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Archive for the ‘Digital First Media’ Category

I have been privileged to know a few giants of journalism, but none bigger than John Seigenthaler, who died today.

One of the special privileges of leading a few seminars a year for the American Press Institute from 2005 to 2008 was that we took every seminar to the Freedom Forum for a session on the First Amendment, led by John or Ken Paulson or often both. It was a treat that never grew old.

John and Ken would educate and engage the group in a quiz and discussion about the First Amendment and the five freedoms it guarantees (can you name them?). Each question resulted in fascinating stories about our freedoms being tested and protected. (more…)

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Digital First Media logoI joined the Journal Register Company in May 2011, expressing gratitude for what I called an “extraordinary opportunity.” Today I leave Digital First Media (a merger of JRC and MediaNew Group) still grateful.

As I move on to my next job at Louisiana State University, any regrets I might have pale next to all the experiences I’m thankful for.

Thanks first to Jim Brady, with whom I’ve shared the DFM and TBD adventures. Jim hired me twice and I wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for a third project with him, though we’re pursuing separate opportunities now. He’s as good a leader, editor, visionary and person as I’ve ever worked with.

I wish we’d had more time to carry out all of Jim’s vision for the Thunderdome and for DFM’s newsrooms. I can’t wait to see what he does with Brother.ly, his new local-news venture in Philadelphia.

Thanks to John Paton, DFM’s CEO, who reached out to me right after Jim left TBD and eventually brought me on board. I thank John for giving us a chance to do some excellent journalism and to make our contribution to the search for a prosperous future for journalism. That I wish we’d had more time to finish that search doesn’t diminish my appreciation for the experience we had or the contribution we made.

Thanks to Jon Cooper, who moved on to a corporate communications role but first played a key role in bringing me on board at the old JRC.

Thanks to my Thunderdome colleagues, who treated me as one of the team, even though I showed up in New York only occasionally. I won’t call the roll, except to salute the four I helped bring aboard: Mandy Jenkins, Julie Westfall, Angi Carter and Karen Workman.

I wish Mandy had gotten the chance to show what a great managing editor she would be. Mandy is two of the best hires I’ve ever made (I hired her at TBD, too). If you need a star digital leader in your newsroom, hire her right away.

Mandy and I hired Julie, Angi and Karen for the curation team. They quickly moved on to roles in breaking news and features when curation became a key job for nearly all of Thunderdome, eliminating the need for a special curation team.

I’ll single out three more people in Thunderdome to thank: Robyn Tomlin, Thunderdome’s editor, and the two guys who edited my occasional blog posts to Inside Thunderdome, Davis Shaver and Chris March. Standouts all and an absolute pleasure to work with.

Out in the DFM newsrooms, my first thanks go to the regional engagement editors: Martin Reynolds, Dan Petty and Ivan Lajara. All three are stellar journalists, creative innovators and genuinely nice guys. I didn’t get enough visits with any of them, but learned from all three and enjoyed our digital chats as well as our personal visits. I’ll be sure to stay in touch (and may actually have more time now to join #dfmchat, Ivan).

I was privileged to help hire and coach seven new DFM editors last year, spending a week in each of their newsrooms to help them get off to strong starts. Thanks to Chris Roberts of the Daily Times in Farmington, N.M.; Michelle Karas of the Bennington Banner in Vermont; Brad McElhinny of the Charleston Daily Mail in West Virginia; Robert Sterling of the Marin Independent Journal in San Rafael, Calif.; Rachel Alexander of the Fort Morgan Times in Colorado; Kevin Moran of New England Newspapers and Sylvia Ulloa of the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico. Those extended newsroom visits were a highlight of my DFM tenure and I am grateful to each of those editors and their staffs for their hospitality and for their embrace of the digital-first approach I was teaching. I wish we’d had more time to work together.

Thanks to Matt DeRienzo and all the staff of the New Haven Register who put up with more of my visits than any other newsroom, including two prolonged visits earlier this year as part of Project Unbolt.

