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Project Unbolt logoThis is the second 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 drive the unbolting of the Eagle’s news coverage and storytelling. Most of this post will be the Eagle’s plan, with my comments in italics. I sent a draft of this post to Kevin Moran, Vice President of News for New England Newspapers Inc., and have included his responses in bold.

What is coverage and storytelling?

In the context of The Eagle newsroom, “coverage” is live, as-it-happens reporting (as the facts are confirmed, of course) of breaking and developing news, news and sports events, issues, meetings, etc. Storytelling refers to the methods or platforms — live blogs, videos, tweets, time lines, stories, etc. — in which we present our live or enterprise coverage.

Buttry comment: Storytelling is more than methods or platforms. I should have defined storytelling better. The tools, methods and platforms are essential in telling digital stories, but the story is the result of that work, something that helps the community understand the news, issues, events and people of interest and importance in the Berkshires. Stories are what people want to share with co-workers and friends on social media and in conversations around the community. Storytelling is the use of this growing journalism toolbox to tell stories, elevating our work beyond informational answers to the 5 W’s with actual story elements such as character, plot, setting, action, theme, conflict and resolution.

Kevin’s response: Agree 100 percent. My (our) motto is the story IS the thing, and nothing beats a good story told well. I say this all the time. What our challenge here is: Presuming we’re good storytellers to start (and I’ll grant that we’re good at it), how and using what methods are the best ways to tell particular stories?

How do we apply Unbolted coverage and storytelling?

The nature of the story can and should dictate what methods and platforms are most appropriate. But “live coverage is routine” (S. Buttry) for the unbolted newsroom. This can be through Twitter, Facebook, Tout and/or live blogs and/or through a digital article that develops as the news unfolds (a la the AP lede-writethru).

Buttry comment: The quotes attributed to me throughout the plan come from my post on how an unbolted newsroom works.

Objective: To continue our practice, develop and/or revise our coverage and storytelling practices based on six tenets: Live, Timeliness, Enterprise, Opinion, Beat Blogs, Data, and Photo/Video.

The following represents recommendations of initial priorities for Project Unbolt in The Berkshire Eagle newsroom:

Live coverage

Goal: Change workflows and mindsets to achieve live coverage of most news events covered by The Eagle.

  • We plan for live coverage at the morning meetings, in advance of that, or at the moment breaking news is underway. We liveblog using Twitter and/or ScribbleLive’s platform. Liveblogs are required for breaking news, news events, trials, debates, sports games/tournaments/rivalries, weather (cancellations/postponements), meetings with big issues and/or broad appeal, town meetings, City Council meetings, forums, big public events like the Ramble or the Josh Billings Run-A-Ground. Buttry comment: Planning for live coverage is essential, especially for changing the work of a newsroom that’s not liveblogging or that liveblogs only for big stories. I’ll do a full post later on the liveblogging progress of the Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing.

Micro goal: Increase live blogs to 6 per week minimum by May 1; 10 per week by June 1. Assess future goals by June 15.

Update from Kevin: Last week we had at least eight scheduled, though five of those are trials. On April 27, we had a live blog for Divine Mercy Sunday (a big event held at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.) and one for a 7-year-old patient’s wish to become a police officer on Tuesday.

  • We promote live blogs: We SOCIALIT before, during, and afterward (wrap-up). If time permits, we have an in-paper refer. Kevin’s explanation, at my request: SOCIALIT is Tom Tripicco’s buzzword that’s caught on in our vernacular: When a story (breaking or otherwise) or photo gallery, etc., gets posted, we “social it” — tweet it, post on Facebook, etc., to touch all the social media bases.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing.

  • Our components of the liveblog include: Original reporting in ScribbleLive; Tweets; photos; Tout and YouTube videos; crowd-sourced tweets, photos, videos, comments, etc. Buttry comment: This is helpful to show the variety of content that you can feed or curate into a liveblog.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing

  • For breaking news coverage, we develop news articles from the liveblog and/or Twitter. Editors and/or writers are building cohesive news articles from the live coverage. This is especially the case during trials, fires, etc., or any breaking news for which immediacy is paramount. Live blogs are on The Eagle’s Digital Tools Checklist for Breaking News Coverage. Buttry: I have embedded the list at the end of this post.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing

  • Develop weekly schedules of live blogs/chats with newsmakers and on news issues (with sources, reporters, experts). Buttry comment: Excellent idea to schedule weekly live chats on issues. These can extend the life of a feature story and become important parts of your opinion content.

