News Leadership 3.0

May 25, 2009

Topics pages 101

Steve Yelvington drafts an excellent list of features for topics pages on your news site

In “A tale of two audiences (and beatblogging and topics pages)”, Steve Yelvington looks at the two major groups of users for news Web sites: The far flung occasional users who may visit once or twice a month and the loyalists who visit 20 times or more per month.
Yelvington journalistic prescriptions for serving each group.
The occasional users need topics pages, and Yelvington has this nifty list of features:

The topics page is the piece that offers the greatest opportunity to connect with the big circle. A good topics page has several obvious components:

  1. An editorially crafted synopsis. Who/what is this about? Why should I care? You won’t get the answers by throwing together a link barn and calling it a day. This is where a reporter’s expertise pays off.
  2. Images, maps, or infographics. A picture is worth a thousand words, so choose the best that help a casual visitor understand the framework surrounding a story.
  3. Links to Web resources. Be part of the Web, not just on the Web.
  4. Links to conversation. If this is significant, won’t people be talking about it? Where do I find them?
  5. Links to multimedia components.
  6. Links to incremental coverage. Let the drill-down begin.
  7. Who covers this topic? How can I reach this person?

Done well, the topics page provides the casual, occasional user with a gentle, almost encyclopedic introduction to the topic (public issue, person, place, thing). But the regular, loyal user benefits too.

And there is more for the loyalists: the beat blog.

The beat blog focuses on the small circle, offering speed, depth and conversation among the reporter and people with high interest in the subject matter. While regular users are the primary beneficiaries, there is a secondary benefit to the casual user: the reporter gets better at his or her job. Better leads, better feedback, better ideas can lead to more interesting journalism.

January 19, 2009

In Philadelphia, breaking news on a blog

Chris Krewson: From The Source quickly becomes one of Philly.com’s most popular blogs

Chris Krewson is executive editor online/news for The Philadelphia Inquirer, where the newsroom late last year started a news blog, From The Source, which has become quite popular. I asked Krewson in this guest post to review key steps to starting the blog and to describe its impact to date. Here’s Chris:

“Why don’t we start a breaking news blog?”

My editor, Vernon Loeb, asked me that question in late 2008. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s newsroom was certainly no stranger to breaking news at the time; we’d won a 2008 state Associated Press award for best online coverage of breaking news, for the fatal shooting of a police officer. And we’d made great strides in leveraging the work of our reporters during big news days, most notably the 2008 Pennsylvania Primary, the Phillies World Series win and follow-up parade, and the 2008 general election.

But this was something different.

So we gave it a try.

What to post?

The Inquirer had an all-purpose blog, called “From The Source,” which was originally created for a prospective NFL draft pick to send reports of the process. Later, our TV critic used it to blog from Los Angeles. We used “From The Source” to file breaking news reports while the Phillies made their World Series run, so that seemed the most logical place to nest the breaking news blog, at least for the moment - because we did not know whether our users would find it useful, or not.

We knew our users would contribute news items, so we went out of our way on the blog to beef up a “how to contact us” area, with our online desk phone number and e-mail prominently displayed.

We used our ace in the hole to get things started. When The Inquirer launched its morning breaking news team in January 2008, Vernon asked all the newsroom’s desks (SMASH, business, education, metro, sports and features) to file “advance items” for the Web site. These three- to five-paragraph items were filed the night (or the Friday) before, brief dispatches noting the start of a trial, or the expected earnings of a company, etc.

So we stocked the breaking news blog with those, gathering them in one place.

We also planned on using the blog, from the start, with AP Alert-style notices - basically telling users we knew news was happening, but didn’t know what the story was. For the past nine months or so we’d struggled with what to do with information like that; posting news in a blog format helped us get over the mental hurdle that “we didn’t have enough for a story.”

Sometimes, particularly on big stories that call for a comprehensive ‘write-through,’ we consciously move things out of the blog and into a story. And we’re still feeling our way on this. Still, I’m glad we’re trying this approach to the news; the rapid-updating feels like a much more “web” way to cover news.

The tech

Interestingly, there’s something about the way we blog at philly.com that focuses much of our blogging efforts on news, rather than the traditional definition of a voicey, breezy blog: Our platform changed from Movable Type to the same CMS we use for news stories and photos, Clickability. That means instead of using cumbersome text links that don’t update as the blogs do, we can treat blog posts and stories in exactly the same way. We often lead philly.com with blog posts, which in my experience is difficult-to-impossible most places.

As a result, even before we started this breaking news blog, seven of the top 10 blogs on the site were newsy: News about the Eagles, the Phillies, gossip, national politics and more routinely beat out even philly.com’s venerable Attytood.com, by the Daily News’s Will Bunch.

