Taking the pulse of digital transformation
Digital transformation sounds like something magical, like Leo standing at the top of the stairs in the “Titanic” movie. He looks fancy, transformed from steerage urchin to tuxedoed hero.
But digital transformation isn’t as simple as changing clothes and slicking back your hair. Your newspaper doesn’t magically change into the profitable website that saves everyone’s jobs and preserves democracy and life as we know it. For a while, it’s going to be touch and go.
In newsrooms, people are busier than ever, writing stories, shooting video and Snapchatting. Not only do journalists barely have time to think about the changes brought about by technology and fickle audience appetites, they just learn a new digital tool when another one becomes a new generation’s darling. Some newsrooms bounce from one new thing to the next, trying to find their footing.
All of this change takes its toll on the morale of those left in newsrooms, according to a new book. Columbia Journalism Review’s Deron Lee interviewed University of Kansas professor Scott Reinardy, who recently wrote “Journalism’s Lost Generation: The Un-doing of U.S. Newspaper Newsrooms.” Reinardy talked to hundreds of community journalists and surveyed thousands of others over the last decade, and he found people burned out, stressed out and concerned about quality.
The organizations that did best in the wake of change were those that had a plan and explained that plan to their newsrooms. We work in an industry that is struggling, but we also do something that is so important for our readers, something worth fighting for. When we’re honest with our newsrooms and help them understand the “why,” we have a better chance of building a solid future.
At GateHouse, many of our editors came to Chicago in April to hear our strategy. Here are the four elements of our plan for newsrooms this year:
Everything we do should be focused on the ease of people on their phones accessing and absorbing our content.
- Why? In many of our newsrooms, our mobile audience surpassed our desktop audience, and we want to be there for them.
- How? We want to consider the best way to tell each story, and sometimes that will be in an alternate story form, such as a Q&A or a list.
We want to dig deeper into analytics to learn about the people coming to our content and grow that audience.
- Why? This will help us make smart decisions about what we cover and how we cover it.
- How? We will use Parse.ly for real-time analytics to help us determine what’s working and what isn’t for our readers, and we will respond by learning and adjusting our coverage.
In addition to learning from analytics, we’ll also engage with our readers in person and online.
- Why? The opportunity to listen to our audience gives us the chance to better serve them.
- How? In addition to community outreach through reader advisory boards, town halls and community panels, we’ll pay attention and respond to comments on our website and on social media. We’ll encourage and inspire meaningful conversation around our communities’ most important topics.
We’ll look at challenges as opportunities, in the wise words of Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s executive editor Bill Church.
- Why? Change is a given, and it’s not going away. To succeed, we need to embrace change, experiment and fail fast (that way, we can get on with succeeding).
- How? We will strategically try something new, whether that’s a new way to reach readers, such as Facebook Live or Snapchat, or a new approach to storytelling, such as an alternative story format, an interactive graphic or a fresh approach to video.
And even though Leo died as the Titanic sank, he washed up on shore alive in “Inception,” and even grabbed an Oscar this year for “The Revenant.”
There’s hope for all of us.