News Leadership 3.0

August 31, 2009

How to drive clicks ... 10 million clicks!

In a guest post, SwitchYard Media’s Gary A. Seidman sends a dispatch from the trenches of entrepreneurial journalism

Gary Seidman runs the Seattle-based multimedia journalism company SwitchYard Media. Prior to founding SwitchYard in 2007, Gary was deputy editor and political director of In this guest post, he breaks down development of a highly popular slideshow on MSN Money..

By Gary A. Seidman

When SwitchYard Media produced a slideshow story on discontinued products for MSN Money, the piece generated tons of traffic. No surprise. MSN is a vastly popular site that sports a wealth of content and consistently ranks in the top five most visited URLs. Still, our story was an anomaly, and its success offers lessons about producing Web content that resonates with readers, publishers and advertisers.

To begin with, we plucked the idea for that story right out of MSN’s message boards. MSN’s editors have taken pains to cultivate a lively message board community that is not shy about posting animated opinions and sharing them around the Web. We knew that if we could tap into that hyper-vocal, hyper-loyal crowd, we’d strike gold.

What surprised us is how much gold. Nearly a year after it first published, the slideshow still racks up millions of new page views month after month. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving. It hit a chord with our readers,” an MSN editor told me over lunch just before ordering two sequels on the subject.

His enthusiasm wasn’t only about the content. Hardly. Stories that drive that many page views are, of course, valuable platforms for delivering ads. Do the math: 10 million page views at a CPM rate of $10 per thousand ad appearances. That’s a tidy sum.

MSN has a deliberate content strategy designed to appeal to a mass audience. It offers a bounty of stories ranging from predictable celebrity fare to “how-to-shop-for-the-cheapest-credit-card-deal.” In the nutshell, the formula is: Relatable, Useful and Fun. We nailed two out of three.

We started by rummaging around MSN’s message boards before stumbling across a thread of hundreds of comments about consumer products that are no longer on the market. Truthfully, it was more a pop culture topic then a business piece, but it had potential. After all, everyone remembers some commercial product from their childhood that has inexplicably disappeared ... and wonders “what happened to that?”

Immediately we recognized the subject’s appeal. It had great promise to become an enjoyable “distraction” story, and it lent itself to interesting archival photos and entertaining trivia.  Because the topic was light, harmless and fun, it wouldn’t take much prompting for a reader—despondent over the loss of Planters Cheez Balls, for example—to post a comment on a message board and get another thread rolling.

BTW, the great thing about message boards (and social networks, for that matter), is that once someone posts a comment, they keep checking back for responses. That amplifies the buzz.

But to woo readers these days, you have to work all the angles. That old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” has never been more true then in the attention-deficient Internet age. Our “Crazy Eddie’s-looking” caricature guy on the slideshow’s title page was specifically designed to lure in casual surfers. Once in, clicking through 10 slides—even if just to see the pictures—is not much of a commitment.

The engagement rate on SwitchYard’s slideshows is extremely high. Psychologically, clicking through a slideshow story—even one as long or longer than a newspaper article—feels like less work. It’s a mind trick. Publishers love stories told in slideshow formats because they generate multiple clicks and provide multiple opportunities to place advertisements.

While “discontinued products” was admittedly just a pop feature, its execution provides several lessons applicable to a range of online content:
#1. Think organically: How you present is as important as what you present.
#2. Bite-sized is better: Even complicated subjects can be boiled down to smaller, easy to understand chunks. 
#3. Visuals add value. Good imagery attracts an audience and lets you show a story rather than simply tell it.
#4. Monetization matters: (Most) publishers are in the business of making money. Design your story in a way that optimizes the prevailing metrics that advertisers care about.

One last thought. The Web is an active medium—you probably have your hand on your mouse right now. Take advantage of that tendency to click by producing stories that are clickable by design.

December 08, 2008

Our new leadership report is out today!

KDMC offers a collection of tips, tools and takeaways from seminar experts for newsroom leaders in the digital age

The Leadership Conference is a highlight of Knight Digital Media Center’s annual training calendar. Newsroom leaders come to the center to hear from experts in digital media, innovation and newsroom change. They return to their newsrooms with strategies and ideas for moving online.

Today, KDMC is pleased to release a report compiled from the July 2008 Leadership Conference and an earlier leadership gathering in 2007. The report is organized as a series of lists and bullet points—tools, takeaways, quotes and action steps, for example—designed to spark new thinking among newsroom leaders and link them to resources that will help them develop their ideas.

I hope you’ll take a look at the KDMC Leadership Report. Here’s a sampling:

From Takeaways:

Stacy Lynch, a consultant and project manager for the Media Management Center, warns traditional news organizations against “the sucking sound of print” as they transition to online while attempting to maintain the newspaper.

“Print will take over every ounce of energy you have,” Lynch said.  The brutal truth is there’s nothing in print that has no value. Everything has a little bit a value. Every cut hurts. You just have to figure out what hurts less.”

From Tools:

Key performance indicators provide more meaningful information on site traffic than simple counts of visits or visitors. Dana Chinn, a faculty member at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, details KPIs and their uses:

Often, that KPI is not a simple number such as time on site or unique monthly visitors. Instead, the most meaningful information may be from a ratio or comparison of two different numbers.

From Culture changers:

Change will only come from the bottom up. Command-and-control hierarchical systems of management have worked well for getting the daily paper out on time, but executive pronouncements do little to build long term change. The old structure burdens top editors with making too many small decisions instead of working on long term strategy. Perhaps more significantly, it discourages initiative - and possible innovation - from the ranks.

Also see Quotes, Reading, Action Steps

We envision a report that can grow and evolve as the challenges of newsroom leadership change. Please add your ideas in the comments.

November 21, 2008

Weekend reading

Links: Photo sites, Poynter’s Screenshot Slideshows,’s news blog, CNN’s wire service, Twitter tips and hashtags for events

Mark Luckie offers “Amazing Photojournalism: Where to find the best in news photography,” a collection of sites well worth a look. (While you’re at it, take a look at Luckie’s work as well. This savvy and prodigious blogger and multimedia guy just saw his job evaporate.)

Poynter Online has started, Screenshot Slideshow, a daily collection of page grabs from news Web sites. Check theirs out and submit your own. What a resource! has launched a news blog. Looks good. Will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Knight Stanford Fellowships program is getting a remake. The program will foster innovative projects that promote good journalism. Director Jim Bettinger has the info in a new blog.

Ken Doctor looks at CNN’s new wire service. CNN is inviting editors to check it out in Atlanta Dec. 1.

Sarah Evans writes about “How to Build Community on Twitter” and the obligatory followup: “How Not To.” (Pointer from Amy Gahran.)

Speaking of Gahran, she has tips on how to use hashtags to cover live events, something that could come in handy for newsrooms.

October 31, 2008

Weekend reading

Links: How to be a multimedia journalist, “Stuff Journalists Like,” “Eye-popping interactives”

Alfred Hermida offers his advice and links to resources on “How to be a multimedia journalist.”

Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words has “7 Eye-popping interactives (and 3 ways to create one)

Difficult week? Check out the very funny “Stuff Journalists Like” site. (Thanks to Digidave for the pointer.)

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

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

Support is provided by:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute


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