With many newspapers in a state of free-fall as far as their readership numbers go, it is interesting as well as entertaining to watch how they attempt to combat that situation. In the case of some such as my hometown newspaper, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the effort to adjust to the new realities of the Web is both awkward as well as laughable. As I pointed out in an earlier NewsBusters blog, the Sun-Sentinel came up with the idea of a "blob" called "The Slant." Here is a description of this "exciting" new feature by editor Earl Maucker:
To take advantage of the web capabilities, our editorial page editors created "The Slant", a blob [sic] devoted to opinion and commentary that goes well beyond what we offer on our printed editorial and commentary pages.
Well it's been almost two months since that "blob" went into effect and the result has been nothing but ennui. Comments from readers rarely number more than a couple for each item posted. Not yet finished in the boredom department, Mr. Earl has come up with another pearl for The Slant---Dueling Columnists. Maucker proudly made the announcement a few days ago:
Effective next week, we will launch a new feature on this page where two columnists with opposing views will square off on a local topic of public interest.
These two sophisticated and talented writers bring decades of South Florida experience and will offer their views in a format we think will be fun, thought-provoking and informative.
"For the Editorial Board, the Dueling Columnists is an opportunity to draw readers into a much more interactive discussion," said Antonio Fins, our editorial page editor. "After reading the point/counter point, readers will be able to sound off on the Board's blog, The Slant, and post their own viewpoints."
Perhaps my reading skills aren't up to par but to me this sounded like two columnists going (dueling) at each other over various issues. The sad reality turned out to be nothing but two separate articles by the "dueling" columnists on the same topic. They didn't even mix it up with each other at all. Perhaps that debate concept is a bit too daring for a standard MSM newspaper although it is very common on the Web.
Don't hold your breath, Mr. Maucker, over this "Dueling Columnists" shtick inducing much of any reader reaction. It appears to be about as inspiring as the rest of "The Slant" blob. This whole effort by the Sun-Sentinel to adjust to that Internet "thingie" brings to mind a middle aged father trying to act hip for his kids by growing muttonchop sideburns, wearing bellbottom pants, and plugging in a lava lamp.
If the Sun-Sentinel really wants to make waves, they would have one of their columnists duel in a real debate with someone like conservative local talk radio host Steve Kane. Oh, and dump that idea of merely linking to separate columns. Have them actually DEBATE each other. You might also be really daring and post a video of such a debate on the Sun-Sentinel website. You see, online video is another important element of that Internet thingie that you so desperately but awkwardly want to embrace.