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Back to print: Q&A with John Ferraro

Back to print: Q&A with John FerraroOctober 26: Amidst the media turmoil of the last several years, journalists have had to adapt to a changing environment by embracing the online world as well as the changes overtaking print media.

One such journalist is John Ferraro (pictured), who spent 10 years with The Hartford Courant and nine months with the Hartford Business Journal before joining Aol’s Patch.com as Connecticut regional editor in November 2009. A growing behemoth, Patch has taken journalism by storm as hyperlocal sites continue to pop up in communities across the country. Close to 300 currently exist, with new ones being added all the time.

Now Ferraro is making the transition back to his print-based roots. Yesterday, he rejoined The Courant as its state editor. Although based in print, Ferraro said much has changed in the short time he’s been away from the paper. In an interview with inVocus, he talked about the differences between working in a print newsroom versus a digital one, his new role, and the changes he is expecting to find in a now more digital newsroom.

KMM: How did you end up working at Patch.com?

JF: I left The Courant to edit the Hartford Business Journal and became interested in Patch after learning of its plans to expand in Connecticut.

KMM: Why did you decide to pursue online journalism?

JF: Because online news, of course, is such a big part of journalism today and will be an even greater part of journalism in the future. Patch’s model makes great sense news-wise. Providing communities with their own local news sites is a tremendous service to those towns.

KMM: What were some big changes you may have encountered switching from a print-based publication to an online one?

JF: The first and most obvious is that there is no newsroom at Patch. Editors work from home or in their town halls or libraries. You have to work harder to establish the kind of camaraderie that you find in a newsroom. You also have to be more of a jack-of-all-trades online, learning content management systems and other technical skills.

KMM: Was the pace very different between the two mediums? If so, how?

JF: The pace is different at Patch than it was at The Courant, especially during the time when the paper had 400 or so newsroom staffers and was print first and Web second. At that time, the paper had an abundance of stories each day and could really pick and choose what it wanted to run. Reporters would file stories that would sometimes hold for weeks because they would be squeezed out by other stories. Newspapers have changed since that time and they’ve moved closer to the online pace, with multiple deadlines every day and the use of social media like Twitter to provide real-time news.

KMM: What do you think are some of the benefits of working for an online publication? The benefits of working for print?

JF: Obviously, you can be more immediate and timely online. You can also track which kind of stories generate the most interest and tailor coverage to visitors’ reading patterns. Print provides the opportunity for greater depth and context.

KMM: Why did you decide to move back to a print-based publication?

JF: I don’t actually consider The Courant a print-based publication as much as a place to do journalism on a lot of levels and through multiple mediums. I will be reporting to both the print editor and the online editor. The Courant has certainly become a Web-first operation and much of my time will be devoted to providing stories for the website. But overall, this was a very personal decision that had everything to do with the kind of journalism that I enjoy most. I’ll be running the paper’s town-reporting system and its investigative desk – a combination that will result in strong local enterprise [stories] and investigative work. There are increasingly fewer news operations that have a commitment to that kind of journalism and The Courant is one of them.

KMM: What are you expecting your transition will be like when you exit Patch and head back to the Hartford Courant?

JF: Well, I’ll be going into a newsroom that I’m sure I won’t recognize. Since I left, they moved an entire television news operation – the local Fox affiliate – into the newsroom. It is one of the few newsrooms in the country with print, online and television in one place. I’ll also be faced with the challenge of helping to produce multiple stories each day for the website while helping to fill the daily paper with stories that feel fresh the next day. That’s in addition to producing enterprise and investigations.

KMM: What are you most looking forward to as you head back to a print medium?

JF: The opportunity to do strong public service and watchdog journalism and to bring some of the new-media way of looking at things to a more traditional news operation.

KMM: It’s a frequently asked question, but as someone who has worked in print and online, what do you think is the future of newspapers?

JF: I think the question really is, “what is the future of print?” I do think the short-term future is that the print product will evolve into a publication that really emphasizes its strengths – longer enterprise stories that are revelatory in nature and provide context and depth to what is offered online. Newspaper companies that understand they need to produce a strong online product will do just fine.

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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