Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Month: February 2010

We don’t have to be everywhere at once

Every industry blog that’s into social media, including this one, loves to tell newsies about the latest and greatest social media craze and How Your Newspaper is Getting Left Behind (!!).

For weeks I’ve been thinking of writing one of these posts on Four Square, as everyone else has, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it.

While I have been dreaming up some ways my paper can use geolocation services in regards to marketing, branding, advertising and repurposing news content, I simply cannot bring myself to suggest that newsroom personnel omgjusthavetobedoingthisrightnow. No, just no.

Sure, it’d be great to have reporters go out and leave tips, links and trivia all over town on FourSquare, but  I have to consider how much I’m willing to give up for that. I don’t know what it is like at everyone else’s newsroom, but I don’t have extra people waiting around for work to do – and frankly, I’d much rather have an online update from the courthouse by 10 am than a bunch of tips on where to find great public art on Four Square or Gowalla.

We in the social media cheerleader camp need a reality check sometimes. I’m frequently the one saying “We’ll find time, just don’t say no yet”, but as I’ve found myself stretched to run the news site and tweet and send email alerts and monitor traffic and and and – I know we can’t say yes to everything anymore. More importantly, we new media snobs shouldn’t feel as if we’re dinosaurs because we aren’t here, there and everywhere on every social network.

Case in point: Right after Google Buzz launched, Old Media New Tricks (who I love, by the way) was on the case, telling us how papers should get their Buzz profiles set up and hop to the status updates. While I don’t blame them for suggesting it (they do need to get blog readers after all) I had to question it. Not every newsroom can afford to have a staffer who can send status updates to a myriad of services all day. With the still-limited spread of Buzz and widespread popularity of Twitter, why divert our already-stretched resources there? It simply fueled the notion we social media types tend to have that says, “Well, this is out there and someday you’re going to look dumb if you weren’t doing it a long time ago.”

I recently attended a presentation by some incredibly talented social media gurus in my local network and one part of their message especially rang out loud and clear to this harried soul: Pick a few social media practices that work for you and do them well.

We as an industry should take that to heart.

Every newsroom should have a goal in mind for their social media use – and then should pick and choose the right tools to best go after that goal without sacrificing what’s important. Consider how seamlessly a social media practice will fit into the newsroom’s workload – and consider if a new idea is worth taking a staff member away from this task or that task (if that’s the case).

It isn’t always a good investment of your limited resources to chase every social media rainbow that comes along – picking just a few is more than OK.

The Enquirer’s print-only news experiment

Publishers all over the country are currently trying to figure out how to make money from online content or, at the very least, how to make more money off their still-profitable print products.

Recently, The Cincinnati Enquirer (my employer) has been experimenting with ideas to boost the value of the printed newspaper. As an online employee my entire career, it’s been a bit out of my wheelhouse to focus on print, especially since the Enquirer’s previous claims to fame have been more in the digital side. Whether we like it or not, print still pays the bills, so our paper – and many papers – are willing to experiment if it means keeping the lights on.

The experiment started Feb. 7 when the Enquirer editors opted to hold the publication of our big Sunday showcase story until 5 p.m. on Sunday in order to to boost single-copy sales of the Sunday print edition. Prior to this, we had been posting the weekend blowouts online on Friday mornings or afternoons to give a “sneak peek” of sorts to our online readers.

The next week, Feb. 14, the experiment widened as the editors opted against publishing the Sunday centerpiece online at all. The print-only designation grew further this past weekend, Feb. 20, as one Sunday feature in every section of the newspaper was designated to be “print only”, with an icon denoting it as such in the paper.

On the Fridays before these experiments, we put a promo on the front of our site telling our online readers what they’d be missing online over the weekend and urging them to buy a newspaper. I don’t know what kind of reaction bubbled up to those on the print side, but I know I fielded a few reactions from readers looking for those stories online after the fact.

It could take awhile to determine the experiment’s success – or even figure out what success really means. My editor, Tom Callinan, said he expects the experimentation to become more focused and strategic over time. It could possibly accelerate toward a pay wall or premium model of some sort in the future.  I guess we’ll see what develops.

I realize this kind of print-only content plan is hardly unheard-of, as many papers (see this in the Minneapolis Star Tribune)  have been holding some or all publication from the web – and it’s pretty much the norm in the magazine publishing world.

I’m putting this out there because I’d like some feedback.

