Tips on managing a website, from measuring traffic to understanding new platforms for news and information.

Read what happens when a bunch of over 30s find out how Millennials handle their money   Quartz

Storytelling experiment: Quartz publishes internal conversation

Your newsroom surely has been through the drill: an editor reaches out to some folks with an idea for a story. The cc line grows and grows as “stakeholders” chime in. By the end of the thread (or the day), you have a treatise on proposed subject.

But no story.

I thought of all those unpublished pearls today as we ran this story yesterday and promptly saw it soar to the top of our “most popular” list. As the ideas editor at Quartz, the 2-year-old global economy site of the Atlantic Media Co., it didn’t surprise me that we were pulling back the curtain and letting readers into our process and thinking. But as a reader (age 38, if you must know), the message of the transcript — that millennials are very public about their spending habits — did surprise and inform.

Screengrab of article from Quartz' site.

Screengrab of article from Quartz’ site.

I wondered what would happen to a chat like ours in a legacy newsroom. Would it have been given to a personal finance reporter as an assignment about “kids these days?” Would it have yielded a feature on the service Venmo? Or would it have — as so many of those great ideas that get ruminated and marinated over email or chat — stayed in our inboxes to die?

You might say that your newsroom doesn’t have the ability or desire to offer such transparency into the sausage-making of ideas. That the white space on your printed page only has room for 700 linear words.

The popularity of this post begs a reconsideration of that thinking. What we offered here was insight and authenticity, a “trend” story that doesn’t talk up or down to readers, but lets them truly feel a part of the conversation. Read more


Wednesday, Sep. 03, 2014

Taking an Instagram Photo with an iPhone

Tips for broadcast journalists: When sharing breaking news on social, speed trumps beauty

Today’s multimedia journalists have to do it all on their own – report, write, edit, drive, set up live shots, and post to social media and the Web. Usually, that’s just considered a long list of stuff to do by deadline. But in breaking news coverage, the journalist has some tough choices to make.

The biggest challenge is getting the great video for the story that’s going to air on TV and being the first one to inform news consumers via social media. Here are some strategies to help serve both masters.

Let’s break down these tips into three categories:

  1. What to shoot
  2. Workflow
  3. How to distribute via social media

What to shoot

Shoot the most obvious thing news consumers will recognize right now. After all, we’re talking about breaking news and the situation may change by the time the newscast airs. This isn’t about beauty, it’s about social media speed – beat the competition and get back to using your broadcast camera for the newscast.

Because we’re talking about TV, video is a must. We want to give our followers a taste of the great stuff they’ll only see on TV later. Still photos are obviously another way to bring your followers in. Shoot one of each.

This video and photo are from a breaking news fire in the San Francisco Bay Area in June. The video gives social media followers a sense of what’s happening and confirms the reporter’s on the scene gathering information. The still photo is complementary.

Video of fire:

Photo of helicopter water drop:


Work flow

This is where multimedia journalists have a tough decision to make. Which is the priority: social media or the newscast? I’d recommend shooting the social media stuff first. Dedicate a few minutes to it – five minutes max – and then go back to your camera.

Don’t beat yourself up over what you couldn’t get out through social media. Remember, this is more about informing news consumers now and beating the competition, not having the prettiest shot. You want your followers to know you’re there. If you’re first, they’ll catch up with you again on the newscast or on the web when you’ve got your complete video story assembled.

In the end this is about making choices. You can’t be in two places at once operating two cameras at once and doing two jobs at once. Keep this in mind: the best pictures are for your broadcast story, the first pictures are for social media.

If there’s a scenario where you’re waiting and don’t want to miss it – say a building collapse – set up the broadcast camera, lock down the tripod, and then start rolling. With the camera rolling, get out your phone to shoot your social media video and photo. Then go back to the camera.

How to distribute breaking news video via social media:

— Use your phone to gather your social media video. Skip the tablets; even an iPad mini is too big to fit in your pocket. You want to be as mobile as possible, and being able to stuff your social media newsgathering and distribution tool into your pocket is the epitome of mobility.

