News Leadership 3.0

March 29, 2010

The Bee aggregates local online news sources with a new network, Sacramento Connect

With a little help from training at Knight Digital Media Center, The Sacramento Bee launches a lively network of sites and blogs that connects its users to other news sources and to each other

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, few established news organizations were thinking about befriending local news start ups and many probably wished they’d go away.

My own January 2009 post encouraging news organizations to make friends with local start ups and link to their content got lost the a fierce debate about whether aggregators were driving traffic to established sites or taking it away.

So today it’s exciting to see The Sacramento Bee in California launch Sacramento Connect, “a network of high-quality news providers and bloggers in the Sacramento region.”

“From my view, Sacramento Connect is a contemporary way to carry out some familiar aims of a newspaper: Pointing readers to interesting and useful information and connecting people to community life,” Bee Editor Melanie Sill said in a note to readers Sunday.

Sacramento Connect (@saconnect on Twitter) has a friendly feel and it is loaded with social features. Users can tailor the content they see according to their interests and they can easily share stories with others via e-mail or a social network site. More on site features. The network is starting with about a dozen partners and expects to grow, reports Tom Negrete, Bee managing editor for online.

I take some pride in playing a small role in Sacramento Connect. I designed and led KDMC’s 2009 class on Social Media Strategy for News Organizations that brought editors including Sill together with social media experts including Paul Gillin and JD Lasica. The Sacramento network was The Bee’s class project. Teams from 13 newspaper organizations participated in a a 10-week online class on Social Media Strategy for News Organizations, planned a social media project with a coach supplied by the center, and then convened with other editors in Los Angeles to hone and present those plans.

Early in the class, I made a point of assigning readings articles about the value of aggregation and linking. Susan Mernit joined the faculty and coached Sacramento on their project. (Report on the class. My blog posts from class. Read posts earliest first if you want to get a sense of the progression of the class.)

Another class participant, The Wichita Eagle, is getting ready to launch a local network as well. Sacramento and Wichita are not alone. Fueled by money from the Knight Foundation, several major news organizations, including The Miami Herald and The Charlotte Observer (another participant in the ‘09 class) are partnering with local sites in a project sponsored by J-Lab.

Some new partnerships go beyond linking. The Seattle Times is collaborating with hyper local partners to cover the news and produce enterprise reporting. Several of the projects envision sharing advertising.

ACTION STEPS

- If your organization wants to get started on a project like this, here’s a screencast that Paul Gillin put together on some ways to find local sites and blogs in your area.

- Also check out Placeblogger and J-Lab’s map and database. Additionally, I am creating a shorter list that screens for and categorizes the more promising sites.

- Try some of our other KDMC learning exercises about social media.

July 30, 2009

Social media: Expanding horizons of traditional news organizations

News executives who participated in KDMC’s social media class offer takeaways aimed at their peers in the news industry

As Knight Digital Media Center’s class, “Using Social Media to Build Audience,” wrapped up last week, several of the faculty remarked on how far leaders of the 10 participating news organizations had come. They took a 10-week online class, then received one-on-one coaching for specific projects and we wrapped up in Los Angeles July 19-21 to finalize plans. Those plans range from developing content to engage young people on mobile phones and Facebook to becoming an aggregator of blogs and news sites in their communities. Buying into the value of linking outward to the content of others and the need for content to find people where they live online were two threads that I saw in many of the projects, which I will write about as they launch in the next couple of months. In the meantime, I asked participants to highlight one or two ideas that they wanted to share with their peers—editors, online editors and revenue executives at traditional (newspaper) organizations. Here’s a sampling:

“We need to take a hard look at what is ‘in our DNA’ that’s preventing us from moving forward at the pace we need to. On both the news and business sides, we need to go back and have frank conversations about this concept, which Paul (Gillin) framed very well.”—Sherry Chisenhall, editor, The Wichita Eagle.

“We need better company-wide strategy on using social media to build audience (outside our project). We’re doing just about everything mentioned as a good idea, but in a scattered way and not consistently. Among those ideas: using social bookmarking sites and tools, working on SEO in headlines and tagging, defining guidelines and expectations on facebook and twitter, and so forth. We can probably get better results with a more coherent and better-communicated Bee strategy.”—Melanie Sill, editor, The Sacramento Bee

“Social media strategy is different and changing at a more rapid pace than any other form of strategy. People are looking to get news and information from a plethora of sources and it is our responsibility to provide those services to readers before someone else does. As ad executives, we cannot be scared to go after new horizons of revenues; we cannot afford not to! But we must keep in mind our approach and ideas have to be fresh and innovative. We must learn how to sell the value of social media to our customers and relay to them this is not just another fad. We’re still bringing our audience to our advertisers, that’s not even the issue. We’re just doing it in a different format.”—Hector Sabido, retail advertising manager, Waco Tribune-Herald

