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Following up on our 2016 editor resolutions

At the beginning of the year, we asked three GateHouse Media editors what their priorities – resolutions, if you will – were for 2016. Now that the end of the year is fast approaching, it made sense to circle back and check back on everyone’s successes.

Lenore Devore, editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, was planning to start a monthly online chat series were a reporter would focus on his or her beat and also planning to start sponsoring a series of concerts, highlighting local musicians. She also wanted to focus more on using analytics to improve The Ledger’s social media referral traffic.

Rich Desrosiers, editor of The Canton Repository, wanted to start focusing more on digital in newsroom meetings, including growing the Repository’s social media audience and experimenting more with digital tools and layers in online articles.

Lynne Sullivan, editor of The Herald News and the Taunton Daily Gazette was making strides to become more responsive to developing stories, make more of a push in the mobile news department and to increase audience engagement.

GateHouse Newsroom: Which of these resolutions did you have the most success with throughout the year? Why do you think you were successful and what has been the most positive impact on your newsroom to come from this success?

Lenore Devore: We had grown quite the following for our monthly concerts, only to have to stop them in July when we laid off a reporter instrumental to the project. Even though we were targeting a younger crowd through the choice of musicians, we attracted the elder Baby Boomer set, who were wildly enthusiastic. We think they loved being in our building and interacting with us, along with some free nibbles. For many, it was something free to get them out of the house. I’d like to resume it, when possible.

Positive vibes for our brand – that’s the impact. You can’t replace that with one positive story. This sent goodwill throughout.

Rich Desrosiers: Of the three, revamping the meetings to place an emphasis on mobile probably has had the most overall impact.

For many months, our digital editor Dwight Kier has led the morning meetings. We talk about some analytics from the previous 24 hours and how that data are pointing us toward news decisions, what is happening throughout the day and when it will be posted so that we keep our website active, and whether we are taking advantage of every opportunity digitally. We rarely talk “print” till later in the day. As a result, we have a much better understanding across the newsroom of how to combine the desire to be faster online with being comprehensive and letting stories develop in stages. (Meaning that we’ve finally shaken loose from the mindset that the full story had to be reported first before publishing anything.)

Our success in growing our social audience is noteworthy — closing in on 100 percent growth for Facebook likes since my arrival 16 months ago, but I’m not sure we’ve leveraged that growth in a meaningful way. That will be part of our goals moving forward.

Lynne Sullivan: Hands down, engaging more with readers was our success story. . .We’ve actually partnered with local organizations to put on five events this year.

For Women’s History Month, we reached out women in high positions or positions typically held by men and had them fill out an ASF-type questionnaire. The response was fantastic across both the Herald News and Gazette – we ran one of these ASFs per day for the entire month of March and even went into April. Then, we held a panel discussion with some of the women at a local high school, as a way to sort of inspire the female students. We made so many fantastic connections and received so much positive feedback from the community that it cleared up any uneasiness we had about hosting events!

Later in the year, we partnered with some high-profile stakeholders in the addiction treatment realm, and so far have put on two provider-to-provider events — one was more of a panel discussion and “speed dating” type networking event; at the next one, we broke off into four “working groups” addressing different aspects of the opioid epidemic — education, treatment, after-care and law enforcement/criminal justice. While many groups have held forums for parents of addicts or recovering addicts, etc. we discovered in our initial meetings that what was missing was a way for all the many groups addressing this problem to meet and discuss and share and make connections — so our events have provided that outlet.

As well, we will be publishing a similar ASF-type profile of each group and will run one per day for however many days we need (we are close to 50 at this point). The profiles will live on our website, as a resource for anyone in the community who needs it.

GHN: Which one of these resolutions did you struggle with the most throughout the year? What have you learned from the difficulties you found with this resolution and how are you using this information in a way that is positively impacting change in your newsroom?

LD: We struggled with online chats; they just never did take hold. Reporters have too much to do, and this was not a priority, probably because I did not put enough attention/focus on it. To make things stick, they need a champion, an editor who can develop a schedule and work with reporters/photographers on it.

RD: Of the three goals, we struggled most with adding digital tools — to the extent that too often we saw opportunities after the fact. We are strong with Tout; we’re very high each month with our numbers, company-wide.

Using elements like maps, timelines and sound clips, however, were too often thought of too late in the process and almost always by editors. Getting more reporters to think of opportunities earlier is a major goal for 2017.

LS: We still are not paying enough attention to mobile. It may simply be a function of working at a desk and seeing everything on a computer. We never appointed a mobile “point person” and are planning to do so in 2017, so this vital “resolution” doesn’t fall down on the list again.

GHN: What are some of your resolutions for 2017? What impact do you hope these resolutions will have on your newsroom?

LD: Have more fun. Impact: improving morale. How to do that? We had a Tout and contest this year; I hope to use the few bucks I put toward prizes to something else that’s fun.

Improve mobile content. Figure out the final pieces of the puzzle so we can deliver an incredible experience to those who use on the run. Impact: more pageviews, which benefits advertising, which, in the end, can benefit us.

Reorganize the Newsroom. Impact: happy staffers doing more journalism with impact (read: that readers care about). That, in turn, could lead to more page views and subscribers, which benefits advertising, which, in the end, can benefit us.

RD: Better management of our homepage. We need our top stories to stay in the carousel without them getting shoved out by less-worthy headlines, for example. And making sure we have made the most effective selections of photos to grab attention.

Greater emphasis on social engagement, to leverage those growing Facebook numbers, especially on nights and weekends. This will involve some personnel working new shifts.

More enterprise for 2017, including at least one yearlong initiative (“Stark County’s 53 Greatest Teams” produced each Sunday in 2017) and what could turn into a second yearlong series “Life on Trump Avenue.”

Expanding our digital toolbox, especially with audio, like SoundCloud

LS: I think it’s pretty clear to all of us that 2016 was a tough year for journalists nationally. It’s tough to work cheerfully and effectively when you are constantly faced with dire predictions about the health of this industry and an overall lack of respect for what we do. To that end, I think I need to turn inward a little and do some staff development.

In thinking about engaging with our community, it will be helpful to first define *this* community, meaning my staff. What are we trying to do? Who are we trying to reach? Whose stories should we be telling (and it may not be the stories we are currently telling)?

I think as a manager, I have to acknowledge the morale hit that comes with layoffs and acknowledge that we have an increasingly unappreciative audience out there — and then formulate a plan to get past that and re-focus.

My biggest resource IS my staff, so how do I make this place better? I have to make this valuable resource better. I have to re-motivate them to do good work. I have to remind them WHY they got into this field 20-30 years ago (or even 5 years ago). There was a time when they felt valued by the community and felt like they were changing the world, for the better. You don’t just fall into this field. How do I get them back there? Recognizing good work (and showing it off for all to see); bringing in speakers (or going out to see them – we are headed to see Bob Woodward in April!); starting a “book club” where we all read the same book and weigh in; sharing good work done elsewhere; one-on-one interviews in January to see what obstacles they feel they face and how to remove them (then follow-up interviews in December); challenging each staff member to come up with a project for the year, and then holding them accountable to a specific timeline.

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