News Leadership 3.0

October 22, 2009

At Slate, small is the new big

Editor David Plotz sees a future with a smaller, highly engaged audience for the online magazine

I took heart from a talk this week by Slate editor David Plotz, who suggested a viable revenue future for his online magazine lies not in its approximately seven million unique visitors but in about 500,000 loyal, engaged users who want quality, long form journalism.

Plotz spoke at the Missouri School of Journalism, where I am a Reynolds Journalism fellow this year. Missouri awarded Slate an Honor Medal this year.

More sophisticated ways of measuring usership and engagement will change focus from mass audience, Plotz believes, and that will make journalism better. Raw numbers create “pressure to produce one kind of story” that will draw hits. New metrics of engagement and behavior offer a “tremendous opportunity for Web journalism to escape the traffic” trap. He believes that will liberate Slate to “make a magazine that recognizes those dedicated readers.”

“Until now we’ve been selling to the mass audience. Now once you have this abiltity to target you can really target your core audience… This creates strong incentive to create durable journalism,” Plotz said. “That one curious reader is worth 50 times the value of the drive-by reader. The person who makes a commitment to your brand, if you’re a quality brand….. if you can get those readers, a smaller set of readers, who come to you three or five or 10 times a week, you don’t have to go after that huge other set of readers.”

So forget celebrity and outrage stories. For Slate, this focus means a commitment to long form journalism such as a recent series on the American dental crisis, which Plotz estimates was read by 400,000 people. Slate has started a “Fresca Fellowship” that requires each reporter and editor to spend a month each year on a long form journalism project. Advertisers have begun to sponsor specific projects and they are paying for themselves, he said.

“Advertisers want to be around some ambitious project more than they want to be around some snarky political column,” Plotz said.

While excited about this new opportunity on the Web, Plotz cautioned Missouri journalism students that they face a career path that will require them to know more than journalism: social media, audio and video production, even some coding and fluency with content management systems. The new journalists may have to fight for time away from breaking news to focus intensely and develop projects.

Plotz thinking about a smaller engaged audience is similar to what could emerge in local news markets as news organizations pay more attention to small, under served advertisers. Serving up big numbers of unengaged users won’t ultimately help these advertisers. Developing loyal, engaged user communities holds more promise.

What do you think? Are mass metrics on the way out in your news organization? What are you measuring as an alternative?


May 19, 2009

How tech-savvy is your newsroom?

If the White House, the Vatican, Major League Baseball and, yes, even the FBI, are going tech, should your organization be far behind?

Mark Luckie at 10,000words puts the spotlight on four traditional organizations that are spiffing up their Web presence with photo galleries, podcasts, YouTube offerings, iPhone apps, Twiiter feeds and more. Compare your efforts to Luckie’s four examples.

May 14, 2009

Social media: Tapping people and tools

JD Lascia explores how news organizations are using social media to engage people in sharing and conversation

JD Lasica’s Webinar, “Engaging Users with News” was rich with examples of news organizations doing just that. I recommend you take a look at the entire NewsU replay ($24.95). A pdf of his slides is available free of charge.
The Webinar on Tuesday, sponsored by Knight Digital Media Center and News University, underscored several points that bear repeating:
- Free Web tools and services are available in abundance. Whether it’s Seismic for video, Flickr for photo aggregation, or Ning for an instant social network, cost is no longer a barrier to adopting social tools.
- People do want to share. JD’s examples of a map mashup featuring photos of the Minneapolis bridge collapse and NewWest’s photo sharing group on Flickr underscored that point. Also, NPR’s Hurricane Information Center that relied on volunteers during Hurricane Gustav (and used Ning to create the network).
- Local experts are more than sources. Linking experts and users directly is a valuable service a news platform can provide. One example: Linking to the blog of a wildfire expert. -
- Social media is all about sharing and conversation. A news organization can be a community platform for that.
- Social media is a job for everyone in the newsroom, from the top editor on down. I am convinced that the only way to fully appreciate the power of social media is by using it. Even if you don’t like a specific tool or service, figure out how others are using it and way. Use that information to inform your online media strategy.
As Lasica said: “We’re not talking about a social media beat. It’s really got to be ingrained into the newsroom culture that everyone now is part of this greater social media ecosystem and you’ve to go find ways to get hooks into these networks.”

March 17, 2009

In Philly, trial by Twitter

Twitter in the court: A juror creates an uproar with a tweet on jury deliberations in a high-profile corruption trial and Twitter rescues The Philadelphia Inquirer’s live blog report on the controversy

The Philadelphia Inquirer provided live blog coverage of the corruption trial of a Philadelphia-based state legislator since October. Things got really interesting and Twitter was involved as the trial came to a close earlier this week. I asked Chris Krewson, executive editor/online news, to describe what happened in this guest post.

UPDATE: Adds correction about Twitter use in reporting from courtroom. Internet connection did not fail but the reporter on the move found Twitter handy way to file breaking news updates.

