Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to get reporters to cover news live (and from the field)

A month ago, I posed the challenge to the Daily Freeman's newsroom, "How to get reporters to cover stories live." 

It is an experiment, part of the Journal Register Company's Idealab, in which I am tasked, every month, with finding a problem in our newsroom and try to come up with a solution.

We told you we'll be completely transparent about our progress, so here's the first month's report.

The problem: How to get reporters to break news stories as they happen.
Before September, our website was not what it should have been. Besides a few latest updates, everything else was stagnant and static.

Before, for a breaking news or a latest update, a reporter had to write something and tell an editor - who had to be in the newsroom. Then the editor had to drop everything he or she was doing, edit the item and post it online. If the editor had no time to do this because of workload, the item wasn’t posted. If there was no editor available, the item didn’t get posted either.

How we're measuring our progress

All reporters can post from one to five paragraphs to the web site, as latest updates. The editor in charge of the newsroom at any given time (yes, we have more than one) is notified about the post and position on the website. I am notified as well (to keep a tally and because I'm an egomaniac).
Measuring is done by tallying up direct web posts by reporters. And there have been more than 50 posts in the last month (versus zero at any time in our history).
This tally doesn’t include direct posts from editors.
We've also been keeping track of website traffic numbers to see if there is a spike, and there seems to be some.

On top of this, our site has undergone an unrelated but small overhaul, including easier sharing options through social media, more pages and an online calendar.

If you care about online metrics, as a token, we had 3,181entries through Facebook in January. In September, not counting the remainder of the month, we've had 23,700 entries, surpassing Bing and AOL.


I first trained one reporter first and began experimenting slowly, trying to uncover problems, addressing those before rolling out the experiment throughout the newsroom.  Then, slowly over the month, I trained the remainder of the News reporters and Life reporters, and asked the Sports desk to train their reporters.
I sat with Ira Fusfeld, the publisher, and then Tony Adamis, the managing editor, who’ve encouraged and supported the project. We then had a meeting with top desk editors.
Expected complaints about “needing a filter” and “lack of professionalism” were brought up, and, I hope, properly addressed. We decided that having tried-and-true reporters (in our blessed case, our entire reporting staff) post a couple of lines unedited would be more of an asset than a hindrance.
We've also set up a system to address those concerns to the best of our abilities. Slot editor, once notified about a posting and as time permits, can edit the post or move it to another position online. Just today, assistant city editor Matt Spireng suggested posting the constant updates on a board in front of the newsroom, so that everyone can know what's going on.
Reporters now have the ability to post small stories directly online and then tweet them and post them to Facebook if the stories are big enough.
New problems:
·         Old habits die hard. Although we are all aware about the new process, we do have to get a paper out every day, and the print process cuts into our "web first" approach.
·         Time.  Reporters and editors (and yours truly) already are maxed out, so it will take a complete transformation about the way we do things in order to do what we want to do now. We are working on this to the best of our abilities.
·         Weekend posting: A barebones crew on the weekend makes it very hard to implement our new ideas.

What's next:
Once reporters are completely comfortable posting stories online - and some of them are totally there - we're going to have them go out and post stories from the field.

I'm declaring the office irrelevant. Our new problem is to report news where it happens, from the field.


Well, we have some new tools, and we're going to be using them.

So watch out, we might be behind you.

Told you.