So we had a feeling we’d do well by posting breaking news in its very own blog.

And we were right.

The Results

We launched in mid-November, and came in at no. 11 on the list of blogs on Philly.com. That was pretty good for an out-of-the gate response. But we really gathered steam the next month, December - the Inquirer From The Source blog was no. 2 on Philly.com, only after the Daily News’ powerhouse Eagles blog (and that gained a ton of traffic during the team’s improbable late-season winning streak that drew them into the playoffs). But only a little less than 6,000 views separated us. And the breaking news blog still accounted for nearly 12 percent of all blog traffic on Philly.com.

So far in January, the local news has been slower - and we’re also diverting some staff reporting into the Inauguration blog, which is the latest iteration of our political blog, the former home of some of our most potent breaking news blogging. But we’re no. 3 on the site (after Eagles and the NFL in general) and nearing 10 percent of all views. The Eagles are not going to the Super Bowl, so I’d anticipate that internal competition dropping off.

I’d rather have the Eagles win a Super Bowl, or at least get there again. But I’ll settle for a strong blogging effort that gets this newsroom more aware of what our online users are looking for, and figuring out how to get it to them.

December 18, 2008

What does ‘online first’ mean in your newsroom?

Chris O’Brien: Jobs and practices that reflect a truly online newsroom

Chris O’Brien is business columnist for the San Jose Mercury-News and is wrapping up The Next Newsroom Project. While working on that project, Chris frequently offered insightful comments about news organizations and how their practices and attitudes must change if they want to thrive online. So I’ve asked Chris to write an occasional guest post for this blog and I’m please to offer the first one today. Here’s Chris:


Thanks to Michele for inviting me to join the discussion here. I hope some of the lessons I’ve learned, and continue to learn, at The Next Newsroom Project will be valuable to this community.
In getting started here, I wanted to pick up on a thread that Michele has been talking about lately involving the relationship between print and online in the newsrooms. I couldn’t agree more with her sentiment that it’s time to “shove the print newspaper off center stage.” While I think print will have a long future, it needs to be one of many platforms, rather than the primary one. Digital is the future, and it’s well past time for newsrooms to be thinking online first.
But here’s the next question: What does being an online first newsroom actually mean? It seems that everyone now claims their newsroom is online first. In reality, for most newsrooms that means they post their content online first. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. The newsroom, the conversations, the planning, the jobs, and the culture are all still organized around a legacy designed to create the print edition of the paper.
Being online first requires far more change. If you’re wondering whether your newsroom is online first, ask yourself how you measure up against the following criteria:
Planning and Workflow: Are the morning budget meetings and planning decisions still being driven by the need to create centerpieces and fill this section or that section? Are your critiques still driven by hanging the morning paper on the wall and discussing story placement? If these are the central conversations that are driving newsroom planning, then you’re not online first.
Instead, the discussions about content creation should start with the subject and then explore whether to tell that with text, audio, video, or some data product. The critiques should be a continual process throughout the day of evaluating traffic, comments, and updates. There should be a team dedicated to taking all this content and turning it into a print version, but they shouldn’t be driving the process.

Deadlines:
If someone asks when deadlines are, do you still say 5 p.m.? Time to turn that on its head. For most folks, their Web traffic peaks around 9 a.m. or so, when their community wanders into work, powers on their computers, and browse the news before getting on with their day. What they find on your Web site has to be more than the articles your staff filed the previous afternoon. To change that, there needs to be a big push early in the morning to get more folks in creating fresh stuff and then updating throughout the day. According this post from Shannon Bowen, an online journalist at the Wilmington Star in North Carolina, the newsroom there has adopted the mentality of an afternoon paper, requiring the bulk of the staff to be in early and file in the morning by 11 a.m. It’s a good start. But it needs to be even earlier to hit that traffic peak, which means getting more folks in even earlier.
Jobs: Are the type of jobs in the newsroom much different than they were 10 years ago? If you’re an online first newsroom, they should be. To optimize the online experience, it takes a whole different set of jobs. Get a community manager to moderate comments, solicit the best contributions from community members, and generate a lot of conversation. Get a multimedia editor who can really build the audio and video contributions from the whole staff. Get a couple of programmer journalists in the newsroom to build everything from news widgets to Flash presentations to data-rich products like this Campaign Tracker that The Washington Post created for the recent election season. These types of information products are great journalism and they fit the way people like to consume information online by allowing them to click around and discover things.
And remember that it’s not about getting folks to come to your Web site. You have to get your content out into other people’s networks. Get a network manager whose role is to promote content using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, building relationships with bloggers, and in general thinking past the Web site and finding ways to get content into streams where the potential audience resides.
Linking: Are journalists able to create links in the stories they file? Does your content management system even allow reporters to create links? If not, it’s time to get a new content management system. And looking at this from the other end, can the audience link to your content? Are your archives free? This seems to be a harder change for many newsrooms, which in some cases have contracts with third parties to operate paid archives. Even worse, many news sites intentionally break their links every few days in order to drive folks to these paid archives. Which means that essentially they’re not letting other people link to their content. 
I’ll end with this thought: In truth, we all should be thinking about moving toward multiplatform newsrooms: print, radio, online, mobile. Wherever your community is, you need to be there. And be prepared to embrace new platforms that are bound to emerge over time.
But first things first. Let’s get the transition to online right, and then go from there. These are my criteria. What are your criteria for an online newsroom? And are there any newsrooms out there that folks believe have really, truly become online first?