Thanks to the other Project Unbolt pilot editors: Bob Moore, Tricia Ambrose and Kevin Moran (again) and their staffs at the El Paso Times, News-Herald and Berkshire Eagle. Though my work on Project Unbolt was curtailed and I didn’t get to visit those newsrooms, I appreciated their enthusiasm for and work on the project.

I wish we’d had more time to push further with Project Unbolt together. I hope the pilot newsrooms and others achieve great success on this project after I leave the company.

Thanks to DFM’s senior editors, a collegial group who worked hard and effectively to lead our transformation in the newsrooms, clusters, regions and operations they led: Matt, Tricia and Bob as well as Jim McClure, Greg Moore, Dave Butler, Nancy March, Mike Burbach, Kevin Kaufman, Terry Orme, Michael Anastasi, David Little, Dan Shorter and Frank Scandale (as well as Glenn Gilbert and Nancy Conway, who have retired).

I’m thankful that I got to visit all of our daily newsrooms (and a few weeklies). Dozens of colleagues took me on tours of their communities, hundreds discussed their individual journalism challenges with me and a couple thousand joined me for workshops.

I am grateful for my interactions with more engagement editors, reporters, editors and photojournalists than I can remember or name here. I’m especially grateful for my interactions with the colleagues who collaborated with me in a series of regional engagement workshops. And for those who collaborated on efforts to develop plans for digital opinion journalism. I’m especially grateful for my monthly exchanges with winners of the DFMie awards recognizing journalistic excellence and for the chance to recognize our annual winners personally in two events in Denver and St. Paul.

I’ve said farewell too many times in my career. That reflects more opportunities than disappointments and some opportunities that ended in disappointment. I wish this job had lasted longer and ended differently, but it lasted longer than my previous two jobs and it was an enjoyable ride.

I don’t know what the future holds for Digital First Media, our individual newsrooms and the many colleagues I worked with there. But I leave with heartfelt thanks. I never had a better job.

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Project Unbolt logoFrom the outset of Project Unbolt, a key goal was to produce a manual for other newsrooms to follow.

As I prepare to leave Digital First Media (tomorrow will be my last day), here is that manual, my recommendations for newsrooms to unbolt from the processes and culture of print. Our work on the project has not been as extensive as I had hoped, but I think we have produced a valid plan for accelerating the digital transformation of newsrooms. I hope my colleagues will continue the work and continue blogging about it.

Thanks to the editors and staffs of the four pilot newsrooms of Project Unbolt: the New Haven Register, Berkshire Eagle, News-Herald and El Paso Times. I applaud their willingness to change and experiment during a time of upheaval in our company and the industry.

Most of the manual is in earlier blog posts published here and elsewhere during the project. This post will summarize the important steps you need to take to transform your newsroom, with links to posts that elaborate on each of those points (some links appearing more than once because they relate to multiple points): (more…)

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Project Unbolt logoProject Unbolt is not about reorganizing your newsroom.

You may reorganize pieces or all of your newsroom in doing the work of Project Unbolt, but that is not the goal. We want to change how your newsroom works, not the org chart. Action changes newsrooms, not structure.

I’m not saying that structure is unimportant. But changes in structure should support your changes in what you do. They won’t drive the changes in how you work. I’ve been through too many newsroom reorganizations that accomplished nothing and I’ve worked for too many bosses (at the editor level and the CEO/publisher level) who got bogged down in pursuing organizational change without actually accomplishing change.

Some examples of how organizational change works effectively: (more…)

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Project Unbolt logoAn important step in changing your newsroom is assessing where you are now and what you need to do.

As we seek to unbolt Digital First Media newsrooms from the culture and processes of print, I suggest starting with a detailed assessment of your current processes and culture.

To start work with the four pilot newsrooms for Project Unbolt, I developed a questionnaire in Google Forms for each of the editors to complete. I said they could fill in the answers themselves or consult with other editors or the whole staff as long as they used the same process in answering the questions later to assess their progress.

