News Leadership 3.0

June 09, 2008

Hyperlocal: It’s the people, stupid

Discussion of underscores
importance of connecting with community
What’s your hyperlocal strategy?

Journalism blogs are abuzz following a Wall Street Journal article dissecting, a less than successful Washington Post/Rob Curley experiment in hyperlocal news. It appears to be another case where the journalist/developers overlooked the people factor while they chased digital success.

Curley, the uber nerd of local news, acknowledges as much:

“From the second I was contacted by the Wall Street Journal for the story, I knew exactly what I wanted to say in the interview, which was to point out that I thought the two biggest problems with were poor integration of the site with and not enough outreach into the community ... ala basically me speaking with every community group that would have me.

“And that both of those problems were my fault. Completely.”

Looking for specifics on how to connect with community, I found these two posts particularly insightful and useful:

John Hassell of The Newark Star-Ledger at the exploding newsroom:

“If we’ve learned anything from our own hyperlocal experiment at, it’s the importance of that consistent local engagement. The site is built as a collection of blogs written by members of the community, including a local attorney and politico named Paul Bangiola and a jeweller named Bill Braunschweiger.  It’s orchestrated by veteran Star-Ledger reporter and Morristown resident Kevin Coughlin, who spends virtually every waking hour running around town, reporting, recruiting contributors and organizing events.

Kevin is always bursting with ideas to give people in town more ways to share their stories, but one of my favorites was his inspired notion to donate two Flip video cameras to the Morristown & Morris Township Library so residents could check them out and record videos to upload to our site. When it became clear after a couple of months that no one was taking us up on this, he persuaded the library staff to produce a short movie with one of the cameras and then throw a world premier party at the library.’‘

Check out Hassell’s post for photos of the premier.

Michelle Ferrier at Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, recalls her experience living in a small rural community where people waved at neighbors whether they knew them or not. She relates this to her approach as managing editor of for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

“I regularly do what (I) consider to be the online equivalent of waving to my neighbors—logging on and ‘stroking’ (via comments) contributors who have shared their content. I publicly acknowledge their participation. Also, I use contests and rewards to encourage participation. And I pick up the phone to talk to users about their posts. I ask them whether they’ve encountered any technical obstacles with the site, and let them know that we are listening for their feedback.

“Even more often, I’m out in the ‘real world’—at field trips, photographing school dance troupes, talking to nonprofit organizations about partnering on events, in K-12 classrooms and higher education lectures talking to everyone about and what it can do for them—and, especially, listening for their responses.

“I’ve found that ‘What do you want?’ is not the right question to ask your community. Instead, I ask ‘What do you want to do?’ I also look for ways to use existing functions or build new ones to service my neighbors and new friends. And that takes a listening posture, without agenda and with humility, that many mainstream journalists and sites lack.”

Coughlin and Ferrier are meeting the community in energetic ways that most journalists probably wouldn’t consider. No doubt Curley will be doing the same in his next assignment.

Has your news organization found ways to connect with and gather community? Please share your experiences in the comments.

May 23, 2008

Building an online community

Daytona Beach editor advises
“Get out there” to engage public
How do you tap into local, local news?

Poynter Online’s E-Media Tidbits features a lively primer by Michelle Ferrier on the outreach she conducts as leader of, an online community of The Daytona Beach News-Journal. Ferrier writes:
“I’m often asked what a typical day is like as managing editor of an online community. I often respond, ‘What do you mean by ‘typical day’?’ Running a hyperlocal online community like is more like running a political campaign than an online news site. You must be the candidate, campaign manager and media relations coordinator all rolled into one.”
Ferrier makes speaking appearances and hits local community events to evangelize for the site, which also conducts fund-raisers for community causes.
She is one more journalist who is finding the fun at the intersection of journalism and social networks.

May 21, 2008

Moving the furniture, moving the needle

In Tampa, a continuous news desk
translates into online traffic growth
Does your newsroom structure reflect a new news environment?

The traditional newsroom model—with its compartmentalized teams or departments and assembly-line production for end-of-day deadlines—has proven ill suited to a 24/7 news environment that requires speed, creativity, collaboration and the ability to turn on a dime. The structure, systems and processes of the newsroom drive both culture and results. That’s not to say moving desks around a few times a year will change the newsroom. But smart newsroom leaders are finding reorganization—some sweeping, some in small steps—really helps.
The continuous news desk (which now even has the acronym of CND) has come to symbolize digital transformation in many newsrooms, especially larger ones where cross-disciplinary communication tends to be diffuse. I described that change at the Miami Herald here.
This week, I talked with the editor of another Florida newspaper, about a similar change that yielded striking results.
Janet Coats, Executive Editor of The Tampa Tribune, said the organization in the past year:
- Combined online and print newsrooms under the one editor (Coats). (I confess, I was a little surprised that Tampa, a poster child for media convergence, had separate print and online newsrooms as late as 2007.)
- Reorganized into “deep” and “now” teams in an effort to balance getting the story of the moment with investigative and explanatory journalism.
- Moved a significant number of print staff to a new continuous news desk.