Time frame: Develop a startup calendar of live-blog events by April 22. Kevin’s update: This is a time frame we are behind on. I have revised the deadline to develop this calendar for the second week in May. However, we will start the first two with a staffer covering a murder trial and then our features editors on the Berkshires’ summer season’s best bets/highlights in culture, music, theater, etc.  

  • Keep live blogs to a high standard so that they don’t disappoint. With live blogs, it should be a decent certainty that live blogs won’t be a “bust.” E.G., the event won’t prove to be a disappointment because of its short length or lack of interest or dearth of depth. We do not want to knowingly disappoint readers. Buttry comment: This is a valid concern, but I encourage risking an occasional bust. A liveblog doesn’t need to be a transcript or a firehose. If you cover a two-hour meeting that has an interesting half-hour, it’s fine to have stretches where you don’t update or just post a summary sort of update like “They’re reading a long ordinance about the fire code now. It doesn’t appear to be controversial.” If a fairly routine meeting is going to be worth 10 inches in print, it’s probably worth a liveblog with 20-30 posts. The liveblog won’t have a lot of engagement, but the print story won’t have a lot of readers either. We do the story as part of our watchdog duty, and the liveblog performs that duty even better. And the reporter was going to be there anyway. Another way of covering such an event would be to provide quasi-live coverage by livetweeting the meeting. Instead of posting a ScribbleLive that will update only occasionally, you note on Twitter and Facebook (and possibly in a story advancing the meeting) that the reporter will livetweet, so that people interested in live coverage can get that on Twitter. As the meeting goes along, an editor Storifies the reporter’s tweets. At some point when you have a decent story taking shape, the editor publishes a story with the Storify embedded and updates that through the rest of the meeting. Kevin’s response: FYI: We’ve had the “busts.” Example: We covered a mayor’s State of the City address expecting it to be at least a 20-minute speech, and it lasted all of five minutes.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing

  • Training on live blogs.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing. Assign date(s) to The Eagle Training Calendar.

  • Photo galleries are a breaking news tool. We use them not only for breaking news, but as a live coverage generator of “softer news” like events, proms, sports events, our own community engagement creatives, etc. We place a high priority on the number of galleries we generate and a great expectation on applying the maximum number of images as possible into each photo gallery.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing. Buttry note: Excellent point to include photo galleries as a live coverage tool. I like the examples for softer live news possibilities for live galleries. 

The Eagle had exceptional success in February liveblogging a triple-murder trial. Kevin blogged about the stellar engagement in the liveblog (nearly 26,000 engagement hours) and about the lessons reporter Andrew Amelinckx learned in the process. Andrew won a February DFMie for his coverage of the trial. Though it was his first live coverage experience, he learned quickly and deftly used the two-plus days of jury deliberation to continue the liveblog, answering questions from the community.

Timely

Goal: Provide “fresh news every morning” and then at every other time when it’s not morning (within staffing hours of 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.). Our goal is to change reader habits and expectations that BerkshireEagle.com is a reliably updated site throughout the day, not just a one-stop visit in the morning during our peak traffic between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. daily. Metric will be more current traffic from 11 a.m. on compared to a year ago.

  • Breaking news happens when it happens and we post it when it happens as soon as we’ve confirmed the facts.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing.

  • Our journalists are on-call for big news around where they live.
  • We need more than 1 devoted “digital editor” person to keep the site fresh.

Time frame: Evaluate ability to add digital editor, convert an existing position, and/or free up an existing editor/reporter to devote to this. Update from Kevin: What we have that seems to be working is assigning reporters to handle these responsibilities during shifts and time slots that are not otherwise covered. It’s taken some coordination, but we’re getting there.

