I’m sitting in this morning on a session led by George Stanley, managing editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as part of the American Press Institute’s seminar, “The New Newsroom,” at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Since I had a glitch on the liveblog in CoverItLive, I will just update this frequently.
George is talking about the value of breaking news online, taking back from broadcast the advantage of immediacy that they used to have. Each participant has a large sheet of paper from an easel pad and some markers. He’s taking a flood story (Wisconsin had bad floods the same week as Cedar Rapids last year) and asking how their organization would cover it today.
Here’s the news scenario: It’s 6:31 a.m. Flood has been building for several days. Dam breaks and lake floods main highway into town. First scanner reports say cops are heading to highway to see what’s going on. Questions for participants: How would you learn about the story, how would you gather information, how would you report it?
About 6:50 a.m., state announces it’s closing the highway. Stanley asks participants how they would respond (if they would know about the story yet).
It’s flood day at API. I’ll talk briefly about the Cedar Rapids flood experience in my afternoon presentation and George is using the Journal Sentinel’s flood experience in his exercise. Meanwhile, Fargo’s trying to hold back the Red River.
Back to the exercise: About 15 minutes later, state announces detour on Interstate highway, adding two hours to a normal trip. Lake has emptied into the river. Three houses were washed away. No known injuries or fatalities yet. Car has been found swamped near the highway. No people visible in the car, but a dog is in the car.
Now photos start coming in. Amateur videographer has video of house being washed downstream.
Now a state transportation official says the flood caused major structural damage to the highway and no one is sure how long it will be closed. Stanley asks with each development what your organization would do, how this would change your workflow.
Reporter has found a database on dams in the state. Would need help from another reporter to find important information in it today. How would this change workflow? Stanley asks people to think about the morning news meeting, how that would work.
Here’s the Journal Sentinel’s gallery of photos and videos from the flood. Pretty dramatic stuff. Stanley is showing some of these clips and shots on the screen.
While looking for the flood visuals, I found this directory to the Journal Sentinel’s special projects. Stanley says they have undertaken these investigations even while cutting the staff, and they are hearing more appreciation from the community than at any time in his career. Here’s the point: Investigative journalism matters. It makes a difference and we can still do quality investigative journalism even in difficult times. And we have to.
People have spent about 15 minutes in teams, discussing how they would cover this flood. They’re about ready to debrief, so I’ll be writing some more.
One group is talking about using ad reps to field all the media calls and providing room for visiting media working the story. (Sounds familiar: We got lots of media calls during our flood, but with power outage, we didn’t have anyone wanting to use our facilities.) George is talking about the value of interacting with the national media, so they can drive traffic to your site.
Alright! This group talks about connecting with the audience through Twitter and Facebook to contact sources. These are invaluable crowdsourcing tools. Cory Powell of Star Tribune notes that going to Twitter and Facebook is not yet an “instinctive move” in his organization. They would be on the story, though, because they have a reporter starting at 5 a.m. and another at 7.
Powell says commute is bad in Twin Cities by 7, so this would be a huge story that they would be all over. (Of course, highway disaster stories aren’t hypothetical for Twin Cities. Remember “13 Seconds in August.”
Now people are talking about getting access to helicopter or airplane for shooting aerials. I’m guessing most companies don’t have their CEO fly the plane, as we did.
Another participant notes that his site couldn’t handle the web traffic.
John Dye of Green Bay says you do say “Web first,” but still think primarily about the next day’s paper. You need to ask, “Are you really focusing on the here and the now?”
Stanley says flow charts look very different. “Editor has to push it and set up the environment. There’s no way you can come up with all the ideas.” That is so true. Newsroom leader’s biggest job is enabling the creativity and talent of the staff.
Now we’re talking about posting directly online. Stanley talks about how important it is to make sure staff understand law and ethics if they are posting directly online. Now a participant is noting that when journalists know they aren’t being edited, they take more responsibility for their copy.
Stanley says 15-16 months ago, when staff was 25 percent bigger than today, “we couldn’t have done this story worth a damn.” They would have done a great job for morning paper, but would have learned about the story on the radio on their way to work.
Stanley notes how radio and TV are tied to their broadcast schedules and larger, swift news staff working online and thinking online can lead the way and “be of greater service to our community.”
With all the competition we have today, “we have to earn our customers,” Stanley says. “We have to be useful. We have to be relevant to their lives.”
Task force helped reshape how the Journal Sentinel newsroom worked. “It wasn’t all coming from the editor or the managing editor. It was coming from the people in the newsroom.”
As the Journal Sentinel changed the way it worked, “the metabolism of the whole newsroom sped up,” Stanley says. Use of the task force, rather than working hierarchically, just “blows away any office politics … You can bust through those walls.”
Stanley explaining how “breaking news hub” works in Journal Sentinel newsroom.
They don’t report directly from scanner, but confirm quickly. They immediately send out tweets and seek people with direct knowledge of breaking event. Asking for photos, video, what people want to know about event. Reporter also scans Twitter for tweets about the flooding.
Stanley: “As soon as the state posted its detour, we realized it was a ridiculous detour.” It was set up for interstate truckers and added 2 hours to commute. So J-S crowdsourced the task of suggesting better detours. “Talk about becoming the place they’re going to go to … They’re going to love you for it.”
By the time rush hour hit peak, Stanley says, Journal Sentinel was blowing all the competition out of the water. Then shifting to enterprise (databases, interactive maps, etc.).
In current Journal Sentinel newsroom, they can’t afford to spend as many resources as they used to dedicate to preparing the print edition. People have to be generalists now.
Stanley handouts include Jill Geisler’s Poynter piece about task force and breaking news hub.
We’re breaking for lunch now. And I’m the afternoon discussion leader, so I won’t be liveblogging that.
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