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Ronald Dupont Jr.
General manager of Web publishing
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Personal Web page of Ron Dupont
Web site of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times
Ronald Dupont Jr.
Ronald Dupont Jr.
general manager of Web publishing
St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times
What inspired you to become a journalist?
Believe it or not, my first interest in journalism came in 6th grade of elementary school when my teacher asked my class to write reports on a current event, based on what we could find in magazines and newspapers. For the first time, I intensely read newspapers and magazines. I fell in love with the whole idea of being a globe-trotting journalist.
I remember thinking, "Wow, they get to travel all over the place and they get paid to do it."
The following year, I joined my middle school newspaper and by 8th grade, I was writing a column for a weekly newspaper.
My true love of journalism, though, began in 9th grade when I signed up for Jay Linksman's journalism course. He had us writing stories nearly every day and kept instilling into us the importance of accuracy and balance. Only then did I begin to realize the good that a newspaper can do in the community. And that's when I made up my mind that journalism would be the career I would choose.
How did you train for your current job?
I have the wonderful opportunity of running the Internet department at the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. That means I get to work with the editors, artists and computer programmers who create the Web site on a daily basis. I also work with the advertising reps who sell the ads and listings that appear in our site.
My job also has me working and interacting with virtually every department and every corner of the newspaper. The newspaper Web site -- in order to flourish -- must have the cooperation of the newsroom, information technology, advertising, marketing and even circulation. It is a wonderful team-up.
So how I did I train for this? Well, there certainly was no course labeled "How to Run an Internet Department." My training actually has come over time from many different sources.
My earliest training came in high school when I first learned to use a modem. In my journalism class around 1981, we used a modem to transmit copy to the printer. You can see a photo of me using a TRS 80 computer and modem in high school at: http://www.ronald-dupont.com/modem.htm
After graduating from high school, I continued to be interested in modems and online bulletin boards and the like. Then came Prodigy and America Online, both of which I joined right away.
While all this was going on, I continued my journalism career as a reporter and an editor. I learned how to work with all sorts of people with different backgrounds, talents and aspirations.
In 1995, while serving as city editor of the Sun Herald in Charlotte Harbor, Fla., the newspaper began considering creating a Web site. Because I already was familiar with the Internet and had organizational skills and could work with a diverse group of people, I was asked if I would like to join the newly created Internet department as the Internet Editor.
I even created my own personal Web site, which actually gets roughly 40,000 pageviews a month. It's at: http://www.ronald-dupont.com
During my 3-year stint as Internet editor at the Sun Herald, the site was named the best of its size class in the country a few times. That's when the St. Petersburg Times, came a-calling.
Even now -- after nearly six years in Internet departments -- my training is not complete, nor will it ever be. My background is mainly on the newsroom side so I'm regularly learning business skills and have the wonderful -- and I do mean wonderful -- opportunity to learn how the other departments of the newspaper work.
When I was at the Sun Herald, my manager, Debbie Dunn-Rankin, once said that everything we do in the Internet department is "set in Jell-O" because things can change so quickly.
That's how I feel about my training and even my career. The Web is an ever-evolving creature that requires those using it to learn new skills and adapt. That's why makes this occupation so much fun.
Do a lot of people outside of the Tampa Bay area check out http://www.sptimes.com?
Roughly 80 percent of our visitors are local. A lot of newspapers like to boast that they have a high percentage of non-local readers visiting their respective Web sites. And while it's good for the ego to know that people worldwide are looking at your Web site, we strive to attract the local readers.
It goes back to the newsroom mantra, "Local, local, local." And the same is true with newspaper Web sites. We must do the right things in order to get our local Internet populations signing on to our Web sites on a regular basis. If we do that, then we can convince local advertisers that we are the logical choice to advertise online. And if we have the local market captured, the national advertisers will follow, just as they do with the print product.
How closely do you work with the editors of the St. Petersburg Times print edition?
Our online editors sit with the print editors each day in the newsroom's regular daily meetings. We also work together on major projects. In fact, just recently, the series of stories on the presidential election vote controversy in Florida appeared online the night before it ran in print.
