News Leadership 3.0

July 21, 2008

Cost - benefit analysis

@ Leadership conference Creative Director compares
production effort to audience

Knight Digital Media Center‘s annual Leadership Conference wrapped up Friday but I’m still playing catch up on a few presentations and a lot of notes and ideas.

Ashley Wells of offered a highly instructive look at the cost to produce different types of multimedia—slide shows, interactives, video and map mashups. Then he projected the size of the audience it would take to make the effort worth the time. Wells was quick to note that such comparisons don’t drive journalistic decision-making. But I think they can help people think twice about how they’re using their time. The short message: Simple may be better. Click through the whole presentation here. It’s instructive.

Wells finished up by noting that online news sites operate under heavy pressure to build both audience and revenue. What does he need to accomplish that?

“Gimme a:
Flexible publishing platform with great editorial tools
Cross-functional team with cross-functional people
License to experiment with the intent to scale”

What’s your multimedia strategy and who is implementing it in your newsroom? Please share your ideas in the comments.

July 16, 2008

If you’re online, you’re TV

@Leadership conference:
Media usage expert sees
opportunity in video

Jeffrey Cole has seen the future of newspapers and he thinks it’s television. Cole runs the Center for the Digital Future at USC, which is conducting a multi-year study of media usage.

His comments:

“I think video is a central part of your new identity.”

“You can be as live as television. On the Web, you become like television.”

Cole says that with the rise of the Internet, television and video will grow dramatically in importance.

“On the web newspapers and magazines become like television and compete like never before.”

Good news: the Web puts newspapers back in the breaking news business and offers lower production costs. Bad news: Global warming and concerns about newsprint and print production’s effect on the environment.

Cole believes figuring out advertising that users will accept online and on mobile devices and in social networks is a critical challenge because people are unlikely to pay for additional subscriptions or information services. His center found a household on average spends $260 per month on services such as telephones, - mobile phones, television cable or satellite, broadband, satellite radio.

“People are saying ‘I don’t want ot psned another $30-40 a month on digital feeds and subscriptions.”

Cole closed with headlines from his research on young people and media:

Life of a 12-24-year-old
- Will never read a newspaper but attracted some magainzes
- Will never own a land-line phone (and may never wear a watch)
- Will not watch television on someone else’s schedule much longer
- Trust unknown peers more than experts
- For the first time (2005) wiling to pay for digital content
- Little interest in the source of information and most information aggregated
- Community at the center of Internet experience
- Think not interested in advertising or affected by brand, but wrong
- Everything will move to mobile
- Television dominates less than any generation before (important but not the only thing that’s important to them)
- Want to move content freely from platform to platform with no restrictions
- Want to be heard (user generated)
- Use IM. Communicate through Facebook. Think e-mail is for their parents

Update: Steve Smith, the editor at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane who is attending the conference, posts about Cole’s presentation here.






July 15, 2008

Editors: Determination, not desperation

Knight Leadership Conference:
Top editors chart a path
to journalism’s digital future

With all the grim news from the news industry—staff reductions, top editor resignations—it’s easy to fall into a state of hopelessness. Certainly journalism’s most widely read news aggregator—Romenesko—often feels like a relentless chronicle of malaise and decline.

So it has been very encouraging—and enlightening—for me to speak with and exchange e-mails with the two dozen editors who are participating this week in Knight Digital Media Center‘s annual Leadership Conference, “Transforming News Organizations for the Digital Now.” Like their peers across the industry, they face struggles and challenges both within their organizations and without. They are far from naive. But they are very determined to take their organizations across the digital divide. We’re hoping that determination—and the advice of a couple of dozen experts who are joining the conference—will help them draft bold plans for reorganizing and re-energizing their organizations.

A team of two people - the top editor and the top online editor—from 12 traditionally print organizations will participate in the conference, which starts today and runs through Friday. Participating organizations: The Commercial Appeal, the Dayton Daily News, the (Rochester) Democrat and Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Journal-Gazette (Fort Wayne), the Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.), the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Orange County Register, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Seattle Times, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane),  and The Wichita Eagle.

I’ll make a brief introductory presentation identifying some of the patterns and issues that cropped up in my pre-conference interviews. (Later in the evening, we’ll hear about the digital audience from Amy Mitchell of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and then we’ll explore “Seven Deadly Myths of Innovation” with Krisztina “Z” Holly, Vice Provost for Innovation at the University of Southern California, where the Knight Center is based.

For now, here are a few trends from participating news organizations:

- They’ve reorganized in the past year, mostly to do a better job of getting breaking news online by dedicating reporters and editors to the Web. Those moves are showing results in increased Web traffic.Some of the newsrooms have undergone more radical changes—Rochester adopted Gannett’s Information Center model; at the Orange County Register, two-thirds of the newsroom reports to the online desk.
One editor: “Our priority is to create a fast and flexible culture in which we think online first, then print. Ultimately, it is to transform our newsroom into a 24-7 news organization. We must deliver news and information to readers and viewers when they want it and how they want. We integrate our approach. Our editors plan online coverage AND print coverage. We want to be first and we want to be best. We must continually be changing jobs and approaches. We did this a lot last year; we must do more this year. We do not believe in a big “ta da” approach. It should be organic but should also be urgent. Our survival is at stake in this competitive world we live in.”

