News Leadership 3.0

May 21, 2008

Moving the furniture, moving the needle

In Tampa, a continuous news desk
translates into online traffic growth
Does your newsroom structure reflect a new news environment?

The traditional newsroom model—with its compartmentalized teams or departments and assembly-line production for end-of-day deadlines—has proven ill suited to a 24/7 news environment that requires speed, creativity, collaboration and the ability to turn on a dime. The structure, systems and processes of the newsroom drive both culture and results. That’s not to say moving desks around a few times a year will change the newsroom. But smart newsroom leaders are finding reorganization—some sweeping, some in small steps—really helps.
The continuous news desk (which now even has the acronym of CND) has come to symbolize digital transformation in many newsrooms, especially larger ones where cross-disciplinary communication tends to be diffuse. I described that change at the Miami Herald here.
This week, I talked with the editor of another Florida newspaper, about a similar change that yielded striking results.
Janet Coats, Executive Editor of The Tampa Tribune, said the organization in the past year:
- Combined online and print newsrooms under the one editor (Coats). (I confess, I was a little surprised that Tampa, a poster child for media convergence, had separate print and online newsrooms as late as 2007.)
- Reorganized into “deep” and “now” teams in an effort to balance getting the story of the moment with investigative and explanatory journalism.
- Moved a significant number of print staff to a new continuous news desk.

“The results,” Coats said, “were immediate and gratifying - a 60 percent increase in (local) page views year over year.” Breaking news page views were about 11 percent of total before the change, Coats said. “Since continuous news desk, that share has grown to about 30 percent.”

Those results in turn pushed culture change in the newsroom, buoyed the staff, and convinced even Web-resistant staff members. “The launch of continuous news desk was the best thing that happened culturally in the time I’ve been here,” Coats said. “It was one of those wonderful moments when we actually launched the continuous news desk we saw immediate results. That was a glorious thing for people who were demoralized. ... We saw that pop, a dramatic pop, in Web traffic. The only thing that had changed was the journalism. That was powerful.”

I bet other newsrooms have similar stories of change. I’d like to hear yours. Please share them in the comments to this blog.

May 19, 2008

Editors blogging: ‘Doing is learning’

Online editor at The Star-Ledger
builds a network link by link
Do you blog? How do you connect online?

Today I’m happy to feature a guest post from John Hassell, Deputy Managing Editor of The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. John, who attended KDMC’s Leadership Conference last year, blogs at the exploding newsroom, often posting interesting updates on his newsroom’s journey to digital. I asked John to write about why he blogs, and why other editors might want to try it. Here’s John:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
—G.K. Chesterton

First, a confession: I’m a lousy blogger. I don’t write often enough, and what I do write is rarely developed as fully as I would like. Caught up in the pull and tug of the newsroom, I too often neglect my blog.

I have great admiration for people like Howard Owens and John Robinson, who make time in their busy schedules to cast a wider net, to think aloud, to leave comments and trackbacks on other blogs. They’re the real deal, and they’re constantly teaching me things.

For me, though, this is one of those times when G.K. Chesterton had it right. Because blogging is worth doing—even if you do it badly, even if it means having to find the odd pre-dawn hour to post something once or twice a week.


Before I started blogging…

...I thought I understood the nature of the link. But until people linked to something I wrote, until I saw the way these links raised my blog’s profile in Google and Technorati searches (okay, not very much in my case, but…), I didn’t really get it. I quickly began to appreciate and return links, and to make unexpected friends. A link can be a nod, a handshake, a pat on the back, an insult. Whatever it is, it’s personal. It’s the glue that builds community online.

...I agreed with the goal of transparency in the news business. But until I began to see first-hand how closely openness and trust are associated on the web, I didn’t grasp how crucial this is. You build credibility online by reporting the news as it happens, sharing your work and engaging readers along the way. You build it one link at a time. The web is not just a place to publish “finished” stories, if there even is such a thing.

...I talked about news as a conversation. But until I started reading more blogs and getting involved in social media, I didn’t understand how quickly news gets shared, expanded, commented on, filtered and repurposed across the web. This is not a trivial thing. People once relied on the news to inform conversation. Now they are relying on the conversation to inform them about the news. If something’s important, they figure they’ll hear about it.

...I considered myself an early adopter. But until I saw how the best bloggers used social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Seesmic and FriendFeed as reporting resources and channels for distributing content (the beauty of community, after all, is that it allows you to gather and share information more efficiently), I didn’t realize how far behind we really were in harnessing the power of these new tools.

To expand on that last point a bit, when I started work on this piece I posted a short question on Twitter:

“Hey, journobloggers: I’m writing a post for the Knight Center about why newspaper editors should blog. I’ve got my reasons; what are yours?”

Like a tiny stone tossed into a pond, it started producing ripples.

First came the responses from people I’ve befriended on Twitter, each of which helped me think about this piece. Here are three of them:

Damon Kiesow of the Nashua (NH) Telegraph: “My #1 reason - they need to understand their audience. Doing is learning.”

Laura Oliver of “For transparency of editorial operations like @marcreeves’ blog lets users see behind-the-scenes and air their views on editorial operations.”