We're working on making our relationship even closer. As the technology improves in the newsroom, the editors will be able to put material online pretty quickly with the click of a few buttons.
Instead of just one deadline a day, the Web site is constantly updated. How does the staff handle the pressure?
Good question. We always have been under the day-to-day pressure of having to update the site throughout the day. But between the election controversy last year, the Sept. 11 attacks this year, plus the regular arrival of hurricanes that we get, the expectations of our readers have grown.
Our readers want more than just the latest news. They want video, graphics and analysis. The pressure on the staff -- on the artists, editors and programmers -- can be intense.
In order to give folks relief, we have done some creative scheduling and have urged staffers to use their vacation time and personal leave time in a judicious manner. It's also important for us to not to try to take our jobs home with us.
We try not to watch the news all night long; we try not to stay awake half the night, coming up with site improvement ideas. But it's difficult.
Working at a newspaper is something that gets in your blood. You often become news junkies and workaholics. It's hard to let go of something that you love -- even if for just a short time.
The key is balance.
What do you think the average daily newspaper Web site will look like in five years? What will you be able to do that you can't now?
Yikes. I barely know what a Web site will look like a year from now, much less five years. My educated guess is that newspaper sites will be far more customized to individual readers -- via the use of computer "cookies."
We call it the "audience of one."
Have you ever wondered why so many people make MyYahoo.com their home page? It's because you can customize nearly every aspect of that page, from what news you want to see to what colors you want displayed on the page.
I think newspapers, more than ever, will let people customize what they want to see. Of course, this will pose problems for newspapers. After all, we want to be able to say which news will ALWAYS be on the front page.
For example, let's say that somebody customized their page and said they only wanted local news and never wanted to hear about national or international news. Well, such a person never would have heard about the Sept. 11 attacks on their customized Web site.
Newspaper Web sites five years from now also will have far more video and interactivity as more of the country gets wired with high speed telephone and cable lines.
On the advertising side, newspapers likely will become the source for local e-commerce. If you're thinking of buying a lawn mower, you'll be able to go to a newspaper Web site and type "lawn mower" into a search field and get every classified and every display ad with the words "lawn mower" in them, as well as a listing of every business with a lawn mower in its inventory.
Yes, you read that right -- newspapers will get into the business of putting the inventories of local businesses online. Newspapers will take a cut of the action -- via e-commerce -- and businesses will love the exposure that newspapers give them.
Do you think there will always be print newspapers or will younger people grow accustomed to getting news only online?
I get asked this question more than any other. (The second most-asked question is, "Are you turning a profit yet?")
I don't think the print product will go away anytime in my lifetime. There is still something special about the tactile feeling of having a newspaper in your hands. And let's face it -- no matter what age we are, we all get sore eyes reading anything of length online.
Remember how your parents always said to never sit too close to the TV? Well, what do you do when you surf the Internet? You're sitting closer and longer to a monitor than you ever did with a TV.
On the flip side, though, as more businesses go to the Internet to advertise and sell their goods, we'll see newspapers get smaller simply because there will be fewer ads. Maybe we'll see newspapers go to smaller stories, with the longer versions online.
What advice do you have for aspiring journalists who want to work online?
Believe it or not, my advice is to NOT to train to work online. Instead, train to be a journalist -- period. It doesn't matter whether your material appears in the print product, online or on wireless, the basic rules of fairness and accuracy still apply.
Work on writing great leads; work on keeping the reader enthralled from beginning to end; work on having superior reporting skills. Later, you can learn to adapt your writing talents to the medium in which it will appear. But that doesn't change the basics.
And by all means -- write, write, write. Write as often as you can. Write for your high school paper, your community paper, your college paper and beyond. The more you write, the better you get.
And remember that you are in a noble professional with a mission of vigorously covering the news and getting that news to your readers in a form they can react to and act upon.
You are in a position where you can do great good and where you -- yes, YOU -- get to write the first rough draft of history. This is a grand and wonderful profession.
Respect it, love it and revel in it.