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?


June 06, 2009

Be specific. Prioritize. Measure

At KDMC workshop for ethnic media leaders, USC/Annenberg journalism professor Dana Chinn advises editors to focus on specific audiences in developing new products

Dana Chinn presented ideas for identifying key audiences and missions for serving them online or in print at KDMC’s two-day workshop for leaders of ethnic media organizations this weekend in Atlanta, “Transforming Ethnic News Organizations for the Digital Now.”

“Focus on one audience and be as specific as you can,” Chinn advises.

Here is Chinn’s guide for planning a product for specific audiences:

1. Which online audiences do you need? Want?

2. OF those audience, which ONE audience is the mos urgent to address online?  Is it:
- an audience you need but you’re losing in either print or online?
- an audience you don’t have but which is essential for your survival?

3. What will make a significant difference with this audience? Is It”
-a change in your current online produce?
- a new online product

I like this list because it forces editors to set priorities. There are a lot of great ideas out there. But connecting the best idea to the most critical audience sets the news organization up to be able to measure very specific results and see what’s working (or not).

As for what to measure, Chinn says unique visitor counts are unreliable (after all, a visitor is a computer not a person). She advises watching trend lines rather than fixating on the numbers and tracking weekly, not daily, uniques.

Chinn advises using measures that track engagement, typically ratios that show how people are using the site:
- Visits per unique visitor. Do weekly visits correspond to the number of times weekly you update the site? Are you updating a lot more than visitors are coming to the site (say daily updates for people who tend to visit twice a week?)
- Page views per weekly unique visitors. When they are coming to your site, are they really engaging with the content? Chinn cites an example of 3.8 page views fora daily newspaper and says that seems low. On the other hand, if the page view number is very high, it could indicate visitors are having trouble finding what they want.
- Bounce rate of top entry page, usually the home. What percentage of visitors land on the home page and then leave. Even with a high number of visitors, a high bounce rate spells problems.

March 20, 2009

Weekend reading

Link: Newsroom culture change, Nielsen critique

Chris O’Brien offers “Advice for building an innovative culture in your newsroom.
This Ken Doctor post is worth reading for a thoughtful critique of Nielsen’s Web traffic numbers by Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman.

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.

Page 1 of 3 pages  1 2 3 >


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


@michelemclellan on Twitter

Recent Entries





Tag Cloud