Gone are the days when reporters burned the midnight oil to get a breaking story into the morning edition. Or they should be gone. Digital First Media titles are seeing engagement increases by honouring the digital cycle.
The best way to change the culture of an organisation is to
change how you work.
In our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms, we are working to
change how journalists handle routine daily news coverage.
The newsroom has already changed its coverage of breaking
news and big events, with live coverage for the Web and heavy use of digital
tools such as social media.
Walk into a newsroom in the early evening, and you’re likely
to see reporters and editors feverishly writing and editing stories that will
appear in the next day’s newspaper. Those stories will publish digitally hours
before they publish in print, and this probably feels “digital first” to the
reporters and editors who work on them.
But the timing of the work and publication is still dictated
by the needs of the newspaper factory. And those stories all publish after the
day’s digital attention has tapered off with the end of the normal office
I used to work for some evening newspapers. Our factories
operated on a different schedule that required reporters to file routine daily
stories by mid- or late morning. They can do it and we need to get reporters
filing stories during daytime hours again.
After the Des
Moines Tribune died in 1982, we had reporters from the old evening Tribune
working on the same Des Moines Register staff with reporters who were used to
the culture and workflow of the morning newspaper.
A complaint quickly arose
among longtime Register reporters that the editors were “letting” the former
Tribune staffers go home early.
My response was that they turned in their stories.
Because evening newspaper reporters didn’t have to work evenings (unless they were
covering evening events), their families expected them to be home for dinner
and some evening family life (or the workers expected to enjoy some night life
outside the newsroom). The reporters were used to finishing work by 5 p.m. or
so and heading home. So they did.
The reporters who were used to the morning-newspaper culture
thought that 10 p.m. deadline meant that’s when they should turn their stories in. But the former Tribune reporters knew
that on most days you could do your work during the day, like normal people. After
all, that’s when your sources work.
However, workplace culture is powerful and eventually the
former Tribune staffers started working late into the evening to get their work
done, like the morning-newspaper reporters they had become.
In Project Unbolt,
we’re focusing on the digital future with a workflow that’s reminiscent of the
When we can, we want to beat that evening
deadline for the morning newspaper by several hours. Get an early start and
turn in your story in the morning or early afternoon, and you’ll generate some
interest — and maybe even some impact — that day, while the news is timely.
For coverage of events during the day, reporters can tweet
live from the event and feed the tweets into an article on the site, using a
tool such as ScribbleLive, CoverItLive, Liveblog Pro, Superdesk, or a Twitter
widget. This gives your community coverage as the event is happening — and as people
are checking news during their workday — rather than hours later during the
In trying to change the workflow at the New Haven Register,
one of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms, I noted that a day’s murder trial
story posted to the Web site at 8:30 p.m. I encouraged live coverage, which the Register did for the rest of the trial, generating more than 14,000 engagement
minutes, with visitors staying on reporter Randall Beach’s liveblog for an
average of 11 minutes.
Another of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms, the Berkshire
Eagle, had even better success, generating 25,855
engagement hours with live coverage of a murder trial,
with people staying an average of 21 minutes.
Live coverage of events such as trials, sporting events, or
meetings is an important change in how journalists work. We’re at the events
gathering content anyway.
But instead of waiting to write just for the morning
print edition and post that story in the evening, we focus on telling the story
now for the digital audience. For a
trial and many other events, that’s during the day.
If the reporter’s routine daily story isn’t an event, we
want the reporter to shoot for a mid- or late-morning deadline, like an
evening-newspaper reporter used to. Or early afternoon will do. Or file the
basic news in a few paragraphs in the morning and update as subsequent
interviews provide reaction and explanation.
When State Senator Ed Meyer retired, Register reporter Ed Stannard
posted a quick
story about the retirement and the possibility that Ted Kennedy Jr. would
run for Meyer’s seat. Stannard’s original story posted at 11:34 a.m., and he
updated it several times. The story received 4,000 page views.
Evening work should be reserved for stories breaking in the
evening or for evening events such as meetings or ballgames. And those events
also should be covered live.
We can still produce stories for the newspaper factory if we
serve the digital audience during the day. But we can’t serve the digital
audience by waiting until the factory’s deadlines.
Steve Buttry is digital transformation editor at Digital First Media, based in Washington, D.C., USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The urgent need to change the corporate culture at media companies to attract and retain platform-agile employees has spawned new initiatives and new methods to promote innovation and transformation. INMA's Culture Change blog captures best practices of media companies aiming to change their corporate culture – and the stories and lessons behind them.
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