Posts Tagged ‘management’

When News Breaks, Prejudice Against Citizen Journalists Better Be Fixed

April 25, 2010

It’s one of those self-fulfilling prophecies. Convinced that amateurs can’t produce real news, legacy media outlets make a token commitment to citizen journalism efforts that virtually assures they won’t.

While not universal, such prejudice is common. It’s understandable and not completely unhealthy. If only to protect their own jobs, few professionals are going place audience contributors on equal footing with themselves. And in only limited cases is it in a news organization’s interest to rely exclusively on citizen participators.

Newsrooms that aren’t supplementing their coverage with user contributions, however, are doing themselves and their audiences a disservice, especially when it comes to breaking news.

Every person carrying a smartphone is a potential one-man or one-woman news organization. Even in small communities, there are dozens or even hundreds of these on-demand news companies. Chances are good that at least one of them is going to beat the official news companies to the scene. When they do, I bet even the staunchest citizen journalism critics are wishing they had a framework in place for soliciting, reviewing and publishing amateur content.

It behooves newsrooms to devise a plan ahead of time. Developing processes on the fly distracts journalists from their primary mission — reporting — and increases the chances they’ll overlook something, causing them to miss out on a valuable piece of user-generated content, get it too late, or worse, publish something that conflicts with editorial policies, or even worse, with copyright or defamation laws.

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Analytics Grounded in Goals

November 12, 2009

hockeygoalGetting into any business today means getting into the Web business. As an online marketing expert put it in a presentation to my Theory and Audience Analysis class this morning, “It’s sort of weird now if you’re a business and you’re not on the Web.”

Look at or listen to any advertisement. Chances are there’s a url somewhere in there. Companies count on the Web to make them money. Show them how to do it, and you’re likely to make some yourself.

Enter Web analytics, which is what Mark Tosczak, an account supervisor at RLF Communications in Greensboro, N.C., came to talk about. With its acronym-laced jargon, sophisticated-looking charts and rapid pace of change, Web analytics can seem intimidating. Smart business people regularly mix up basic terms, like hit, page view and site visit, Tosczak said.

Those executives know analytics better than they probably realize, however. At analytics’ heart is Business 101. I’m talking about goals. Specific, measurable, verifiable, achievable goals.

Tosczak offered five analytics commandments that revolved around these most fundamental of management fundamentals. He stressed to evaluate results — pay-per-click ad click throughs, for example — not activities — PPC ad views — and added the always helpful reminder to never put all of one’s faith in machines.

Settling upon a goal, Tosczak said, can sometimes be the most difficult part. A manager sees that competitors are on Twitter or reads some press about the microblogging service and decides “My company has to be on Twitter.”

Yes, like Hansel in the 2001 comedy “Zoolander“, Twitter’s “so hot right now.” It is in my world. It seems that whenever I need a generic social media example, I go with Twitter, as I did here. Man, that cute little bird really cast a spell on me. Oh well, Flutter will be along soon enough.

Anyway, point is, Twitter is not necessarily relevant to company X’s world. And, even if it is, it’s not enough to just “be on it.” It’s a medium. Just like a magazine. No business person would in his or her right mind say “We’ve got to get into magazines” without offering specifics, but some business person somewhere every day says this with regard to social media.

After some prodding, a company might decide that it wants to use Twitter to drive traffic to its Web site. OK, that’s a goal, but it’s not specific. How much traffic? What kind of users? What kind of content should users see? What should they do once they get to the site?

Analytics advisers can then tell a company whether the goal can be recorded by current software, whether its accuracy can be tested and whether it’s realistic. If the suits need convincing, the consultants should tie it back to money. That’s something business people never have difficulty understanding.

The Culture of Change

October 26, 2009

This is the first of occasional posts based on my research on the future of the interactive newsroom.

On the gridiron, a high octane offense or a stingy defense can get you to the Super Bowl just the same. Indeed, recent title games have showcased some vastly different styles.

Building the newspaper of the future isn’t any different. If it works, no one approach is better than another. Every successful team, and every successful company, however, shares at least one thing: a winning culture.

This was manifested throughout my research.

