'More like never stop' and other ways digital has changed how we work

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can sign up here.

On the same day she learned how to create an Instagram story, Sharon McNary produced her very first about the crowd at game 1 of the World Series in Los Angeles.

The whole process says a lot about how her work has changed along with digital journalism.

“As a newspaper reporter, I would have gone with a notebook, a pen, a phone and a photographer,”  the reporter at KPCC, a Southern California public radio station, shared on Facebook. “But as a public radio reporter, I did the whole thing on my iPhone. Photos, recorded interviews uploaded to the studio, Instragram story, live hits and a two-way. Then some of the sound I emailed to myself and produced a wrap with three different voices on the workforce benefitting from the extra tourists.”

She never wrote a traditional article, Sharon said.

“It was all images, audio and social media.”

How has the move to digital changed your work, your day, your journalism? That’s what we started talking about last week. This week, it’s your turn. Thanks to everyone for sharing what’s working (and not) for you.

OK let’s go:

For Dan Haugen at the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Argus Leader, when things are working right, it feels a bit like another pace he’s worked at.

“When hitting our stride, it's a similar rhythm to the PM newspaper I started out at: earlier planning and deadlines, and busier mornings.”

The pacing isn’t the foreign to journalist Micheline Maynard, either. Micheline, who writes a column for Forbes, has also worked at NPR and The New York Times. 

"’Changed’” is relative,” she tweeted. “My 1st job was at the wires. Now, everything is like the wires.”

Some people just have earlier mornings thanks to time zones.

“The east coast focused cycle has me up at 3am 😫,” tweeted Anthony Quintano from Honolulu’s Civil Beat.

And then there’s the hard-to-shake feeling that it never, ever, never ends.

“More like never stop,” wrote New England-based freelance journalist Matt DiVenere on Facebook. “With the opportunity to write an article on my phone, forward to my editor, and have it uploaded immediately, it's a never-ending cycle.”

I asked Matt if he had any strategies for slowing down.

“I think that's where having a supportive team around you and an understanding managing editor comes in,” he responded. “As a managing editor, one of my internal focuses was writer burnout. There's nothing worse than watching a skilled journalist hit a wall and them not believe they can take the appropriate time to refocus and refresh. You need to know when you hit the stop button, there are people who have your back.”

I’ve given a talk a few times now about five small things that have made a big difference to local newsrooms, and really, they’re mostly about adjusting to the pace, rhythms and expectations of digital journalism.

They are:

  1. Start earlier. We have to get up when/before our audiences do. If we’re not ready when they are, they will go someplace else.

  2. Iterate. We have to learn to build stories with the information we have when we have it. Here’s my food metaphor for understanding this. I, probably like a lot of you, learned to create in the banana-bread-baking method of journalism. You get all the ingredients. You combine them. You bake them. Then you serve. We now live in a stone soup era, where you take what you have/know, tell people what you don’t, and add and add and add, improving as you go. This doesn’t work for everything. But it works for a lot of things, and it trains audiences to come back to you because you’ll keep having more soup. Or news.

  3. Rethink your beats. Quartz started it, but now newsrooms including The Dallas Morning News are focusing on people and phenomena and not buildings. So instead of covering “sports,” maybe your newsroom focuses specifically on fans and game culture. Other obsessions I've seen at local newsrooms: the Miami food scene, smarties and Minnesota life

  4. Decide what you’re going to stop doing. We still have to go to meetings. But if nothing happens, do we have to write about them? Can we aggregate or amplify work another outlet has done? When there are less and less of us with more and more to do, what can we give up?

  5. Do what you do best. For a lot of newsrooms, that’s investigative work, in-depth storytelling and accountability journalism. It's work that works. 

Next week, we’re going to be talking with a journalist who has already made the transition from legacy print to digital. Jeff Kleinman is the Miami Herald’s day editor. That means he’s in the newsroom early doing a lot of the things listed above.

What do you want to know from him? Let me know and I’ll make sure to ask.

In the meantime, I had a fantastic time last week at the LION conference in Chicago. One of the highlights was hearing Heather Bryant, who's based in California and founded Project Facettalk about journalists and class. Sara Baranowski, editor of the Iowa Falls Times Citizen, has put out a much-needed call for examples of great work happening in small (like, tiny) newsrooms. Help her out! And check out this Webinar on finding your voice as a writer with the Tampa Bay Times’ Ernest Hooper.

OK, I’m going to go eat my kids’ Halloween candy while they’re at school. See you next week!

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