Newsroom profiles

GateHouse Media newsroom profiles: The Herald News

HERALD STAFF - Lynne Sullivan

The Herald News, under the expert leadership of editor Lynne Sullivan, was recently named as GateHouse Media’s mid-size Newspaper of the Year in the 2016 Best of GateHouse competition. We caught up with Sullivan to get a glimpse into her newsroom’s success in 2016.

Name: The Herald News

City/State: Fall River, Massachusetts

Editor: Lynne Sullivan

Publisher: Mark Olivieri

Publishing frequency: Daily

Editorial staff size: 18

What’s one thing that your newsroom does really well and how do you do it?

Experiment. I challenged the staff early on in this digital transformation to come up with ideas and give them a shot.

Some notable examples are the “virtual” meetings we have with our Community Advisory Board via Slack, and the “Doors of Fall River” Instagram project that copy editor Dan Medeiros started last year (his goal is to photograph at least one door from each of Fall River’s 900 streets – he posts one per day on our Instagram page).

What is your hometown famous for? Any notable celebrities or events?

Lizzie Borden (she gave her mother 40 whacks and then gave her father 41)
Emeril Lagasse (BAM!)
Ernest Moniz (former Energy Secretary – the one who was an actual nuclear physicist)
Battleship Massachusetts (state war memorial)

How does your newsroom #DoJournalismWithImpact?

We take our role in the community very seriously. Major issues that impact its residents impact us as well.

Working with the district attorney’s office and the local women’s center, we highlighted Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, with a series of stories related to the topic; as well, each day, on the front page, we published a tip/fact/warning sign in an effort to keep this important topic front-of-mind for our readers and help raise awareness (and best case, save a life).

As well, we partnered with a local state representative, the police and fire department and other drug prevention agencies to put on a series of forums, including a “speed dating”-type event where all the local drug agencies could meet each other and share info about resources in the community.

After a particularly devastating suicide, we decided to partner with the newly formed suicide prevention organization to present two forums with survivors, a funeral director, clergy and more.

We spent the first quarter of this year looking at the issue of homelessness, and our coverage culminated in a Facebook Live panel discussion of how to better address this issue (oh, and we also held a sock drive, because homeless advocates told us warm socks were something homeless folks really needed).

How does your newsroom engage with the community?

We’ve found that partnerships with other local organizations really help us connect with the community on a deeper level. A local arts organization, AHA Fall River, partnered with us again this year to offer a Festival of Trees, where local groups, businesses and even individuals “sponsored” a Christmas tree, decorated it according to their theme and then we held a contest for folks in the community to vote for a winner. Funds raised went to our annual Holiday Fund, which benefits two local charities.

We’ve stepped up our Facebook game as well, as we’ve had the best results in terms of engaging folks there. Using Facebook live to cover controversial meetings or other events has proven quite popular – people even thank us during the coverage in the comment section!

As well, I’ve challenged my staff to get out there and get involved in the community – join the annual Fitness Challenge, join a mystery writers group at the local library and help out at the local animal shelter. We’ve found some great stories and great sources this way.

We also continue to engage with our Community Advisory Board. We bounce ideas off them, ask for input on important series we are doing and they inevitably act as our ambassadors, so to speak, in the community. The group chooses a monthly winner of the Fall River Forward Award, and one of the CAB members writes a profile of the winner to be published in paper and online.

How does your newsroom #EmbraceOurFuture?

By 2016, I am proud to say this “digital first” mindset is ingrained in our beings! And it’s most evident when big news breaks – it’s in those manic moments that each player needs to know their role and each tool has to be at the forefront for them to be used effectively.

Each year, I challenge my staff to come up with a project for the year (with special emphasis on digital projects). A couple years ago, our columnist started trying “video” columns, which have turned out to be very popular and offer him the opportunity to ex some different muscles, so to speak. The “Doors of Fall River” is another example, as well as the Facebook Live panel discussions.

We do take our analytics to heart. For instance, last year we were discouraged to see that our Sunday stories — which typically took longer to write, required more resources, etc. — were not attracting good readership numbers. It was frustrating to see what we considered our most important stories going unnoticed. We tinkered with headlines, posting times, etc.  to no avail. So we changed our game plan and this year, we are engaging the entire staff in quarterly projects (which also feature a dedicated Facebook page) — getting the group buy-in has led to more interesting stories, and sticking with a theme has led to readers coming back for stories week after week (linking back and forth with the stories is also key!).

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