By Chris Krewson
A federal jury was in recess for the weekend after nearing the end of its deliberations in the corruption trial of former Democratic State Sen. Vince Fumo - a legend in Philadelphia politics - when Inquirer City Editor Julie Busby called me Sunday night.

One of the jurors has been posting about the deliberations on his Facebook and Twitter (pages),” Busby said. “We’re posting our story.”

This began a series of social-media-inspired events that kept our users riveted to their computers and televisions through Monday morning, after four months of The Inquirer’s
gavel-to-gavel live coverage of the trial and exclusive reporting when the jury quickly delivered its decision on 137 counts.

The back story

Former state senator Vince Fumo has been on trial since October. Editor Bill Marimow had long wanted the newsroom to do a live blog of a trial, so The Inquirer reported live from inside the courtroom every day, using the CoverItLive platform for the immediacy it allows.

We also collected the audio through the PACER federal court document tracker service, and posted after the court recessed each day. All that is available on the page that collected our coverage.

Reporter Bob Moran, who was behind the keyboard in the courtroom most of that time, has this to say about the experience:

“Cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms, so this was the closest thing to “live” coverage that anyone could offer. I don’t know what numbers the liveblog generated (ed note: When big names were on the stand, the live blog often topped the list of most-trafficked blogs on the site), but it did have a core audience from local and state politics and from the legal community in Philadelphia. Also, many people close to Fumo, including prominent politicians, were on his list of potential witnesses. As a result, they were barred from attending court, but had access to the proceedings through the live blog. We needed to get permission beforehand from U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Buckwalter to transmit from the courtroom. The AP reporter would file stories and updates from the courtroom, so what I was doing was not unprecedented - just different. And more immediate.”

So we settled into a routine of covering the trial in a very 21st-century way. And we discussed how to present the verdict to our users, settling on a graphic presentation of the charges over a photo of the ex-senator.

Our plans were nearly stalled by a text message, by a juror, on March 5, to his Twitter account.

The social media aspect

Our Page 1 story in The Inquirer on Monday describes what happened:

“Defense lawyers for former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo moved late yesterday for an immediate halt in jury deliberations and the removal of one juror, contending that the juror posted oblique remarks on and - including one declaring, “Stay tuned for a big announcement on Monday everyone!”

“The petition, filed on the eve of the scheduled sixth day of deliberations in Fumo’s federal corruption trial, stated that there was “substantial evidence” that the juror, who was not identified, had violated admonitions not to disclose the status of deliberations.”

In the newsroom, we prepared for a delay. One theory held that the juror would be dismissed and an alternate juror appointed, which would mean the two weeks of deliberations so far would be tossed out and begun anew.

An alternate juror was summoned to the judge’s chambers. As Moran tried to update developments, he had to move around so much that he could not live blog from his computer. (Note: Earlier post incorrectly reported that the internet connection failed.)

Twitter connection

Bob broke news on Twitter from his iPhone: First, that the alternate had been called to the hearing. Then, that the judge was allowing the original juror to remain.

Bob clarifies the chaotic situation inside the courtroom Monday:

“I went to the courthouse expecting to cover a hearing on the Facebook juror. No one outside the jury expected a verdict. The courtroom was closed and there were only a few people present roaming the halls. Then there were developments on several floors of the court building. At that point, I was calling in updates to the City Desk and posting basically the same stuff on Twitter ... I could not liveblog at that point because I had to keep moving. Once it was announced that a verdict was reached, I went into the courtroom, sat down and started to liveblog using CoveritLive. ... (so) it wasn’t Twitter to the rescue because a connection failed. It was Twitter being handy while I was being mobile, which was also the case when I had to stand around outside afterward.”

Finally, that the jury was very near a verdict. As in, they were ready to announce it that morning.

Bob logged back into Cover It Live as the jury assembled, and then began his live blog again.

The verdict

We’d tested out the very elaborate Flash graphic (at the top of this page), which would update as the verdict came in. We’d assumed that would take up to two hours for the foreman to work his or her way through all 137 counts, and timed the Flash accordingly. (Post initially reported incorrect number of counts.)

Instead, less than 30 minutes later, the jury convicted Fumo on all counts.

Our live blog provided us with an edge in posting this type of news that other local media could not match. While nearly every TV station broadcast news of the verdict shortly after we did, Moran’s rolling updates were far superior to every other report available.

Indeed, the Fox owned-and-operated station showed a reporter outside the newsroom reading our live blog on camera, with the anchor occasionally noting that the reporting was coming from a live blog.

(Local independent journalist Amy Z. Quinn chided them on Twitter and on her blog, Citizen Mom.)

The results

Our users were hooked. Twitter users re-posted news of the verdict and our coverage; viewership of the story and blog announcing the verdict were among the top 5 items viewed on through the day.

More importantly, The Inquirer’s newsroom was involved in breaking a story using Twitter, which will pay exponential dividends in our coverage over the next few months.

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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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