In praise of failing slow

I have a problem with Failing Fast.

It’s a phrase that crops up in discussions around newsroom evolution, and in presentations at journalism conferences, and I have to wonder, did whoever first coined the phrase (in a non-Product context, at least,) really believe a failing quickly and moving on to the next thing a good thing?

I guess it’s because it seems as though the underlying message is intended to be “we’re not attaching fault, we’re not blaming… we just need to experiment without repercussions, and Foster a Culture of Innovation (™️) ”.

I’m going to say that the underlying message of fail fast is hugely negative: It offers implied permission to a) fail; and b) make terminal and potentially hasty decisions quickly.

When you’re building an innovative new newsroom culture, don’t talk about failure. Don’t hang the idea of something not working around the neck of your shiny new idea pony, as you prepare to canter out into the arena.

It’s fatalistic and happy clappy all in one package – “it might not work but that’s ok! We tried”. Fuck off did you try; you gave yourself a get out clause.

One of the words I’ve found myself saying more often in relation to projects and ideas we test out is stickability.<<
e journalist/newsroom testing the innovation needs stickability in that a lack of immediate success is not judged as indifference or hostility from an audience, project sponsors need bravery to hold their nerve when returns – especially returns of audience or growth – aren’t as expected, projects need investment of people, money – and time.

Time, as the phrase goes, takes time. And newsrooms – or boardrooms, perhaps – don't always devote enough time to letting ideas and innovations find their feet.

You might hurry an idea into creation but you shouldn’t hasten it out of the door like an annoying relative, just because it hasn’t performed as you wish.<<
ve given my share of projects a midnight burial (no mourners, a hasty shovelling of earth, no flowers by request) but I know – because hindsight is a wonderful thing – that some of them should have been given more time to settle.

Instead of talking about failing fast, let’s plan to learn and adapt. If we fail slow we give things time to bed in, and from there we can iterate, learn, adapt, change. That's a more healthy space to introduce your culture of innovation.<<
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#ONALondon session: Reaching Unexpected Audiences With New Platforms

 

Erica Berger, who is founder of Catchpool and Co-Founder of Mileage Media, kicked off her session with some impressive facts:

  • 30 mins a day spent per day for average users of Snapchat
  • Instagram has 77% of audience outside the USA
  • Soundcloud has 350m users a month
  • WhatsApp has 990m users – 70% use it daily; it has 1m new users a day, 30bn messages spend a day
  • The average WhatsApp user spends 195 mins a week using it

Case studies 

Soundcloud: When Erica was working at The Economist she proposed using Soundcloud as a podcast hosting service, not least because it was free to use, and pushed it through to iTunes a s well – they garnered 827k followers within a few months and now the average 100k listens per track.

She started a similar initiative at The Week, which did modcasts – mini podcasts – and that now has 233k followers.

Catchpool: While at NewsCorp Erica realised the weekend editions were doing better performance than weekday ones. She looked at how newsletters curating quality links for leisurely weekend reads worked and from that success Catchpool was built.

NPR: How to attract younger users who would support with membership as well. The idea tested was how to get young people to listen together rather than in isolation, and discuss how the podcasts and shows made them feel. NPR went on a roadshow but instead of going to the north of America, they went south and found a really large audience. The Generation Listen initiative spawned an ongoing campaign that has led to new donations, and new supporters.

Her point? When you build tools for the people who are with you, you forget about supporting the people who want to be with you. Look for the unexpected audience.

The importance of measurement: 

1.Day 0:  Set goals

2. Day 15: Draw up a report

3. Day 30: Evaluate and assess if more time is needed

New platforms to factor into consideration: Blendle, Catchpool, Spotify, Soundcloud, Ryot, Outbrain’s chatbot

Erica ended her presentation with a short film discussing audience involvement and narrative shaping – watch it here – and a thought: Find the platform that is helping you get to those other places; Soundcloud can push your podcast to iTues, chatbots will work across several chat apps for you. You don’t have to do everything.

Instant Articles for regional news

Here’s something that put a smile on my face today (no, not the drink drive mum) – it’s a Manchester Evening News Instant Article on Facebook.
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The MEN and WalesOnline are the two Trinity Mirror regional sites signed up for the UK Instant Articles roll out (announced today) – The Mirror is also participating. The only other UK regional involved right now is the Evening Standard, and it’s a really positive step that Facebook looked beyond the national/international brands for involvement in this.
Instant Articles, of course, is Facebook’s answer to the horrible problem of mobile load hang time for publishers.
Content loads seamlessly, and from a user experience it’s brilliant. Personally, I’m also more likely to read other sections of publisher’s ‘related content’ if they are published as IA too, as there are few things that make me boil like watching a page l-o-o-o-o-a-a-a-d on mobile.

