Liveblog: News World, Traditions and transformation

Here we are, about to start “News World | Traditions and Transformation” — what fun!

Description: “Traditional (legacy) news organizations have no choice but to continue to change in order to respond to the growth of aggregators and other WeMedia players. Learn how leaders in the field are tackling editorial, business and management challenges in the culture of empowered content creatives.”

Carin Dessauer (senior fellow, iFOCOS) is leading this group, right to left:

5:18 Kick off question: What’s each panelists’ definition of success? What’s the model for success?

Carin: 66% of Americans think journalists are out of touch, but 70% say journalism is important to their lives (stat from an earlier session today). How does that shade your yet-to-be-given answer?

Jennifer: There are many different models, not just one. We need to learn to include our readers, to learn from them, to get them talking to each other and to us (the media). Tear down the walled garden. We’re taking baby steps.

Jennifer: At the risk of sounding shrill, I think we need to continue to focus on quality excellent journalism. We can allow the community to talk to itself and yet we need to invest in journalism. Also, we need to figure out the model for advertising after display advertising: partnership, search ads, etc. Google does search ads; can we get a piece of that pie?

Jennifer: We need to focus on emerging platforms other than the Web site. If we focus only on the Web site, we lose opportunities that are coming up quickly.

Neil: The measure of success in the next few years will be continuing to innovate, producing much more interesting products.

Kinsey: We can’t escape the economic results of the digital revolution. At the same time that the newspapers are shrinking, we’re being asked to grow and produce the future successes. You can succeed inside the organization, or outside. He stresses three things:
* Creation of original (great) content
* Social media (that bullet point flew by quick)
* Attracting and holding audience (aggregating audience)

Google seems to be attracting people, but isn’t doing the content. We need to learn from them.

Maria: Going last means you get to agree with everyone, but she’s going to try a different tack given that she works for a non-profit (NPR). She says they need to change from being a B2B (they serve their member stations) radio model, to being a multi-platform publisher. And they need to do even more: help radio itself in America evolve.

Carin: Kinsey, Can you give us an example of how adding citizen journalism advanced a story?

Kinsey: We’ve often been at the forefront of multimedia storytelling, but there’s an endless amount of time you can put into any given story. He looked at stats at the month of January, and found this: 2 things produced 66% of all the traffic on the site. One was November’s Candidate Match Game, and the other was the poll tracker, tracking all the polls of the presidential campaign to date. So you can work all you want on things, and some will catch on and some won’t.

Carin: What about the pharmaceutical company story about error rates on being given incorrect prescriptions?

Kinsey: On a story like that, we found that the comments are often very rich and detailed. Even though they are pseudo-named, they still have a strong ring of veracity, and adds something to the story you can’t get form traditional reporting means.

Carin: That really added editorially?

Kinsey: Yes, pharmacists who wouldn’t speak on the record about the story would post anonymously in the comments and though that has less of an authority, they added value.

5:30: Neil: We did some research in the last year about the behavior of users when they come to the site and land first of all on a story page. Many people now get to a site that way. We looked at what people did on that page. When they come into the front page first, they are news junkies. When they come directly from the front page of Yahoo, they are less committed. Entertainment stories you click on photos, political stories you click on related stories. So if you feature things in different ways on different pages, you get a chance to modify behavior. John Battelle’s site actually recognizes if you come from Google, and places a big box on that page to help you find what you want.

Jennifer: You can tell a story in all sorts of ways but just because you can be all creative, doesn’t mean you should. Example: We have a year-long series called “Gut-check America” — they tell us story ideas, and vote them up and down, and then we dispatch a reporter to cover that. Sometimes we do live Q&As, sometimes we do just video, or just text. One of her biggest peeves: video for the sake of video, which just wastes time.

Carin: Moving onto workflow issues: NPR is a hybrid model — what works there, what doesn’t? What about the Knight Foundation partnership?

Maria: The challenge of becoming a multimedia company is tough — we’re not a single publication, we’re a collection of programs: news, music, entertainment (Car Talk, etc.) So what position are we trying to occupy in the much more competitive online space. What purpose are we trying to serve in audience’s lives? Mission: “educate inform entertain” — carefully chosen.

Maria: There was a mentality in her particular role that her group exists to serve the rest of the company, and that’s changing now that they’re also trying to serve the audience directly, not just the shows themselves. The first place this change is occuring is in the news arena. There’s a lot of training going on, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Knight Foundation. USC and UC Berkeley are working on that. They’re bringing trainers into NPR to train groups of 12. It’s an enormous undertaking.

Carin: Kinsey, how is the convergence of YOUR operation going?

Kinsey: I gotta be a little envious of the $1.5 million training grant. There’s also some hiring that goes on back and forth in the Washington DC area. The way USAToday has approached it, is they’ve formally merged the newsroom 2 years ago, and are continuing to merge them together in the way they’d be if it was built that way from scratch.

