News Leadership 3.0

July 01, 2008

Teamwork and technology in Des Moines

Tornado map shows power
of newsroom’s new players

After a tornado blew away the southern third of Parkersburg, Iowa, published an amazing interactive map that led the reader house-by-house through photos, videos and text illustrating the massive disaster.

After I discovered the map last week (thanks to Al Tompkins at Poynter Online), I wanted to learn more about how the staff created the map and whether the Information Center structure that Gannett newsrooms implemented last year played a role in developing such an engaging and effective presentation.

I got in touch with Kelli Morris, a graphic artist in Des Moines who played a lead role in developing the tornado map. Her account may be instructive for newsrooms that seek new structures and practices that will expand the capacity of their staffs across digital platforms. Here’s Morris’ account:

First, the newsroom data department (created under the Information Center model) pulled a list of all the property owners in the town and those were matched with a satellite map of the town. The staff also developed a spreadsheet for the data that would be collected. “This helped to make sure everyone was on the same page heading in and knew the format of the information needed.”

Next, two reporters and a graphic artist headed to Parkersburg, about 110 miles away from Des Moines. The reporters focused on finding residents to get their stories. The artist focused on making “after” photos and getting stories when possible.

“Back in the office, the graphics department began to assemble the map - drawing in the parcel divisions by hand and seeking out a aerial image of the town as a whole after the tornado. Meanwhile, the data department had scraped the county assessor’s site for the basics for each property and began to build the database. A dummy data file was provided to the artist so he could proceed in the programming before the on-site artist returned from the town.” “Before” photos also were pulled from the assessor’s site and cataloged into the database.

When the reporters and artist returned from Parkersburg, they added information to the spreadsheet, including the stories from the residents, damage levels, and photo ID numbers. The data department then compiled the spreadsheets into one html feed that could be drawn into the multi-layered Flash graphic built by the graphics department.

The map was published two weeks after the May 25 tornado. The staff has kept it up to date with information from daily followup coverage and e-mails from readers and residents about their experiences during and after the tornado.

“Overall we’ve had very good response to the map,” Morris said in an e-mail. “We’ve received more than two dozen stories from residents or their families or volunteers who helped clean-up. Some have even asked for a way to preserve the site as a keepsake, saying that the town will never be the same again. Additionally, we’ve received several comments from folks in the industry, who have appreciated in particular the way that the video, photos and story-telling all work together.”

By the end of June, the map had generated nearly 40,000 hits and was the third most popular database on the site for the month, right behind a state salaries database and a map of flooding across Iowa. Update: Morris reports that the map got 42,000 hits by the end of June, which makes it the third most popular interactive graphic the newsroom has produced.

Such smart interactives can significantly increase user time on site. “In general, these types of interactive maps usually provide fewer page views and much higher time spent on page, because they take more commitment to explore than the other quick-hit searchable databases. True in this case as well - we’re seeing times of four minutes per visit, which is very, very good, ” Morris said.

As in many newsrooms, the rise of digital has created a larger place at the table for graphic artists in Des Moines. “We’ve gone from a department that produced secondary graphics and centerpiece illustrations to one that is suggesting and writing its own stories, driving online traffic to interactive graphics, and essential in showing readers the story, rather than just telling them,” Morris said. “Much of this has been driven by the ability to take advantage of technology - satellite images, Flash interactive graphics and the database work. Editors frequently approach our graphics staff looking for different angles to tell a 1A story. And many times, the artists are included in project brainstorming sessions in earlier stages due to our unique understanding of what we can do with graphics for both print and online.”

It’s another illustration of how mastery of emerging technologies increasingly sits side-by-side with traditional skills in effective news organizations. Are you encouraging that kind of growth in your newsroom staff? Please describe your efforts in the comments.


June 17, 2008

Vaulting into video

In Newark, a television vacuum offers
the newspaper a video opportunity

“What do you think, can a newspaper newsroom produce quality web TV?” That’s a question posed by John Hassell on his exploding newsroom blog. And Hassell and his colleagues at The Star-Ledger and in Newark are about to find out.

The Star-Ledger newsroom recently launched an aggressive strategy to grow audience with news and enterprise video.

“We want to produce great video journalism in New Jersey and to showcase local video of all sorts, whether it’s produced by our staff or not. New Jersey has been traditionally under served by the local network TV outlets in New York and Philadelphia, and that presents an incredible opportunity to build audience and revenue around video content,” Hassell says.

To get started, the newsroom invested in HDV cameras and intensive boot camp training for 20 veejays in May. Within the first few days of training, participants were producing video and Hassell says the quality is improving all the time.

“We believe quality is key when you’re talking about telling stories with video. Our newly trained veejays are still cutting their teeth, but the level of their work is already quite high and rising every week. The visuals should be compelling, the writing taut and the arc of story clearly drawn. Storytelling is really at the heart of what we’re doing, and we feel we bring a lot to the table. All of that said, there is also plenty of room for short clips where production and storytelling values give way to the simple act of witnessing something newsworthy, fascinating or just plain weird.”

