Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent Atlantic interview with Tribune innovation guru Lee Abrams provides an unique insight. Yes, as a journalist it does scare me that someone in charge of reinventing a newspaper empire was unaware that the major papers of the group would actually have reporters in Iraq.

But, one point that probably went unnoticed is his insistence that journalists “liberate themselves” from the past. That’s a point that needs to be highlighted. Yes, as journalists we need to recognize our past and the achievements, but instead of looking at the future darkly, we should be viewing the future as a renaissance of the craft.

The internet has opened up a termendous opportunity for journalists to expand their storytelling pallete. We should realize that storytelling is no longer just words. The future journalist can utilize words, numbers, graphics, photos, videos, lists, maps, forums, and many others tools. A journalist in the new world will know how to use all these new tools, and what tools will best tell the story.

And, most importantly, the journalist will welcome reader reaction and encourage it. We are no longer the ivory tower, but the discussion moderator.

The evolution of journalism is exciting for those who embrace it. And it is also very liberating.

Whenever I told people I worked at a newspaper, they would usually respond with “I love that paper,” or, more importantly, “It’s the only paper I read.’

Nowadays, when I tell people I work at the same newspaper’s web site, they respond “I love that paper,” or “It’s the only paper I read.”

I’ll occasionally hear “I like your web site,” but what I DON’T hear is “It’s the only web site I read.”

Why is that? Why are readers loyal to print, but not so much to electronic versions?

Two things: First, customer loyalty to one brand seems to be a thing of the past. While we have favorites, we no longer stick to one brand just because “it’s always been good in the past.” For example, I love Hondas and have owned three in my lifetime. But, I currently own a Nissan. Why? When I was looking for a new car, I looked at Hondas but wasn’t satisfied with the offerings at the time. The Nissan Maxima I bought fulfilled what I was looking for, and has proven to be just as reliable as the Hondas I’ve owned in the past. But, when I buy my next car, I’ll definitely look at Hondas again. And Nissans. And any other car that fits my needs.

Second, Reading patterns have changed. The explosion of information has made us into grazers. We skim for information and pick it up in bits and pieces. We quickly digest it and move on. We graze the same spot many times, but we won’t stay there very long. Those who say “it’s the only paper I read” tend to be older readers who grew up before television, cable, and the Internet began to vie for attention.

So what does this mean to newspaper web sites? It means that even if your readers like you, they’re loyal to you ONLY when you have what they want and when they want it. It also means that, if you want your site to be viable, you have to know what your readers want, then be there when they want it. If Honda was there with a car that met what I was looking for, I’d still be driving one.

The trick is being consistent with it. Make sure your site is fresh with news and information that the reader learns that, if he come here first, he’ll get what I need. Do that, and you’ve suddenly got some loyalty…even if your reader won’t admit it.

Though it would be nice to hear “it’s the only web site I only read!”

Many years ago, I was in the newsroom when we received a unusually large gift of chocolate treats from an organization that ran a nearby festival, which we traditionally gave considerable coverage to. As my fellow journalists attacked the package in a manner akin to those starving people you see in BBC documentaries about Africa, a co-worker commented “We can’t be bought, but we CAN be rented.”

This comes to mind as I read the New York Observer’s piece about bloggers flocking to a Las Vegas conference sponsored by a lifestyle e-zine this Midwesterner has never heard of. For the cost of showing up at the airport, this group is whisking a number of bloggers to Sin City for a night and day of parties at the Mirage. No mention of panel discussions, think meetings or strategic planning that gets in the way at all those other business conferences.

Not sure what the purpose is … though I see this as a promotion junket for Thrillist and expect a lot of positive words from those bloggers on my RSS feeds over the next few weeks. Yep, can’t beat good old fashioned marketing to make a name for yourself.

In a time when bloggers are clamoring to be considered as one with the mainstream media, news like this surely doesn’t help the cause. We’ll have to see just how transparent our attending bloggers are in their postings next week. That could help set the bar as to whether bloggers can maintain the same level of ethics and credibility as the MSM, or whether they are just willing to whore themselves our to whomever provides the best party.

Or, maybe I’m just mad because I didn’t get an invitation.

Today’s flotsam:

* The Dallas Morning News, in an attempt to go after a market of non-readers, is creating a new free home-delivery paper called “Briefing.” The DMN powers-that-be suggest the paper is aimed at those who know of the full newspaper, but “don’t have time to read” the full version.

Granted, this is a more creative … and possibly feasible … variation that the PDF newspaper debuted my the San Jose Mercury News a while back. But, given the track record of free publications … many in my neighborhood either wind up in the recycling bin or, even worse, lay out at the edge of the driveway … I wonder if home delivery is the best method of delivery to customers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have it available at impulse spots, like commuter stations and convenience stores? After building an audience there, then look at home delivery.