If you’re a Cincinnati-area reader: Did you notice this? What did you think? If you saw a story promoted only that was print-only that interested you, would it prompt you to seek out a Sunday paper?

If you’re an industry wonk (or wannabe wonk like me): What’s your reaction to this kind of experimentation? Do you know of other news sites that usually have everything online withholding their best stories from the web? More importantly, is this working to boost print sales?

If you don’t want to leave a comment, shoot me an email.

Editor’s Note:  I opted against editorializing on this experiment because (as you might imagine) I like getting a paycheck. While I have a lot of thoughts on this, I’ll save them for internal discussions where they might actually be useful.  You can probably figure out where I stand if you’ve ever read this blog before.

Weather coverage made easy

Weather is big business for those of us in news, especially when it gets to be extreme weather like just about every state has experienced in the last two weeks.

Lots of news outlets have developed amazing new ways to get out weather information and pull in interaction from readers, but sometimes what’s simple can work in a pinch.

Most of the time when we’ve had snowstorms in the past, we at Cincinnati.Com have had a basic story file set up that we re-top and add to throughout the day as the news changes. Without the occasional total re-write during the course of the news cycle, it can end up reading like a very long Frankenstein of an article, with the possibility of specific items getting buried in all of the text.

I recently set up a basic WordPress blog specifically to handle weather events news to avoid this problem. It has links to all the basic weather info we have available on the site, a way to search all of the posted entries and tags/categories that make posts easy to browse by topic or location. The blog uses the TDO mini Forms plugin that can allow our reporters – and our readers – to submit updates from where they are.

Even though we haven’t yet gotten a lot of reader submissions, the blog has been immensely helpful from a news management standpoint. Reporters can file to the blog from their homes, phones or satellite offices, all we have to do it click “publish” in our dashboard. No re-writes are necessary because as the story develops, we can just add news posts. The format also provides an easy way to “sticky” important posts at the top and generates an easy link for the day’s event cancellations.

This easy method of publishing updates weather news has been a great supplement to our info releases and content on Twitter, on our mobile site, text alerts and all of the usual photos and videos we bring out fr every story. The blog’s been doing great traffic on storm days and, from my view, has been a huge burden lifted from the backs of already busy online editors (such as myself).

Because this info has such a short shelf life, I’ve just been deleting all of the old content as soon as the storm coverage ends. We don’t want readers coming back for new weather updates only to find outdated info from last week’s storm. I know that isn’t the greatest option for the sake of SEO and outside linking, but it has made it very easy to essentially launch whole new blogs for each circumstance. I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on what they would do to prevent link breaks and confusion.

Anyway, that’s been our publishing plan these past two weeks – and if it’s something you think you could use, go for it. WordPress is free, quick to set up and has lot of plugins to enhance user experience.

What has anyone been doing to cover these storms online? What have you been reading?

Ah, news

With all of this snow, it’s been a newsy time here in Cincinnati. Needless to say, I’ve been otherwise occupied with my “day job” to be very good at this venture by the time I get home at night.

I have a few things in the works, I swear, just bear with me.

Gawker’s leaving page views behind, so when’s our turn?

Since the beginning of my professional online career in 2004, my employers have been enslaved by the almighty page view. If you work for a news website – or deal with people who do – you come to measure your self-worth in those metrics.

Gawker, some might say, was one of the big influences in creating the page-view-is-king mentality amongst news execs in the first place. Earlier this month, Gawker changed their preferred method of audience engagement to unique users. I hoped at the time this would be a big red flag to news executives that it’s finally time to change our definition of success.

The Neiman Journalism Lab was also hopeful that this would signal a trend away from the lick to measuring true audience engagement.

Original content and exclusives require far more time and energy than excerpting and aggregating…. The upside is that all that extra effort can create strong relationships with audiences and advertisers alike. Engagement leads to revenue, which leads to sustainability, which stokes hope and other things in short supply these days. A focus on uniques may or may not yield better journalism, but it could create better businesses.

Unfortunately, we haven’t heard as much as a peep from any of the big companies yet – and the pressure isn’t changing overnight in my neck of the online woods, either.

This change should be absolutely huge for everyone in online media, but we as an industry may be uneasy about changing our measurement methods because we’re just so darn comfortable setting ad rates the way we always have. I would think that a measure of unique users would be similar to the good old days, back when we could measure our audience in single copy sales and subscriptions. So why hold on to the page view?

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