SESSION: Building a Digital Newsroom
Matt Wells, building U.S. Guardian website operations
Emily Ramshaw, editor, Texas Tribune
Emily Ramshaw is editor at the Texas Tribune. “I know first hand that it is a lot easier to build a digital newsroom from scratch then to bolt one onto an existing one.”
THEIR FOUR GUIDING PRINCIPLES:
- Obliterate traditional job descriptions
- Experts trump generalists
- Pushing, not pulling with content – social media, events, offering content for free to get as many eyeballs as possible
- Platform and device agnostics.
Ramshaw: We think of our people not as power tools but as Swiss Army knives. They have to have digital skills. They won’t hire a reporter who doesn’t have data skills.
It was a year before the hired their first line editor. They can take risks, fail and try something new the next day. That doesn’t happen in a traditional newsroom. But there are traditional mangement structures that are really valuable.
- Data “drives traffic like you just wouldn’t believe.”
The analytics of social meeting has become absorbing in newsrooms. They have just hired a person to track that. They use Twitter and Facebook intensely, and Tumblr and are now getting into Pinterest. But they are taking a wait-and-see attitude. “These things take a lot of time . . . they requiring training and expertise.” They don’t use Goolge+.
Matt Wells, Guardian U.S. digital operation
- In the United States. the tried to incubate a model for the Guardian of the future. They have no print paper in the United States. The established a newsroom of 40 people in New York and a couple of bureaus around the United States. They thought differently about ratios. Of the 40 staff, about 10 are business/commercial/support staff. There are about 30 “different kinds of journalists.” There are five interactive and data journalists, a statistician, a data developer person and three other tech folks. That’s 5-of-30, very different from the United Kingdom. “They think about journalism in a different way and that has resulted in some different kinds of projects.” The have an open and community desk. Amanda Mikle came to them from ProPublica. There is a community manager and coordinator and a social-media editor. Their specific task is to encourage participations and encouraging collaborations with other news organizations and being evangelists for open and participatory vision that The Guardian has.
- Pinterest is a wait-and-see thing for Guardian. Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are compulsory, however.
- Ramshaw: Everything is less proprietary than it used to be. “The idea for us, is we are do collaborative we are trying to share everything that we have, we are just trying to make sure our brand gets out there.”
- Wells: It is the same at the Guardian. Our policy is to be open and collaborative with other news organizations.
- Ranshaw: “Never forget to talk to your technology department first, because they hold the keys to your success.”
Q: What do you use to edit your video?
Ranshaw: At Texas Tribune, they use professional grade TV cameras and edit on Final Cut Pro.
Wells: It is hard to take someone who has been a text reporter and give them video skills. You have to got professional people in to do professional-quality video.
Q: What about tips for multimedia project management?
Wells: Planning, organizing, don’t underestimate how long it is going to take – it takes far longer than you think. It’s good if you have a small team that everyone sits in the same room and everyone knows each other. Keep everyone talking so the see the coherence of the project.
Ranshaw: Use Google Docs or some Asana for task management. There is also is Prelo, for project management.
Wells: Think about scoops in a different way. They aren’t just headlines that nobody else has read yet. One of their best scoops came out of their interactive department, an effort to build a state-by-state guide to gay rights in America. It was competitive to do that ahead of anyone else.
Ranshaw: “To me, it got to the point if desperation. I was in a traditional newsroom where I just didn’t see the innovation … now all of us have innovation anxiety. We all want to be the best innovators . . . there is this desperation to keep moving the meter – that’s what I think drives our reporters now.”
Wells: Commodity stories that everyone else is doing don’t do well for them. “What does well for us is specialized obsessions . . .. everything from the Occupy movement to women’s rights … doing original reporting. All of that does matter.”
Ranshaw: “For us, we are really feeding people vegetables … so we have to find these really compelling way to tell these stories so people want to absorb it.” There was a plane crash near their offices in Austin and their first instinct was to go report it. “And we had to pull back and say, we don’t do this anymore. We have a mission.”
Q: Could you take a small staff and make a print newspaper from it?
Wells: If your print product is paying the bills, don’t neglect it. If you don’t put out a beautiful paper every day then people will stop publishing it. Don’t kill the paper and be very careful about how you how many people you put on the website and on the paper. Don’t starve it. Because otherwise you will kill it prematurely.
Ranshaw: You have to still take care of the print side if it pays the bills. “However, I think it is time for everyone to totally reevaluate their funding structures.” Their events services have been incredible profitable. They sell sponsorships to the events. They are free and open to the public, but people sponsor the events. “This is now almost a quarter of our operating budget.”