— Upload your videos via YouTube. Cellphones have simple, already-established workflows that make the process quicker.

— Here are 10 steps to reporting breaking news via social media

1. Shoot your video.

2. Choose send.


3. Choose the YouTube option.


4. Write a simple description for the YouTube video description box that you can copy and paste into a social media post later when the video is published.


5. Choose SD. It’s faster, which is what we’re shooting for here.


6. Choose “Public” and then Publish (top right).


7. Wait for a few seconds and chose “View on YouTube.”


8. Once on YouTube, choose share.


9. Choose Twitter or Facebook to post there, or email to send the link back to your Web Team at the station.


Simon Perez is assistant professor of broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School Of Public Communications.

Related training: How and When to Shoot Video with a Smartphone Read more


Friday, Aug. 01, 2014


Apps that record phone calls are convenient, but can present confidentiality risks

Reporters frequently cite mobile apps that record phone calls as among their favorites, according to David Ho, The Wall Street Journal’s editor for Mobile, Tablets & Emerging Technology, who has trained some 1,500 journalists on how to use tech tools in their work.

But reporters might not realize that these apps often store the recordings of calls on their own servers or the cloud – and then send a copy to the user’s cell phone. This means third parties can access the information, which raises questions about who owns the recording and whether communications with sources are confidential.

“Once information gets into a third party’s hands, there is a risk that your protections could be minimized as a result,” said Bruce Johnson, a media attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle.

Despite the risks, call-recording apps have benefits. They’re convenient, as people normally have their phone with them. They also offer easy ways to label, catalogue and share recordings.

Still, Ho recommends that reporters become aware of how these apps work before they use them.

“Journalists should be making informed decisions when they choose to use this kind of technology,” Ho said in an email. “They may not realize someone else is on the call with them.”

One way reporters can familiarize themselves with the ins-and-outs of call-recording apps is to read the terms of service, which are normally on companies’ websites.

Journalists should pay special attention to ownership clauses, and may want to avoid products that claim redistribution rights of recordings, NPR Associate General Counsel Ashley Messenger said.

Reporters also should learn the apps’ policies on subpoenas and confidentiality.

If the government or a private party wants to use the recording in a court case, it could try to get the information from the third-party provider. Journalists may want to find out whether the company will promise to always challenge subpoenas or whether it will reserve the ability to turn over the materials. They also may want to learn whether the third party will inform them if it is hit with a subpoena.

These concerns are not limited to call-recording apps. Any time reporters use technology that involves a third party – such as Google Docs or SoundCloud – it is wise to look at the company’s policies on confidentiality.

Messenger said it’s common for third-party apps to reserve the right to comply with subpoenas. Consequently, national security reporters or people writing about other sensitive topics might want to avoid these products.

“You do lose control unless you have actual contractual provisions or some other kind of certainty that they are going to fight a subpoena for you,” Messenger said.

One popular recording app, TapeACall, has a policy that it “may respond to subpoenas” by sharing customer information. But people can avoid this risk by using the app to record the call, immediately saving the interview to another device, and deleting the original from the app’s server, said Meir Cohen, president of TelTech, the parent company of TapeACall.

“If someone were to delete the call, it wouldn’t be an issue,” said Cohen, who added that TapeACall has had more than one million users in its first year.

Another curveball with third-party apps is that the law is “muddled” as to what shield law applies if interviews are subpoenaed, said Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine.

About 40 states have shield laws that offer journalists varying degrees of protections against subpoenas. When a third party stores the information, it is unclear which law controls  – where the recording is stored, where the reporter is based, or where the source is located.

Even if their interviews are not subpoenaed, journalists who are promising confidentiality to their sources need to make sure that call-recording apps are keeping their information confidential. Reporters should consider what protections third-party companies have to prevent hacking or eavesdropping, Messenger said.

On top of these digital-age concerns, reporters must remember that consent laws apply to phone apps, just as they do to standard tape recorders. People must get consent of all parties before recording in some states, but not in others. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a guide that lists the laws for all states.

Messenger encouraged reporters to weigh all of these factors when deciding whether to use recording apps. Sometimes, she said, it could be better to tape interviews the “old-fashioned way.”

