Tips for the Digital Newsroom from ONA12

This past weekend, digital journalists from the United States and the world met in San Francisco, California for the annual Online News Association Conference & Awards Banquet (ONA). The conference featured many great panels. This blog post is one of several to come in the following weeks about some of the key takeaways from the sessions held at ONA12.

Today’s post focuses on the importance of creating a healthy digital newsroom and how to create content collaborations with media partners.

Building a Healthy Newsroom Ecosystem

As a news start-up or existing news venture, creating the right newsroom culture is the key to the success. The panel session entitled, “Healthy Ecosystems in Digital Newsrooms,” featured a great group of panelists which included Joaquin Alvarado who is Chief Strategy Officer at the Center for Investigative Reporting, Jim Brady who is the Editor-in-Chief at Digital First Media, Kim Bui of KPCC, and Dori Maynard who is the President of Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Brady stated that when building a newsroom staff from scratch, it’s best to look for individuals with the following characteristics:

  • They have to be creative and willing to try new things. They have to be flexible.
  • They cannot be risk-averse.
  • They have to be collaborative.
  • They have to be calm and able to handle a crisis.
  • They have to be low maintenance and independent.

Alvarado highlighted the point that newsrooms need to hire diverse talent in the newsroom to create a healthy ecosystem but that diversity should also be sought in reaching out to other kinds of publishers and audiences. He highlighted the possibilities news organizations have with working with different kinds of publishers like the IGN that can help bring in new audiences such as those of the millennial generation that also consume information from IGN. There is potential in cross-pollination with different kinds of publishers.

Bui suggested that staff members should be the change they want in the newsroom to make it a healthy ecosystem. This can be done by talking with as many people as possible in your organization by networking and talking with people in other departments. Reaching out to others in other areas of the organization can help with thinking through different ideas, implementing new initiatives, or just being inspired by those you talk to.

Maynard emphasized the importance of seeking diversity in news coverage and the audiences that news organizations serve. News organizations need to recognize who their audiences are, spend time getting to know whom they are and how those who are not being covered can be covered. By making sure to achieve this diversity in news coverage it can also contribute to creating that healthy ecosystem in the digital newsroom.

Key Takeaway: When creating and building your newsroom staff, it’s important to find a diverse set of individuals that will complement the organization and its goals. The diversity of talent will make a difference in how your news operation runs and how it can contribute to a healthy newsroom ecosystem. Furthermore, creating a healthy ecosystem in the digital newsroom entails making sure that diversity is achieved in the final product — the news stories your staff produces making sure the news coverage is diverse to meet the diverse audience your organization serves.

The Business of Collaboration

The ability to strengthen your reach and impact in your community may be achieved by seeking out content collaborations with other media partners. The ONA session entitled, “The Business of Collaboration,” featured Stephen Engelberg who is the Managing Editor of ProPublica, Meghann Farnsworth who is the Senior Manager of Distribution and Online Engagement at the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Rodney Gibbs who is the Chief Innovation Officer at the Texas Tribune.

The panel presented several key points about how news organizations can think about collaboration. They stated there are different forms of content collaboration which include:

  • “From the start” collaboration – reporters working from the beginning on the investigation together.
  • Distribution collaboration – working with another media organization to get higher visibility on stories.
  • Data collaboration – opening up datasets for all journalists with the other media organizations to do their own reporting.
  • Internal collaboration – having a collaboration between the journalists and the data in the same news organization.
  • Social collaboration – having social teams from the other media organizations work together to reach new audiences, engage users, and help expand investigations.

When starting a collaboration, it’s important to know what you want out of the collaboration and how you will measure it. Farnsworth highly recommends that you set up a contract (it can be formal or as informal) stating what each media organization is doing, how things will be shared, and how things will be branded. It can save you and your collaborators any future stress or headaches if these aspects are determined ahead of time.

Engelberg stated that you should know the following answers before going into the collaboration:

  • How is the story is going to be branded and presented?
  • How will the bylines be presented?
  • How is the organization going to be presented online and in print?
  • Are you going to use a hashtag for the story? Is it going to be shared among all collaborators?

The panel also gave these tips when thinking about starting a content collaboration:

  • Diversify your collaborations depending on your story (Your revenue will depend on your goals)
  • Track the results of your investigation so you can tell the story of your impact (Make sure you can tell the story to your funders)
  • Think about collaboration from the beginning of your story (This will ensure the right media for your story; Be clear about your intensions: branding, embargo, bylines)
  • Share the story and don’t be afraid of being scooped (Bringing on different partners for different angles; Be clear about branding, embargo, revenue goals)

Key Takeaway: Collaborations can be a big benefit to your news organization and help you in reaching a wider audience however, collaborations must also be well-thought out before jumping in. You must think about what your collaboration goals are and how the collaboration can be measured. Being able to define both of these will make the rest of the process smoother in terms of identifying media partners, distribution strategies, and outcomes.

Stay tuned next week for another Hub post wrapping up some of the key takeaways from the ONA12 conference!