News Leadership 3.0

January 21, 2010

Don’t “over Twitter” and other social media tips for news organizations

Media strategist Steve Safran says news organizations must straddle two worlds - the traditional one of producing news and the new one as a player on social networks. Here are his tips for success.

(USC journalism graduate student Nikki Usher sat in on the Knight Digital Media Center’s Strategic Leadership Summit for Public Radio Stations, held last month in conjunction with National Public Radio and funded by Knight Foundation. I asked her to write about key takeaways.)

By Nikki Usher

Steve Safran, a media strategist at Media Reinvent, offered key take-home lessons for news organizations looking to improve their online presence:

1. The Twitter Effect.

Safran advised public radio stations not to get bogged down in numbers of Twitter followers. He highlighted Boston public radio station WBUR, which has 4,300 or so followers. But, Safran pointed out, Twitterers have “spheres of influence.”
The average twitter user, according to Safran, has 126 followers. WBUR has 4,385 followers, but if all of them retweet, that means another 552,510 people may pay attention to WBUR. In a magic world, if all those people retweeted WBUR, you could get 69 million WBUR mentions. “Small beginnings are OK,” he said.
Safran’s number one tip for Twitterers: don’t over tweet. Keep it short, and don’t over promote.
“Audiences want their information as micro as possible,” Safran said. “You are using other people’s mobile text money, so make it worth their money.”

2. Media 1.0 vs. Media 2.0

News organizations are in a funny spot. They are original content providers and they must play in social media.
Media 1.0 is: one way, mass media, top/down, a closed network,  (e.g. not sharing APIs, no comments on a site), hierarchical, passive, macromedia, and bundled.
Media 2.0 is: interactive, direct, bottom-up, open network, collaborative, active, micromedia, and self- bundling.
News organizations shouldn’t get rid of media 1.0 - that’s what audience come to them for - but they do need to change. Safran offered the word “simulpath” - how to keep changes occurring while things are already in progress.
He suggested:
* Unbundle content for consumption anywhere
* Build interactive applications into brand extension platforms
* Make content available for mobile distribution
* Create widgets to provide content on other Web sites in the market
* Own RSS and offer many feeds
* Launch a branded RSS reader

3. Connecting outside the news organization

News organizations, thanks to the world of Media 2.0, aren’t in their own mass media world anymore. Instead, they are part of a larger information ecosystem. And they are also part of a local community.
Safran stressed the importance of a news organization becoming a local information hub as well as an aggregator for content by users.
He suggested news organizations organize local bloggers and the local Web, build and maintain a database of local Web sites, help users create participatory content, and build standalone, niche web sites.
Niche channels are key, as Safran pointed out. “Blogs are the single best search engine optimized content out there.”
His final suggestion for news organizations was to “aggregate, aggregate, aggregate.”

4. Building hits and attracting users

“You don’t want to be best radio web site - you want to be best multimedia outlet,” Safran told public radio executives.
What does that mean for news organizations? It means giving audiences news as it happens in new and novel ways - especially in times of breaking news. Consider new blogs, mashups, and simply blowing up home pages, as CBS8 did with the California Wildfires a couple of years ago. 
And news orgs shouldn’t be afraid to be the gathering place for competing information sites, such as adding feeds from the LA Fire Department.
The web also means writing differently. Search engine optimization, according to Safran, isn’t a magical science. It’s just using easily googled words over and over again so that your site comes up first - if you’re writing about a local fire, include the name, place and site of the fire so anyone searching for information will stumble upon it.
“Keywords are marketing,” Safran said.
He offered some key suggestions:
* Write literal headlines
* Think: How would my friends search this?
* Link out like crazy: Start with two links per story
* Keep updating as the story changes
* Use lots of RSS feeds
Safran reminded public radio leaders most traffic comes from search or aggregators, not from using the home page as a destination. So news outlets are really competing to be the RSS feed of choice.

August 18, 2009

In California’s state finance meltdown, State Worker blog flourishes

Formula for success: Hot issue, big interest group and an inclusive approach make this blog’s most popular

The Sacramento Bee and blogger Jon Ortiz have a winning formula with the State Worker Blog, which recently passed its one-year anniversary chronicling California state government’s financial meltdown from the perspective of its employees.

It started with a hot running issue that’s lasted a lot longer than many expected. It has a well-defined constituency of about 240,000 state workers. It got 52,000 hits its first week in late July 2008, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to pay state workers only the federal minimum wage until he settled a budget dispute with the Legislature.

Since then, monthly hits have increased more than ten fold, it gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 unique visitors monthly and it’s the most popular blog on

Ortiz has taken those advantages a step further with the goal of covering “politics from the bottom up, instead of the traditional top down way” that focuses on officials,  press conferences and other events. “Instead my aim has always been to go from the ground up and talk about how the troops in the trenches see these battles.”

“It’s an exchange,” Ortiz said in an interview. “It’s not writing about them. It’s more than that. It’s letting their knowledge permeate the journalism.”

The result is a blog that attracts frequent comments. Ortiz said he also gets about 200 e-mails a day, many of them tips that turn into stories.

Ortiz estimates about half the blog commenters are state employees and about half are not. He targets a weekly print column at a more general readership.

He tries to post three times a day. “Many times the news will drive me beyond that.” Once he had 10 posts in a day. “The news just kept hammering me.”

Ortiz offered advice for anyone starting a blog:

1. Get to know your audience.
Get out and talk with people. Ortiz occasionally posts an open invitation to lunch on Twitter and 10-12 people may show up.

2. Pay attention to the comments.  Elevate comments that are particularly thoughtful or provocative into the main blog or set up a feature to highlight good comments. Respond to questions in comments. Let people know you’re looking at what they’re saying.