The questions largely reflect the characteristics of an unbolted newsroom that I blogged in February. The assessment asks six to nine questions in each of the six primary areas where unbolting newsrooms need to transform:

  • News coverage and storytelling.
  • Processes and workflow.
  • Engagement.
  • Planning and management.
  • Mobile.
  • Standards.

For each question, the editor (or whoever is assessing) rates the newsroom on a scale of 1 to 5. I describe the 1 and the 5, and they decide where their newsroom is performing on the scale. For instance, one of the news coverage and storytelling questions asked: (more…)

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An important aspect of unbolting your newsroom from print culture and processes is shifting your priority to mobile.

In my latest post for the INMA Culture Change blog, I detail 10 steps toward a mobile-focused culture, responding to the American Press Institute report Unlocking mobile audience and revenue: New ideas and best practices.

 

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Continuing my series on live coverage as one of the most important steps in unbolting from the processes and culture of a print newsroom, here are 20 tips on live coverage: (more…)

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Tony Adamis, from his Twitter avatar

Tony Adamis, from his Twitter avatar

Continuing my series of posts about live coverage, this guest post is from Tony Adamis, editor of the Daily Freeman in Kingston, N.Y., from an email he sent last month about his staff’s recent work, with tweets, links, last names of staffers and a few comments added by me.

The Freeman isn’t one of the four Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms, but illustrates how other Digital First Media newsrooms are applying the techniques of the project. The message came a few weeks after the editors of the company’s Northeast newsrooms met in New Haven, discussing much of what we had done and learned so far in the project.

I like the variety of live coverage events mentioned in his email, especially the sensitive way the Freeman covered a soldier’s funeral.

I’ve blogged before about the importance of praise in leading a newsroom. This is an excellent example, with Tony dishing out specific praise by name to several staff members and then passing the praise up the line to his own bosses. (more…)

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Continuing my series of posts on live coverage, Breaking News Editor Tom Cleary explains how Digital First Media’s Connecticut breaking news team works. Newsrooms and clusters of newsrooms pursuing Project Unbolt need to cover breaking news live and should consider forming a breaking news team.  

Tom Cleary, photo linked from Connecticut Newsroom blog

In early February, just as Project Unbolt was getting underway at the New Haven Register, the DFM Connecticut breaking news and digital staff was reorganized. The breaking news team was expanded and a team of web producers was created, splitting the duties that were once carried out by one team. The reorganization was done to improve breaking news reporting and web production and also to allow town reporters to focus more on enterprise reporting.

The breaking news reporting team includes an editor, assistant editor and five reporters (three in New Haven, one in Torrington and one in Middletown). The team is tasked with covering statewide and local breaking news, freeing up town reporters that had mainly been handling those stories to work on day-to-day stories and enterprise pieces.

Here are a few examples of stories the breaking news team has covered, or helped with the coverage of, since it was revamped: (more…)

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Newsrooms need to provide live coverage of most events and breaking news stories in their communities.

Live coverage will change your newsroom’s culture and workflow quicker and more profoundly than any other step you will try. It will make your news site more timely and produce more content and deeper engagement than any other step you will try. And it won’t take much more work from your staff; they mostly just have to start working differently.

If a journalist is covering an event for your newsroom, you should cover it live unless you have a strong reason not to (more on those later). Instead of taking notes at the event, the journalist should livetweet it, using the tweets mostly as notes if you need to write a story after the event. (You still might need to take notes of things you need to check out later.)

In all four of our Project Unbolt newsrooms, live coverage has been perhaps the most significant success, in our efforts to unbolt from print culture and processes. In a series of blog posts this week and next, I will address live coverage issues.

We’ll start with situations where newsrooms should consider live coverage: (more…)

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My blog posts when we launched Project Unbolt caught the eye of Anthony Ronzio, News and Audience Director of the Bangor Daily News. Tony wanted to learn more and came to Connecticut for a day when I was helping the New Haven Register unbolt its culture and workflow from print.

We talked a lot about what we were trying to do at Digital First Media and what he and his staff in Maine are doing. (I love how he measures his staff’s performance; if I were continuing at DFM, we might have tried something like it in one of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms).

