News Leadership 3.0

Posts tagged with: News Organizations

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.

January 28, 2010

Promising online news organizations - The hunt is on

Part of my work as an Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow is identifying promising online news organizations, learning from their experience and seeing if RJI can help them flourish. Here’s my list so far. Please help me out by suggesting additions in the comments.

(Update: I have added site to the list, based on suggestions from commenters and others. See the updated list here. Thank you.)
I have a list of hundreds of the news sites (from the Knight Community News Network‘s database and other sources). With help from Missouri School of Journalism grad student Adam Maksl, I’m looking at sites and measuring them against criteria that indicate they are primarily a news site that is updated regularly, are accessible and transparent to readers, and are working on a viable business model. We’re also looking at how these sites use social media and other interactivity to engage their users.

What we’re finding is that many of the sites on various lists are defunct or fairly inactive, which is similar to the findings of annual studies by Esther Thorson and other researchers at the Missouri School of Journalism. But we’re also finding sites that seem to be making a modest go of news and possibly the news business. We want to highlight them.
What follows is our list of promising sites. So far. We’ll be adding to it in the coming weeks, and as we write more about a particular site, we’ll link to it from here. Please feel free to add your thoughts here. Also please tell us about sites you think we should explore. It doesn’t matter whether these sites are for-profit, not-for-profit or even corporate as long as they are willing to share what they’re learning.

Most of the information is gleaned from a review of the site. If we’ve missed something or gotten the wrong impression, please let us know in the comments or e-mail me at michele dot mclellan at yahoo dot com.

Please help us with our list. We need your contributions. If you operate one of the sites, please feel free to add relevant information in comments here.

We’ve created some categories for organizing the sites, with the caveat that most sites don’t fit one rigid definition. But we’ve attempted to define dominant traits or practices and acknowledge up front that the categories may not reflect nuances. (Thanks to Susan Mernit and Lisa Williams for wise feedback on the categories.)

1. NEW TRADITIONALS - These sites are dominated by original content produced by professional journalists. While the newsroom staff may be smaller than in a traditional newspaper newsroom, these sites tend to have more journalists on staff than community or micro local sites.  Many are embracing digital connectivity with their users, but traditional journalism is their bread and butter. Most of these sites are powered with grant funding and are searching for a viable revenue model, perhaps one that mixes grants, donations, sponsorships, syndication and advertising. Among others, the Knight Foundation is putting significant money into many of these sites.

* New Haven Independent is a professionally-staffed local news site in Connecticut, edited by Paul Bass and sponsored by the not-for-profit Online Journalism Project. Topics: Neighborhoods, government, politics, criminal justice, schools, business. Revenue: Foundation grants, advertising, donations. About New Haven Independent. Bonus points: With grant funding, recently spun off a sister site, the Valley Independent Sentinel (About), also professionally staffed, which serves five towns in Connecticut’s Naugautuck Valley.
* Gotham Gazette is a New York City site operated by the Citizens Union Foundation. Topics: City and state policy and politics. Revenue:  Donations, advertising, foundation grants. Bonus points: Uses interactive games to engage users in solving civic problems. About Gotham Gazette.

* St. Louis Beacon was founded by and is staffed by professional journalists, including editor Margaret Wolf Freivogel. Topics: Revenue: Grants, donations, memberships. Bonus points: Member of the Public Insight Network, which solicits citizen perspectives and experiences to inform journalism. About St. Louis Beacon

* The Tyee is a Vancouver, B.C. news site that uses professional journalists and seeks to publish stories that mainstream news sources ignore. The editor is David Beers. Topics: Government and public affairs, environment, justice system.  Revenue: Advertising, donations. About The Tyee.

* Voice of San Diego, with a high-energy look and a carefully crafted mission, is a model for online city journalism done right. Topics: Politics, education, neighborhoods, public safety, housing, economy and quality of life. Revenue: Grants, donations, memberships, advertising. Bonus points: Investigative reporting. About Voice of San Diego.

To be added: MinnPost, Texas Tribune, Seattle PI, California Watch, Wyo.file
Newcomers in 2010: Florida Independent, Connecticut News Project

2. COMMUNITY - These sites often rely on professional journalists but they tend to be bootstrappers who also focus on community building—actively seeking user feedback and content, writing in a conversational tone, and fostering civic engagement with practices such as voting, calls to action, and partnerships with local organizations and activists.

* Oakland Local is a community news site founded by Web entrepreneur Susan Mernit in Oakland, Calif. About. Topics: Environment, food, development, identity, arts & education. Revenue: Start up grant, advertising in the works. Bonus points: Savvy combination of community partnerships and strategic use of social media create community buzz. About Oakland Local.

* Open Media Boston reports local news with a small professional staff supplemented by citizen journalists. Topics: Local news, arts and living, tech, opinion. Revenue: Advertising, donations, foundation grants. Bonus points: Uses social media tools to solicit content submissions from readers. About Open Media Boston.

