As promised, here’s my second post in a series on what’s an online -first newsroom. The first post in the series focused on the philosophical ideas that should form a foundation in this newsroom.
Today, I’ll talk about the nitty gritty of an online-first newsroom. This example assumes that a newsroom has both a Web site, and a print publication.
Think about the Web first: This seems obvious. If you’re online first, you think about the Web first. That doesn’t mean throw the leftovers to the print. It means conceive of the Web product first. As a blog post at Lectroid.net says, “If you’re still automatically (or semi-automatically) shoveling content from the “print product” to the “web product” you’re doing it wrong. “ Not everything in print should be on the Web. Content must be tailored for the particular medium. And the best of the Web should come back to the print. It’s a circle: The Web flows to print, which flows to the Web, which flows to print in one seamless sphere that connects with readers.
Ask different questions: To focus on Web first, I’d suggest a series of informal meetings throughout the day (my newspaper calls them “stand-up” meetings because they are quick enough to stand through.) And ask: “What’s hot on your blog today?” “What’s buzzing in your community?” “What are people talking about in your world?” NOT “Do we still have that centerpiece we saved from last week sitting around?” Sure, there will still be enterprise and projects (at least I hope so), but for the news, it should be reported immediately and updated constantly. These stand-up meeting will illustrate ideas for aggregating content, teaming two bloggers up, setting up a Twitter hashtag and creating ways to crowdsource and draw on reader comments.
24-hour news: The Internet is up 24/7, and for newspapers to be online-first, they need to be as well. This means staggered shifts, so some workers are starting very early; others are staying very late. Reporters and editors are updating constantly, so readers have the freshest information when they turn to the Web over their morning coffee and again at lunch and before they leave work. Journalists will have to work together to cover the news day, and everyone will have to pitch in. Follow each other on Twitter, so the health reporter can retweet the court reporter’s tweets and vice versa.
Break down the walls: To me, for an online-first newsroom to work well or at all, the traditional walls between departments will have to come down. No features department. No city desk. No business desk. Perhaps editors who oversee these departments will still oversee those coverage area, but for newspapers to truly be online-first, they need everyone working together. There’s no time for being territorial. The story should play where it makes sense for readers, even if that’s not in the section that originated the story.
More writers: In an online-first newsroom, I envision more people writing than in a traditional newsroom. Editors and copy editors as well as reporters can blog or Twitter or create communities in a niche. The smaller the print publication gets, the fewer production folks you need. Put them to work connecting with readers and producing meaningful, crowdsourced content. Steve Outing at Editor & Publisher describe well what online-first journalists will do: produce longer pieces in a variety of formats, from text stories to multimedia; blog regularly; update constantly.
A different look on the Web: The Web site shouldn’t look like an online newspaper; it should be organized along topics and give readers context about each topic. (News stories on that topic from a variety of sources, not just the newspaper; blogs and forums on related topics; resources such as links to state and federal Web sites or a program that tells readers where to get the cheapest gas that day.) Steve Yelvington says these topic pages are part of the media’s town crier , town expert and town square functions.
A different look in print: To be online-first, the print product must look different. For one thing, readers won’t notice a different unless the change is striking. I don’t believe a newspaper can truly be online-first if they still thinking like a newspaper-first publications. So what would it look like? I envision a front page with a main enterprise piece or two, meaty updates with the latest (not yesterday’s news) on the biggest stories and a series of prominent refers to the best of the Web. The features cover might become a main enterprise story and a bunch of well-written refers to blogs. Any section can publish crowdsourced stories culled from the Web. TwiTip, a blog about Twitter, has a great example. The blogger asked Twitter followers a questions and reported their answers verbatim on the blog. Reporters could do that on a variety of topics. Inside pages will feature enterprise, aggregation, refers to what’s on the Web both on the newspaper site and on the wires. Multimedia applications such as video, audio, podcasts will be used when it makes sense to help readers understand an issue or to give them an option of how they find out the news.
Link, link, link: A foundation of an online-first newsroom is every part of the Web product makes it easy for readers to find what they need. If a blog post or story is an update on a developing story, link back to the earlier pieces. Link to what other blogs and news operations are saying about the topic. Link to definitions of technical or complicated words and documents or studies cited in the blog post or story. Embed related videos and audio. If you mention a Web site or blog, make it a link. If you mention a local park or attraction, link to its Web site. Our job is to help readers make sense of their world, so there’s no excuse not to find the time to link. (Plus, this linking can help you index higher in Google.)
Search-engine optimization: Newspapers need to be thinking about this all the time as they become online first. Are the Web headlines SEO friendly, meaning do they contain the keywords people might type into a Google search to reach this story? Are headlines clear, so a computer can understand them and contain the full name of people, not just a last name? Do stories and blog posts have keywords in the first graph. Are stories and blog posts tagged with keywords to help them get found?
Next up: A typical day in an online-first newsroom.