News Leadership 3.0

April 28, 2008

In Miami, a Reader Exchange Editor

New newsroom job tracks blogs, comments, online traffic
Herald becomes more sophisticated about the Web
How is your newsroom handling interactivity?

imageThe job title caught my eye right away. Reader Exchange Editor, Miami Herald. Exchange Editor. Exchange. It’s the first time I’ve heard a reader-related job title at a major news organization that captures the idea that digital interaction is a two-way, even multiple-way street. (Please let me know if there are others.)
The new Reader Exchange Editor, Shelley Acoca, got my attention quickly too. The challenge of user content and comments often induces eye-rolls, forlorn sighs or frustrated shrugs from those who have to manage it. Two minutes into a phone conversation with Acoca, I thought: She’s up to her eyeballs in this stuff and she’s loving it!
This is the second of two posts on the Miami Herald. As I explained here, Miami participated in Knight Digital Media Center’s Leadership Conference in 2007 and has implemented a number of organizational changes since then.
Like many news organizations, the Herald is learning an important new dance with readers. Rick Hirsch, Managing Editor/Multimedia, said creating the position was a recognition of the importance of user interaction to the future of the news organization.
“We feel pretty strongly here that the whole area of user content and comments and sharing of our our content, the desire people have to interact with our news is a really important part of our future. It’s an undeniable way things work now. We were moving into that space enthusiastically but randomly.” Hirsch said. So the Herald decided “We ought to have a really smart journalist engage with this content, interacting with people, studying how this develops, and really developing a strategy for us for this whole aspect of news and information in the digital space.”
Enter Acoca, who had shown her enthusiasm for developing user content in print and online with efforts including an art contest and a Hispanic cartoon contest as features editor.
Since taking over as Exchange Editor late last year,  Acoca has focused on:
- Bloggers. Hirsch said the idea was to elevate the quality of the Herald’s blogs, challenging bloggers the same way editors challenge other journalists. Acoca edits bloggers, as well as columnist Leonard Pitts. Her responsibilities include how-to coaching (what’s a widget?), working with journalists to develop concepts for successful blogs, and coordinating live chats. With the help of Mindy McAdams, Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of Florida, Acoca developed these guidelines for bloggers.
Acoca’s advice for new bloggers?
“Shout about your blog from the rooftops. Email your sources, other bloggers, bloggers you don’t know. Getting the word out is critical in insuring long-term success.
“And, oh yeah, have fun—this is *your* space in a way a traditional newspaper can’t be—the words, the pictures, the videos, the widgets. It offers a broad range of ways to express yourself. Experiment. Learn. Enjoy.”
- User comments. Under Acoca’s guidance, recently began requiring commenters to register, a switch that has mostly cleaned up offensive commenting and cut the total number of comments in about half. Based on the experience of other McClatchy newspapers, Acoca hopes that the number will slowly increase over time. “Mostly people have gotten it or they’ve gone elsewhere. It was very few people who were posting lots of bad comments all day long,” Acoca said. Since registration began in mid-March, Acoca said she has had to deny access to about one commenter per week for using offensive language after being warned.
Acoca is very enthusiastic about the value of commenting. Comments, she says, are a way for the public to get information that journalists might not be able to get.
- Online traffic. Acoca is trying to provide with a more sophisticated view of its online traffic, particularly tracking readers of different content seem to go onto the site so the Web site can serve up updates at times that make the most sense for different topics and readers.

Acoca is on the frontline of the changing role of news organizations in the digital age. “Part of it is community building. We aren’t the ones who are going to do that. We’re the facilitators. We should let other people take that ball and run with it. It’s worth reading the stuff that people put up there. they have some really good ideas. Newspapers lost ground for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons might be that we were victims of our own arrogance. we served up the same menu every day. The food we liked as opposed to the food they liked. Now we’re giving readers choices.”

Acoca also has a good vantage point for seeing change in the culture of the Miami newsroom. “We’re all learning together. That’s created a more collegial situation. It’s all learning from each other. There’s not big expert who can teach you everything any more. It’s a much more egalitarian thing.”

First, the leadership emphasized that she didn’t need to have all the answers right away. Rick Hirsch told her ” ‘Don’t worry if you have days when you don’t know what to do with yourself,’ ” Acoca recalls. I did have a lot of those days. There’s no map.”

If I were starting a new and challenging job, I think that’s one of the most helpful things the boss could say.

What are your strategies for engaging with the public online? Please join the conversation.

Patrick Hogan offered this comment when I mentioned the Reader Exchange Editor in an earlier post:
“The Reader Exchange Editor position is intriguing, although it’s something smaller papers (which you’ll find frequently have the same volume of comments or more), can’t afford”

That’s a very good point. At the same time, your newsroom might consider allocating even a few hours a week of a journalist’s time to reader issues that are a priority. For example, someone might be able to spend a few hours each week analyzing online traffic. Or developing resources on blogging and training bloggers. Try to identify the activity that will help your organization the most, right now. Set realistic goals and tease out a little time each week. I think you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.


April 13, 2008

Links: NAA-ASNE convention presentations

Presentations look at Web tactics and audience development

ASNE and NAA are posting slides from presentations at their joint Capital Conference (Sunday through Wednesday in D.C.).
Link to the main directory here.
Two Sunday presentations caught my eye:
- David Stoeffler has a good basic overview of online tactices in “Dynamic Web Strategies for Small Newspapers.”
- A panel including Gannett’s Jennifer Carroll, Placeblogger founder Lisa Williams and Media Management Center’s Mike Smith, explores “Building Audience in a Fragmented Media World.

April 08, 2008

Credibility study: It’s the engagement, stupid

- A new survey of editors and readers explores credibility of online news
- The public says personal viewpoints from journalists online are beneficial

How is your organization balancing traditional journalism values with new audience expectations?

A new survey on the credibility of online news brings into focus some old school vs new school tensions that news executives, other journalists—and the people who rely on them for news—face.

“The Online Credibility Gap,” sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Associated Press Managing Editors, was released Tuesday via a Poynter News University Webinar. For all the details, read the full report package here.

This morning, I sat in on a Webinar exploring the survey hosted by Poynter’s NewsU and led by by John Bartosek, editor of The Palm Beach Post and chairman of APME’s Credibility Committee.

One top takeaway was the finding that a half the 161 readers surveyed thought it would be beneficial to have “journalists joining the conversation online and giving personal views.” In contrast, only about one fourth of the 1,200 editors surveyed felt that way, and nearly 60 percent thought it would be harmful. I suspect some of the editors on the “harmful” side had visions as they answered that question of journalists ranting and taking sides. My mental response to that thought was “Still?”

I think the public answer is less about wanting opinions and more about wanting engagement and transparency to be part of the information package. Years ago (pre digital revolution), as ombudsman at The Oregonian, I spoke or e-mailed with thousands of readers and worked on a newspaper credibility project. Even then it was clear that the same people who might distrust the motives of journalists they had never met were perfectly willing to trust a journalist they met or spoke with on the telephone. The Web has increased both the expectation—and the opportunity—to engage more fully. I would like to see some comments on how newsrooms are meeting this challenge.

In his NewsU presentation, Bartosek some practical steps editors may want to consider:
—Does your news organization have a clear policy for making online corrections and is it applied consistently?
—Do staff and readers understand the terms and conditions of using the Web site, particularly as it pertains to standards for comments? Do users know that they can report offensive or inappropriate comments and that the site will take action to remove them?

The survey also points to a divide between online news users and editors about whether anonymous comments should be allowed. More on that soon.

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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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