Planning for digital with GateHouse Media Newspapers of the Year
We talk about digital planning and becoming a digital-first newsroom, but what do those things actually look like in newsrooms of varying sizes, in different stages of the digital shift and with unique levels of digital resource delegation?
Here’s what our three Newspapers of the Year had to say about what digital actually looks like in their newsrooms:
Tell me about your digital team. Is there an official team?
Cape Cod Times (45 full-time newsroom employees): Really the digital team is everyone in the newsroom at this point. Every position has online responsibilities and we all see Cape Cod Times and CapeCodTimes.com as our world. We used to have a digital team/department, but that divided our print and digital worlds. Now, everyone has a piece of the online action. At the same time, we do have people whose main job is digital: Digital Editor Jason Kolnos, web producer Sam Mintz, Online Editor/Multimedia Copy Editor Gregory Bryant, CapeCodOnline Editor Anne Brennan and CCOL reporter Eric Williams. Reporters and photographers are required to produce digital elements including videos, photo galleries and related content on a daily basis.
The Register-Mail (12 full-time newsroom employees): I [Jay Redfern] am the “unofficial” digital editor for The Register-Mail and galesburg.com. We do not have an official team; we take a team approach among editors.
Hannibal Courier-Post (4 full-time newsroom employees): Since we have a small news staff, a lot of that falls to me [Eric Dundon] as an editor. I have to make sure we’re thinking visually, and luckily, all of the reporters do the same. We constantly think about how to make every story a multimedia package. That’s one reason we were successful in 2015. Relatively few items solely relied on text.
How does your newsroom plan for digital?
CCT: There’s someone responsible for digital in every planning session, from our morning and afternoon planning meetings to our project meetings. It’s important to have them involved from the beginning so they can begin thinking of the digital layers we want. They also could have ideas of how best to shape the print story. The reporters and photographers take videos at assignments without being asked and that enterprise is a major reason why the digital workflow moves so well here. We use Parse.ly analytics during our morning story budget meeting to see which stories are resonating with our audience on the web and social media, which helps inform our coverage. The night editors carefully consider which Facebook posts are most important to get online during key traffic times in the evening.
R-M: Admittedly, much of our digital plan is implemented on the fly, although we have set up expectations and initiatives. Our photo editor does a great job with video, and communicates with editors so we can relate the videos to stories online.
C-P: One of the simplest things I did in 2015 was keep a daily chart of what pieces went onto the website at what times. The same is true for social media. We had sporadic digital presence prior to 2015. Now, we have content appearing evenly throughout the day with our top stories appearing when the most amount of people are using digital platforms.
What were your major goals for digital in 2015? Do you think you achieved those goals? What are the next steps?
CCT: Our two biggest goals for digital in 2015 were 1.) creating a new website with CapeCodOnline.com and 2.) implementing Digital First in the newsroom. First, we decided to put two full-time resources to CapeCodOnline. At the same time, we shuffled the staff for CapeCodTimes.com, with the biggest change being Jason Kolnos taking on the digital editor role. Another change was the arrival of Sam Mintz, who is a skilled digital journalist but also a strong print writer. In 2015 we had two videographers transition to other digital roles so the onus was on staff to increase their video production using Tout, which has worked well. We produced an award-winning, in-depth video project about saving endangered sea turtles which was filmed by the reporter and photographer who were covering the ongoing story. We also amped up our production of other interesting digital content including interactive graphics, timelines, databases and maps. We increased our social media presence using everything from Instagram and Pinterest to Periscope. We have now embarked on Digital Next, isolating specialists in the areas of audience, engagement, innovation and mobile.
R-M: Our major goal for digital in 2015, as it is in 2016, is to continue to increase web traffic. In 2016, we are trying to have an image to go with all major stories so we can get them better play in the carousel.
C-P:We set some milestones in terms of our website hits. We surpassed our goals of four million pageviews quite easily in 2015. We improved how and when we were posting content to maximize our views. We didn’t quite hit our goal of 1.5 million sessions in 2015. That goal remains for 2016 and we’ve upped our pageview goal to 4.5 million — which we are on track to surpass. We have to think rationally in our approach to our audience. Hannibal is by far our main coverage. But outside of the city limits, we serve a sparsely populated, rural area. We know there is a ceiling to our reach, but we’ve yet to find it.
If you experimented with different approaches to digital content, multimedia and social content distribution in 2015, what was the most valuable lesson learned?
CCT: The most valuable lesson learned is that every staff member can be an effective jack-of-all-trades journalist if they put a little work into it. You don’t have to be video specialist to produce quality multimedia. In terms of social media, we learned that having the right tone is key when pushing out your stories on social media, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. We frequently experiment with tone and look for conversational ways of promoting our stories.
R-M: We really stepped it up as far as video in 2015. Much of this came from sports videos, including weekly sit-down interview shows with our sports staff and the head coaches for football and boys and girls basketball.
We also started using Periscope. One of our most popular Periscope broadcasts came from a tornado scene in nearby Cameron, Illinois. Our two reporters on the scene walked around the storm-ravaged town, enabling viewers to get a live look at the destruction. Viewers were also able to ask and get live answers to questions from our reporters.
C-P: Don’t be afraid to try new things! And don’t be afraid to start over. The digital attention span of an audience can be fickle, so it’s the perfect place to try something new. If something doesn’t work as intended, it’ll be soon forgotten. That’s the beauty — and challenge — of news in the digital world.
How do you get your newsroom excited about thinking digitally?
CCT: In some ways, our expectations were set for us. For example, we were seeing a huge migration of online readers from desktops to mobile devices. We knew that was an area that needed extra focus. We also knew we wanted to change CCOL – something we’ve tried to do for years, but have only now found success when we were able to move the site off the newspaper.com platform. And we also knew we needed everyone involved with digital – and Digital Next taught us that everyone wanted to be there. The staff showed genuine enthusiasm in tackling new ways to tell stories online, and experimenting with new digital tools. Soon there was just a momentum that continues to carry us. It’s been a fun ride.
C-P: One of the things that helped keep the minds of the newsroom staff focused digitally is letting them in. I sent out monthly analytics letting everyone who produced content know what worked, what didn’t, how we kept paced with digital goals, etc. That, combined with monthly tips on how to maximize our digital results, reinforced positive strategies. Since every newsroom members is in part a web editor in our small newsroom, treating them as such was vital. Analytics aren’t meant to be a guarded secret. Inclusion in the digital process helped foster the sense that we were all contributing and growing as a group.