I heard again from Tony last week after I blogged about the digital-first approach to the Sunshine Week project by our Connecticut newsrooms.

I invited others to tell how you’re doing enterprise projects that aren’t driven by print and the Sunday paper. So Tony shared a couple examples from the Bangor Daily News: (more…)

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A news meeting at the Bangor Daily News. Photo courtesy of Anthony Ronzio.

A news meeting at the Bangor Daily News. Photo courtesy of Anthony Ronzio.

The New York Times is trying to make its morning meeting an all-platform discussion, rather than its traditional meeting discussing what’s on page one. Public Editor Margaret Sullivan used the changed meeting as the opening of her Sunday column:

IT’S Wednesday morning and 39 editors have filed in to the 10 a.m. meeting in The Times’s third-floor conference room, some carrying laptops and smartphones, others with pens and notepads.

The meeting, which until recently concentrated on the printed newspaper, now emphasizes a different discussion: journalism on the digital platforms of The Times. There was praise for headlines that had contained the right words — both “Eric” and “Cantor,” in this case — to maximize online search results; a query about whether a story would be accompanied by a video; and talk about how to give a political package more weight on the home page.

There was even a half-joking reference to the readership spike that came after an initial foray on Twitter by the new executive editor, Dean Baquet, who had praised coverage of a Brooklyn funeral and provided a link.

The column moved from the meeting anecdote on to broader questions about the Times’ challenge of developing a stronger digital focus to reflect the growing challenges and opportunities of digital publishing.

Times Innovation report

The changes to the morning meeting also were discussed in the Times’ Innovation report:

The newsroom is unanimous: We are focusing too much time and energy on Page One. This concern — which we heard in virtually every interview we conducted, including with reporters, desk heads, and masthead editors — has long been a concern for the leadership.

And yet it persists. Page One sets the daily rhythms, consumes our focus, and provides the newsroom’s defining metric for success. The recent announcement from Tom Jolly to focus the Page One meeting more on the web report is a great step in the right direction, but many people have voiced their skepticism that it will truly change our focus.

their skills and how they could be put to use. “You can’t take new talent and put them in old structures where they are second-class citizens,” said the editor of one competing newspaper. “That is not real change. You must change the structure of power.”

Here is a typical complaint from a Washington reporter who frequently appears on A1:

“Our internal fixation on it can be unhealthy, disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive. Just think about how many points in our day are still oriented around A1 — from the 10 a.m. meeting to the summaries that reporters file in the early afternoon to the editing time that goes into those summaries to the moment the verdict is rendered at 4:30. In Washington, there’s even an email that goes out to the entire bureau alerting everyone which six stories made it. That doesn’t sound to me like a newsroom that’s thinking enough about the web.”

My earlier post on newsroom meetings

In last year’s series of advice for new Digital First editors, I included a post on leading digital-first meetings. That seems timely to repost now, both as part of this year’s Project Unbolt discussions and because the two Times pieces have raised the issue of focusing newsroom meetings on digital platforms. So here’s that piece again, with minor updates and editing:

Daily news meetings are an important place for editors to emphasize priorities.

If a morning meeting focuses on the next day’s newspaper, that will be the focus of the staff’s energies. A Digital First editor should place the focus, especially in a morning meeting, on plans and results for digital content. Don’t critique the morning paper (or, if you must, critique it briefly at the end of the meeting). Instead, you should discuss what’s resonating this morning with your digital audience: What’s getting strong traffic? What’s generating comments on your site or your Facebook page or on Twitter? Do you have plans (or should you make them) for advancing those stories through the day?

If you have projection capability in your conference room, show the site and/or your Facebook page and/or your analytics page(s) on the screen to aid in the discussions.

Discuss digital coverage plans for the day: What video are you shooting? What stories might you be able to supplement with YouTube videos? What stories provide good crowdsourcing opportunities and how should you pitch them to the community? What are photo gallery opportunities, and are you planning to shoot them (and/or to seek community photos)? What events will you be covering live this day (and the next)? Will you be livetweeting them, liveblogging, livestreaming or some combination? Are you planning a live chat about an event or timely issue (or should you?)? Discuss what you’re promoting (or will promote later in the day) on social media.

