Twitter chat on Storify

I had the honor of participating in a Twitter chat with some of the big names in newspaper journalism — Melanie Sill, Howard Weaver, Mike Fancher and Glenn Proctor. Well, actually, they were big names. We’ve all moved on to other things. Thus, the topic of the chat: Ex-editors on what they would do differently.

It was more fun than listening to an editor scream “Gimme the damn story!” at you when you’re 5 minutes past deadline. And now, it’s been Storified.

Sadly, my best line was one fed to me by GenlGreensboro that newspapers need more cowbell.

Seriously, the conversation was enlightening. I hope the journalists reading this will read the Storify link.

Five years later: “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

I asked my communication class, made up of primarily freshmen and sophomores, what their news and information sources are.

The top three answers were Facebook, Twitter and “people I know.” (The New York Times, which is distributed free in the communications building, was the first mainstream news source listed.)

This isn’t surprising to many journalists who have been paying attention.  From the New York Times in March 2007: Ms. Buckingham recalled conducting a focus group where one of her subjects, a college student, said, “If the news is that important, it will find me.”

Problem is, I get the idea that enough journalists aren’t paying attention.

Five years later, many editors and publishers aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. Of those who are, many don’t engage with people beyond promoting stories in their own publications. I should also include television here, too. Only a few of the 33 students mentioned getting news or information from broadcast news. (Their websites got decent numbers, though.)

Though they didn’t use this language, the students essentially described Facebook and Twitter as their own personal news sources — news sources they designed comprised of people they knew and trusted giving them information about both their personal lives  and the broader world.

The point? If journalists want to survive — to say nothing of flourish today — they must be part of the conversation of this generation of budding thinkers and news creators and consumers. They need to evaluate all the tools that Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. offer and figure out what works for them.

 

Twitter chat Tuesday

Lock the doors and hide your children. I am going to participate in an ASNE Twitter chat at 2 p.m. tomorrow. The topic: What would ex-editors do differently. (Besides laying off people, I assume.)

Joining me are Mike Fancher, Melanie Sill and Glenn Proctor. They’ll do the heavy lifting. I’m there for comic relief.

Normally, I don’t care for Twitter chats. I find them hard to follow, but that’s because I have a wandering attention span (read, short). This one will be different; I’ll be in it. if you’re in journalism, this is an interesting topic. I know my answers will surprise a lot of my former employees at the News & Record. For instance, “Whose big idea was it to make Monday and Tuesday papers so thin? I should’ve fired that guy.”

Tune in. If you’re not on Twitter, you’re behind the times. Time to catch up. You can follow at #ASNEchat.

What would you do, elaborated

Jim Romenesko got enough comments about my “What would you do?” post that he collected some of them and posted that today. (Thank you, Jim, for the traffic and inspired discussion.)

The comments at Jim’s and on my original post reveal more anger than I anticipated, but I wasn’t sure how to respond without seeming defensive or out of touch. (I’m neither, really.)

I don’t think it is any mystery why newspaper staffers aren’t reading the paper or using the paper’s website. The mystery is why so many publishers and editors aren’t acting quickly and forcefully to go to where the people are. Newspapers employ many smart, savvy people. The journalists on staff are used to speaking truth to power. Perhaps they have some helpful suggestions if asked.

I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer with the original post.

Fortunately, Matt DeRienzo, group editor at Journal Register publications in Connecticut and a leader in moving print to digital, further analyzed the comments for me:

After seeing the comments here and on Romenesko’s Facebook page, I think there is confusion here between two separate issues:

– Employee apathy toward or disengagement from the journalism you’re doing.

– Institutional ignorance of the sea change in consumer behavior, including the consumers in your own building.

I sent this post out to my newsroom staff in Connecticut, and got a lot of replies thinking I was scolding them for not being a print subscriber or buying newspaper classified ads (answer  to both – they can’t afford it and web and Craig’s List are free). My point in sending, of course, was that we need to get over denial of disruption in these areas and trust our own instincts as consumers to guide a both-feet jump into “digital first.”

 

Newspapers: Looking back to move forward

The biggest threats to newspapers aren’t just their familiar revenue problems and ever-proliferating competitors, but also the opportunity costs of failing to innovate more boldly — to be transformative, not incremental, in moving forward.

