This is the sixth of seven blog posts about the Berkshire Eagle Unbolt Master Plan (which I explained in the first post). A staff committee developed the plan in response to my call for newsrooms to free themselves from print culture and workflow in six primary areas. This is the plan to for engagement. Community Engagement Editor Jenn Smith, chair of the engagement committee, rewrote part of the plan in response to my suggestions. Most of this post will be the Eagle’s revised plan lightly edited, with my comments in italics.
What is engagement?
Engagement must exist on two parallel levels in The Berkshire Eagle newsroom.
As a productive news outlet and agency of community engagement, we must adopt and exercise proven ways of gathering, communicating and sharing content and also strive to innovate new best practices within our industry. We will be advocates for our journalistic standards, practices and products by initiating two-way communication with our audience to generate ideas and feedback and to promote reader contributions as well. Where communications may struggle, we will work to meet our audience members at their level and help them to access the various tools and products we use to share news.
As a newsroom, it must become our practice, our habit, our instinct to constantly and consistently inform and share our work, ideas and give feedback on the content with produce. We shall focus on methods of collaboration versus insular or rogue pursuits, and provide quality technology and ongoing training to help improve these news practices. While we may have designated newsroom leaders, we also respect and encourage individuals and groups of staff members to express and share their specific skills sets, expertise and experiences.
How do we apply Unbolted engagement?
In the context of the newsroom, it’s the state of a news staff being geared up and ready for action — to tackle what the day and night bring, to communicate among themselves and with people in the community, and to share what we learn 24/7 in the most well-informed, efficient and meaningful ways possible. We want to add value to people’s lives by being their go-to source for information that is accurate, timely, helpful, depthful, relevant and presented in a well-rounded objective manner.
We also must actively reach out to the community to show that we’re ready to not only listen to their feedback, questions and ideas, but to respond. To do this successfully, we must remain alert and flexible. If someone cannot navigate our digital content, we must show them how by providing a personal response to their email or creating and sharing a tutorial. If we’re providing a liveblog, we must proactively promote the link to our readers and provide a place where people can easily recognize and access the link. If we’re excited about a contest we’re hosting, we need to share our enthusiasm through ongoing tweets and social media posts.
We need to continuously keep in contact with community entities — from animal shelters to youth centers, public health initiatives to human rights organizations — about how they’re addressing issues in the community and discuss with them how we might best keep people in touch with events, forums, initiatives, etc. Just as we encourage people to be active and informed citizens, we too must practice and maintain a leading role as a civically engaged community member.
Action plan for staff and community engagement
Goal: To develop and revise our practices based on six tenets: Transparency, conversation/social media, curation, interpersonal connections, networking and proactive outreach.
The following represents recommendations of initial priorities for Project Unbolt in The Berkshire Eagle newsroom:
- Identify and articulate shared goals in how to improve communications amongst ourselves, particularly among reporters and editors. By doing so, we can better address issues such as story duplication and over-scheduling; planning coverage when reporters and editors are absent or on vacation; planning multimedia packages, informing op-ed pieces, etc.
Time frame: Have meeting or send out survey in next two weeks.
I asked Jenn for an update:
We have not done a formal survey. At 10:15, Monday through Friday, we have what we call “morning meeting.” Prior to each meeting, I also send out a weekday email to connect with people, share some kudos, discuss issues and give friendly reminders about deadlines or style changes/issues. This, along with our new Training Tuesdays initiative have become venues to address these issues.
For example, several reporters have done stories on Obamacare and Massachusetts Health Connector issues. When someone files a budget line via email or shares their story idea in person during our meeting, we tend to talk it out on the spot or come up with a communication plan. Someone might say, “That’s a great story idea, you should talk to…” or “Hey, I think Jim might be working on that. You should check in with him.”
By attending each meeting, managing editor Tom Tripicco or VP Kevin Moran will also chime in with their insight, since they have a bigger picture view of what everyone’s working on.
By being around to hear story budget lines, photo editor Ben Garver can then prioritize what to shoot and what multimedia packages to make.
Jen Huberdeau also tends to chime in about how people might be responding to a news story on Facebook, which guides us on how to address ongoing coverage of an issue. We also communicate a great deal through email, our internal chat system, phone calls and text messages about things like reporter absences, if someone has to run out or has a questions about story coverage, etc.
We include our Northern Berkshire bureau by having conference calls and group emails. People have been pretty responsive and communicative using the above methods.
- Create and post in the newsroom, perhaps on the bulletin board, a definitive work flow schedule and daily deadlines, staff roles and responsibilities. Also determine daily checklist priorities. Buttry question: Is the bulletin board actually used? Should this be shared digitally either in addition to or instead of posting there?
Kevin Moran shares our weekly schedules through Google Docs, and also on a physical bulletin board. Any daily deadline changes are communicated through a news staff email, usually in the morning one I send out, or through something Tom or Kevin sends. Kevin is also composing and distributing and meeting with individuals or small groups about roles and responsibilities. Generally, everyone tries to file budget lines by 11 a.m. We also now talk about best practices and responsibilities during Training Tuesdays.