Get the culture right, and changes to organizational structure, newsroom layout and workflow have a much better chance of succeeding. Get it wrong, and they’re likely to fail. The other variables are easy enough to change on the fly, culture much less so.

Curating a culture means asking how process and personnel changes will complement or contradict existing attitudes, then nurturing the connections and pacifying the conflicts.

Process changes can include adding tasks to — mid-cycle Web updates — or removing tasks from — gavel-to-gavel meeting coverage — workers’ routines. To nurture connections, managers can portray the 24-7 news cycle as a means to more aggressive reporting. To pacify conflicts, managers can insulate fundamental areas, like investigative reporting, from cuts.

Personnel changes can include bringing in workers from rival media — hiring a broadcast veteran to produce Web videos — or from outside of journalism — hiring a Web developer with a background in e-commerce. To nurture connections, managers can demonstrate that changes advance the public interest values common to all platforms. To pacify conflicts, managers can promote collaboration between journalistic and technical workers and honor their contributions equally.

Once managers decide on a direction, they have to decide how aggressively to pursue it. Do they force workers to reapply for their jobs and become multimedia proficient? Or do they encourage workers to modernize their traditional roles at their own pace? An organization with a relatively young staff whose short-term survival is dependent upon finding a new model might choose the former; an organization with a core of veteran journalists whose short-term survival is not under threat might choose the latter.

Research Proposal: The Future of the Newsroom

September 6, 2009

Using Interactivity to Improve News Gathering and Delivery

The technological surge that has followed the commercialization of the Internet has added some weight to the journalist’s toolbelt.

Ask a reporter as late as 1992 to file a Web story, and she would probably start thumbing her Rolodex for spider experts. Ask a reporter as late as 1996 to blog about the day’s political scuttlebutt or a reporter as late as 2005 to tweet a link to tomorrow’s big enterprise piece, and she would ask why you were talking so funny.

Today’s reporter, of course, would recognize what you were talking about, but might pretend not to in order to buy some time to close out her print story, lay down the voiceover for the accompanying video or follow-up on an online news tip.

Applied properly, interactivity can help journalists better communicate with their audience, their sources and each other, leading to higher quality, more useful content. But, reshaping traditional newsrooms to accommodate it has confounded many a manager. New tools are emerging at a dizzying pace, usually do not fit neatly into any single position and ask shrinking newsrooms to do more with less.

Take Twitter, for example. Even though the microblogging service has been around since 2006, it exploded in popularity over the past year, forcing newsrooms, who seemed to be just finding their footing with blogs, to pay attention to it. They had to decide whether they should tweet, who should tweet, how often they should tweet, what they should tweet about and to what extent tweets should be edited. Meanwhile, they were experiencing some of the heaviest attrition the industry’s ever seen. Tell a reporter newly juggling five beats because his deskmate just got canned that he is now also expected to bang out semi-daily tweets and he just might, well, chirp at you.

It is little surprise, then, that only 5 percent of U.S. newspaper editors surveyed by the Project for Excellence in Journalism last year said they could confidently predict their newsroom’s organizational structure five years hence. My research aims to give these editors some clarity by offering them a flexible organizational model they can adjust according to their company’s size and mission as well as to future business and technological developments. The model will be informed by three source types:

  • Others’ research such as cases studies of two regional Spanish multimedia companies and a northwestern U.S. newspaper’s reorganization task force report.
  • Interviews with leaders of innovative newsrooms such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where a recent reorganization required half the newsroom to apply for new or different jobs, and The Washington Post, which is in the process of streamlining its award-winning print and Web operations.
  • My own case studies of two distinct newsrooms comprising face-to-face interviews with managers and front-line workers, executive questionnaires and in-person observation.

My research will consider interactivity not only as an instrument to enhance news delivery and presentation, but also as an instrument to enhance news gathering and intra-newsroom communication. I will identify best practices for organizational structure, physical newsroom layout, information technology, workflow and corporate culture and outline them in an interactive Flash, Prezi or other presentation.

A particular focus will be whether specialization or generalization should be favored for a given task. I will also explore whether the reorganization experiences of other industries hold any lessons for journalists.