“The results,” Coats said, “were immediate and gratifying - a 60 percent increase in (local) page views year over year.” Breaking news page views were about 11 percent of total before the change, Coats said. “Since continuous news desk, that share has grown to about 30 percent.”

Those results in turn pushed culture change in the newsroom, buoyed the staff, and convinced even Web-resistant staff members. “The launch of continuous news desk was the best thing that happened culturally in the time I’ve been here,” Coats said. “It was one of those wonderful moments when we actually launched the continuous news desk we saw immediate results. That was a glorious thing for people who were demoralized. ... We saw that pop, a dramatic pop, in Web traffic. The only thing that had changed was the journalism. That was powerful.”

I bet other newsrooms have similar stories of change. I’d like to hear yours. Please share them in the comments to this blog.

May 19, 2008

Editors blogging: ‘Doing is learning’

Online editor at The Star-Ledger
builds a network link by link
Do you blog? How do you connect online?

Today I’m happy to feature a guest post from John Hassell, Deputy Managing Editor of The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. John, who attended KDMC’s Leadership Conference last year, blogs at the exploding newsroom, often posting interesting updates on his newsroom’s journey to digital. I asked John to write about why he blogs, and why other editors might want to try it. Here’s John:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
—G.K. Chesterton

First, a confession: I’m a lousy blogger. I don’t write often enough, and what I do write is rarely developed as fully as I would like. Caught up in the pull and tug of the newsroom, I too often neglect my blog.

I have great admiration for people like Howard Owens and John Robinson, who make time in their busy schedules to cast a wider net, to think aloud, to leave comments and trackbacks on other blogs. They’re the real deal, and they’re constantly teaching me things.

For me, though, this is one of those times when G.K. Chesterton had it right. Because blogging is worth doing—even if you do it badly, even if it means having to find the odd pre-dawn hour to post something once or twice a week.


Before I started blogging…

...I thought I understood the nature of the link. But until people linked to something I wrote, until I saw the way these links raised my blog’s profile in Google and Technorati searches (okay, not very much in my case, but…), I didn’t really get it. I quickly began to appreciate and return links, and to make unexpected friends. A link can be a nod, a handshake, a pat on the back, an insult. Whatever it is, it’s personal. It’s the glue that builds community online.

...I agreed with the goal of transparency in the news business. But until I began to see first-hand how closely openness and trust are associated on the web, I didn’t grasp how crucial this is. You build credibility online by reporting the news as it happens, sharing your work and engaging readers along the way. You build it one link at a time. The web is not just a place to publish “finished” stories, if there even is such a thing.

...I talked about news as a conversation. But until I started reading more blogs and getting involved in social media, I didn’t understand how quickly news gets shared, expanded, commented on, filtered and repurposed across the web. This is not a trivial thing. People once relied on the news to inform conversation. Now they are relying on the conversation to inform them about the news. If something’s important, they figure they’ll hear about it.

...I considered myself an early adopter. But until I saw how the best bloggers used social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Seesmic and FriendFeed as reporting resources and channels for distributing content (the beauty of community, after all, is that it allows you to gather and share information more efficiently), I didn’t realize how far behind we really were in harnessing the power of these new tools.

To expand on that last point a bit, when I started work on this piece I posted a short question on Twitter:

“Hey, journobloggers: I’m writing a post for the Knight Center about why newspaper editors should blog. I’ve got my reasons; what are yours?”

Like a tiny stone tossed into a pond, it started producing ripples.

First came the responses from people I’ve befriended on Twitter, each of which helped me think about this piece. Here are three of them:

Damon Kiesow of the Nashua (NH) Telegraph: “My #1 reason - they need to understand their audience. Doing is learning.”

Laura Oliver of “For transparency of editorial operations like @marcreeves’ blog lets users see behind-the-scenes and air their views on editorial operations.”

Zach Echola of Forum Communications Company: “Regular interaction with real people forces you to think less about media + audience and more about conversation + community.”

Next, because replies on Twitter are public, a few friends of Damon, Laura and Zach discovered and began following me—which means my network of sources will be even greater next time I’m looking for help.

This goes both ways. With any luck, some of you reading this will click through the links to Damon, Laura and Zach and begin following their work.

Each of those links, in turn, increases the chances that Laura, Damon, Zach or others might read this and share it with others. They might share it through their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, social bookmarking sites or ... well, you get the idea.

This is the social, distributed web.

It’s powerful stuff, and it rewards those who get engaged.

Even if you do it badly.




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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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