Melanie Sill’s insightful post about former editors wishing they had done things differently got me thinking about current editors.

Have they learned anything from the past five years of layoffs and cutbacks? To find out, I asked several North Carolina editors to address that with these questions: What if you could go back to 2004 with the budget, resources and FTEs you had then, but knowing what you know now? What would you do with the additional people and money? What would you do differently?

To focus on the critical few, I asked them to list three changes. Three editors responded, and I included my own “wishes.” The answers were remarkably similar, and none was earth-shattering.

Here’s a summary. (Full responses at the end.)

1. A smokin’ hot active digital presence. “They would cover breaking news maniacally, create interactive databases and do more video,” Carol Hanner, ME of the Winston-Salem Journal. “I would have challenged them to design a website that’s not modeled after the organization of the newspaper’s content.”

Robyn Tomlin, executive editor the Wilmington Star-News, would create a community engagement team. “Their goal would be to engage the community in a constant conversation, wherever they are. They would focus on social media, aggregation and curation along with doing a better job of promoting our content and staff in the community.”

2. Reorganized coverage. I said reorganize reporting around enterprise, especially focused on investigative and community. Tomlin agreed. “I would create a watchdog reporting team focused on doing investigative and public service journalism. I mean day-in-day-out political fact-checking, creating online databases of public records, doing local consumer reporting and sometimes just chasing our tails in an effort to tell important stories that seem to get missed along the way.”

In addition to a “watchdog team,” Hanner added: “I’d have a breaking news team that covers the heck out of everything that moves in the community and put it online. I would have a team that does nothing but focus on feature stories about local people, community organizations’ work and the acknowledgements of worthy and fascinating efforts.”

3. Idea incubator. Robyn and I had similar ideas; not surprisingly, hers was more expansive. I wanted to take three bright, creative people and tell them to come up with the next YouTube, eBay, or Craigslist based on giving people something they didn’t even know they needed or wanted. She said: “I would hire an innovations editor and obtain other resources necessary to create a Google-like idea incubation initiative where every news employee devotes a percentage of their time to working on a project of their choice. The projects would need to meet certain criteria, like audience growth, innovation in storytelling, improvements to existing processes or products that make them emasurably more effective, efficient or profitable.”

The responses raised two questions in my mind: First, did we go far enough, and, second, can the editors do any of those things now? The answer to the first is probably something like: If it is 2004, that’s a fine start: media watchers would call you bold and daring. But what have you done for me lately?

The answer to the second has to be yes.

As Melanie writes: Thing is, there’s still plenty of time. We’re not at the end of change, we’re in the midst of it. Even for print newspapers, there’s plenty of upside (and plenty of audience) — not for a shrunken version of the newspaper format of 1992 to be valuable in 2012, but for contemporary approaches to print to serve readers well as part of a menu of options in the digital era.

************************************************

The full responses:

Mike Arhholt, editor of the Fayetteville Observer

1.  I would put in place a newsroom restructuring plan like the ones we’ve had to institute by necessity given cutbacks and online growth. I know that 2004 resources focused through more streamlined and coordinated systems would have had impressive results for growth of local content both in print and online.

2.  I would develop an online strategy sooner and put a pay plan in place for the website off the bat. The industry’s belief that advertising could pay the bills for all the work that goes into innovation and management of websites simply didn’t pan out.

3.  I would have spent more resources on developing new local niche products for both print and online, and I would have done a better job of working across the hall with advertising to help that department better understand our online goals.

Carol Hanner, managing editor of the Winston-Salem Journal

1. I would create a Web team led by a few veteran journalists and executed by a young staff that has grown up with the Internet. they do, They would cover breaking news maniacally, create interactive databases and do more video. I would have challenged them to design a web site that’s not modeled after the organization of the newspaper’s content. I would have two or three creative Web developers as part of that staff. The team would include a staffer devoted to nothing but researching what’s cool on the web and examining the much larger pool of market research we would have, with the idea that social media and mobile would emerge more quickly as a focus than it did.

2. I would create jobs that play to people’s strengths instead of expecting journalists to become even more generalized than they already are. I’d have a breaking news team that covers the heck out of everything that moves in the community and put it online. I would have a team that does nothing but focus on feature stories about local people, community organizations’ work, and the acknowledgements of worthy and fascinating efforts. I would have a watchdog team for the people who always have a nose for something fishy and don’t mind obstacles to getting information. Every story would have multiple layers.