“There are always trade-offs that have to be made between security, convenience and available technologies,” she said.

This story comes to Poynter from the Reporters Committee McCormick Foundation Legal Fellow Jamie Schuman Read more


Wednesday, June 04, 2014


Doubling down on the Triple Crown, A publication’s gamble on Belmont pays off staff started planning for the 2014 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in January. Now, with California Chrome in position for a Triple Crown win, their work has paid off. The 12-person editorial staff has produced a remarkable online interactive website. The story behind this project is both instructive and inspiring. is the online site of The Blood-Horse Magazine, which started in 1916 as an authoritative newsletter to the racehorse world. The staff produces a weekly 65-page print magazine and updates its website around the clock. While the Daily Racing Form and The Thoroughbred Daily News speak the language of handicappers, Bloodhorse is more focused on the business of racing, training, breeding and sales.

“At the end of last year we looked at some of the big impressive projects that SBNation, The New York Times and others were doing,” Eric Mitchell, the Editor-in-Chief of The Blood-Horse told me. “We realized these kinds of robust pieces are the kinds of things we should do and the thing about horse racing is that it is full of great stories. We realized that there are so many photographs, so many videos available to tell the stories that we had the opportunity to really beef-up our visual presence online and tell great stories.”

The Plan and the Warm-Up Read more

1 Comment

Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2014

Facebook and Twitter Applications on Ipad

How to make the most of sharing images on Facebook and Twitter

Twitter introduced inline image previews last October amid cries that the platform was becoming too much like Facebook. But the change had big implications for news organizations looking to increase engagement and get more readers to share their content.

Tweets with images get a 35 percent bump in retweets, on average, for verified accounts, according to Twitter. Another study indicates images uploaded directly to Twitter — and receiving a url — see 94 percent more engagement than other photo links do. That’s likely because Twitter allows inline image previews for those images, but not for other services like Instagram.

And it’s surely no coincidence that the two most-retweeted tweets ever have included photos:

So a picture can be worth a lot more than 140 characters — while only taking up at most 23 characters on Twitter! — and in fact tweeting charts and images of blocks of text is becoming a more common strategy for packing as much information as possible into each tweet.

Meanwhile, Facebook introduced a similar visuals-oriented change late last year, making image previews in link posts much larger. The goal: “to increase click-through rates on links as larger images are more engaging.”

What I’ve observed from managing Twitter and Facebook accounts is that compelling images seem to lead to more knee-jerk retweets, favorites, likes and shares. That doesn’t always translate into more clicks if you include a link to a story — and, of course, we know that people often share content without actually consuming it anyway. But viewing a photo on Twitter and passing it along to your followers takes a lot less time than reading a story and then retweeting it.

That’s perhaps a more superficial form of engagement than you’d like to see from your readers. But there’s value in providing experiences your followers don’t have to jump to your site to enjoy. That’s the big advantage of photos — you’re essentially publishing quick-hit content on these platforms, not just promoting more extensive content that lives elsewhere. News organizations can do a better job of making images effective on both Twitter and Facebook.

On Twitter, always ask, ‘Would this tweet be better with an image?’

Some major news organizations (like The New York Times) seem to never tweet photos. Others have been more liberal about photo-sharing (like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post). Upstarts FiveThirtyEight and haven’t been shy in tweeting charts and graphs from their wonkish stories, and the Chicago Sun-Times (where I used to work) has started building shareable graphics specifically geared toward social media.

Here’s an example of a Poynter tweet that saw an uptick in engagement correlated with including an image well-suited to the story. The second tweet (the one with the image) received more retweets even though the news was newer in the first tweet:

This doesn’t mean you should look for a reason to include a photo in every tweet and pollute your followers’ timelines with stock images. But why not always ask: Would this tweet be better with a picture? Use the tool sparingly, but always consider it.

One thing to keep in mind: Aspect ratios differ for images in tweets depending on whether you’re using the desktop site, a mobile app, or a client like Tweetdeck, but it’s always easy to click a photo to see the full version. Still, it might be a problem if your image is vertical and you end up with an awkward Twitter autocrop in timelines. If possible, it’s a good idea to crop the image horizontally before uploading, but this is a bigger issue in Facebook link posts.