- The culture in their newsrooms is improving, with more journalists adopting a Web-first mantra.Still, few believe they have achieved critical mass for a more nimble, online-adept culture. There are fewer pockets of resistance. But traditionally print-centric groups—in some cases copy desks or assignment editors—lack online reflexes.
Here’s one editor: “It’s like most places. There are 30 percent who get it, 30 percent who aren’t sure and 30 percent who are resistant. It’s a mixed bag. Some people are unhappy because they feel like it’s more work. Some people are really enthusiastic about it.”

- Culture aside, newsroom production systems and processes remain still highly print focused.  As their staffs contract, newsroom leaders are pressed to re-evaluate the print-online balance. How will they support both a robust print product - since it still pays most of the bills - with more aggressive moves online. Dayton, Rochester and Orange County have begun systematically repurposing (yes, I hate that word too. Alternative?) online content for the next day’s newspaper.
Here’s one editor: “Print is going to be around for a long time. It delivers 90 percent of our revenue. That’s the difficulty, trying to start this new business and keep the old one going. It’s going to be a struggle. We could do one or the other very well but to do both is a real challenge—especially with considerably fewer resources.”

- Newsroom staff cuts in these organizations range from about 10 to 40 percent from peak. Twenty-five percent is the norm.
One editor: “My goal is to continue to leverage my news staff across as many platforms as we can manage ... The only way we can sustain a newsroom of this size is to master all of these platforms.”

- Newsroom leaders also are frustrated by problems with technology and a general lack of technological resources. Competition for programmers is fierce—within news organizations and in the larger marketplace, which pays better than newspapers. One oneline editor: “It is difficult to attract Web developers because of the perception that the print industry is in decline. Web developers would bring the expertise that is currently lacking as we rely on converting print journalists into online specialists.”

- These problems notwithstanding, these editor report a dizzying array of accomplishments on the Web. From photo galleries, to databases, to videos, to interactive graphics, to broadcast programming, to affinity sites, the migration to online in these newsrooms is going full force. But few think they are ahead of the curve. Social networks, search and mobile delivery loom large on many horizons.

From an online editor: “I try to help quickly move our operation toward a better understanding of audience needs, and a workflow that is multimedia centric. I do this with the realization that we’re asking a shrinking staff to do more every day. The key is in identifying those areas where we can pull back and relax standards or output, and those areas where we must press harder to gain traction.”

Do these newsrooms, taken collectively, sound fairly typical? Please reflect on your challenges, experiments and solutions in the comments.

(Note: I will not be quoting specific conference participants by name or by the name of their news organization without their permission. It’s a tradeoff. We want to make as much information from the conference available as possible. At the same time, we do not want participants to feel inhibited in the discussions. All expert presentations and comments will be attributed.)

July 10, 2008

A “newspaper” wins an Emmy

Star-Telegram sports program
receives television honors

I recently learned that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram had won a regional Emmy this year from the Lone Star Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for its High School Huddle football program on The program is part of,  Fort Worth’s mega site for high school sports described here. The Emmy-winning show sounded like a great example of a traditional print newsroom learning new skills and applying them to news and information of high interest to the community. Kathy Vetter, Deputy Managing Editor/Multimedia, discusses the show in this guest post:

By Kathy Vetter

Our High School Huddle program originated exactly where it should have - in the Sports department. Our newspaper editor responsible for high school sports floated the idea of a weekly video program, and we then called in our video experts and started talking about who could host the show. We ended up shooting a 12- to 15-minute program every week for 16 weeks. Most of it was shot in segments in our newsroom studio, with the graphics, photos, video clips and music bed added in post-production by our video editor.

We used one main host and rotated in the two expert writers each week, from a pool of about four. These experts cover high schools for the newspaper. The host covered high schools for us for several years, but is now a Cowboys writer. When the playoffs started, we simply went with a host and co-host.

We shot the show using three cameras and a video switcher to output a single video feed. We used an audio board to mix the audio from the three mics. We scripted the show each weekend and gathered the photos and video clips of games on Monday. We occasionally went into the field on Mondays to get fresh video. We shot the show Tuesday morning, imported the file into Final Cut Pro, and had the show edited and ready to post by very early Wednesday morning.

We shot at least one video game of the week each Friday night, usually narrated in person by the same reporter who hosted High School Huddle. Those were edited and posted by early Saturday morning. We then used that video, either from the current week or the archives, to provide the game clips for the Huddle. We set up an online poll that allowed readers to choose the game of the week from the four our staff had selected. That was the game that we shot video of. The poll received around 50,000 votes each week.

Staffing-wise, the director did most of the research and wrote the script (mostly info on cue cards), the high school sports editor helped pick the games we would discuss, the three reporters came in on Tuesday to do the show, and the video editor did the live switching and ran the audio board, then did the editing and graphics work. We got help from the photo desk in finding the necessary photos and running the cameras in the studio, and the high school sports staff helped with research.

The High School Huddle and games of the week are by far our most popular videos. For the five-month period beginning in September 2007 and ending at the end of January 2008, our High School Huddle of Nov. 6 was our highest-rated program, with 214,777 page views. The following week’s Huddle was No. 2, with 191,774. We easily topped a million page views for all HSH and game of the week videos during that time period. And a local car dealership bought a sponsorship for the videos.

The best advice is that this is worth doing. Even if you don’t do a studio show, find a way to take out a camera and shoot a game of the week. Ours were nothing fancy - a little game action, some time with the band and cheerleaders, some standups by our host - but they quickly became viral and they solidified our reputation as the media company that cares about something that’s very important in our community.

Here is a link to High School Huddle.

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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).

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