3. I would focus much more on business in two ways- understanding it myself more, and reporting on the local business community much more extensively.

4. Bonus question. I would use staff to create more niche publications and web sites and get as close to customizing what kinds of news people get as tecnology allows, with the goal of getting away from an expensively produced and distributed print mainstream paper trying to reach a mass audience.

Robyn Tomlin, executive editor, Wilmington Star-News

1. I would create a watchdog reporting team focused on doing investigative and public service journalism. I’m not talking about the yearlong project kind of stuff, although there might be a little of that. I mean day-in-day-out political fact-checking, creating online databases of public records, doing local consumer reporting and sometimes just chasing our tails in an effort to tell important stories that seem to get missed along the way. One piece of this initiative would be to hire a general assignment reporter (or some paid interns) who can fill in on other reporters’ beats when there’s a big project that is going to take more than a week or so to develop.

2. I would create a community engagement team (we have a community engagement editor, but he’s just one guy) focused on both digital and in-person community engagement. Their goal would be to engage the community in a constant conversation — wherever they are. They would focus on social media, aggregation and curation along with doing a better job of promoting our content and staff in the community. They would also organize more events like public forums and community conversations “in real life.”  The run regular contests and do other fun things to make our print and digital products more interactive and engaging.

3. I would hire an innovations editor and obtain other resources necessary to create a Google-like idea incubation initiative where every news employee devotes a percentage of their time to working on a project of their choic. The projects would need to meet certain criteria, like audience growth, innovation in storytelling, improvements to existing processes or products that make them measurably more effective, efficient or profitable.

Moi

1. I would reorganize the reporting staff almost entirely around enterprise. Anything I could get from the wires, I would — which includes many of the non-Guilford County sports. By enterprise I mean stories and photos that people can’t get anywhere else, especially investigative and community. I’d look for the “wow” content.

2. I would take 25% of the people that I am getting and put them on the digital report, creating a different site than a newspaper site, curating, aggregating and building a large social media presence.

3. I would find the three brightest, most creative people I could and tell them to come up with the next youtube, ebay, facebook, groupon or craigslist. I’d tell them not to worry about the technology. Give me something that will give people something they want and need.

 

 

Digital progress: We have a long way to go

If the future of news is digital (Sorry. I forgot it isn’t 1999. Let’s try again.) Because news is now digital, why do so many newspapers continue to drive Yugos on the Autobahn?

Last week, I emailed a few questions to the leaders of the digital operations at the state’s largest newspapers to help me think about needs and next steps. (I also asked the editors of the papers a different set of questions. I’ll write about their responses tomorrow.)

I asked three questions: What are the first three websites, other than your own, you check each morning? What current news website is similar to the one you aspire to be?  If you had, say, $100,000 to spend on your digital presence, what would you do first?

Unfortunately, only two of digital folks bothered to respond.

Fortunately, I think the two who did — John Nagy of the News & Record and Randy Capps of the Fayetteville Observer — are on the money. Their answers aren’t surprising, and they show how far newspapers still have to go.

The answer to the $100,000 question is simple. We need good, up-to-date equipment so that reporters can do their jobs digitially. Smart phones, tablets, decent video cameras. In other words, we don’t necessarily need a Ferrari for the road, but at least get us a new Chevy. As Capps said, “It’s hard to think, produce and sell digital media with a notebook and pen.”

Can you imagine?

$100,000 isn’t pocket change, but it isn’t $1 million either. And when you’re talking about developing what everyone says is the only longterm future of the newspaper business, why isn’t more being done? Gannett apparently is making the investment. “Readers’ speedy adoption of new technology for news consumption creates new opportunities for us to uniquely serve them. To do so, we must ensure our journalists are equipped and trained on the tools to work in new ways,” reads a memo by the Gannett newspaper division president.

Exactly.

Nagy adds the need for content producers, a comment echoed by the editors of the papers. That, of course, is what permits a site to create unique, exclusive content, which leads to the ability to charge for access to the site. As Frederic Filloux writes in his description of a simple business model, “The simulation is aimed at showing there is a life after the death of the daily print edition. Success is a “mere matter” of persistence.”

