For two years or so, I’ve watched the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic grow from a newspaper journalist into an online journalist.
Dejan is the P-G’s beat writer covering the Pittsburgh Pirates, so it should come as no surprise to those who know me that I’m familiar with his work. He’s an outstanding journalist who is both a brilliant writer and a no-holds-barred reporter, a rare combination, especially in sports journalism.
And now some of his work — the parts that I enjoy best, actually — on May 1 will go behind a metered pay wall on the Post-Gazette’s Web site. I have rarely paid for content online, although I did buy an online subscription to the Butler Eagle for a couple of years because no one else covered my son’s high school football games and wrestling matches. Within the next month or so, I have a decision to make.
Why would I even consider buying Dejan’s coverage of the Pirates when there are plenty of free sources of information and commentary about the team? The answer lies in his evolution as an online journalist.
A couple of years ago, Dejan began writing the PBC Blog (Pittsburgh Baseball Club) on the P-G site. I suspect he started it because, at the time, starting blogs on newspaper Web sites seemed to be the thing to do. But he quickly figured out that he could use the blog as a tool to promote his coverage and, most importantly, interact with his readers.
Over time, he’s added online live chats, during which he answers questions from readers. He also developed a Q&A feature in which he takes one reader’s question and develops in-depth answers that go beyond what he can do in a chat. The Q&A is now a daily feature except during the deepest doldrums of the off-season. He added a Twitter feed this spring, although he’s still figuring out how to best use it.
And the blog itself is a breezy, but structured compilation of breaking news, line-up changes, pre-game comments, post-game comments and even in-game updates of key and not-so-key plays. Each day, the blog includes links to the P-G’s articles about the Pirates as well as links “from other realms” to articles in other publications and even to some fan blogs. And the blog has comments from readers — lots and lots of them every day — and some of them are actually interesting to read.
Somehow, he’s managed to include enough information in the blog to make the coverage seem complete yet still convince you to take a read through the game stories, sidebars and other features he writes for print. (By the way, I read the blog through an RSS reader on my phone or through Google Reader. I almost never access it through the P-G site.)
But wait, there’s more. Dejan has learned to snap a few pictures before gametime, and when he’s on the road, he likes to show us other ball parks and even tourist attractions. He made sure to let us know this week that San Francisco is his favorite city to visit, and he shared some snapshots of a few places he saw during the Pirates’ trip to play the Giants. For a while during road trips he also included a feature highlighting things he missed most about Pittsburgh and invited reader suggestions as well. That feature is on hiatus, but I think it’s coming back.
Through the blog we learn how much Dejan loves Pittsburgh, baseball and even his family. In short, he’s made a lot of friends he’s never met — including me.
And that’s the root of his evolution into an online journalist. He’s learned to use the Web to interact with and touch his readers in ways he could never have done in print. He’s built relationships with thousands of Pirates fans (yeah, there are thousands). I’d bet that he’s received more than a dozen story ideas from readers over the last couple of years, and he’s never too proud to give credit when someone has a good idea.
Dejan has created something that is distressingly rare in print or online — something worth paying for. Under the right circumstances, he could probably break away from the Post-Gazette and sell his coverage to subscribers and advertisers by himself. There are a host of issues with that idea, not the least of which is whether he would have the same access to the team as an independent journalist, but I think it could succeed.
In fact, Dejan has built a working model for paid content online worth emulating at other newspapers or by journalists working on their own. All it took was time, a willingness to experiment and the desire to listen to readers and answer them.
I still have a couple more weeks of free access to the PBC Blog. After that, I’ll sign up. You sold me, Dejan.