Here’s a side bonus of including images: It can spark your creativity even more by further restricting the number of characters you have to work it. And it can also make you more disciplined about not weighing down your tweets with too much text. One recent report by Buddy Media indicated “Tweets shorter than 100 characters get a 17% higher engagement rate.”

On Facebook, pay attention to sizing

Sometimes the sizing of photos on Facebook can seem like a mystery. The image preview when sharing links looks fine when the image is horizontal and you can afford to have Facebook shave some pixels off the top and bottom to make it fit the 1.91:1 aspect ratio window Facebook uses across platforms.

When it comes to vertical images that might result in weird, unexpected crops or charts and graphics that could lose axis labels and be rendered unreadable, it’s smarter to upload the image directly to Facebook as a photo. Uploading it directly means it will appear in full without being automatically trimmed (but it might be letterboxed by Facebook if it’s too vertical so that it doesn’t take up too much space in News Feeds):



(Top embed is a link post with the vertical image automatically trimmed; bottom embed is a picture upload.)

Facebook recommends using its Open Graph image tags and says images selected to be previewed should be at least 1,200 pixels by 630 pixels to look OK on high-resolution devices. Photos smaller than Facebook’s minimum appear as thumbnails to the left of the link instead:


You can see Facebook’s sharing guidelines here.

// Read more

1 Comment
Twitter IPO

Who owns your Twitter followers?

This is the latest in a series of articles by The Poynter Institute and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on legal issues affecting journalists. Poynter’s Ellyn Angelotti is an attorney and teaches social media issues.

Social media regularly blurs lines when it comes to journalists’ personal and professional lives. We often post pictures of our pets and children alongside posts related to our work. One unintended consequence is this can create ambiguity about who ultimately owns your Twitter account.

Organizations and brands seek employees who can effectively build an audience using social media. However, once an employee builds a healthy community of followers and then leaves the organization, who do the followers belong to?

Some instances are clearer than others.

Journalists who create an account associated with a beat and then exit the organization often leave their account and start a new one.

However, when Jim Roberts, who was the assistant managing editor of The New York Times at the time, accepted a buyout last year, he took his 75,000 followers with him. He tweeted from his (then) handle @nytjim, “My feed is my own.”

After leaving, he revised his handle, @nycjim, which endured his stint as executive editor at Reuters. Now as the executive editor and chief content officer at Mashable, his base has grown to 134,000 followers.

Legal issues of ownership are still in their infancy.

PhoneDog v. Noah Kravitz is the most notable case involving Twitter followers. Kravitz, an employee for the technology news and review site PhoneDog created the account @PhoneDog_Noah to post updates about his work. He built an audience of 17,000 Twitter followers. When he left the company, he changed his Twitter handle to @noahkravitz and took his followers with him. PhoneDog sued him for misappropriation of trade secrets, among other related issues.

The case settled out of court in 2012 for undisclosed terms and Kravitz kept the account. While PhoneDog provided little direction on ownership of Twitter followers, the discussion on this issue helps to identify several factors that the courts would likely examine to determine ownership of a social media account, including:

  • Who initiated the creation of the account?
  • Who directs and creates the content?
  • Did the employee have the account before taking the job, or create it because of the job?
  • Who has access to the passwords?
  • Is the account associated with the brand or the employee?

So journalists or employers can better protect their interests by showing their involvement in the account has been significant. But experts have suggestions for resolving Twitter account disputes before they end up in court.

Jasmine McNealy, an attorney and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, recently published a law review article, “Who owns your friends?: PhoneDog v. Kravitz and business claims of trade secret in social media information.” McNealy explores the ownership of Twitter followers and offers useful suggestions for how businesses can avoid conflicts in this area by creating non-disclosure agreements, assigning the rights to social media content created, and encouraging employees to maintain separate personal and professional accounts.

