We’re now a few weeks into the new year, and I hope that means that you are building some momentum for your 2016 plans.

To me, 2016 has the ability to be just an incredible year for our industry. For GateHouse Media, it’s a year where we will focus heavily on product improvement on both the digital and print side of our business. We’re investing heavily in training through a partnership with Poynter, and we’ll be working all year long on bringing more social media and mobile skill sets to our newsrooms. I believe it’s one of those years that has great potential to be a game-changer for us.

This year, we have to continue to develop our understanding of analytics and how to grow our audience. Understanding how to effectively do this will transform more than just a digital culture in our newsrooms, it would transform our economics and the industry as a whole. We want true, sustained growth based on quality content (as opposed to cheap clickbait) and that includes everything from engaged social media, smart content on mobile, strong in-depth news and fast and fun video.

With that setting, here are seven important things I believe should happen in newsrooms this year:

1. HAVE A PLAN TO GROW AUDIENCE: While website redesigns are incredibly helpful — GateHouse Media will go through one this year — you shouldn’t use them alone to guide your audience growth.

  • Ensure that your social media strategy is completely buttoned up (are you getting 25-30% of your traffic through social media? You should). Make sure your tone is right and that all reporters are driving audience through their professional Twitter accounts. Explore with new emerging social tools.
  • Are reporters using real-time analytics tools to ensure coverage is aligned with what your digital audience is consuming? Make sure everyone knows how to use your tools and ensure that reporters are helping it guide their story pitches.
  • Are you doing more than just shooting video? Are you exploring with text overlay and other approaches that can help drive a hungry audience that wants content that goes beyond straight text?
  • Are you creating content — and writing digital headlines — that have the opportunity to go viral in the social space?

Develop your three or four key things that you believe will drive your audience. Measure it daily. Assess and adjust. Celebrate your growth.

EXAMPLE1
An in-depth investigation by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune focused on the mental health resources in Florida.

2. DO IN-DEPTH CONSISTENTLY: Our content must do more than re-hash yesterday’s news. In print, center pieces have to be bright, enlightening and fresh. You should know what your next 10 center pieces are going to be right now. And you should have confidence that reporters’ story pitches will put more in-depth content in your paper and online. Editors should reject stories that don’t move your content forward. We must cover news that happens each day, but that doesn’t mean that our approach with content has to be just regurgitating what has happened.

3. TAILOR CONTENT FOR MOBILE: With your mobile audience becoming such a huge part of your overall audience, we have to ensure that we are creating content that is appropriate for readers on that platform. A responsive design solution is a great platform, but it takes a lot more than that to be successful with mobile readers. It really starts with the appropriate story format. Reporters should consider — of the many formats they have to pick from — which one is most appropriate for that story. Is that a narrative with a video? Just a video? Just a timeline? We have to move past just narrative and take every story into consideration when thinking about the best approach to tell the story. Readers are expecting a better experience. Make this part of your planning and story pitch process where reporters are challenged to consider the right format and layer.

4. COMMIT TO DIGITAL AND PRINT PLANNING: If you still have a budget meeting at 3 p.m. where you discuss the print newspaper, stop it. You should have a meeting in the morning where you lay out coverage and then an afternoon meeting where decisions about the next day’s coverage get made. Print decisions need to get made in both of those meetings, but the focus should be on how you are going to cover things and what tools to use. In addition — to the in-depth news goal — have a weekly meeting where you plan out the next 10 days. It’s the only way to get to consistent, bigger stories. Make the time.

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 3.12.53 PM5. MAKE VIDEO A PRIORITY FOR EVERY REPORTER: There a thousand reasons to do this. If you want more Facebook traffic, video is critical to post natively on the social media giant’s platform. They are giving more love to sites that post video natively. Beyond that, video is an important storytelling tool. Tools like Tout, that help reporters post video in real time from the scene, really do make video a real-time value for readers. Tout helps reporters capture what they are experiencing. It’s an important tool in the kit to use in reporting. While publishers have been slow on the monetization path with video, that is changing with new technologies and more prioritization in this space. The most valuable video will come from those who are experiencing what’s happening in your community and that’s reporters who are deeply engaged in their coverage.

Journal Star’s reader advisory board

6. GET INVOLVED WITH READERS: One of GateHouse’s core engagement strategies this year is to host community forums, town meetings and reader advisory boards. The community forums and town meetings are driving conversation and change around critical issues in communities. In Daytona, Fla., the News-Journal recently hosted a forum on homelessness. And in Columbus, Ohio, the Dispatch recently hosted a forum that 300 people attended on the impact that suicide is having on the community. These are great examples of newspapers taking leadership roles and bringing a community together to not just discuss challenges but hopefully make change happen in a community.

7. HAVE FUN IN YOUR NEWSROOM: Seriously. You should. Reward your people for great work. Get excited about big news and new stuff you do. Celebrate your successes. Feed people. Just have fun. This is a great industry.

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