Five Trends to Inspire your Staff from ISOJ

ISOJ logoFor two days, journalists and academics gathered in Austin, Texas this past weekend for the 13th International Symposium on Online Journalism hosted at the University of Texas at Austin. This unique event featured panels on the latest trends happening in the news industry around the globe.

The Hub identified the following five trends from the event with some key take-away points that may inspire the news start-up or existing news organization.

1. Diversification of revenue sources.

Where is the money? This was one of the major themes highlighted throughout the two-day event. Several panelists discussed how monetizing content remains a difficult and challenging task in today’s digital media climate.

Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of the Dallas Morning News and chairman of the board of the Newspaper Association of America, told participants during his keynote on Saturday that newspapers should no longer depend on print advertising for revenue. News organizations must find other opportunities by which to sustain their operations and make a profit.

Several panelists during the two-day event presented some unique approaches of how they are finding other ways to bring in revenue. For example, John White, deputy editor of online for the Winnipeg Free Press mentioned how his news organization is using its news café to create new levels of community engagement and strengthen their brand while at the same time finding a new revenue source through the café in a joint partnership with a local restauranteur.

Mark Berkey-Gerard of Rowan University, presented his research case study of Technically Media. This news start-up in Philadelphia began in 2009 and three journalism entrepreneurs have been able to acquire revenue through a combination of sources – from hosting events such as Philly Tech Week and BarCamp News Innovation to offering consulting services related to content and editorial strategies for media companies, businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Key Take-Away: What is your news organization doing to identify all possible revenue sources? Are there potential options to host events, create membership programs, provide education or training programs or other potential services? You may be surprised to find that there multiple revenue approaches that you can consider for bringing in revenue while attracting an audience at the same time.

2. Relationship-building with your audiences.

Nowadays, all news organizations must make an effort to build and sustain their relationships with their key audiences. The challenge comes in identifying the right strategies that can help the news organization reach that goal. Social media optimization or SMO, has become a common approach that news organizations have taken in building that connection with the audience. Yet, news organizations have to be careful that they don’t let the numbers or algorithms drive their focus.

Carmen Cano, digital managing editor of the Dallas Morning News, told participants on Saturday that they have to SEE. This approach of SEE focuses on recognizing that news organizations must put efforts forward to be genuine in how they build that relationship with the audience by dedicating time to community engagement, putting a person and/or identity behind the news organization’s social media presence, and taking the time to listen to the audience.

Jen Lee Reeves, interactive director of KOMU-TV and associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, told the crowd during her presentation on Saturday that she goes where her audience is – if they are on Facebook she wants to connect with them on Facebook as well. She knows it takes a lot of time but it’s worth the effort. She also stated that she goes to meet-ups in an effort to get to know her community better.

Key Take-Away: What are the ways you engage with your community – is it through a brand or a person on Twitter or Facebook? How much time does your staff give toward relationship building? Do you use other methods to connect such as meetups, coffee hours or other methods by which to meet your audience? Building a relationship with your community may take time but using a variety of approaches that are offline and online can help with the long-term goal of having a loyal audience base.

3. Beyond data visualization.

Nowadays, news organizations can create all kinds of data visualizations using a variety of tools but do these data visualizations make sense and are they understandable?

This was a major question presented by Saturday’s panel focused on data called, “The new narrative: How data is changing the way we tell stories online,” featuring a super-star panel of data journalists including Aaron Pilhofer, Ben Welsh, Brian Boyer, Alastair Dant, and Angelica Peralta Ramos.

Alberto Cairo, lecturer in visual journalism at the University of Miami, stated during the panel discussion that there are many beautiful data visualizations online today that look like a piece of art – but do they make sense for the audience? News organizations have to remember the premise for why they are creating an infographic in the first place and how much the presentation of the data should be able to tell the information needed without confusion for the reader.

Brian Boyer, Chicago Tribune news applications editor, told the audience that doing data visualizations and apps should have meaning and that a news organization should think about three key things: Who are your users? What are their needs? What can we do for them? Using this as a guide can help to keep your team and its mission on task.

Key Take-Away: What kind of data analysis does your staff currently incorporate into news stories? Start small with some basic tools if you have not done so before. Look online at sources such as NICAR to get tips and find resources to help your staff learn the necessary skills. If you are already using data analysis often in your news stories, are there ways the data visualizations can be improved? Do they make sense? How do you know? Spend some time thinking carefully about your use of this technique and identify if you are using it appropriately and effectively.

4. Content architecture.

Are you effectively using your news content? Most likely you are not.

Richard Gingras, head of news products at Google, mentioned in his keynote on Friday that content is expensive to produce and that news organizations should find ways to allow for the reporter’s stories to be a living resource on the web that can be updated and accessed anytime online (months or years from now). Gingras explained to the participants that nowadays a good portion of online users visit story pages directly for content. He mentioned Wikipedia remains a popular online source because each content entry is a living resource – an entry that is always accessible and updated often by the community. With the unlimited capacity we have via the digital platform today, are news organizations taking full advantage of it?

Key Take-Away: What is your news organization’s content architecture? How long are your news stories available to the public? Are they able to be updated over the long-term (weeks or months from now)? As Gingras mentioned, it’s time for media companies to recognize their prize possession – their valuable content and how they can maximize its use beyond just publishing it and presenting it once on the website.

5. Education and training.

Another prominent theme mentioned at the symposium was the importance of learning news skills and techniques to make the reporter better in their daily job of how they cover the community. Ben Welsh, database producer for the Los Angeles Times, talked about the importance of database journalism skills that can help in telling great and important stories for the community. He concluded his presentation with an inspiring speech telling everyone that reporters need to learn these skills and news organizations need to embrace this change – journalism can be better and the current practitioners in the field have an obligation to make it better by doing what they need to learn new skills and techniques to make the news better.

Angelica Peralta Ramos, multimedia development manager of La Nación in Buenos Aires, Argentina, told participants that she didn’t have any developers in her newsroom to do the kind of data-driven journalism they were seeking to do but – they didn’t let this stop them and her staff took the leap to learn the skills needed to do the kinds of web scraping and data analysis her team now does daily in the newsroom.

Alberto Cairo said during the conference that newsrooms that have smaller staffs and fewer resources don’t have to feel that they cannot perform data-driven journalism – it can be done with some basic tools such as Microsoft Excel and Illustrator.

Key Take-Away: What are the ways you are helping your staff learn new skills? Do you provide an opportunity for them to take a few hours out of their week to learn a new skill? Can you bring in a local expert (social media, data analysis, etc.) that can give a brief afternoon workshop to your staff? You may be surprised that there are several options for affordable and free training for your staff that can help your news organization become better than it is now. It just takes a leap of faith and a little nudge to show how these skills and techniques can lead to better journalism.

(Note of Disclosure: Author of this post is the research chair of the symposium event.)