Twitter followers are now valued as work capital, McNealy said. Some job candidates are hired based on their existing social media following. So it is important for both employers and employees to discuss the areas of potential dispute and work them out before disputes arise. Here are some suggestions:

  • Seek Clarity — When you take a job or when you create a potentially work-based social media account, have a conversation with your boss about your work on social media. Is that work part of your role with the company and therefore property of the company? Or, does your boss see your work on social media as outside of the scope of your employment. Come to an agreement regarding who owns the followers. This conversation will help you and your boss arrive at rational decisions at the outset rather than later when emotions may be running high.
  • Put it in writing – If you lead an organization or manage employees who use social media, create a social media policy that addresses specific questions about social media use. Update this document regularly to accommodate the changing technologies and remind everyone of the agreed upon expectations.

Even if you are not a manager, if you happen to be somewhat social media savvy, ask your boss if you can help draft an agreement that more clearly indicates who has ownership of you and your colleagues’ social media following. This could be an opportunity for you to help your organization understand the technology and the issues involved.

  • Strategically separate accounts — Maintaining separate personal and professional accounts may seem counterintuitive to the nature of social media. McNealy suggests a fundamental question to ask yourself if you have an account you use both professionally and personally — “why are people following you?” Is it because they want to engage with you personally, or because you represent an extension of the brand or company you work for?

This could be an opportunity to segment your social media audiences more effectively. If people follow you because you represent your company, consider creating an account that is more focused on that aspect of your work. You can still find a way to interject your own voice into your work-related tweets, and potentially feel less awkward about posting selfies with your friends.

  • Be Smart — McNealy said she tells her students not to censor themselves, but to keep in mind there are sometimes consequences for what they say on social media. “The First Amendment doesn’t necessarily protect you from getting fired for not representing your company in a way that they’d like you to,” she said. Remember Justine Sacco who was fired as a result of an offensive tweet she sent just before departing on a flight to Africa?

Unfortunately, we don’t really know how the courts are going to apply laws related to trade secrets, privacy and intellectual property to the issues we may encounter regarding our social media followings.

However, we can create some clarity and ground rules to help us avoid legal land mines in this area.

Related: Hyperlinking could help journalists in defamation lawsuits | How to use FOIA laws to find stories, deepen sourcing Read more


Friday, Apr. 25, 2014


How to get your news site banned from Reddit

I’ve called Facebook a capricious despot when it comes to how its mystery algorithm dishes out prime News Feed real estate. Figuring out how it favors certain types of content over others can have a major positive impact on your site’s traffic. For better or worse, news organizations are dependent on Facebook for an ever larger share of visitors.

But Reddit might be even more confusing to news organizations. It’s a place where successful posts can expose your content to an international audience of millions and lead to big traffic spikes — but also where human moderators can cut you off for bad behavior or suddenly decide your domain is no longer a good fit for the site’s primary news section.

The Atlantic has experienced both forms of banishment, barred for a time in 2012 due to overzealous link sharing by its then-social media editor. More recently, the media company’s domain has been banned from /r/news, a subreddit that all Reddit users see by default unless they unsubscribe, alongside other major sites like The Huffington Post, Vice and Salon. Content from the sites dropped off severely late last summer. Read more


Tuesday, Apr. 15, 2014


Hyperlinking could help journalists in defamation lawsuits

This is the second in a series of articles by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on legal issues that can affect journalists. It is written by Cindy Gierhart, Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation Legal Fellow at the RCFP.

Media scholars have noted for years that news outlets lag significantly behind blogs in their use of hyperlinks. But recent court cases suggest that news media may want to increase their use of hyperlinks as a way of defending against defamation lawsuits.

Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios where hyperlinks have helped media defendants.

Scenario #1: Facts supporting an opinion

Suppose a blogger writes, “I think the mayor is a thief.” Even though it begins with “I think” and sounds like an opinion, it is followed by an assertion of fact. Standing alone, that statement could be defamatory. But if the writer provides hyperlinks to accurate accounts on which the conclusion is based, then the statement may be considered “pure opinion” and not defamation.