At least, that’s one way to go about it.

Here are the full replies:

1. What are the first three websites, other than your own, you check each morning?

NagyGoogle Reader, Facebook, Twitter, in that order.

Capps: Facebook, ESPN Soccernet and Yahoo!

2. What current news website is similar to the one you aspire to be?

Nagy: ChicagoTribune.com or washingtonpost.com. With the Trib, I love the design of it. Open, very white, lots of clean type and photo display. Good use of horizontal display and multimedia content. With the Post, it’s more about the content, like the NY Times. I know I’m going to get authoritative national news, well written features and reasonably good display. A little tightly packed, but not like the Times. I’d rather read the Times’ ipad app than the website.

Capps: I’d like to have WRAL’s content volume with The Boston Globe’s design.The responsive design. If it’s done right, you can serve mobile, tablet and PC users in one fell swoop.

3. If you had, say, $100,000 to spend on your digital presence, what would you do first?

Nagy: If the $100,000 is recurring, it would be to hire a couple more content producers, especially multimedia/social media specialists. Likely would be just-out-of-college hires. If the $100,000 is a one-off, new digital equipment/software for staff. 3G/wifi ipads/iphones, modest video cameras, laptops for others. Then set strict and measurable performance standards to ensure their usage in posting digital content.

Capps: I’d put a smart phone in the hands of every content producer and a tablet in the hands of the online and marketing staffs. It’s hard to think, produce and sell digital media with a notebook and pen.

Does the newspaper drive web traffic?

Go Triad, the News & Record’s weekly entertainment magazine, has a cover story today titled “Top Tweets: Four Triad tweeters you should follow.” I wondered whether the four got a bump in followers as a result of the story.

They did, but it was nothing to write home about. The report from the four:

Jermaine Exum, manager of Acme Comics and who tweets mostly about comics, had seven new followers by noon. Eight is usual in a week. He said retweets drive new followers. One of his tweets today was RT’d by the Henson Company. He then got 10 new followers in 10 minutes.

Danielle Hatfield, a PR and social media expert, got 17 new followers by dinnertime. She averages five to eight new followers per day. “I think as more people read online & share – awareness could last weeks.”

Nikki Miller-Ka, who tweets about food, had 15 new followers, when she normally has just 2 or 3 a week.

Kit Rodenbough, owner of a shop downtown, only had 3, but at about 1 p.m., she noted that “the day is young.”

Here are possible interpretations those results:

1. The readers of the newspaper who are on Twitter already subscribe to those four. Unlikely.

2. Newspaper readers aren’t big Twitterers. Probably.

3. Their issues — comics, food, social media — aren’t so broad that “everyone” wants to sign up. Oprah and Ashton Kucher they aren’t, and I mean that as a positive.

4. People don’t follow the bread crumbs that newspaper stories leave leading to online sites. Most likely.

When I was at the paper, we never saw conclusive evidence that newspaper readers followed online promos from the paper. At least, directly. We often saw conclusive evidence that they did NOT. Don’t be surprised. Think about the number of online denizens who pick up a newspaper to read an article that they can’t get online.

In no way does that suggest that the story was a waste. If papers made editorial decisions based on how many people would act on it, they would hardly cover primary elections. I advocate journalism that exposes readers to something new. Readers don’t need to follow the link to learn about what 100 million people are members of.

Danielle says the viral nature of the web will come into play over the next several days. “Most who use twitter will read the article online and share web article over the next few days or so vs. purchasing paper.”

I think she’s right, but even if she’s not, the story introduced readers to four interesting people doing interesting things. Not bad.

*** Full disclosure: I know Danielle and Nikki personally. Nikki reported to me at the paper for a time. I also follow the article’s writer, Jennifer Bringle,on Twitter.

Friday update: It appears that scientific research bears Danielle out. The bottom line is simple: articles that many people tweeted about were 11 times more likely to be highly cited than those who few people tweeted about. Its implications are even more interesting. It generally takes months and years for papers to be cited by other scientific publications. Thus, on the day an article comes out, it would seem to be difficult to tell whether it will have a real impact on a given field.

Madison Taylor, blogging editor

I live in Winston-Salem. I have the Winston-Salem Journal delivered every morning.  But I don’t feel like I know anyone there.  The paper doesn’t have a “voice”,  at least not one that I can hear.  The closest thing to its voice is the editor’s column in the op-ed section.