The training also attempted to address and help avoid post-production logjams that many newsrooms have experienced in the rush to video.

Hassell explains in an interview with “Newspapers & Technology:”

“The class teaches students how to bridge the gap between gathering news intended for both video and print distribution, Hassell said.

‘What a lot of people do is when they first get a video camera and are sent out to shoot video they come back with a lot of video and that creates an inefficient post-production result because you get back and have three hours of footage that you have to watch and edit,’ said Hassell. ‘We are teaching people how to think about what they need to shoot for the story they want to tell so that the process of producing video stories’ becomes more efficient.’‘

The newsroom also shifted three print-oriented journalists to manage the new video enterprise: AME/Video, with overall responsibility for video efforts; Video Enterprise Editor, with a mandate to keep the standards high; and a new veejay who becomes a full-time producer and host of the daily noon web cast that launches next month.

You can link to a recent progress report on the effort by Hassell here and to one example of a new veejay’s work here.

Hassell says it’s too early to tell whether the video strategy is paying off.

“We’ll judge ourselves on the quality of our work, the traffic it generates, the revenue it produces and the extent to which we can build and nurture a network of New Jerseyans who are making and sharing video. It’s early to judge the results, because we only recently launched a video platform at, but the viewership trends and number of user submissions are encouraging.”


May 14, 2008

NAA: The march to video

Newspaper Web sites
jump into online video
What’s your video strategy?

The Newspaper Association of America‘s new survey of newspaper Web site’s production of local video provides one of the best snapshot’s I’ve seen lately of newsrooms in transition, and the transition may be significant. A year ago, many of the newsroom leaders at Knight Digital Media Center’s annual Leadership Conference saw aggressive pursuit of local video as a priority for 2007. Like many of their peers, they saw the value of video in enriching news coverage, increasing traffic and possibly creating a new advertising revenue stream. They were searching for tools and strategies.
The new NAA report suggests many traditional news organizations have leapt into video—or at least have a toe in the water. It also suggests there is more work to be done.

Here are a few highlights of the NAA survey, entitled “Newspapers’ Online Video:”
- News (breaking), features sports and entertainment dominate online local video content. Interestingly, the report notes, while people frequently go to a news site for weather information, only about a third of the sites surveyed feature weather or traffic video.
- Most site visitors watch video in the morning (32 percent from 6 to 10 a.m.) or in the middle of the day (27 percent 10 am. to 2 p.m.). Nearly a third of those responding didn’t know the most popular times for visiting their Web sites. (It’s also important to keep in mind, as Rick Hirsch at the Miami Herald and others have noted, that readers of different topics may be hitting the site at different times.)
- Photographers are most often shooting video (86 percent) but reporters are not far behind (74 percent).
- Most newsrooms provide video training (58 to 80 percent provide it, depending on size).
- Pre-roll is the dominant format for online video advertising. About half of the newspapers surveyed feature pre-roll. At smaller newspapers, 43 percent reported selling pre-roll advertising. At larger newspapers, 78 percent feature pre-roll advertising. Banner adds and sponsorships also are popular. Fewer than 10 percent feature post-roll advertising or ads that run across the bottom of the screen.

The NAA survey is based on 213 responses out of 1,117 solicitations that went to newspapers. That’s a decent response rate (19 percent) and newspapers of all sizes are represented. But NAA notes that “it is possible the conclusions may not fully represent the entire U.S. newspaper industry.” My own guess is that those who were more engaged with video were more likely to respond, so the survey may be a snapshot of early adopters rather than the industry as a whole. Still it’s encouraging.

How does your news organization compare with organizations in the NAA study? What tips can you offer other editors seeking to improve their online video offerings?

May 12, 2008

NAA: Resources for online video

Newspaper Association of America
urges sites to embrace online video
What’s your video strategy?

The Newspaper Association of America has released a report urging newspaper sites to get on the video bandwagon - if they’re not there already. NAA also provides a lot of resources aimed at newsrooms that are just getting started.

Zooming In on Online Video: A Development & Growth Guide for Newspaper Web Sites” is “intended to help newspapers of any size develop profitable video applications,” says the report. “As competition heats up for online video mindshare, newspapers have an excellent opportunity to leverage their skills and content and capture an even larger share of online advertising spending.”

The financial promise of video is significant, NAA believes. “Local online video advertising was a $400 million business in 2007, according to Borrell Associates,” the report states, and “eMarketer expects that online video ads will pull in $1.3 billion this year.”

If your newsroom is getting up to speed in video, here are key NAA links:
Shooting quality video
Equipment: What to buy
Editing and publishing
Live video
Making money (!)
Building a newsroom studio
Beginning video glossary

NAA also conducted a survey of practice in video across newspaper sites. I am wading through that and will summarize key findings later this week. Meanwhile, is your newsroom active with video? Who is shooting it? Who is editing it? What works best? Are readers responding?

(And thanks to Howard Owens for the pointer.)

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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).

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