  • SOCIALIT to every fresh news story.
  • Time frame: Underway. ASAP: Build out a Social Media appendix to The Eagle’s Digital Tools Checklist for Breaking News CoverageAgain, the checklist is embedded at the end of this post.
  • Plan for and schedule features news to lift our traffic at other times during the day, evening and night. This is strategic; outside of breaking news, we need to find what other news (features, food, etc.) resonates at what other points during the day (optimal timing). Buttry note: This is an excellent example of how Project Unbolt is a collaboration of the newsrooms, not just following my instructions. I raised the priority of publishing more news than just breaking news and live coverage during the day. But the idea of looking for optimal timing of particular types of news hadn’t occurred to me. It’s a great idea and I look forward to hearing how it works.

Time frame: Build this out by April 30. Update from Kevin: Yes, we are ahead of schedule on this (prior to April 30). For instance, theater (big deal in the Berkshires) reviews are posted as soon as the review is done, though that review that goes up on a Tuesday or Wednesday might not see print until the weekend. Features content is parceled out online sometimes days ahead of the print sections. What we have not done is analyze the metrics, which we ought to do.

  • Plan digital deadlines for non-breaking news. Need to evaluate posting. Current model is non-breaking news events provided with 5 grafs with further or complete(s) update to follow.

Time frame: Build this out by April 30. Update from Kevin: We have not formalized this; this is a time frame we are behind on.

Enterprise

Goal: Enterprise stories are not tied to print deadlines (typically Sunday). We plan them for highest impact or build toward their release using SOCIALIT, or even tied to moments of import.

  • We conference (pre-plan) all enterprise with the necessary people in the room. We develop enterprise “packages” — video, photo, data, story, SOCIALIT, etc. — at the conference. Visual news journalists are in the room for enterprise conference. We establish photo-video priorities for enterprise then. We set digital deadlines during the planning meeting. Digital deadlines are set to publish during our highest traffic periods before Sunday. (Sunday is our biggest print day, but our lousiest digital day.) We break up multiple story installments/elements parts to publish on consecutive days or times. We follow up with a live chat on the enterprise package on the next logical day. Buttry: I’ve blogged already about digital enterprise. I like the emphasis on including the right people in the planning.

Time frame: Underway, but loose. We succeeded in doing at least one major enterprise story planned according to these loose Unbolt specs by March 20. Develop The Eagle’s Digital Tools Checklist for Enterprise News Coverage by April 22.

  • Training in enterprise, watchdog reporting.

Time frame: IRE training component on July 8-9.

Buttry: I will be blogging soon about some work at the New Haven Register to unbolt enterprise journalism from the Sunday story.

Opinion

Goal: “Opinion content is a mix of editorials, columns, cartoons, staff blogs, community blogs, live chats, videos and other interactive content.”  “We … lead the community conversation … develop that leadership more aggressively and creatively using digital tools.” “We need to join, stimulate and curate the other conversations going on in the community.”  (S. Buttry).

  • Publish opinions as they’re ready.

Time frame: ASAP.

  • SOCIALIT. Creatively. What do you think? Here’s why such and such is right or wrong or good or bad.

Time frame: ASAP.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing.

Beat blogs

Goal: Digital news journalists and visual news journalists go “behind their stories” in beat blogs. We SOCIALIT, journalists/editors reverse publish.

Time frame: Done.

  • Digital news journalists use beat blogs to post stories about experiences, what doesn’t make it into print. “I was here over the weekend and this is what happened …” Backstories.

Time frame: Training dates for WordPress in The Eagle Training Calendar. Kevin, has this been scheduled or done? Kevin update: Our WordPress training date was April 29, and we are using this training to kick off the “behind the beat” blogs staffwide.

  • Establish visual beat blogs: One for the county. Visual news journalists post images, videos. VNJ’s write about the “story behind the photo/video,” or how the photo/video happened, or how they managed to get the photo/video, what process they used, more information about the people-things-places they got, post about local themes or trends, interesting or off-context good photos, you write the caption entries. VNJ’s look to Stan Grossfeld of the Globe.