“We need to maximize (social media channels) early and often, and during the growth spurt. It is just too easy of a way to extend the brand not to do it. We will have the opportunity of permeating our message in places and to audiences that we may not be reaching through traditional means.”—Anthony Cuffie, sales managerr, Philadelphia News

“We need to further foster blogging by featuring the higher quality blog posts and bloggers. This will probably be some combination of staff editing and reader ratings.”—Dan Easton, Victoria (TX) Advocate

“Legacy media is risk averse, and career print journalists tend to be perfectionists motivated by fear of failure. We have to embrace the Silicon Valley notion that failure is a badge of courage. We’ve got to stop fearing change and failure and start pushing the envelope with innovations. If we fail, fail fast and then move on. and then label it an “intelligent failure.” But we have to embrace change and modify our entire corporate-industry behavior. We’ve got to stop over planning and over analyzing and turn our battleship into a speedboat.”—J. Todd Foster, managing editor, Bristol (VA) Herald Courier

“The energized, smart and talented newspaper leaders at the session showed how much life we do indeed have left in our industry. Self-appointed Internet experts have a vested interest in devaluing what newspapers have created—wide and deep community connections that can’t be replaced easily. As we dive headlong into the digital now, we’re reminded it’s still about the relationships we have with our audience and advertisers. USC professor Patti Riley wrapped up the session well by reminding us that leaders offer a vision and hope.”—Chris Cobler, editor, Victoria Advocate

“The most profound, yet most liberating moment came in a private conversation with Arturo Doran (CEO of ImpreMedia Online). He said we have lost the breaking news franchise to the 200 million cell phone users with cameras on their phones. That has huge implications for allocation of my staff and for my ability to devote resources on innovation.”—Carlos Sanchez, editor, Waco Tribune-Herald

“The key is to not only push content out, but to also engage with folks in two-way conversations. The big AHA moment in that discussion: the conversations in the future may not be on our websites with blogs and comments on stories etc. that generate page views to monetize, but more likely will be where the community is having the conversation on Twitter or FB or some other social medium. The conundrum that results from that:  how to resolve the inherent conflict that exists since most of our for-profit, corporate media companies are focused on building our audience on our sites to grow revenue.”—Maria DeVarenne, editor, The Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise

“Strengthen our strategy for getting the word out about our content. This is about more than RSS feeds. We need to press for links to our content in a variety of ways. This include efforts to establish our headlines on other sites (by offering widgets to install), as well as including headlines with every story we publish. The latter helps lead the search traffic deeper into our site.”—Rick Thames, editor, Charlotte Observer

“If you thought the media landscape has changed rapidly over the past decade and a half since the advent of the World Wide Web, strap yourself in for an even faster ride with social networking media. Twitter and Facebook are today’s hot commodities, and there’s probably another “next big thing” just around the corner. No matter who emerges and survives as the king of social media, legacy media companies need to have a strategy for extending and evolving or mutating their brands in these new areas. While mass media will remain in some form, the marketplace of today and tomorrow is fragmented. No single approach will suffice to define success in the 21st Century. Whatever timetable you’ve set for new ventures should be shortened and begun immediately. There’s no time to waste. ”—Dan Day, managing editor/online, The Modesto Bee

“To make the most of the many social media tools out there, you must find ways to integrate them into every aspect of your newsroom - disseminating news, gathering news, finding sources, taking the temperature of your audience, etc. And not every social media tool will work in every area of your coverage - Facebook might work for entertainment, but not for high school sports. Twitter might work for politics, but not for education. There is a lot of trial and error involved in finding what works, but if you do it right you will end up with a more engaged and responsive audience.  Hopefully, that will eventually translate into more revenue, but there are a lot of challenges in explaining the value of social media ads to advertisers. However, we had the same challenges in the early days of news Web sites, have made progress there.”—Robert Long, new media editor, The News Journal

“To get started, you can and should dedicate at least one person to establishing and/or furthering your social media efforts.”—Carl Esposito, publisher, Bristol Herald Courier

“Using social networks isn’t all that much different than the way journalism has always been done. Yes, there’s fancy jargon and some new metrics, including very specific knowledge of how people are interacting with you. But, in the end, newspaper organizations are uniquely positioned—we’ve got a great brand image in our communities, the talent in our buildings and the ability to process information into news quickly. And you don’t need to re-invent the wheel—best practices on how to use these networks are being refined every day. How to get started? You already have—somebody in your newsroom knows more about Facebook or Twitter or MySpace or fill in the blank than you do. Turn to them for advice. Sign up for the social networks. Model the behavior by using those networks. Go out on google and search for what you need to know. Twitter has just released an excellent introduction to twitter for businesses—download it.”—Steve Gunn, editor for innovations, Charlotte Observer

What resonates for you in these takeaways? What would you like to know more about? Let me know in the comments and I’ll follow up.