The meeting also should reflect that mobile content and audience are growing in importance (more than one-third of Digital First newsrooms get half or more of their digital audience on mobile platforms). Look at your tablet and phone apps during the meeting to see whether the right stories are featured and how your content is displaying. If you can project a laptop or phone screen, that would be great, but holding a device up or passing it around will work. (At a recent meeting of Digital First senior editors, one editor showed that a photo was displaying improperly on his newsroom’s iPad app and quickly messaged back to his newsroom to get it fixed.) Discuss opportunities for engaging with your mobile community.

(I addressed mobile issues further in a post on mobile opportunities, a post on the mobile aspects of the Berkshire Eagle’s unbolting plan and a guest post by Dan Rowinski.)

For the morning meeting, the print product should be an afterthought: Perhaps a brief mention of which stories have page-one potential or of any graphic elements for print that will need attention early in the day.

Two Digital First newsrooms that have an excellent digital focus to their morning meetings are the York Daily Record and Salt Lake Tribune. The Bay Area News Group, which has a morning conference call of editors from multiple newsrooms, has dramatically changed the focus of its morning meetings in the past couple years from print to digital.

If you have a late-afternoon meeting, that can focus appropriately more on print. Most of your day’s digital news traffic and coverage is behind you and the print deadlines are approaching. Go ahead and make your page-one plans. But even here, you need to mix in some digital discussion. If you have some evening events, discuss your live coverage plans. If you have an afternoon or evening iPad edition, discuss which stories will be ready and how they will be played. Facebook use gets a boost in the evening, so you should also plan some evening posts.

Maybe you should overhaul your meeting(s) in other ways. Should you scrap them altogether and communicate through a shared Google doc or gchat and/or smaller conversations with one or a few staff members at a time? Should you invite all staffers into a meeting that’s now just for the editors? Or should you invite staffers from remote bureaus or sister newsrooms to join by conference call or Google Hangout? Should you meet in the middle of the newsroom instead of a conference room?

Should you livestream the meeting or invite the public to attend in person, as the Register Citizen does in Torrington, Conn.? If you do, you might want to tell staff to tone down foul language or edgy sarcasm, if your meetings tend to be foul or sarcastic. And you certainly need to tell staffers to be careful not to mention details that shouldn’t be public, such as confidential sources, juveniles whose names you won’t be publishing and speculation about people who might be charged with crimes.

In some posts in this series, I have discussed examples where my leadership was successful, which can come off as boasting. So I should acknowledge here that I was not successful in significantly changing how we conducted meetings when I was editor at the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I did not want to take over running the meetings, so I mentioned to an editor who led most of the meetings how I would like the meetings to change. I would often (if I attended a meeting) ask some questions about live coverage, video or other digital aspects of our coverage, but the focus of the meetings did not change as strongly as it needed to.

At one point when I engaged the staff in working on several aspects of change, a couple of staff members were going to study our meetings and make some recommendations about how to change them. I moved on from the editor’s role before we made those changes, and I don’t know whether or how they changed their meetings.

I think I directed my energies to important areas and made significant changes. But meetings are an important – if often boring and ridiculed – part of newsroom culture. I did not sufficiently change the strong print focus of our meetings at the Gazette. Five years deeper into the digital age, an editor with print-focused meetings needs to take charge of the meetings and ensure that they reflect and guide your newsroom’s digital focus.

How does your newsroom focus on digital and mobile platforms in your meetings?

Crowdsourcing note: I wanted to post a photo of a newsroom meeting at the top of this post, but I couldn’t find one I’ve shot. If you have one I can use (with credit, of course), please email the photo (or a link to an online photo) to me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Update: Thanks to Tony Ronzio for the photo above. And don’t miss his post on the Bangor Daily News’ digital-first enterprise projects

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