I hope Dallas has some success with a “Headline News” version of its paper. It would be nice to see a general print product succeed, but I have my doubts about this one, also.

* I’m convinced that Tribune Company innovation guru Lee Abrams is sending his own internal memos to Jim Romenesko. His third think piece appeared this week touting all the new things being done at the Baltimore Sun. All well and good … I really like the classifieds ideas … but I hope Abrams is able to shed the “template” image he’s concerned about. The latest redesign of the Tribune’s web site is demonstrative of that, in that … aside of the label …. the company’s sites all look and feel the same.

* God bless Michael Kinsley. His response to Tribune Company’s Sam Zell and Randy Michaels on measuring journalists’ productivity through inch counts is masterfully and verbosely done in his latest Slate entry.

* The Tribune’s Ft.Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel is eliminating its managing editor position after the current M.E. retires at the end of July. Is this an innovation Lee Abrams can lay claim to?

As you know, I’ve given Sam Zell and his crew the benefit of a doubt as they try to bring the Tribune Company out of its stuffed-shirt spiral and into a model of success in the media industry. However, I’m concerned whether their latest plan steps across the line from innovation to insanity.

Granted, the plan to reduce newspaper pages and newshole makes economic sense. If you’re bleeding profusely, you need to apply a tourniquet, then turn it tightly. This is an economic tourniquet designed to stop the bleeding of revenue from fewer ads and declining readership. Hopefully, when times get better and the bleeding stops, it can be removed.

However, the idea of measuring productivity is a major concern, and could get into cutting out muscle instead of fat. Plans are underway to measure journalists’ productivity by how many stories appear in the paper. Those who produce a lot of stories, the bosses say, are safe. Those who do not, they add, should start to sweat.

First off, the idea of measuring a reporter’s work by the number of stories they write is nothing new. Many newspapers have done byline count for a long time. And, as a manager who has done that on occasion, it does provide a decent reference to what the writer has done over time.

However, if the byline count is the ONLY measure, then you run into problems. You are measuring quantity, and not quality , of the work. So, using this as a measure, you can easily say that the staffer who compiled your sports agate page every night is producing far more than an investigative reporter who pieces together an expose or interpretative story every month, or even your most popular staff columnist who write two to three times a week.

All three serve a purpose to the paper and to its readers. Saying one is more productive than the others in terms of inch count is lunacy. There needs to be other checks and balances put in place to assure that “productivity” includes how the person uses their time to develop the results they put forth, and not just the results alone. In my mind, the person who is always networking, always researching, always checking facts and turning those into solid, interesting and readable stories is the most valuable person in my organization.

So, can Sam Zell and Randy Michaels stand there and say that the Trib’s agate person is more valuable to the organization than Eric Zorn or Maurice Possley? For the sake of the company’s future, I certainly hope not.

And, we’ve seen a lot of draconian talk from the chiefs. Granted, draconian is necessary in today’s climate. But, for the sake of the Tribune Comapany and those of us who are yearning for a success story, let’s hear and see more innovation. Let’s hear from Zell and Michaels about things beoing done to regenrate the newspaper company, not ratchet it down more and more!

Enough with the tourniquets already!

Mike Miner’s excellent Hot Type column in the Chicago Reader this week focuses on comments made by veteran Tribune staffers toward the company management. One of those staffers, writer Rick Kogan, reflects that all this talk about reinvention should not forget that “it’s all about the word.”

While I’ve always admired Kogan and his work, he should realize that in the new world, it’s about the “story” more than the “word.” There are great stories out there that can be better told through other means — like video — and journalists need to be aware that words are now just one tool in their storytelling pallete. Specialization is a thing of the past, so good journalists must learn how to use words, video, still images and illustrations to effectively tell the story in an informative and compelling way.

Also, the new bosses at TribCo may be a bit off kilter, but you’ve got to give them credit for shaking off the moss that has enveloped the Tower. Frankly, they’re doing their job of sparking discussion and debate among the staff, and hopefully through that the Trib will find a way to survive and thrive.

Frankly, I think the entire newspaper industry could use a few more Sam Zells to pull its head out of the sand and realize they must change and adapt with demands of the new readers.

More insight on Rob Curley’s departure from the Washington Post and the potential fate of his hyperlocal products, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

I think WSJ’s tack on this story is a bit premature, but it does look as if the Post was expecting “Field of Dreams” success of LoudounExtra and the forthcoming Faifax County hyperlocal site. But, as Curley notes in the article, that just doesn’t happen. Community journalism has to be promoted heavily and continuously, otherwise it becomes a passing fancy. Doesn’t sound like the Post wants to make that kind of commitment, and so another of Curley’s creations is left withering on the vine.