If readers are presented with a series of facts (either in the story or via hyperlinks), they can follow how the writer developed the opinion – and readers can use the facts presented to form their own conclusions. An opinion, even though it’s based on facts, cannot be proven true or false, and thus cannot be defamatory. Without supporting facts, readers are forced to take the writer at his or her word, which legally is the same as stating a fact, which can be considered defamatory.

A federal district court in California confronted this issue as far back as 1999. In Nicosia v. De Rooy, Diane De Rooy alleged on her website that Gerald Nicosia embezzled money from the estate of Jack Kerouac’s daughter. The court ruled that De Rooy sufficiently disclosed the underlying facts behind her claim by hyperlinking to other articles she wrote on her website.

“These [hyperlinked] articles were at least as connected to the news group posting as the back page of a newspaper is connected to the front,” the court wrote, and therefore they should be considered facts she disclosed to support her claim.

This does not mean you can say whatever you want so long as you add hyperlinks. The linked resources must support your statement and provide a basis for your opinion.

It is best to explain the underlying facts within the text of your article and not rely solely on hyperlinks. Links can break, or you could find yourself in a court that doesn’t recognize the importance of hyperlinks. But adding hyperlinks as a precaution or as additional information certainly couldn’t hurt.

Scenario #2: Piggybacking on another’s fair report privilege

The “fair report privilege” is a legal defense to defamation. It provides immunity from liability – even if the statement turns out to be false – so long as you obtained the information from an official public document or a statement by a public official, you cited the document or official as your source, and you fairly and accurately relayed the information from the source.

For example, in court documents, a soon-to-be-ex-wife accuses her famed politician husband of having an affair. A reporter accurately and fairly reports on the accusation, citing the court records. A blogger then writes that “allegations of an affair surface.” The blogger does not mention the court documents, but he hyperlinks to the original news story. The husband, in fact, did not have an affair. The statement was false.

Traditionally, the first reporter would be covered by the fair report privilege because his account was based on court documents. The blogger – without disclosing that his information came from public documents – would not be protected by the privilege.

A federal court in New York recently grappled with this issue in Adelson v. Harris. The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) wrote on its website that “reports surfaced” that Sheldon Adelson “‘personally approved’ of prostitution in his Macau casinos.” The phrase “personally approved” was hyperlinked to an Associated Press story, which quoted a court document in which a former casino executive accused Adelson of approving of prostitution at the casino.

Because the AP story was protected by the fair report privilege (even if the allegation was false), the court ruled that the NJDC was also protected by the privilege because it linked to the AP story. (The case is currently on appeal.)

“It is true, of course, that shielding defendants who hyperlink to their sources makes it more difficult to redress defamation in cyberspace,” the court wrote. But that’s a good thing. “It is to be expected, and celebrated, that the increasing access to information should decrease the need for defamation suits,” the court wrote.

There are a few limitations to this approach, however.

First, not all states recognize a fair report privilege, and those that do vary as to what documents or statements are covered by the privilege.

Second, Adelson was decided by a federal court in New York interpreting Nevada law. Another court interpreting another state’s law might rule differently. It is best to always attribute your information directly to the public document or official from which you obtained the information and only rely on hyperlinking as a backup.

Hyperlinking cannot put an end to all defamation claims. But given the recent court decisions, news media may want to rethink their hyperlinking strategy.

Related: How to use FOIA laws to find stories, deepen sourcing Read more

1 Comment

Tuesday, Apr. 08, 2014

Workflow _Depositphotos_small_xs

Right workflow tools can reduce pain points in news organizations


That tweet from Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, touches on an important topic in the news industry, but one we rarely discuss. Workflow.

In the world of journalism, production workflow and process is not glorified. Nor should it be. But it should be respected. For all the talk about business models to save journalism, we talk very little about the tools that allow us to get the job done, let alone which ones are more efficient. But a profitable journalism industry is an efficient one. If you’ve ever pulled out your hair trading Word documents with track changes, then you know the saving grace of a good workflow.

“We are finally starting to see news [organizations] that are serious about the tools they use to do news better,” said Eric Eldon, the former co-editor of TechCrunch. “It’s a matter of mixing and matching the new things that are out there for whatever you want to get done.”