It is, I guess, odd that we rely on a third party to solve a problem we created ourselves with our heavy loading pages but I’m employing my maxim of ‘better to light a candle than curse the darkness’ here. After all, the issue of heavy loads isn’t something newsrooms can solve; getting content out and in front of readers is something they are good at, and if the tool exists, use it, I’d say.

At the International Journalism Festival, last April, I watched a Facebook exec explain the concept of Instant Articles to a room full of journalists, and the reaction was Not Good. There was a loud and sustained outcry against the idea of FB hosting content publishers created, without sending them back to the originator’s website, and it was interesting to witness. (Incidentally, there is a commercial model for publishers built into Instant Articles).

Since then, the roar of disapproval has subsided to more of a mumble, but there are still questions being asked about why publishers are willing to cede their – what would you call it?- control? to a social media platform.
For what it’s worth, this is why I’d say it is worth trying: Facebook is HUGE and as an editor I’d want people to read my content and give commercial colleagues the chance to sell into that if they want to.
If someone is scrolling through content on Facebook and see something interesting the chances are they want to read it there and then (I doubt your average reader is using that Save Link option too often) and if it takes longer than a couple of seconds to load, your fickle reader is off to the next thing.
If we can deliver a fast, decent user experience – and a great piece of content – it gives my brand a big tick, with the reader and with FB.
So congratulations to MEN editor Rob Irvine, social media editor Beth Ashton and regionals head of social media Gayle Tomlinson (along with other TM colleagues) for doing a bit of ground-breaking work for regional journalism, and trying something new.
It’s always a good feeling to be at the forefront of trying new things.

15 thoughts on innovation for smaller newsrooms

How do you innovate in smaller newsrooms, was one of the questions that was sought to be addressed at the WAN IFRA international newsroom summit I attended in Hamburg on October 5. My answer is an emphatic: “Better, and more ambitiously than anyone tends to give us credit for”.

The big guns, like the NYT and The Guardian, are rightly lauded for the innovative work they do; they also have the staff and resources to make sure those things are done excellently. When you work in a regional newsroom and have a burning idea that you just know will be amazing in terms of providing great coverage of a story, or driving audience engagement, or shaking up the way things are done in your workplace, necessity can be the mother of invention (and innovation).

I see first hand how hard the Trinity Mirror regional newsrooms make their innovation stretch, and the lengths they go to make ideas happen, so it was great to be asked to talk about the opportunities for innovation in smaller newsrooms by WAN IFRA. Innovative, experimental storytelling is not the preserve of large newsrooms.

So these are my points on the how and why of innovation in smaller newsrooms.

  1. Know your audience – who are you trying to reach, where are they at various points in the day, what devices are they using, what platforms are they moving towards? How does your idea fit into that, and support the over-arching goal of growth and engagement? Knowing the answers means you’ll make decisions that connect your content to the people you want to reach.
  2. Resources are finite. Be realistic – how likely is it that you are going to spend several months and several thousand pounds developing a ‘look how innovative we are’ game or piece of content. So where can you piggyback? What 3rd party tools exist to help you tell your stories in other ways? Is your idea the best way of reaching your desired audience anyway?
  3. Most questions that begin ‘how to I connect with X audience?’ end in an answer that contains, to a greater or lesser extent, ‘social media’. If you’re a regional newsroom you need to get your social, mobile, local approach right.
  4. Something cannot work on one mobile OS and ‘sort of’ work on another. Either it works on mobile, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, don’t do it; you’re just halving your potential audience reach.
  5. Run a trial, assess the value – share the knowledge. If it works, great – you’ve got a best practice model to refine across other newsrooms who know they are getting a tried and tested success. If it doesn’t, you know you’ve used the resources wisely and attempted something that you can still take learnings from.
  6. Publish where your audience is; make those pieces of content entry points for your other platforms too
  7. Use analytics to help inform all your decision-making.
  8. Newsrooms that harness that expertise can achieve faster culture shift
  9. Using 3rd party tools that work on your platforms is a practical solution for small newsrooms – just make sure a) they don’t break your platforms and b) they work on mobile
  10. Share that knowledge where possible – collaboration = creativity. Hack days, social media cafes, training days, help build relationships, community engagement and  spark ideas
  11. Free your content – don’t just work in a CMS silo. Not everything has to drag the audience back to your website. We need content packages that go out into the world with their boots on, editorially and commercially. The disaggregation of the homepage is happening; news providers have to have a sound plan for ‘discovered content’.
  12. Be an early bird: Beta testing is a great option for small, agile newsrooms. Startups knock on many, many doors with their idea; it’s good to give time and attention to them because you never know when it’s going to develop into a mutually beneficial relationship. Or, to put it another way, be nice, because you never know where someone – or some start-up – is going to wind up.
  13. What resources can you devote – staff, time and cash? What stops being done to make way for your project? Honestly, if your great idea is going to suck the air out of other projects, and test colleagues’ patience and work flows, you’ve got to know it’s worth it and be able to articulate the benefits.
  14. Just because others do it, it doesn’t mean it will be right for you. Sometimes the resources, the audience and the returns mean that a great idea in one newsroom is a lukewarm one in another. That’s ok if you’ve looked at it from every angle and can’t replicate the success, what can you take out of it? There probably are elements that will work.
  15. Where’s the money? What are the commercial opportunities of your idea and have you involved commercial colleagues at an early enough point that they can a) think how it might be of interest to their clients and b) where they can point out opportunities you’ve missed? Generally speaking, newsrooms don’t talk to Advertising enough, but we’re fast enough to employ the Patented Journalist Eyeroll when they fail to sell around planned content they found out about 3 days ago, but that we’ve been working on for the best part of a fortnight.

