'I always encourage reporters to inject their personality into their posts.'
-- John Boogert,
Prepare for the day of digital-only, Sherry Chisenhall of the Wichita (Kans.) Eagle advises.
“The day will come,” said Chisenhall, editor of the Eagle and its companion website, Kansas.com.
Chisenhall and John Boogert, the Eagle’s deputy editor for interactive. gave a presentation Saturday, Feb. 11, on how newspapers can begin to restructure their newsroom to become “digital-first.” About 30 people attended the workshop in the Boston Park Plaza Hotel during the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s 2012 Convention and Trade Show.
Boogert and Chisenhall outlined how the Eagle was able to make the changes necessary to compete in the new digital market, a transition with which some small newspapers have trouble.
“Most big papers would just carve out a continuous news desk,” Chisenhall said.
Smaller papers don’t have that luxury, she said.
Chisenhall explained that bigger papers can more easily afford to assign a team to curate Web pages based on what the newspaper has decided to publish, but smaller papers often don’t have the resources or staff to add a desk to their newsroom to handle Web content.
Audience members, some of them reporters themselves and others editors for small weekly papers, listened to Boogert and Chisenhall discuss their process and offer advice for other smaller papers to follow. Many took notes, some with pen and paper, other with laptops or iPads, as Boogert and Chisenhall described the Eagle’s transformation, which took place over a year and a half, from a traditional print-based newspaper to one focused first on digital reporting.
“Our daily news rhythms were still being driven” almost entirely by print, Chisenhall said.
Changing the way the paper worked meant changing the culture of the newspaper, she said.
Boogert and Chisenhall said they began with three primary goals: restructuring the staff, changing the publishing process, and adding resources for investigative reporting.
They first reassigned staff to move the paper’s content under the control of a digital editor. That was a turbulent process that included two rounds of layoffs and the resignations of several staff members, Chisenhall said. It also involved countless hours of training staff members for their new digital responsibilities.
“You have to move past that first 30 percent,” Chisenhall said, using a term also used by Northwestern University to describe the three groups that emerge when embracing new technologies. The first third are those who reject the change, the next group includes those who need help making the transformation, and the final third are the eager early adaptors.
“That first 30 percent is never going to get us deep cultural change in the newsroom,” Chisenhall said.
She and Boogert said you can never over-train for digital transformation. They praised online tutorial sites such as Lynda.com, and urged that newsrooms adopt a “teach-me culture” in which those most familiar with digital technology help to educate less savvy staff members.
The second goal was to change
the publishing process so that all stories were posted on the Eagle’s
website before being printed. Chisenhall and Boogert said the Eagle
used new mobile technologies for filing stories. The Eagle invested
in such items as a cell-phone plan for the staff, laptops for reporters,
and mobile hotspots for constant Internet connection and on-scene reporting.
Chisenhall and Boogert also explained how taking advantage of social media such as Twitter and Facebook can help create connections to readers in new ways, such as linking to stories and tweeting live updates on court cases directly from the courtroom. But Boogert also warned against oversaturating social networks with unwanted posts and making sure that what is posted is not too impersonal.
“I always encourage reporters to inject their personality into their posts,” Boogert said.
Boogert said digital reporting calls for stories to be broken as soon as possible.
Boogert also tried to allay concerns about how the Internet’s culture of immediacy could lead to a decline in quality investigative reporting.
“It is tough to juggle,” Boogert said, but he and Chisenhall said they try to help the news staff balance daily mobile filing with longer-term investigating, to “keep getting the stories that are hard to get.”
Chisenhall assured the audience that enterprise reporting remained a priority for the Eagle.
Chisenhall said she is a firm believer that audience growth is most dependent on solid enterprise reporting.
Gordon Freas is an undergraduate student in the Northeastern University School of Journalism.
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