July 27, 2009

Social media: Baby steps for news organizations

Here are three lessons in social media for news executives and entrepreneurs: Understand how it works, understand how people (not journalists) use it, and use it strategically

I’ve been going to school on social media for a while now and I’ve concluded it represents a revolution in communication that no journalist or news organization can afford to ignore.

Specific platforms of social media may come and go, but it’s hard to imagine the public will turn away from the underlying practices—and benefits—of being able to share widely and freely online. I want journalism and journalists to be a big part of that communication ecosystem.

So here are my three suggestions for journalists and news organizations that want to get started:

1. Try it. Start with the easy one: Facebook. Set up an account, search out some friends and family members and link up with them. Search groups that reflect your interests. Start posting once a day. Share links to interesting articles. Ask friends to comment. Comment on posts by your friends and group members. Devote 10 minutes a day to this for several weeks. Start up a Twitter account and repeat these steps. Above all, resist the urge to create a litany of reasons you don’t like Facebook, or Twitter or any other network you join. You are not the point. Understanding how social media works is Job 1. Just talking about it or dissing it won’t get you there.

2. Watch how other people use social networks.
What are people sharing and how do they share it? Links, observations, questions, photos? Don’t look at social media through the eyes of the journalist (“What can it do for me?”) Focus on how people communicate with each other. Check out people who have a large number of followers on Twitter - How do they write and what do they offer that appeals to you? Learn as much as you can about how people in your community use social media: Use search and check out sites such as PlaceBlogger to identify social media leaders and connect with them. As people around you (neighbors, students, young people in your newsroom) how they use social media. Start thinking about how the news you produce might improve their experience (which is different from trying to get them to read your news).
3. Be strategic. There’s no point in being on all the networks all the time. Figure out a strategy, try it out and stick with it long enough to figure out whether it works and learn from your mistakes if it doesn’t. Hint: If you want to drive traffic for a certain subject on your site, Twitter will be a better tool than Facebook.
A final note: Don’t expect to get revenue from social media, at least not right away. Social media is about community and conversation. It provides valuable tools for news organizations and news entreprenuers who want to increase their connections to community. It is those connections that may eventually yield revenue, from advertisers who want to speak to those communities, from services the news organization discovers those communities want, and from loyalty that will help keep the users coming back.
I organizaed a class on social media strategy for Knight Digital Media Center this spring and summer. I shared class resources in this blog under the category “09 Class: Using Social Media to Build Audience.”
Good luck.
Are you using social media in your news organization? What’s working? What lessons have you learned? I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments.

July 22, 2009

The dance of change

USC Annenberg professor Patti Riley offers leaders good advice on leading change in their news organizations

Patti Riley had a lot of good advice for news and revenue executives who gathered this week for Knight Digital Media Center’s “Using Social Media to Build Audience” conference in Los Angeles. Riley, a professor in USC Annenberg’s School for Communication, has studied change in news organizations. Her findings are especially resonant with me because they are so similar to what my team saw when we worked with newsrooms to develop training programs that would foster change in attitudes while raising skills.

Riley has identified four tactics that successful change leaders use:

1. They Inject speed into any process, emphasizing that faster is better
2. They create structures that foster cross functional teams
3. They develop networks and communicate widely
4. They engineer success. They get quick wins and they trumpet them.

Urgency. Collaboration. Networks. Small victories.

Riley says it’s important for leaders to be up front about what’s going on, even in the midst of layoffs and downsizing. “We tell everybody the data, the goals and the consequences of not meeting those goals,” Riley said. “We make sure people have every opportunity to contribute to it being otherwise.”

“Help them understand how much they need to move out of Pot A into Pot B so that they still have even a chance of being around in 5 years” and avoid being the frog in the pot who doesn’t notice how much it’s heating up, Riley said.

Carlos Sanchez, editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald, asked Riley about the problem of setting priorities in such a pressure-cooker environment. “A lot of priorities is no priorities,” Sanchez said.

Riley said it’s helpful to think of the goals or direction of the organization as an umbrella under which important activities must take place.

“Use the umbrella theme - this is our big vision, this is where we’re going.  Any time you add new elements—training in multimedia for example—show how these things exist in order to support the big umbrella theme. That will keep people focused on ‘This is where we’re trying to go.’  It’s got to fit together with that larger point.”

Riley also pointed to what I think is one of the biggest challenges for newsrooms: Stopping doing things that can no longer be priorities. “If you can’t figure out how (an activity) ultimately supports that final point, don’t do it,” she said. “There are unlimited needs in organizations and limited time and people.”

What’s your formula for setting priorities and advancing change in your organization? Please share your tips in the comments.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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