#formatDEN: Audiences, realities and goats in hats

 

Goat. In. A. Hat.

Recurring themes in journalism conferences I’ve been following (and sometimes attended) this year are:

  • Try innovating, not imitating (aka don’t be Buzzfeed-lite)
  • Everyone is a reporter, so be a curator and editor
  • Don’t be scared of failing
  • Get developers coding in the newsroom

At FormatDEN this week, these were raised but so were some others…

TELL IT LIKE IT IS
This was a takeaway from Trushar Barot, Mobile Editor (editorial/product/partnerships) with the BBC. I really enjoy listening to Trushar, he’s incredibly smart, very business-minded and asks tough questions (I sat on an innovation judging panel with him once and he cut straight to the woolly bits of the business case)
His talk on messenger apps and BBC approaches was excellent and I especially liked his thoughts around the real practicalities of using WhatsApp for UGC sourcing.

His view on culture change is to find people who are passionate and excited by change, and put them in charge of digital projects, rather than having the digital experts leading on them.
His view was that showing someone a shiny that would make their job easier, wider adoption of would follow.
But he is also an exponent of treating people as adults, telling them realities and drawing their attention to what is happening in the wider world – to the successes of other competitors, to the successes of their counterparts with said competitor, and by pointing out how skills are changing, and to be relevant and required in a business, individuals have to change too. “And that works as well,” he finished.

Trushar shared a Google Doc of relevant BBC links too. They’re here.

Two other takeaways from this talk, for me:
Working on messaging apps is a way of grasping what content could work on these platforms. It also is an indicator how we engage an audience in what will be, I think, the next disruptive stage in the news industry. We’re going to have to shift from ‘open social’ distribution method to a ‘one-to-many’ distribution approach. We will be less visible, but perhaps the content will have greater value, and impact.
The other thought I had: Is it a good investment of time to work lots on apps if people are – within a few years – going to have moved beyond them and into opt-in receivers rather than seekers of information? The answer is yes, I guess; what else are we going to do?

WHAT ARE YOUR VALUE METRICS?

Juan Senor, a journalism consultant, visiting Oxford Fellow and academic, said page views weren’t the metric to trust (side point: Our metrics-that-matter at Trinity Mirror shifted to dwell time. pages per user and completion rates a while ago) but also had a suck-the-air-out-of-the-room moment when he said social metrics didn’t count either.
“Good journalism will always be shareable” he said, saying there was a need to move from the “anarchy of the mob and the idiocy of the mob”.
“If what we are selling is good journalism we need to think about what we do when we dumb down the content. We should look at the Huffington Post (he was alluding to the fact that the HuffPo has had some bad press recently) and unless Mashable and Buzzfeed look to that example they will go the same way.
“The money is coming in but the metrics they want are time spent, and video completion – not Likes, and RTs. Advertising departments want people to spend quality time with their client’s messages – not shares and page views”.

