Solutions to newsroom troubles

Amid all the reporting about coverage cutbacks and layoffs in newsrooms around the country, there’s not enough focus on what news organizations might do to reinvent themselves.  Rich Gordon of Northwestern University has been working on and thinking about new media for at least a decade now.  His most recent post on the Poynter Web site has some thought-provoking ideas on “the outlines of a successful business model” for traditional media.

  • Challenge cherished traditions that news organizations can no longer afford. The Detroit newspapers, for instance, have decided not to home-deliver print editions if there’s not enough ad revenue to pay for distribution. Is that a crazy idea? It certainly seems less crazy than cutting the investment in original reporting.
  • Adopt new technologies and workflows to make news production more efficient. Many traditional news organizations have redundant production processes for their traditional (print or broadcast) product and the Web. These must be consolidated.
  • Distribute professionally created content through as many channels as possible. Stories must go out in print, on the air, online, via mobile technology — and yes, on the Kindle or another “iTunes for news.” When appropriate, news organizations could share the cost of content creation with other news organizations. The Miami Herald and Poynter’s St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, for instance, already collaborate to pay for coverage of the Florida state capital.
  • Adopt practices to increase the loyalty of online audience. Despite their financial challenges, traditional news organizations have been very slow to adopt blogging, permalinking, article commenting, social networking and other approaches that are proven to bring repeat usage. The average user of a news site spends less than two minutes per day there; it’s no wonder there’s not enough revenue!
  • Improve online ad sales and targeting. Borrell Associates reports that top-performing local media Web sites generate two or more times the revenue of the average site. The Interactive Advertising Bureau reported last year [PDF] that publishers can earn 10 to 16 times as much money by directly selling an online ad themselves as by turning the ad over to a national ad network. And highly targeted online ads — now becoming possible through advanced behavioral targeting — can yield even greater revenue. (For more on this point, stand by for an upcoming report on online ad networks, which I’m editing right now for Northwestern University’s Media Management Center.)

Interesting ideas – do you have more?  What should news organizations be doing to adapt to our new reality?

Writing for Twitter

Journalists who don’t Twitter are “crippling [their] online publishing effort,” says OJR’s Robert Niles.  In his view, Twitter is the ideal medium for breaking news and delivers information to readers more efficiently than RSS feeds.  But how do you write for Twitter?

Start by consulting this primer for Twitter beginners from J-Prof”s Jim Stovall.  He says it’s possible to do good journalism in 140 characters if you keep a few guidelines in mind.

First off, make sure you have something worthwhile to say.  Okay, that’s a “no-duh” but it’s essential if you want to enlist followers (and that’s pretty much the whole point of Twitter).  Among Stovall’s other suggestions:

  • Information is more important, and interesting, than opinion.
  • One or two points (of information, opinion, whatever) max. Not three. You’ll quickly use up your space.
  • Think: subjects and verbs. Complete sentences are not always necessary, but complete thoughts are.
  • Emphasize verbs. Active, descriptive verbs. It’s one of the basic truths of good writing.
  • As in headline writing, “to be” verbs can be understood rather than written.
  • Drop articles (a, an and the) unless they are necessary for clarity.

The current “best practice” for making information on Twitter easier to track is to use hashtags (# followed by a word or phrase).  There are drawbacks, to be sure, but it’s something to keep in mind as you wade into the world of Tweets.  For what it’s worth, I’m just wading in myself. Follow me here.