* Twin Cities Daily Planet is a rich community news site in Minneapolis-St. Paul founded by journalist Jeremy Iggers. Topics: Neighborhoods and communities, work & economy, politics & policy, arts & lifestyle, immigrants and immigration. Revenue: Donations, advertising, sponsorships, foundation grants. Bonus points: Aggregates dozens of community sites, including ethnic media. About Twin Cities Daily Planet.

To be added: Gables Home Page.

- Sometimes called “hyper local,” these sites provide highly granular news of a defined neighborhood or town. They may have a tiny staff—one or two people plus interns or citizen contributors—supported by highly local advertising.

* BaristaNet, run by veteran journalists Debbie Galant and Liz George, covers three towns in northern New Jersey. Topics: Locals news and events. Revenue: Local advertising, including classifieds.  Bonus Points: The site has formed some partnerships with other local organizations, including creating an online local parenting guide (Barista Kids) with a local children’s organization. About BaristaNet.

* The Batavian: Digital news pioneer Howard Owens started this New York news blog for Gatehouse Media, then took it with him when he left the company. Topics: Local news. Revenue: Advertising, sponsorships. Bonus points: Another demonstration that there is a revenue model in local advertising. About The Batavian.

* The Loop is a micro local news site founded and operated by television journalist Polly Kriesman, a multiple Emmy winner. It serves Larchmont and five other communities near New York City. Topics: Local news and events. Revenue: Advertising. Bonus points: News with good-natured attitude. About The Loop.

* The Rapidian is neighborhood citizen news site in Grand Rapids, Mich., operated by the Grand Rapids Community Media Center. Topics: Neighborhood news. Revenue: Foundation grants, including Knight Foundation. Bonus points: Active use of social media, mapping local events and news. About The Rapidian.
* West Seattle Blog is operated by Tracy Record and Patrick Sand. Topics: Local news, crime, traffic, events. Revenue: Advertising. Bonus points: Demonstrating that highly local advertising can anchor a modest business model. About West Seattle Blog.

To be added: Seattle’s Capitol Hill and My Ballard blogs.

- These are highly local, low cost sites created with a regional or national template, often by a corporation. In taking the temperature of the news ecosystem, it is important to note that corporations are interested in micro local news and the local advertising they may draw. What do they know that established news organizations don’t?

To be added: Patch, YourHub, Metblogs

5. NICHE - To be added: Health News Florida, Bargain Babe

- These sites focus on a limited number of specific topics—restaurants and entertainment or health and medical news, or they aim to engage very specific communities such as young people or seniors.
* Seattle/Local Health Guide was founded by MD/journalist Michael McCarthy. Topics: Health news from the Seattle and the Puget Sound region and information about services available in the area. Revenue: Advertising in the works. Bonus points: A flu vaccine locator widget. About.

* BeyondRobson covers mostly arts and entertainment in Vancouver. Revenue: Advertising. Bonus points: Part of a small network of sites published by, a media company that focuses on hyperlocal reporting in several Canadian communities. About BeyondRobson.

* Duke City Fix is an Albuquerque, New Mexico community Web site that is managed by volunteers.  Topics: Neighborhoods, restaurants and music. Revenue: Ads by Google. Bonus points: Active commenting community. About Duke City Fix.

* Irish Philadelphia focuses on local news and culture for Philly’s Irish-American community. It is run by two Philly journalists, Jeff Meade and Denise Foley, who themselves have Irish roots. Topics: Music, dance, art, food, genealogy, sports, travel. Revenue: Advertising. About Irish Philadelphia.

To be added: The DuSu.

7. MINI SITES - These sites typically are run by one or two people. They tend to be idiosyncratic in the selection of stories they cover and not highly aggressive in finding revenue. While we recognize their value in the news ecosystem, we do not plan to study them in depth. But we will list examples we come across.
* Coconut Grove Grapevine. is a low-key local blog site for Coconut Grove, Florida by Editor/Publisher Tom Falco. Topics: Civic events, weather, business specials. Revenue: Advertising.

* Frederick Maryland Online is another low key local blog. Topics: Local events. Revenue: Advertising. About FMO.
* Lakeland Local is a microlocal blog in Florida run by Chuck Welch. Topics: Local news, crime, events. Revenue: Not apparent from site. About Lakeland Local.

* Boise Guardian is a local watchdog blog in Boise, Idaho, that mixes news and opinion; the editor is David R. Frazier. Topics: Local politics and policy. Revenue: Donations. About Boise Guardian.

* Northfield Citizens Online is a citizen-run local news site in Minnesota. Topics: Civic issues, local events, weather. Revenue: Seeking sponsorships. About Northfield Citizens Online.

* SkokieNet in Illinois is operated by the Skokie public library and invites users to contribute stories, photos and calendar listings. Topics: A wide range of local news and events. Revenue: Not clear beyond public library support.

8. AGGREGATORS - These sites curate links and headlines from other sources. While curation provides a valuable service, our study is focused on sites that originate news.

(This list is cross posted at Reynolds Journalism Institute.)

What do you think of our list? What sites should we add? Please add your feedback in the comments below!


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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