I should say that a lot of DEN is Chatham House rules, but given that Juan was probably the presenter who had the most soundbites tweeted while I was there, and is a consultant whose views are widely aired, I don’t think he will mind me quoting him directly.

MILLENNIALS AND THOSE WHO THINK LIKE THEM

Blathnaid Healy, the UK Editor of Mashable, said the company was obsessed with audiences and used its early adopter chops to try new platforms, because that’s what the audience expected, and where it would follow (or lead, I suppose. So the more early Mashable is, the more audience comes with them).
Something I really liked about her talk – and there were many highlights – was the phrase ‘Millennials and Those Who Think Like Them’ – I get a bit tired of hearing about Millennials doing this, that and the other. I know people who patently aren’t millennials by their birth certificates, but who romp across the digital media landscape like toddlers, grasping bits of it and cooing with delight.
They live and breathe media in its current form, and there are plenty of them.
My other takeaways from Blathnaid were that explainer video can be nearly five minutes long, and users will stick with it, if it’s good it and informs them of things in entertaining ways.
She also got me thinking about longform formats and how we can experiment by using people’s own stories in their own words. And she had the quote of the day:

“Journalism can be shareable as much as a goat in a hat can be shareable”.

Words to live by.
Unfortunately I had to leave DEN before the end, but it’s worth looking back over the hashtag for comments and links. One of the other big impacts on me was Ed Miller’s immersive news documentary on Hong Kong unrest (shot on Go-Pros, highlighted in his talk on VR for journalism) because it’s an area we’ve done some work in and the results – i.e. the audience engagement – are really telling.

People love interactive multimedia, especially photos they can explore, and we need to make it more of a part of our portfolio, rather than a special event.

So, thanks to the Wall Street Journal, John Crowley, Francois Nel and Nick Turner for a great event.

MoJocon15 organised by RTÉ

#mojocon15 part I: Talking mobile innovation and storytelling

MoJocon15 organised by RTÉ
Daniel Berman speaking at Mojocon

March 27 and 28 were spent immersed in the world of mobile, journalism, storytelling and content creation, courtesy of the first Mobile Journalism Conference held in Dublin and organised by broadcaster RTÉ.

It was the most rewarding, packed and inspiring event – filled with incredible journalists and storytellers doing wonderful things, often armed with just a few pieces of tech, some apps and a determination to get the story out no matter what.

I was lucky enough to be asked to attend by my boss, and then even luckier to be asked to participate as a speaker by organiser Glen Mulcahy,  Innovation Lead with RTÉ, and author of this brilliant blog.

Day one got off to a flying start with two of the best keynotes talks I’ve heard, by Richard Sambrook and Gerd Leonhard.

Richard Sambrook said the changing immediacy of journalism was a challenge, and that “first and wrong was not first”; he also warned that mobile journalism wasn’t so much about phones as about the end of the age of satellite. “It’s the age of IP news” he told his audience. He cited mobile, social and realtime visual as the three disruptions to traditional news, and warned that to survive a newsroom had to understand and do all three. “Mobile is about much more than reorganising desks,” he said.

Gerd Leonhard said broadcasting was over and ‘broadbanding’ was the new world: “If you want a job [in journalism] what you do has to be above the api, because if it falls below the api a machine can do it”, was his takeaway message. He also introduced me to a word I’ve never heard before: ‘Humarithams’. As in, ‘stories can be made by algorithms, great stories are told by humarithms’.   Here’s an extra bit of Gerd bonus copy, for all those social media editors still traumatised by the recent Facebook upheavals: “Facebook is not in it for the journalism. It is not the reason Facebook exists… we should not be giving away our content to people who are not interested in news, but who are only interested in news as a commodity”.

The point I really took away from his talk was that the pace of change in most mainstream media is just too slow, given the speed of the innovations are happening away from our industry, in the world of tech and the world of the consumer – and we have to be faster, more nimble, and more open-eared/open-minded to trying new things.

Of course, as with any mobile conference I guess, you do come away wanting to do everything on a mobile phone and just bin off the desktop forever. But, in a world where the Nerd Herd was gathered in such great numbers, it was interesting that my presentation was the only one that day (as far as I can recall) to reference work that had been done in newsrooms with Google Glass. Occulus Rift didn’t get much of a mention either on day 1 (I can’t speak for all the day 2 workshops) and the most interesting wearable I saw was a Narrative camera that takes photos on a timer and which I now want so badly I’m ready to commit a crime for one.