Let’s be clear, this is not about forcing more production out of employees. That’s self-defeating. This is about processes different organizations have for workflow so that everyone is working efficiently and in a sustainable manner.

“[When] designing workflows always, always start with the people …. . Do they feel like they have one more thing to do, or one less thing?” Suzane Yada from Center for Investigative Reporting told me. In talking with her colleagues, Yada found some pain points were easily solved by changing their current workflow and other pain points needed a new tool. They eventually settled on Podio, a work collaboration platform, and they knew it was the right tool because it allowed them to check off those pain points. They could work the way they wanted, not conform to the rules of a project management tool.

The “daily miracle” of putting out a newspaper has turned into a 24/7 never-ending miracle. News organizations are constantly buzzing. Reporters are filing copy, editors are checking in with them and making new assignments. Producers, multimedia/video editors and any number of other specialists play their part.

Whether it’s whiteboarding or entering the final content into a CMS, it’s part of a workflow. These systems are complex, often specific to the organization (and its leaders) and usually receive little attention or discussion, but much can be learned if we shared our processes. While it’s the great journalism that wins awards and boosts branding, it’s the project management systems underneath that allow anything at all to happen.

Project management software is how the tech industry gets real. Much like a content management system, the tools and systems one uses to manage define how you’ll work, what you’ll produce and how much friction there is throughout the process. Project management tools are opinionated; you have to find software that agrees with you.

“I generally think the biggest problem in workflow isn’t necessarily a step, but a culture … . New tools are great, but you have to make sure everyone uses them similarly and you have to have all around support for them. That means everyone’s got to buy in and get something out of it,” said Kim Bui, senior breaking news producer with Digital First Media’s Thunderdome.

There is no shortage of tools: Hipchat, Campfire or Slack for group chat. Asana, Pivotal Tracker, Trello or Podio for task-based management. Google Docs, Dropbox for file management. In an unscientific survey, the products above along with Basecamp, GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Hangout, Kapost, Convio and Salesforce were some of the most mentioned tools in various organizations’ workflow. But this list is not exhaustive and the combinations are endless based on needs. Maybe you want a group RSS feed. Try DelvNews. Maybe you want to manage a large group of community members contributing content, try Kapost. There is no one size, there is no silver bullet. It’s what works for your needs. But don’t settle for a system that puts the burden on you.

At Circa the development team uses Asana while editorial uses a combination of Trello for task management, HipChat for communication along with group emails, Zappier, and of course our own custom content management system.

I once heard the adage: “Everyone loves their project management tool. Everyone hates their project management tool.” In the end, it’s all about how you use a tool to make sure your work is flowing. If energy is lost to friction, then an organization needs to take a hard look at its systems to refine them.

David Cohn is director of news at Circa and a member of Poynter’s adjunct faculty. Previously he worked on some of the first endeavors exploring crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in journalism. You can find him on Twitter at @digidave. Read more

1 Comment

Friday, Jan. 31, 2014

Digital tablet on newspaper

How Digital First Media hopes to transform workflow, culture of ‘newspaper factories’

Digital First Media has unveiled plans to transform its newsrooms and put its money where its name is. “Project Unbolt” aims to address the problem of digital efforts at the mercy of existing newspaper infrastructure.

The first of Digital First’s 75 daily newspapers to get the unbolting is the New Haven (Conn.) Register, where digital transformation editor Steve Buttry will lead efforts to rearrange and reimagine the newsroom’s workflow, culture and structure. He’ll also work closely with three other local papers — The (Willoughby, Ohio) News-Herald, The El Paso Times and The (Pittsfield, Mass.) Berkshire Eagle — for the pilot program.

The project’s name comes from Digital First Media CEO John Paton’s observation that the company’s newsrooms are print operations with digital “bolted on” — remarks that rang true but stung, Buttry wrote on his blog.

“It’s a little uncomfortable for people who rightfully think they have been working their asses off to be digital-first,” Buttry told me via phone. Indeed, it’s not as if Digital First newspapers have been ignoring digital to this point — the New Haven Register posts breaking news throughout the day and has a mobile website. But at many of these “newspaper factories,” as Buttry calls traditional newsrooms, it’s still often newspaper-style stories that end up on the web.

