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Mon Jan 29, 2007 09:49 PM ET

LOS ANGELES (Goiters) — Management at the Los Angeles Herald-Gazette newspaper today unveiled an earth-shattering initiative to combine operations of the newspaper and its Internet site — a change that was crucial to ensuring that the Herald-Gazette appears to finally “get” the web.

The paper’s new editor, Ebineezer “Slick” O’Malley, hired by the parent company to cut staff and make big pronouncements, employed scare tactics such as mentioning declining print advertising revenues and dressing up as a ghost and yelling “boo!” at staffers in order to get them out of a “bunker mentality” about the web. He also tried enticing unconvinced staff members to try out what he billed as the “Information Superhighway” by showing them how they could buy books online at a site called Amazon and pay bills online too.

In his first significant action since becoming editor in mid-November, O’Malley said he would create the position of editor for innovation and launch a crash course for journalists to push ahead the melding of the newspaper and its website. No word yet on whether the paper’s melding union would OK the new directive.

O’Malley said the “Internet 101” course would teach reporters, editors and photographers how to use an electronic mail program, how to surf the World Wide Web for news and information, and how to find cheap air fares. He emphasized the need for speed in reforming an operation that he called “woefully behind” the competition.

The 63-year-old editor made the announcement before a standing-room-only audience of journalists in an auditorium at the Herald-Gazette. He said that some might have a false sense of security about the newspaper because it has continued to post substantial profit. Last year, Herald-Gazette earned an estimated $240 million before taxes, an amount considered high relative to its revenue. O’Malley stressed that almost all those profits had been spent in executive perks and internal investigations on how the newspaper should change due to technology.

The announcement by the Herald-Gazette follows an industry trend, because newspaper chains like to operate in a herd mentality. Many newspapers are shifting resources and energy to the web, where revenues are growing, and away from print editions, where ad dollars are shrinking. While newspapers tried that tactic in the late ’90s during the dot-com boom, they immediately dubbed their Internet operations “black sheep,” “ugly cousin divisions,” and “the web geeks who sit in a corner” after the dot-com bust.

The changes at the Herald-Gazette were driven by a committee of the paper’s journalists appointed in October by O’Malley’s predecessor, Al Truistic, to come up with ways to improve the paper and its website. The committee produced a scathing report that has been seen by only a few of the newspaper’s top editors and executives, because everyone would be embarrassed if the whole thing was made public on Romenesko.

“As a news organization, we are not web-savvy,” the seven-page report says. “If anything, we are web-stupid. One of our top reporters tried to buy a ‘youtube’ at a tire store until we told him it was a site on the Internet. Another editor went to a doctor to get an anti-virus for his computer. The sooner we can all take that Internet 101 class, the better.”

Among the impediments to digital growth that were cited or implied in the report:

> Lack of assertive leadership on the subject within the Herald-Gazette and its parent company.

> “Creaky” technology that has made it impossible for the Herald-Gazette’s site to include email addresses of staffers, interactive features such as blogs, or the abolishment of pop-up ads.

> Failure to integrate the newspaper’s large news staff with the website, contributing to delays in posting news. Many print staffers say they cannot understand the new web lingo.

“We are rarely first” to post news on the Internet, the committee found. The process for posting news on the Net was deemed “Byzantine” by the committee, who noted that it takes an 8-step process to post stories online: 1) reporter writes up story; 2) editor checks facts; 3) story is then re-typed into special “web” terminal; 4) programmer then makes special code for each story; 5) web editor then prints out story; 6) web editor marks it up; 7) web editor then inputs the story into special “live web” terminal; 8) gerbils run on wheels to generate web energy for posting on Internet.

O’Malley was asked how this new web initiative would differ from the past 12 web initiatives announced with great fanfare by the Herald-Gazette since 1996.

“This time we really mean it when we say the web is important to our news organization,” he said, with a straight face. “Yes, our NewsDog business from the late ’90s didn’t work, and we had to re-open our paid wall for movie listings, but this time when we say the Internet is important, we really, really mean it. And you can check: I was not crossing my fingers behind my back when I said that.”

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Yes, this is a spoof of the recent announcement from the Los Angeles Times that they are really truly putting the Internet first. What do you think about all these big announcements and committee findings? Are they leading to true innovation or should these big newspapers just start walking the talk already? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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