The other talks that I found highlights from Day 1 were by Michael Rosenblum (aka the Father of Videography, according to his bio) who sucked all the air out of the room by informing journalists they were effectively “fucked” and that ‘editing, curating, publishing’ was the future for news organisations. I love a bit of agent provocateur, and I thought his talk was fascinating – designed to needle, provoke and make mainstream media ponder its role in such a world, and for indies to consider their responsibilities.

From the same panel, I really enjoyed Shadi Rahimi‘s talk on covering Ferguson with just mobile phones, what made AJ+ social media existence a faster, more fit-for-purpose news organisation than rivals. The answer, in a nutshell, is hitting the story out into the park on social as soon as you can verify it, and involving the audience as much as possible.

My panel was on challenging story concepts, boiled down to ‘what makes a good story?’ and as I’d begged to go first (my slides are at the bottom of this post, along with bonus content for reading that far – a video of @warrengatchell and I talking social media…) I was able to relax and actually listen to the rest of the speakers. Christian Payne was, as ever, compelling as he ran through the tech he uses for storytelling, dating back to 2003, and also somehow shoehorned a quick burst of harmonica playing into the session.

Here’s a link that’s worth a listen

Day 2 was a very special event – a group of us were taken around Dublin by two of the best mobile phone photographers in the business, and given a masterclass. But as this piece of writing is now reaching epic proportions, I’ll blog about that when I have a bit of time to do (hence ‘part I’ in this post’s title).

So I hope RTÉ get plenty of kudos for organising something so cool – they deserve all the plaudits going. Thank you for inviting me along to participate – it was an experience I am delighted to have been a part of. I met fascinating and cool people who do amazing things in mobile spaces, and I learned so much. I really don’t ask for much more from a conference.

Pix or it didn’t happen?

Embed from Getty Images

So, Meerkat, eh?

It was, by all accounts, the darling of SXSW and digital acres have been given over to assessing its worth (and here I am, adding to them). Search Twitter at any given time and it’s everywhere, being [LIVE NOW]…

//

I downloaded it a few weeks ago when it still had access to Twitter’s social graph, which meant that as people I followed also joined there was an onslaught of notifications.

When I tested it in the BelfastLive newsroom, and later discovered my timeline was subsequently full of me @-ing myself, which was a puzzle until I realised it was a kind of reverse-publishing of my Meerkat conversations, back onto Twitter. This tweet-conversation feature did cause some controversy and at one point was switched off by Twitter, although it’s been reinstated.

I like the idea of another live streaming app (I liked the late, lamented Qik although I’ve always returned to Bambuser) but I just don’t know that I’m that sold on the idea of ephemeral livestreaming for news organisations, as unless you save the Meerkat video to your phone, it’s gone.

Your livestream has a mayfly-like existence, no matter how large your audience for the stream was, if you forget to save it down. In the heat of breaking news moments, I like to know my livestream is already safely stored, with an option to download or embed, on a site somewhere.

Of course, ephemeral conversations can offer wonderful opportunities for journalists (hello, Snapchat!) but I also think newsrooms should attempt to put down permanent markers of their work, because a) certain events that merit live streaming need to last, and b) with permanency comes authenticity and the opportunity for checks and verification. It’s harder to challenge inaccuracy if there’s no permanency, both in terms of the journalist and audience. It’s definitely easier for People With Agendas to call out journalists for errors if there’s that piece of work’s lasting testimony is this: joshconstine on Meerkat So, yeah. Meerkat. It’s fun, it’s insanely popular, and it has a social cache right now that means most of us working in digital journalism are interested in trying it for new things. But, as with a lot of The Shiny (and, yes, I am guilty of loving The Shiny)  it should also come with a caveat: When you’re planning to go live, don’t just think about trends, think about what is fit for purpose in the long term as well.

Up the Boro! Tapping into the fans’ mood on Twitter

This is my new favourite thing, courtesy of the @GazetteBoro team in Middlesbrough (disclosure: yep, they’re part of Trinity Mirror Regionals, like me).

The gif (you might need to click to activate) is a simple, neat idea, and really summed up the how fans feel about being up in the rarified atmosphere of the top of the table.

Lots of great engagement too. Just goes to show, you don’t need to break the internet to be awesome sometimes.

Talking innovation, skills and the future with journalism students

After decades of not going to Sheffield, 2014 was the year I found myself there on several occasions – incidentally, what a fine city it is, once you manage to negotiate the frankly rubbish rail links that run from west to east.