Newspapers have become comfortable publishing content online before it runs in print, but the nature of that content has been influenced by newspaper thinking throughout the planning, reporting, writing and editing process. So Project Unbolt is about going beyond publishing content first on digital; it’s about publishing content first on digital in a digital-native way.


Workflow and culture adjustments

Buttry says Digital First newspapers have performed well online in two related areas: live event coverage and breaking news (he pointed to the Denver Post’s Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Aurora movie theater shooting). That type of content is necessarily digital-first and makes for a natural place to begin weaning newsrooms off newspaper-first mindsets.

The bigger challenge: changing the thinking behind routine beat coverage and enterprise reporting.

For example, Buttry said a reporter on the education beat who is used to filing one story about test scores in the evening could instead write a quick four- or five-paragraph story in the morning when test scores are released and follow up multiple times during the day as she gathers reaction and context.

That already happens for some breaking stories at newspapers with daytime editors who continuously edit stories as they’re updated or just after they’re updated, Buttry said. But now it’s a priority to get all reporters to stop sitting on news until it’s fully developed, pristine and print-ready.

Major investigative or feature pieces present another dilemma: They usually run in the Sunday paper, Buttry said, when web traffic is sparse. Instead of Sunday features being the entire story, newspapers could publish elements of stories as they’re uncovered, which also offers more opportunities to crowdsource and include readers along the way. This thinking reflects the notion of news as a process rather than a product, as Jeff Jarvis (who serves on Digital First’s advisory board) puts it.

And then there’s the content itself in enterprise stories, which can be rethought as interactive databases online or as series of video pieces.

It all sounds like a lot of work — work that might require more staffers, I told Buttry. “More staff would be great, but the economic realities are the economic realities,” he replied. “Unbolting is going to be with the staff we have now. If the economic performance isn’t good enough to keep maintaining that, unbolting won’t save us from staff cuts.”

So while an iterative, multimedia-focused reporting process doesn’t necessarily require more reporters and editors, it’ll likely require disruptions to the workflow and duties that staffers are used to. Maybe top city editors end up working more day shifts instead of night shifts, or reporters take on more multimedia duties.

Meanwhile, there’s also the matter of convincing grizzled reporters and editors of the merits of blogging and engaging on social media. But Buttry said Digital First journalists are mostly excited for the changes.

“I’m not gonna say there’s not gonna be any pushback or learning curve,” Buttry said. “But I don’t hear so many resisting, curmudgeonly, ‘you can’t make me change’ reactions anymore. I hear learning-curve types of questions.”

What about print?

Despite Paton’s aggressive investment in digital, he acknowledges print isn’t disappearing tomorrow: “Whatever life there is in print — and, of course, there is some and it must be preserved just as it must also be used to fuel our investments in our digital future,” he said in a presentation to the Online Publishers Association posted on his blog.

Said Buttry regarding Project Unbolt: “We may not serve our print readers as well as we used to, and as somebody who loves print, I’m sorry about that.”

Yet print will remain a concern, but one bolted on to digital efforts rather than vice versa. One of the newsroom “pods” will still be devoted to putting together the print newspaper, but meetings won’t revolve around page one. And the print folks might see new duties — including a throwback to a process Buttry was responsible for earlier in his career: “If stories are written in an iterative fashion for digital products, but there’s not a one-take, start-to-finish story as part of the digital product, there could be a return to a rewrite desk or editor,” he said.

And when it comes to those Sunday enterprise stories, editors will likely have the job of gathering previously published digital content into a form that works in print. By then, Buttry said, it might be old news “but not if it’s the only thing you read.”

“The audience, God bless them, are creatures of habit, and we want that habit,” Buttry said. “And as long as it’s economically feasible to feed that habit, we intend to do that.”

So while there’s no intention to abandon print altogether, Digital First certainly seems unafraid to absorb some losses in print if it enables the company to better prepare itself for success in a post-print world.

Read more