- Establish and encourage an internal culture of sharing each other’s work, promoting content like “Behind the Beat” blogs, and helping each other find ways to get involved in community activities in the context of sharing their work (i.e.- community panels and forums, radio shows, volunteering, etc.), respectful to the level of agreement, comfort and interest of the staff member.
Time frame: Effective immediately.
Update from Jenn:
Yes, this is happening. News staffers tend to tweet and RT blog links, and we share them on our Facebook page. Sports staff Howard Herman and Matthew Sprague and I regularly participate in local radio shows. As community engagement editor, I attend a lot of community panels, presentations and lead newsroom tours. Jen H. recently served as a panelist on a school public speaking contest and participated in a community reading day event. I’m hoping to continue to network and get more staff involved in things like this.
- Develop and implement an internal system where people can solicit feedback, share concerns about conflicts of interest in coverage, and where people can stay informed of Eagle, NENI and DFM developments, from Unbolt rollout to technology and software updates like the laptop and Saxotech rollouts.
For our community
- Promote and share “Behind the Beat” and “Unbolt” blogs. Advertising side can also help do this. Create tandem Facebook pages for the “Behind the Beat” blogs for North County, Central County and South County to foster more reader interaction.
Time frame: Currently practicing.
- Create a plan and platform for sharing our daily budgeting process or sharing with readers the stories we’re working on so they can have an opportunity to give feedback or chime in on an issue. Buttry comment: I’ll be blogging later about the New Haven’s “Ask the Register” running liveblog and I have noted before how some Digital First newsrooms have shared their daily news budgets with the public.
Time frame: TBD.
- Practice more crowdsourcing for public opinion for stories, i.e.- medical marijuana issue, hotel wars, upcoming elections and politics, school budgeting issues, etc. Facebook seems to be the leading place to do this.
Time frame: Effective immediately. Work with Jen H. to establish how staff members can create crowdsourcing posts on Eagle Facebook and Twitter accounts as needed.
- Take inventory of social media sites currently used by individual news staff members. Ensure everyone is as least on Twitter and Tout.
Time frame: Effective immediately.
- Ask each staff member to become an expert/regular user of at least one additional digital social medium, i.e.- blog, Pinterest, Storify, Facebook, Google+, Instagram… Any stars? Any less prominent social media represented: Quora? LinkedIn?
Time frame: Get individuals to identify and articulate commitment on at least one platform by end of week of March 9. Jenn Smith works with Jen H. and Kevin to create a quick sheet of options and descriptions of potential platforms.
- Update berkshireeagleblogs.com listing. Make sure staff bios on berkshireeagle.com include photos and social media account info.
Time frame: Ongoing
- Make and internally publish checklist of area websites, blogs, social media sites and other places that The Eagle can curate content from, including sister and competitor sites; local schools, businesses, law enforcement, etc.
Time frame: Start Google doc week of March 9, which staff can edit and contribute to.
Update from Jenn:
Still working on the doc but I’ve been communicating with Tom, Kevin and Jen H. about new news sites, content, etc. We have a few staff members who do this too. A couple of local radio stations credit The Eagle when they read the news. We do the same when we curate content from other reporting sources.
Interpersonal connections (aka Hangout)
- Staff training on Google Hangouts and YouTube livecasting.
Time frame: March and April. Training includes setting up accounts.
- Though The Eagle is a Digital First newsroom, its staff also recognizes that many audience members also prefer, and that there’s no replacement for face-to-face and one-on-one conversations and personal interactions. Brainstorm ways that each individual staff member can have regular connections with their primary audiences (take cues from politicians who do this and, as a result, become embedded in a community). Hypothetical examples: Regular South County coffee shop hours for John Sakata; a weekly Tout from Jeffrey Borak on upcoming theater performances; a monthly blog of editing and grammar tips from the Style Cop; a regular golf weather/course conditions commentary from Richard Lord.
Time frame: Spring 2014
Update from Jenn:
We’ll be doing more interactive things as the Berkshire tourism season kicks in. We also do community engagement through community generated photo galleries and have had some minimal success with contests.
Networking and proactive outreach
- Establish a taskforce to explore the idea of establishing a community advisory and/or community editorial board. Buttry comment: The Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., has a community editorial board, and Editor Rick Mills did an Inside Thunderdome post on how to set one up and operate.
Time frame: Spring 2014, planning only.
- Identify current media and community partners. Create a list of potential media and community partners and brief descriptions on how we might sustainably cross-promote each other.
Time frame: Spring 2014, planning and strengthening existing networks.
- Create and develop a protocol and procedures with local schools and emergency responders on who to contact at The Eagle to post emergency notices, from snow days to pipe bursts, violence or natural disasters.
Update from Jenn:
We don’t have anything in formal writing/handbook form, but we do have an ongoing morning protocol of communication via email about breaking news, and are working on a weekend structure. Jen H. and I work on things like closings and emergency notices. Clarence Fanto also does a great job contributing to this in terms of weather.
Jenn was joined on the committee by reporters Richard Lindsay, Philip Demers and John Sakata and visual journalist Gillian Jones.
Other posts on the Eagle’s master plan