My most recent trip was at the invitation of Sheffield University journalism professor Peter Cole, who asked me to give a guest lecture on how the industry is changing, in my opinion, and what it means for students. Specifically, the brief was to give an insight into my innovation role, what skills I looked for when recruiting, the digital transformation of the newsroom and my own experience, along with new ways to tell stories.

Here’s what I talked about, some of it is taken verbatim from my notes, some paraphrased for shortness but the gist is the same:

Past behaviours inform future ones

Many titles in the regional press have been working in online spaces for a long time, in digital terms. Way back in the sepia-tinted days of 2008 there was innovative, experimental work being done around live content, social media and the use of digital tools. It wasn’t perhaps the most structured approach but it did mean there was a lot of trying, learning and success (and some failing, but that was ok too).

In the years since then, the onslaught of unchecked code being shoehorned into a CMS (whether it could handle it or not) has calmed somewhat, but I think that digital Goldrush was important. It helped us understand how the new world worked, what audiences wanted from it, where mainstream media could fit into it, and the possibilities of building things that told stories in new ways. It also helped us understand that not everything would work, and those failures should be learned from. Regional newsrooms are inventive, partly because of their historic need to be that way. I think it can make us braver about pushing into new digital territories in the future.

Innovations team work

I don’t post much of what the innovations team does, partly because I do struggle to find time/connectivity to post a lot, partly because, y’know, confidentiality, and partly because I don’t want people confusing my personal views and the views and opinions of my employer. But I should do because I’m really proud of what 2014 brought, in terms of innovation.

We worked with drones (Side edit: Here’s a 2015 prediction: We’ll see arrests and calls for tighter legislation around drones. I was talking to an Establishment Source recently and it is a definite Hot Button as far as law-botherers are concerned) and turned longform storytelling into a commercial opportunity; we went live in the Manchester Evening News newsroom; and the Google Glass project we’re running has turned me from something of a skeptic into an advocate for the role of wearables in journalism. Next in the pipeline is more video work, and tapping into the Internet of Things to foster culture change and audience engagement.

What I find most interesting about the innovations team work, however, is that it’s much more successful when we involve others. Whether it’s teaming up with external third parties, or combining with skills from the data unit or social media colleagues, the end result is richer for collaboration. Journalism is as much about human networks as it ever was.

Newsroom skills

When I started job hunting you needed an NCTJ qualification, perseverance and a degree of luck to break into journalism. These days, I guess the skills I’d expect to see used by a journalist would be a daunting list, and probably considered unreasonable to those whose newsroom experience ended somewhere in the mid-90s (looking at you, Hold the Front Page commentators). However, these are skills you use a lot. Some of them you’ll call on every day, without thinking, and your job would be much, much more difficult without them.

And to students who think it sounds like too much is being required, I’d ask them to imagine trying to acquire these skills when you’re already working in a newsroom – bringing in stories, covering meetings, building contacts. And then trying to learn advanced Tweetdeck, or Excel spreadsheet wrangling. Learn it before you have to learn it, would be my advice, because learning on the job is hard. I know, because I had to do it.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ journalist skill set any more. If you want to be a court reporter or a city editor, you’ll need to know Law and the pillar NCTJ skills or similar. But you will also need to be a skilled mobile journalist, adept in using a smartphone to shoot video, take photos, record audio, live tweet, and/or live stream.

As our audience becomes more device-orientated, we need to be there with them, providing the news – and our analytics show us that social platforms and live content are what brings us large audiences who are loyal and who share what we do.

So these are some of the skills and knowledge I look for if I’m interviewing candidates: An awareness and ability of and in audience engagement/social media; mobile and live journalism; multimedia; interactives; data visualisation; analytics; Search Engine Optimisation.

If you’re a senior journalist with an NCTJ or equivalent qualification, who wants to specialise in hard news reporting, you also need to demonstrate social media skills, multimedia abilities – video, audio, photos, for example – mobile journalism skills such as live tweeting or liveblogging breaking news and real-time events, data journalism, FOI familiarity, SEO knowledge.  Knowledge of digital tools such as Storify, timeline and mapping software, basic coding knowledge, detailed knowledge of social search and verification processes will give you an edge.

If you wanted to specialise in data journalism, the ability to use tools such as Excel, data visualisation tools and ability to source and extract data is essential, but I’d say you also need social media skills (not least because there are a lot of data experts on social who are very generous with their knowledge) to source and promote your work. Then there’s SEO knowledge, plus enough coding knowledge to be able to articulate to a developer what you want to achieve.