In fairness to the Journal I think that the “voice” issue is the same for the vast majority of newspapers.  But unfortunately for the Journal they happen to be juxtaposed with the Greensboro News & Record. The N&R is making national (maybe even international) headlines, at least in the publishing sector and the nascent blogosphere, because it is embracing the newest in publishing paradigms: the blog….

Anyway, it would probably pain the editor at the Journal (I have no idea what his/her name is) to know that I feel like I’m on a first name basis with the editor of the Greensboro News & Record (Hi John!).  If I happen across a hot story or issue, who do you think I’m going to ping with it?

Jon Lowder wrote that on his blog in January 2005. We had never met, but he felt he knew me because he read my blog, and I his.

For me, now, that role is filled by Madison Taylor, editor of the Times-News in Burlington. I don’t get that paper, and have never met Taylor. But I read his blog and am a friend of his on Facebook. He writes about the paper, about visiting politicos, about Times-News alums, and about issues in Alamance County and N.C. I feel like I know him and feel affiliated with the paper. He does a tremendous job demystifying the paper and connecting with people. Plus, he’s engaging and funny — perfect for social media.

North Carolina has a number of blogging editors, but too many of them post infrequently or only promote the paper. If you have favorite editors in the state who blog or are on Facebook or Twitter, let me know. I’d like to follow them.

One of the values of Twitter

People often tell me that they “don’t get Twitter.” I’ve gotten to the point where I tell them that they just have to make a concerted effort to wander around and get the feel for it. But the New York Times reminds me of one of the cooler things about Twitter: the ability to talk with some of my favorite authors.

Salman Rushdie told me he enjoys Twitter because “it allows one to be playful, to get a sense of what is on a lot of people’s minds at any given moment.”

I have talked with Chris Bohjalian, Carolyn Parkhurst and Gregg Hurwitz. I had tweeted that I had enjoyed each of their books, and they responded.

I don’t follow them, and our exchange wasn’t significant except that I felt connected with someone who had written something that touched me.

Journalists need to come to grips with the idea that that kind of connection with readers is valuable and shouldn’t be dismissed.

The importance/irrelevance of news ombudsmen

If you aren’t a publisher or the editor, is there a better position than ombudsman to improve the reader experience?

As Dan Kennedy points out, an ombudsman has the time, the access and the platform, to say nothing of the independence to work for the reader, explaining the paper, holding it accountable, and pushing the rock up the hill.

So, why isn’t the public editor of the New York Times more active and engaged? He writes a weekly newspaper column, but that includes a reader response column. His last original column was Dec. 18 about the Penn State scandal. He has a blog, but has only posted three entries since September, and he doesn’t engage readers in the comments that I can tell.

I think this is a job I want.

What is there to write about? A quick visit to Romenesko provides one answer. The exegesis of the best NYT correction ever? Status of the sale of the N.Y. Times Regional Group. And that was just Friday afternoon.

As I thought about this, I wandered over to the Washington Post to see what its ombudsman was writing about. Patrick B. Pexton seems to be more active, but, geez, in his most recent writing, he concludes that the Washington Post is innovating too quickly. The Post may be the only newspaper in the past 15 years that has been accused of that. (Given the demographic of newspaper readers, many of them complain about change. When I was editor of the News & Record, we routinely got complaints from readers annoyed that we would send readers online for more information. “I don’t have a computer, and don’t plan on getting one!” they would say.)

When I mentioned on Twitter that I thought the Times’ public editor had made himself  irrelevant, Craig Silverman pointed me to an outstanding column he wrote for CJR on how ombudsmen can make themselves essential. I would add two points — active engagement on Facebook and Twitter, and an expanded section on involving a news organization’s entire staff in talking with readers.

(Update: Dan Kennedy later tweeted: “Rule No. 6: Don’t write stuff like this,” referring to the Pexton column about innovation.)

I know why more papers don’t have ombudsmen; they would rather have a reporter than yet another commentator. Years ago, the idea was that editors should serve the role of public editor, but you don’t find many editors acting that way. It’s a shame. Serving as ombudsmen at two of the most important agenda-setting news organizations in the country could be a vital role helping both journalists and readers.