There are two principal ways: 1) separate content and production into different groups. Devote some to breaking and some to enterprise. Devote some to print and some to Web.
2) The other way is to assign small teams: a journalist, a copy editor, a blogger, a producer (sometimes not all those people).

The other thing they’ve done is take the design group which was vertical and removed, and flatten that and “embed” them into various sections so they can be part of the process from an earlier stage.

Question from the audience? Nope, gotta hold that until later.

5:45: Jennifer: They have no choice to be separate from the channel: they’re a totally separate in space (Seattle vs NJ), and in corporate structure. The new boss of NBC news (name escaped me) has really tried to make that relationship get closer. For Virginia Tech, for instance, they sent a blog reporter, as well as a cameraman and reporter. And that worked really well.

It doesn’t always work: for instance, today, MSNBC the site used a CNN photo to illustrate a story of the MSNBC channel Democratic debate.

Neil: To replace the revenue that comes in from newspapers, with the revenue from banner ads, it isn’t there yet. How do you get it there? Second, how do you get the value of each page view to be higher? There was a project at Yahoo to offer higher value targeted ads on pages with contextual, focused ads. Get the right message in front of the right person at the right time. This helps explain Microsoft’s interest in Yahoo — they want the ad platform.

Neil has been working to get local news sites to adopt Yahoo technology, and in exchange drive traffic to them, in an attempt to create a higher value ad network.

Neil: Do high value watch sellers really want to be at the front of the paper in the International News section? Probably not — they just want to prestige and eyeballs. That model is completely blown up online.

Maria: 26 million weekly listening audience, but we’ve underestimated how hard it is to convert a listener to an online visitor:
Listening: intimate, passive, geographically based, time-based
Online: opposite of those things
How does brand NPR live in a visual, active, directed environment? Good question.
The web site draws a lot of “earballs” — they track stats called “media requests” and “podcast downloads” and use that to see how they’re succeeding.

Carin: Does MSNBC have the stickiness of other sites?

Jennifer: You’re right, page views don’t seem to make us sticky. 50% of our users come through, and come and then leave right away. We know that, and we can cater to that audience who aren’t expecting a lingering browsing experience.

We all want page views, as the stat that matters, to go away. But it won’t — that’s what advertisers want. Most metrics are marketing metrics so you can say you’re #1 in this or that. The REAL measure will be Time on Site. We aren’t there yet, but we like the idea of tracking just how much people hang around.

6:00: Question: 4 Kinsey from Education week. Does your newsroom folks occupy the same space or different?

Kinsey: Used to be Web was separate from print. Now, web editorial is disbursed into the newsroom, and is separate from the rest of the Web team [advertising and tech, perhaps?]

Question: 4 Kinsey from guy who didn’t identify himself: Two features on your site attracted the most traffic, and those features were both “evergreen” — is there a danger that you’d focus on evergreen features over breaking news now?

Kinsey: They’re not exactly evergreen — one doesn’t change much, but is relevant now, not forever. The other actually does update over time, so is featuring the freshest data.

Question: McArthur Foundation: Do any of you have a secret plan for rescuing user comments. Large sites have lower quality comments, don’t you think?

Neil: We took comments off because they weren’t generating a lot of traffic, nor a lot of revenue. One person said she was so mad she was gong to cancel all 8 of her Yahoo accounts. We haven’t yet gone back to adding them, but at some point the plan is to. Rating comments (up or down) is one way to handle it. Fixing your identity to one person, with a reputation, is another way. When people came in from the front page from yahoo, comment quality went down. People who came in through new section pages made better comments.

Kinsey: It’s not about giving people a place to sound off. It’s about building a network. And you can wait for the tools to be perfect, or you can step in now, at some risk, and learn. Remember that only 10% will actually participate, and they need to produce value for the other 90%.

Jennifer: We recently bought and their smart technology should help.

Question: Real Girls Media (Divine Caroline): What are your syndication plans for small publishers’ content?

Maria: We don’t see ourselves in the same league as MSNBC and Yahoo. Our content lends itself very well to syndication. We have a saying: “The story is the atom” as opposed to the program. Programs might have beginnings, middles and ends and their producers like that. But from the digital media perspective, it’s about the story, and they might re-present a set of stories for other media and other products. Like movie reviews. Or books. There’s no one programs. But there are a lot of stories.

Question: How do you deal with the size and dynamics shift to a digital newsroom?

Kinsey: We had 75 people in the digital space, now we have 465 (the whole newsroom) (the numbers might not be exactly what Kinsey said). Increasingly, all reporters will be digital. Will that number 465 hold? We’ll see if the model will support that.

Jennifer: To the extent that we’ll (the industry) continue to be doing journalism, we’ll be doing it in the online space.
6:15: That’s all, let’s go for drinks in the courtyard.

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