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Why it might not matter if no one reads your website

Anjali Mullany meets with the New School Free Press staff.Anjali Mullany meets with the New School Free Press staff.

The homepage, as NowThis recently declared, is officially “dated.” But just like real newsrooms, the New School Free Press editorial team was still struggling to adjust to digital media’s rapid paradigm shifts.

It was only this year that the staff decided to ditch its print publication and go entirely digital. Their first instinct: create a new, state-of-the-art website on which to publish their content and get fellow students to meet them online.

When Anjali Mullany, editor of Fast Company Digital, came in to meet with the NSFP’s student editors in October, though, she surprised them by asking why they wanted to do this. “Do you need to make money from your website?” Mullany asked. (The answer, in this case, was no.)

“Then why,” she continued, “are you obsessed with people coming to your website?”

What followed was a conversation about going digital at a time when the website is no longer necessarily the end game. Mullany suggested, to general agreement, that the goal is to produce journalism and get people to read it. And she attempted to get everyone to at least consider whether directing readers to a URL was really the best way of going about that. Buzzfeed, she noted, is creating an entire division dedicated to producing content just for social media. Other sites, like Quartz, CNN Politics, and Fusion, are also experimenting with direct-to-social content.

Students, however, weren’t entirely ready to abandon their website. They pointed out that there’s still a lot of value in corralling people to one central site, where they can easily be directed to other articles. And it might help them get jobs later. Aidan Gardiner, a reporter/producer at DNAInfo and former NSFP news editor who is now an adviser, pointed out that when students go out to apply for their first jobs, it will help to have an easily accessible archive of their clips. That’s more difficult to do when you’re producing content for, say, Snapchat, or for the only slightly less ephemeral Twitter.

Eventually, Mullany managed to convince the team to try out an email newsletter, and the debate turned to a new set of questions. What’s the best time to send emails out? Should they invite readers to sign up, or automatically blast everyone with a New School email address and then give them the opportunity to opt-out? And how to begin writing subject lines that people will actually click on? The end goal remains the same: they have the content, and now they need to get it read.