a key member of the Assault on Learning team that won the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service in 2012.
There will be many more changes to roles and responsibilities as we move ahead. To help navigate that, and to facilitate communication across teams, we have launched a digital steering committee composed of representatives from the three newsrooms, as well as systems, product, circulation, sales, marketing and finance. Along with the editors of the three newsrooms, this group will keep the rest of the company apprised of our digital progress.
And because this is a team effort involving people across the organization, we will be providing opportunities for all members of the staff to share ideas, best practices and to learn new digital skills. This engagement and training is one of the most important components of our one-website strategy, as we strive for more innovative ways to present our news reports.
It is important to acknowledge the enormous amount of hard work that’s gone into producing both Inquirer.com, which introduced a mobile-friendly responsive design and pushed innovative digital storytelling formats, and PhillyDailyNews.com. We intend to take inspiration from our experiences on both sites as we reimagine and upgrade Philly.com, which remains one of the nation’s largest newspaper websites with potential for further growth as we expand our web and mobile content offerings.
For now, these changes mean the web paywalls will go away, though the very popular Inquirer and Daily News replica edition apps will continue to exist as premium products for our paid subscribers. We are still assessing the possibility of a future premium content model for Philly.com; however, we want to be 100 percent certain we are giving users a premium digital experience they’ll be happy to pay for before we consider making any change of this kind.
You are invited to join us today in the Public Space at 2 p.m. or 5 p.m. as we provide more insight and answers to your questions about these first steps. Our doors are open and we’re happy to talk individually as well.
Thanks in advance for your ideas, your feedback and your efforts as we unite behind this important initiative.