Zach Echola of Forum Communications Company: “Regular interaction with real people forces you to think less about media + audience and more about conversation + community.”

Next, because replies on Twitter are public, a few friends of Damon, Laura and Zach discovered and began following me—which means my network of sources will be even greater next time I’m looking for help.

This goes both ways. With any luck, some of you reading this will click through the links to Damon, Laura and Zach and begin following their work.

Each of those links, in turn, increases the chances that Laura, Damon, Zach or others might read this and share it with others. They might share it through their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, social bookmarking sites or ... well, you get the idea.

This is the social, distributed web.

It’s powerful stuff, and it rewards those who get engaged.

Even if you do it badly.




May 12, 2008

NAA: Resources for online video

Newspaper Association of America
urges sites to embrace online video
What’s your video strategy?

The Newspaper Association of America has released a report urging newspaper sites to get on the video bandwagon - if they’re not there already. NAA also provides a lot of resources aimed at newsrooms that are just getting started.

Zooming In on Online Video: A Development & Growth Guide for Newspaper Web Sites” is “intended to help newspapers of any size develop profitable video applications,” says the report. “As competition heats up for online video mindshare, newspapers have an excellent opportunity to leverage their skills and content and capture an even larger share of online advertising spending.”

The financial promise of video is significant, NAA believes. “Local online video advertising was a $400 million business in 2007, according to Borrell Associates,” the report states, and “eMarketer expects that online video ads will pull in $1.3 billion this year.”

If your newsroom is getting up to speed in video, here are key NAA links:
Shooting quality video
Equipment: What to buy
Editing and publishing
Live video
Making money (!)
Building a newsroom studio
Beginning video glossary

NAA also conducted a survey of practice in video across newspaper sites. I am wading through that and will summarize key findings later this week. Meanwhile, is your newsroom active with video? Who is shooting it? Who is editing it? What works best? Are readers responding?

(And thanks to Howard Owens for the pointer.)

May 07, 2008

Keeping comments clean

News organizations find balance
in monitoring user comments
How does your site encourage debate?

News organizations seem to have a love-hate relationship with user comments. As I mentioned earlier, journalists often respond to the topic with eye-rolls, forlorn sighs or frustrated shrugs.

Clark Hoyt, Public Editor at The New York Times, typified a somewhat grudging view last fall, when the Times began allowing comments on a few stories. The newspaper, Hoyt wrote, “is struggling with a vexing problem. How does the august Times, which has long stood for dignified authority, come to terms with the fractious, democratic culture of the Internet, where readers expect to participate but sometimes do so in coarse, bullying and misinformed ways?”

I would turn that around. While recognizing the challenges that offensive comments pose, I think sites will have more success if they focus on what their users experience and less on self-image (which is not the same as credibility).  Perhaps the question for news organizations is something like this: “What can we do to create an online environment that engages our community, empowers people to share their perspectives, and encourages them to suggest fresh, relevant angles and stories?”

Obviously, a free-for-all that allows offensive comments does not foster such an environment. Rigid control of comments, including screening them before publication, as the Times does, is the opposite end of the pole. It may work for the lofty Times, but the practice sends a message of distrust and takes resources that might better serve journalism in the public interest elsewhere.

Many news organizations have moved to a middle ground of practice. As I noted here, the Miami Herald recently moved from an open, anonymous system to a registration system in an effort to clean up site comments. Another newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, recently dropped the practice of previewing comments.

“We switched earlier this year to moderating comments after they are posted automatically. We put in a flagging system that allows users to object to comments for various reasons. Previously, we reviewed every comment before it went up.  It was very labor intensive, not immediate and we couldn’t keep up,” says Ken Chavez, assistant managing editor for interactive media at the Bee.
“The flagging system has greatly reduced the number of comments we have to review.  A flagged comment comes off the site and is sent to a queue for our review. We either delete the comment all together or restore it to the site, where it can no longer be flagged since it has already passed muster.”

In Newark, The Star-Ledger also requires registration and relies on post-publication monitoring by a central Advance Internet Interactivity Group.

“Members of the group monitor comments, forum posts, user-submitted photos and videos and contributions to our new public blogs. In each of these areas, there are also tools that allow users to alert the group about inappropriate content,” says John Hassell, deputy managing editor. “Newsroom staffers have the ability to remove inappropriate content, but we rarely do; instead, we alert the interactivity group, and they act quickly. Generally speaking, this system works well, and the level of interaction on our sites is very high. The quality of discourse varies wildly, of course, but there is no question that user contributions make our sites better and more engaging. ... Ultimately the quality of the discourse is driven by our community of users, and the more open and accessible we are, the better.”

Encouraging users to report inappropriate comments is key: It helps assure a productive discourse and it reflects new rules of user ownership on the Web. And if comments on a particular story or topic get out of hand, the site always has the last resort of simply shutting comments down while things cool off.

If you are thinking about how to handle comments on your site, here are a couple of resources:
Amy Gahran’s tips on Poynter Online.
Rich Gordon’s advice (via Beth Lawton at Newspaper Association of America)

If you recommend additional resources or have tips and experiences to share, please do so in the comments. (And keep it clean grin)

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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