Four steps to help newsrooms compete in the local digital market
We all know what's going on; everyone in the news industry is being forced to adapt to the digital world and the quest for new revenue streams is leading many of the changes seen in newsrooms. Though there is no denying the necessity of a digital strategy, it's also important to take the proper steps to retain readers' attention and to provide information efficiently and accurately. I thought I would put together four starter steps I believe any newsroom should take to start competing on the digital market, no matter the resources:
1. Breaking news protocol
You're always live, why not take advantage of it? Issuing important news via social media networks and websites is part of the expectation readers have. Very few people go to news. They would much rather information come to them. That's why it's necessary to publish important content where readers will see it; via Twitter, by phone app, etc.
Developing a station-wide breaking news protocol can lead to far more efficient team work and output. By publishing an initial statement on Twitter, for instance, and following up with a brief post on a website — which can then be followed by updates as the story develops — journalists can be sure to grab the attention of people interested in the story and keep them updated.
The importance here is efficiency, not bragging rights for being the first to publish.
Fun fact: At a Twitter event in July 2013, The Guardian News and Media CEO Andrew Miller said "Twitter is the fastest way to break news now. So core to what we do and core to what we do on a daily basis." He also said 10 per cent of The Guardian's traffic comes from social media.
2. Think about reading habits
I think it's important to realize that simplifying the way a story is told can be just as difficult a craft as it is to string beautiful sentences together. (I'm talking about news here, not feature stories.) Keep things as simple as you can, don't get too anecdotal unless necessary and provide facts in a chronological, logistical way. (And for god's sake, remember the inverted pyramid.)
Jonathan Dube, a writer for the Poynter Institute, delivers great tips for writing news for the web. Check it out.
The key is to engage the reader by keeping things simple, interesting and adding colour where possible. Remember: readers could stop reading at any point.
3. Give more
Reporters already have to sift through a dozen PDF documents, a few websites and scour social networks to get information for their stories. Keeping track of these references and making them available to the public in one way or another can be extremely helpful and can help your readers stay engaged. If a writer can cut down on paragraphs and replace words with charts, images, slideshows and the likes, he or she can almost guarantee readers will remain on the page a little while longer to take in the visuals.
Multimedia storytelling involves a lot of work, but the results often pay off. Check out the following tutorial from Jane Stevens at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for in-depth information on creating a multimedia package.
Another example: The New York Time's Andrea Elliott made her source notes available for her latest investigative piece on homelessness in New York City. One could argue that few are the ones who will sift through the disjointed information, but there's no denying the data helps improve credibility and transparency.
4. Start using your smartphone
No matter what phone you have, it's bound to have more than basic email features if it's company-issued. Teach yourself what your device can do inside and out and understand the technological boundaries. Start filing short news briefs via email to your newsroom's news desk and share what you know via social media. Even if some of your tweets go unread, they make for a great archive and can attract new readers.
News consumers have also proven fairly tolerant to low-quality breaking news videos and some studies suggest readers have a better understanding of news if it's paired with video elements. Don't be afraid to whip out your camera, snap a few photos or take a 30 second video — Not only can you guarantee longer engagement periods, but your newsroom will thank you for the value-added content.