December 16, 2008

Tampa’s audience editors

Teaching vs. telling: Tribune reorganization uses key questions to guide new jobs

When Janet Coats, the executive editor of The Tampa Tribune, announced plans to appoint “audience editors,” I was intrigued by the role as a potential way to put users and readers at the front end of the news process - where they belong. In essence, the audience editors are newsroom floor managers with a key improvement: They keep pace with platforms and how people use them, knowledge that informs communication with the staff and decisions about what the newsroom covers and how it covers it.

When Coats first described the audience editor plan last summer, I wrote that I especially liked the promising idea of formalizing an audience focus and the fact that the audience editors had authority to shift resources to back up that focus. (Note: While Tampa is aggressively merging separate print, broadcast and online newsrooms, Tribune officials have dismissed a recent rumor that the print newspaper was going to cease publication.)

As with all organizational departures, I wondered how Coats and other senior editors would determine how the jobs would work in a newsroom that produces content for broadcast, online and print and is working to join together separate newsrooms that used to produce for a single platform. As much as the jobs may hold interest for other newsrooms, I think the process of defining the jobs will be useful in thinking about how to implement newsroom change.

As the audience editors took up their jobs in November, Coats explained in an interview that the Tribune’s six editors—two from broadcast background, two from online, and two from print—had worked together to define the jobs. Instead of issuing detailed instructions, Coats handed the editors Tampa’s six goals for their new role, each with a series of questions to help them frame their discussions. Here is the full list of the audience editor goals and questions.

Examples of the goals and questions Tampa considered:

(GOAL:) Audience advocacy. The AEs (Audience Editors) lead the newsroom in thinking about how best to serve the audience. The AEs have a deep knowledge of our audience metrics and research across all platforms, and they use that knowledge to guide them in setting priorities for story coverage. They educate and inform the rest of the newsroom about what works for the audience, and they track which stories are moving audience within the news cycle.

(QUESTIONS:) How will you educate yourselves about audience metrics? What tracking/reporting systems will you put in place to educate and guide the newsroom about audience on all platforms?

—-

(GOAL:) Promoting interactivity. The AEs understand that the core of the news mission is to create content readers can interact with. The AEs identify stories with high potential for interaction, be it through user comments, databases, the potential for user-generated content or by appealing to highly motivated niche audiences. The AEs work with the content circles and the finishing group to apply the best interactive strategies to the stories they have identified as having high audience interest.

(QUESTIONS:) What systems will you use to identify stories with high potential for audience interaction? How will you recognize stories that are generating interaction and shift resources/focus? What methods will you use to build on successful instances of interaction, to create models that can be replicated?

Guided by questions like these, the new audience editors met over a period of a couple of weeks before settling into their jobs right after the November election.  Coats said changes already are apparent: “They’re teaching each other a lot. They’re incredible model for newsroom, for asking about what you don’t know and teaching your neighbor,” Coats said. “They’ve already done a lot to change sense of urgency. The room is more energized earlier in the day…. and we’re starting see a difference in the way reporters plan their work, a more deliberate, thoughtful approach because they know they’ve got to post first thing in the morning.”

This process illustrates the difference between teaching and telling. Most newsroom leaders are well schooled in the process of telling. Whether its directing troops on a breaking story or mediating newsroom turf wars, senior editors become well schooled in giving orders that quickly remove an obstacle. Sort of like snipping apart a tangle, rather than slowly teasing out the knots.

The lessons here are many for newsroom leaders who want to change newsroom culture and attitudes. Tampa offers a process that may work for other change intiatives in other newsrooms. The key is to build a mission and launch a process that allows key staff members—and eventually the rest of the newsroom—some space to learn and develop a game plan they own.

Has a question process worked for you in making newsroom change? Could it help you going foward? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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