Social media writer or editor roles obviously need excellence across social platforms in terms of use, understanding of language and tone, copyright, sourcing and seeking UGC, ability to live tweet or run social Q&As, understanding and application of social analytics tools, SEO knowledge and an understanding of marketing analytics that reveal habits and patterns of users, such as what platform and what device, at what time.

Audience engagement roles are vital in today’s newsrooms. We rely on the ability to use analytics such as Omniture, Chartbeat, and social metrics such as Facebook Insights and Twitter Analytics, to gauge what matters to audiences and apply journalistic knowledge to developing and shaping content. Understanding the spikes that exist through the day – from the 6.30am traffic, travel and headlines, to the evening social conversation and long reads can be the difference between snaring readers and keeping them, and missing them completely.

These skills apply across all departments in editorial – not just news – and anyone preparing for an interview these days had also be up-to-speed on their IPSO, copyright laws, defamation and contempt in comments, and rights-of-use of UGC on social platforms, because they will probably crop up in any interview.

Like I said, it’s a long list but when you’re up against perhaps 200 applications, showing use of social and live journalism, data journalism, mobile journalism, and some awareness of SEO/analytics could be the edge you need.

The future

Journalists have learned a lot, quickly, in recent years about new way to tell stories and reach audiences. We’ve also learned what our audiences expect from us, because they tell us – very publicly across social media when we let them down. Social media skills are essential – it’s a publishing platform, a breaking news tool and a conversation engine, and expertise in this field can lead to an accelerated career path, just as it has allowed to growth of new business opportunities and media publishers.

There’s a lot said about the diminishing of the regional press, and it’s true some titles have disappeared, some have gone weekly or become purely digital, and probably all newsrooms have smaller staff numbers, than when I started 20 years ago. That said, I once worked at daily titles where the opinion column had its own journalist, who did nothing but that every day – I couldn’t then, and still can’t, imagine a working day so stultifying dull.

While traditional roles have reduced, new ones have been created and with them new opportunities. The route of reporter, specialist, news desk or subs desk, and then perhaps management is only one way to progress now – the newsroom conference table looks nothing like it used to- some don’t have conference tables at all.

In six short years, the newsroom as I knew it has changed out of all recognition, both culturally and physically. I suspect in six years time it will look different again.

Six thoughts on emerging opportunities for journalism

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB0&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmagictorch.com%2F%3Fp%3D62&ei=xIxrVL7vC8e0sATyvoCACg&bvm=bv.79908130,d.cWc&psig=AFQjCNHbdgW8g1Er8Ob1oHVzTX879Q3oSw&ust=1416420924455214

Attending the Society of Editors* conference on November 10 and 11 meant a trip back to my old stamping ground of Southampton. I spent several years there in the ’90s with the Southern Daily Echo (editor Ian Murray completed his term as SoE president this month) and it was good to go back – not least to see how much the city has prospered since my last visit.

The conference had some excellent sessions  – I particularly enjoyed the Full Steam Ahead panel, the Continuous Development panel on training, and the New Threats to the Media debate, with a special nod to Matthias Spielkamp, of iRights.info for his insightful view of journalists’ needs to protect processes, not just sources. The links above go to the SoE summaries of each debate but the Daily Echo also undertook a commitment of covering the conference live. Respect.

I was invited to take part in a panel on Emerging Opportunities for Journalism with my fellow panellists being Kathryn Geels, of innovation charity Nesta, and Peter Jukes, whose account of crowdfunding to live tweet the hacking trial was fascinating. At the end of the session it did feel a little as though digital journalism was still viewed as the freeloading cousin of the more solvent print product by some, although I don’t think it’s hard to find value in engaging audiences, getting social media right, and concentrating on dwell times and user needs rather than page views.

I have a bit more room to explain my ideas on this blog and, obviously, I work in regional legacy media so my view is slanted towards that segment of the industry. However, everything I talked about at the SoE is already being done by other companies – some are recognisably in the content creation business, others perhaps not so much – and they are making money.  These are emerged opportunities but parts of the mainstream have’t cottoned on to that yet. So, these were the themes I chose to talk about:

1. Data and the roles of journalist/developer: Twenty years ago, I would go on a job with a photographer and between us we would tell the story using our own choice of media, which were blended to enhance reader experience. A posh way of saying, I did words, the toggie did pix, and the end result was a content package that was greater than the sum of its parts.  In Trinity Mirror we have the data unit, where facts, figures and whole paragraphs of exposition are enhanced by developer coding skills to create entirely new pieces of content. Like the WWI search widget, for example. A standalone story, with data and visuals, that through existing brought in new stories as readers explored the data, discovered new things, and shared them. Of course, you can be your own developer, just as you can be your own photographers. I just think that the dynamic will see developers and reporters working closely in mainstream newsrooms in the future, just as we have always done with photographers and sub editors.

