I recently had the opportunity to interview Doug Cantor, a Senior Editor at Inc.com, about trends he has noticed in the newsroom. We discussed the challenges he has noticed and the solutions he and his team have implemented. A clear focus on the increasing impact and the role social media play quickly became evident.
Newsroom challenges and solutions
One of the first questions we addressed was the challenging nature of the job. Interestingly, the biggest challenges in print and digital news appear to center around keeping the interest of an increasingly distracted reader. The most obvious solution to this is impeccable reporting on timely stories that have the potential to become trending stories on social media channels. As Cantor points out, “There are a lot of things to cover, but there’s only so much personnel, budget and time.”
It is almost impossible to know what will capture the attention of the public in any given news cycle. In the recent devastation of hurricane Mathew, the information that made Twitter explode was of Waffle House locations along the coast of Florida would be closing. In order to stay abreast of the most recent trends and consumer demands Cantor’s team meets daily and carries an ongoing conversation amongst the editors about exactly what the public has an interest in and what they have the resources to cover.
They also carefully monitor traffic data to see exactly which of their strategies are effective and which ones need additional effort or to be dropped altogether. The key to successfully tracking their impact is found in the variety of methods they utilize. Dough explains, “For traffic analysis, we use Chartbeat, SimpleReach, and an analytics platform we developed in-house. I believe the social media team uses Facebook and Twitter analytics, SocialFlow, Thalamus and other tools.” He also mentioned the evolving nature of this portion of his job and the increasing sophistication in the field of data gathering.
Newsroom audience engagement
Another issue facing news editors across the country is utilizing new technology and communication avenues to streamline workflow and productivity. In addition to constantly asking all members to actively discourse about the content that should or should not be covered he recommends, “Get as good a sense of your readers and their interests as you possibly can. Solicit comments, poll them on your Facebook page or get feedback through other means. Just because something excites you doesn’t mean it’ll excite your audience, and vice-versa. Always keep in mind that your first, second, and third responsibility is to them. Also, get someone smart to take a deep dive into traffic metrics and SEO strategies.”
Long gone are the days when editors discussed amongst themselves what they thought the general public would or should be interested in, assigned reporters to investigate and report, and then publish without ever taking into consideration the actual preferences of their audience. The internet has changed the way the news is curated and delivered. Most stories about the current trends in the newsroom focus on this to some extent but it is typically centered on how it has been harmful to the industry as a whole.
Cantor’s comments paint a different picture that allows us to consider the many ways in which news coverage has the potential to be better because of technological advancements that facilitate reader participation.
When news organizations take advantage of the opportunity to communicate directly with their readers they are given an unprecedented opportunity to give their audience exactly what it is they wish to read. There is no need to guess instead, there is an opportunity to engage and analyze in real time what their readers are reacting and responding to.
Viable content vs. information overload
The very opportunity that makes it possible to actively engage with the reader and learn their preferences opens them up to a vastly greater number of media and news sources than ever before. This leads to the unparalleled experience of information overload many individuals are facing on a daily basis. In part, this is due to the numerous social media sites that are becoming ubiquitous on our televisions, computers, smartphones, and tablets. Everywhere we turn we see news stories from around the world vying for our attention competing with the latest celebrity gossip, conspiracy theories, and cat videos.
According to Cantor, the solution to this has nothing to with incorporating more technology or marketing ploys. Instead, he suggests it is incumbent upon those in the news industry to rely on “…good journalism and producing quality content. Readers (and) viewers may have a limited appetite or amount of time to dedicate to your publication, but the quality ones will always maintain a loyal following.”
Evolution of newsroom staff roles
With the ever-changing landscape of media and the field of journalism, in particular, it is no wonder that the roles of journalists and editors are also evolving. As with most developments throughout history, this has positive and negative aspects. One of the more difficult things to accept is that the speed required to research, develop, and create new content must be faster than ever in order to reach readers before they have become tired of the topic. This has the tendency to lead to a greater number of overworked journalists who are facing lower wages than in the past due to the changes in coverage density and revenue challenges.
A more positive result of the many changes over the past decade are the resources that are now available. Reporters have access to eyewitnesses in ways that would have never been possible before. They can question people on the ground, receive live video from those at the scene of natural disasters, or conduct live video interviews with no travel expense or time delay. This creates powerful opportunities to get first-person accounts in real time, which provides an authenticity and immediacy the general public craves.
Newsroom trends remain a mix of in-depth journalism that focuses on the issues people need and want to learn more about and social media instant gratification. As social media platforms become greater distributors of news content these trends will likely continue to dominate the lives of journalists and editors.