Time frame: Establish visual news beat blogs by April 22; set expectations, deadlines. Training dates for WordPress in The Eagle Training Calendar. Kevin’s update: The visual beat blog hasn’t been set up, but Gillian Jones has been visual blogging in the North County Behind the Beat blog. For now, we’re going to let photo blog in the behind the beat blogs.

Data

Goal: “The newsroom develops data skills – both specialists and basic data skills throughout the newsroom.” “The unbolted newsroom experiments with ways to use data for journalism, interactive databases, data visualization and structuring and updating archival content for continuing value.” (S. Buttry)

  • We use visuals to explain data. We use the data that we have! We use the data that’s staring us in the face and present it. We use data to help the reader understand the story. We use data visually so as not to bog down the story. We use maps. We use interactives to develop data through crowdsourcing. (Pothole interactive.) Kevin’s explanation of the pothole interactive: Jen Huberdeau used Google maps, which worked. But using Google maps didn’t necessarily make it “easy” for people to post as there were a few hoops to jump through. Amazingly, however, a number of people jumped through those hoops. Buttry: SeeClickFix is a great tool for helping the community report potholes and other problems needing attention from the city or other local government agencies.

Time frame: Underway, but loose.

  • We need training to develop our newsroom’s data presentation skills (Prezi, etc.).
    Time frame: Ongoing, but with only two or three newsroom aficionados. IRE training component on July 8-9. Add to The Eagle Training Calendar.
  • We need training on developing our data skills.
    Time frame: IRE training component on July 8-9.

Photo/Video

Goal: “Reporters and visual journalists file photos” and Tout videos “quickly from breaking news scenes and events.” (S. Buttry) We do it well or we don’t do it at all. We use photos and videos to tell stories.

  • Staff uses photo and videos as part of their digital storytelling toolkit.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing.

  • Staff trains staff in photo and video skills, techniques in Pittsfield and North Adams. We train through shadowing and one-on-ones.

Time frame: Ongoing. In the The Eagle Training Calendar.

  • Develop, curate user-generated photo galleries, videos.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing. Need to assemble micro-goals for frequency, events, holidays, creatives related to this.

  • Establish photo-video as part of the overall “package.”
  • Increase the volume of photo galleries and increase the number of images in an individual photo gallery.

Time frame: Underway, ongoing.

  • Daily video updates. News reports. Updates. Creative uses.

Time frame: Develop this plan by July 15. Buttry: I was a little worried by all the April target dates I was seeing in this section. I like that this target date was set by July 15. If you try to achieve everything right away, you set your newsroom up for disappointment when you inevitably miss most of the target dates. Choosing something for a summer deadline was a good idea. 

Interactive

“The unbolted newsroom experiments with storytelling and curation tools to make stories more interactive with quizzes, interactive databases, listicles, maps, polls, timelines and other features that help users experience stories, rather than simply reading or watching them. Journalists master the tools that prove useful for frequent jobs, but are continually experimenting with new tools and techniques.” (S. Buttry)

Time frame: Need to develop this plan by mid-June. Training in the DFM Games Local Trivia asset, ASAP, by third week of April. Kevin’s update: First training in the tool is May 7.

The Eagle’s committee planning the unbolting of coverage and storytelling was chaired by Kevin. Committee members were Opinion Editor Bill Everhart, sports writer Akeem Glaspie, Scott Stafford and Stephanie Zollshan.

Buttry: News coverage and storytelling is the heart of the change Project Unbolt is seeking. The other pillars all rate to the execution and the quality of the news coverage and storytelling. I’m delighted to see that the Eagle staff developed such a thoughtful, thorough plan so quickly to transform its news coverage and storytelling.

Tomorrow: Examining the Berkshire Eagle Unbolt Master Plan’s section on planning and management.

Other posts on the Eagle’s master plan

Berkshire Eagle Master Plan gives direction to the work of unbolting from print 

How the Berkshire Eagle is unbolting planning and management from print culture

Berkshire Eagle plans for mobile success

How the Berkshire Eagle plans to update and uphold standards

The Berkshire Eagle’s plan for stronger engagement

The Berkshire Eagle unbolts from its processes and workflow from print

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