2. Mobile/wearables: From my notifications column in Tweetdeck, the most tweeted point I made as a panelist was ‘if it doesn’t work on mobile you need to ask yourself  why you’re doing it at all’. The opportunities for mobile journalism are enormous – commercial developments aside (and there are so, so many) simply being able to deliver your new content into a platform that your target audience’s is already holding in their hand – (and tell them about it through some judicious notifications use) is a little mind-boggling when you stop and consider it. Apps aside, why would any media company have a news website that wasn’t responsive? It’s surprising how many do. In terms of wearables, we’ve only just reached the foothills; I’ve no time for dismissive ‘Glassholes’ chatter – if we aren’t looking at how the potential opportunities offered by these spaces now, when the audience shift happens (and, as with phones and tablets, it will be at a gallop when it does move) we won’t be there as a familiar brand to greet them. So ‘our’ audience will form new alliances with brands that did get there first. Under the innovations banner, we’ve got a Google Glass project running at the Manchester Evening News in conjunction with UCLan’s John Mills and we are already discovering wearables have advantages over handhelds for telling some stories (like the Manchester Live video linked to in point 5).

3. Socially shareable content: Just a glance at a news website’s real time anaytics shows how important the social audience is to driving traffic. The opportunities for mainstream media to create content – images, text, audio – that has a standalone life on social platforms are obvious and although I wouldn’t say this has been cracked  yet I think the native advertising content being created around games and lists is a pointer A bit of a digital air plant; socially shareable standalone content should have a built-in life-support system of editorial and commercial content, and in a social media ecosystem users would interact, consume, and move through on to other points of interest on a website served up through linking and curation.

4. Immersive storytelling: I’ve seen for and against discussions on whether there’s a really life for long form online (here’s a long Twitter debate that’s worth a read). If you ask will people read 400+ words on a mobile device I’d say, on the evidence I’ve observed, you have the wrong question. As ‘how’ people will take in the information and you’re on the right track. Personally I think if they are 400+ worthwhile words, with associated multimedia, engaging graphics, interactive content and clean, easy scrolling, on an engaging subject, then yes, people will. And then there’s the immersive opportunities of long form audio storytelling – as the statistics of TAL’s Serial podcast show, for example.

5. Live and collaborative journalism: This is my favourite point, because it involves drawing people into the journalism you propose, and quite often it becomes a better – and perhaps different – thing because of that. Live invariably means more transparent – the immediate need to convey information to a waiting audience takes out the editing filter, often, and what’s comes across are pure facts or descriptions. It’s exiting and often compelling – readers stay for longer, share more, involve themselves and – particularly in the cases of regional brand liveblogs – living stories become authoritative pieces of work. Collaborative is fun to do because the crowd you work with knows so much.  The Manchester Evening News ran Manchester Live for one day but the learnings it took away have been incorporated into the day-to-day fabric of the newsroom. A real case of seizing an emerging opportunity, seeing the value to an audience, and acting on the feedback.

6.  Audience analytics and reader trends: None of the above points work without knowing the audience, their behaviour and the user trends. If we don’t know what our audience’s habits are, what devices they use, where, when and what information they are going to want, it’s very hard to deliver the right content. And this is a competitive market – we compete for users’ attention against other media, against their preferred music, their work, their loved ones… getting a slice of their attention is hard, and our best hope is to insert ourselves into their day at the points when they’re likely to have time to want information and entertainment. Layer real time analytics with historic data and social information, and you have a matrix to work from. Personalisation and automation of some content/content delivery are more opportunities that spin out of knowing audiences.

So that was the tone of my contribution. I tried hard to avoid jargon but when you’re talking about ‘wearables’, ‘immersive storytelling’ and ‘analytics’ it is kinda hard not to sound buzzword-y. Hopefully the message didn’t get too mangled by it though.

* A bit of disclosure: I’m a (very new) member of the Board of Directors for the Society of Editors

Bonus content: Since taking part in the panel, I’ve managed to catch Amy Webb’s immense 10 Tech Trends for Journalists slideshow, which is essential viewing in my opinion.