“There’s a lot of flaming between commenters, and sometimes they take shots at my journalism, but I view it all as part of the conversation,” Ortiz said. “And I sometimes get good tips or suggestions in comments, so I always read them.”

Ortiz is enthusiastic about the way the blog enables users to participate. “There’s no way we can learn everything there is to know about state government. There are people who know more than we do. We can fight that or we can embrace it and I chose to embrace.”

August 06, 2009

Entrepreneurship 101: Making money as a blogger

In a guest post, entrepreneurial journalist Julia Scott of, asks seven questions bloggers need to ask themselves when they decide to pursue revenue

Julia Scott is an entrepreneurial journalist, professional speaker, and blogger at, which helps people save money on everyday expenses. She just launched a second site,, which helps Angelenos save money using Google maps. Scott was a fellow in Knight Digital Media Center’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp in May and I’ve asked her to write an occasional guest post about her adventures in creating

By Julia Scott

The first question I get when I tell people I am a professional blogger is, how to you make money?

More and more journalists are grappling with this question as news gathering professionals leave mainstream news organizations and start their own blogs and websites. But the question we should ask is, are niche sites viable?


In theory, niche news websites make money by cultivating an audience that is the polar opposite of a typical newspaper audience. Newspapers offer advertisers volume, while niche sites offer passion. That means niche sites have fewer potential advertisers, but they deliver access to a highly targeted audience, which advertisers, in theory, will pay more to reach. Advertising is not the only money-maker, but it is one of the easiest ways to produce revenue.

In practice, the viability of a niche site starts with these seven factors.

1. How do you define profitability?
If you have a lavish lifestyle or are used to six-figure, old media salaries, your expectations may not jive with the reality of online sites.

2. How big is your audience? Even niche sites need a critical mass of readers. At the minimum, you need a few thousand eyeballs daily to be taken seriously.

3.  How passionate is your audience?
Comments, bounce rates, forum posts, average time spent on your site, and tips gauge how passionate your readers are about your site. The more involved they are in your site, the better off you are.

4. How commercial is your subject?
A site devoted to knitting will never have the advertising potential of one devoted to shopping. Subject matter is particularly important to journalists who cover weighty subjects that get little traction with the public. Advertising revenue may not be a reliable source of income for some sites, which need to be even more creative about revenue streams.

5. How creative are you with your revenue streams? Diversity is not just good, it’s crucial. In addition to multiple types of ads consider white papers, speaking gigs, sponsors, books, donations, events, freelancing, syndication, email lists, membership drives, and product referrals. Don’t bank on paid subscribers.

6. How much time does the job take?
Are you able to keep your site fresh and your audience happy in 4 hours a day? 16 hours? Is your site popular enough that aspiring writers will share content for free? Are you technically savvy enough to do basic maintenance? Do you have friends or family to help with technical meltdowns and crises?

7. Is the site your main gig or a side gig?
Having time to build up your site while not needing it to pay your bills is ideal. On the other hand, being under the gun to make it work provides motivation.

There are no black and white answers to these questions, but answering them is a good start to figuring out whether your niche site can be viable.

More guest posts by Julia Scott:
Entrepreneurship 101: Use the free stuff
A news entrepreneur lives her obsession and makes it pay

August 03, 2009

Entrepreneurship 101: Use the free stuff

In a guest post, entrepreneurial journalist Julia Scott of, lists nine steps - free or low cost - to starting a Web site and a business that helps people save money

Julia Scott is an entrepreneurial journalist, professional speaker, and blogger at, which helps people save money on everyday expenses. She just launched a second site,, which helps Angelenos save money using Google maps. Scott was a fellow in Knight Digital Media Center’s News Entrepreneur Boot Camp in May and I’ve asked her to write an occasional guest post about her adventures in creating

By Julia Scott

People often ask me how I got my website up and running for nothing. My answer is simple. I had no money so I found ways to do it for (almost) free.

1. I chose a site name and slogan - free!

2. I established a Wordpress blog - free!

3. I purchased a domain name ~ $8/year at if someone doesn’t already own the url (it’s usually $10 but there are often coupons). That’s dirt cheap real estate.

4. I arranged hosting for my site ~ $10/month.

5. I relied on the talents of my wonderful friends, including a graphic designer who developed my banner and a glamorous, cartoony version of me that you can peek at on my About page. A professional photographer-friend snapped the picture that is on my homepage and my techie husband and cousin did hours of back end work on the site to make it look professional and unique - free!

6. I churned out a ton of blog posts, created a blogroll, and set up a free email newsletter for readers to receive my blog posts through Feedblitz. I’ve had mixed results with Feedblitz but on the whole things have been excellent for the price - free!

7. I wrote press releases and contacted local media to get publicity for my site - free!

8. I emailed and Twittered (@bargainbabe) with other personal finance writers to join my niche’s conversation online. Linking to others and asking them to link to me did great things for my SEO - free!

9. I continue to provide useful, practical tips on saving money written in my distinct voice. I constantly poll readers and ask them for feedback on what they want to read about, what they think of an issue, or ask them to share their two cents. Building a community around my site increases loyalty and stickiness - free!

Creating my online website and business set me back just a few dollars. The real cost is my time. I do the vast majority of the work myself (I have a fantastic intern and Bargain Hubby regularly does tech maintenance) so the most pressing dilemma is how to invest my time. Everyday I have 100 things I absolutely must do. But I can only do about seven of them. Spending money is off the table, but how I spend my time will make or break my business. If you are bootstrapping your website, it is likely you will face the same time management challenges.

Later this week: Julia Scott on the challenges and opportunities of making money off a niche website.

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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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