Saturday, October 30, 2010

Report card: How to get reporters to cover stories from the field

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

Recap: As I've mentioned before, this 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 second month's report.

Through October, I had to tackle a huge impediment: I found myself with no time to adequately spend experimenting because I had to take on many other responsibilities, so I had to get creative.

So this is what I did: I gave the Idealab's iPad to veteran Freeman reporter Patricia Doxsey, and showed her how to use it to file immediately to editors, and - if she chooses to - to the website itself.

Here's how. Having already installed Dropbox in the iPad, the Droid and the Netbook, I installed the app Plaintext. It's basically the simplest of text editors - just a blank page, with a single but remarkable difference. You type a story in Plaintext from wherever you are, and everyone in the newsroom has immediate access to it, thanks to Dropbox. The iPad also has Skype, so reporters can call the newsroom to inform editors of new filings.

Because I didn't have time to train everyone, I tasked Patti with training everyone in the newsroom, and as a reward, I gave her access to my Netflix account (first month is free :D ) and told her that I'll take her to dinner once everyone posts from the field using it. (My evil plan is to bill the dinner to the Idealab expense account. MUAHAHAHA!)

Every reporter is now trained and capable of posting from the field using the iPad. Better yet, twice now we have found ourselves with a delightful dilemma: We've had instances when more than one reporter needed the device at the same time (That's when the Netbook comes in handy).

Although the netbook has a large advantage over the iPad in terms of being able to do more, like live video streams, the iPad is more convenient to do simple things. Push a button, touch an icon, type a couple of lines - and you're done! You don't have to wait for long load times, log-ins, sign-ins, firing up programs and the like. It's also much easier to carry.

So far, reporters have had three live-tweet sessions (I'm not counting my own) - of two debates, a court case and the high schools' cross country championships. The court session didn't work as we had planned, not because the judge didn't allow it - as we had feared - but because Internet connection in Staatsburgh got cut when the court door was closed. AT&T service FAIL!

Regardless, successful live-tweet session were posted online in a comprehensive way using Storify, a great third-party tool that lets you drag and drop tweets, Facebook post and the like.

Here's how it works:

With that tool, we've 'Storified' 10 posts.

Two of those stories didn't involve our tweets and Facebook posts, by the way, but yours, which will bring me to our next problem and challenge for November, something I will explain in my next post.

As for our first experiment, "How to get a newsroom to cover stories live", I'm happy to tell you that reporters are now posting to the website on a daily basis. The sports department and uber reporter Paul Kirby have to take most of the credit for this, Paul with his constant and tireless posts and Sports with its daily local game results, which get updated at least a dozen times daily by reporters and editors. They actually post so much stuff I've lost track of it. And I'm kind of glad I have that kind of problem. Editors have also joined in the fun, and the constant change in our site on a daily basis is proof it.

So I'm going to have a beer and pat myself on the back now.