The future of news poses challenges but if also full of possibility for journalists who embrace new tools and technologies to improve storytelling and reach consumers where they are, panelists said.
*Susan West of West Gold Editorial Consulting
*Susan Mernit, the founder of Oakland Local and a Knit Community Information Challenge Circuit Rider
*Lisa Carricaburu, the assistant managing editor at The Salt Lake Tribune
Moderator: Elissa Yancey, managing editor of Soapbox Media and a professor of journalism at the University of Cincinnati.
Although the job of a journalist in traditional media has changed enormously we are all still storytellers and the watchdogs of democracy, said Lisa Carricaburu of the Salt Lake Tribune. What’s changed is that you’re no longer telling your stories in only one medium.
What remains about journalism is that characteristic that we all share, curiosity, which leads us into storytelling. That will never change, added Susan West of West Gold Consulting.
Although there is reason to be anxious about what the future will bring, there is much cause for hope, said moderator Elissa Yancey, the managing editor of Soapbox Media and a professor at the University of Cincinnati.
Taking cues from consumers can pay off
Journalists today do have less job security and there’s less loyalty to employers, West said, but what we’ve gained is the ability to be more connected to our readers. That can pay off for publishers who are listening to the feedback.
Publications like The New York Times, Consumer Reports and Men’s Health have all done a great job of making highly desirable content available online and on mobile devices. She specifically mentioned the Times’ 100 years of archives, Eat This Not That and Acoustic Guitar magazine’s app that focuses on its video lessons.
But technologies that don’t work get phased out. When some of its blogs didn’t attract much traffic, The Salt Lake Tribune cut them. It’s now moving away from blogs and toward topic-specific sites and pages, that are populated with stories as opposed to blog posts, Carricaburu said.
The paper has seen great success with a new site, UtahsRight, which the newsroom staff uses to post public information including drunk driving statistics, public employee salaries. It takes minimal resources and has shown to be popular among readers. The paper cross-promotes the site by pulling neighborhood-related stories from the site and publishing them in the zoned editions.
Mernit said she looks at the analytics for her site every day and uses that information—particularly the keywords readers are using to search—to refocus her priorities for coverage.
Applications like Flipboard that allow consumers to curate their own news feeds frees your content in amazing ways, West said. Publishers should look at how and why consumers are using them and think about how to take advantage of their possibilities.
Managing the multimedia workload is possible
Incorporating social media into your workflow is possible, Mernit said, but not if you try to do everything all the time. She spends about half an hour in the morning posting and commenting on Facebook and Twitter, then checks back in around lunch and in the late afternoon to see who’s interacting.
“You have to make it a tool that you use rather than an environment that you live in,” Mernit said.
Carricaburu often hears complaints from reporters who say they can’t possibly add social media to their heavy workloads. Her response? “If you are a journalist who works for us you are going to use every tool available to you.”
“To have a reporter say, ‘I don’t believe in Facebook or Twitter’ is the same as saying 10 years ago ‘I don’t believe in the Internet,” she said.
It’s destructive to position print and multimedia as either/or, Mernit said.
If you don’t want to use technology that’s your prerogative, Mernit said, but it’s primarily a problem for those over 40. If you don’t adapt you’re not going to keep up and you’re not going to be relevant, she said.
If you need help incorporating social media, Mernit recommends “Likes and Tweets,” a social media guide she co-produced for J-Lab.
Dollar Bill Y’all: Monetizing news takes innovation
There are bright spots in the struggle to monetize news, West said. Kindle Singles, The Atavist and Byliner are three new sources of long-form journalism that people are paying for. Publishers of The Atavist and Byliner pay for stories both before and after publication, based on readership. That means reporters now have incentives to be their own cheerleaders and increase readership.
Paywalls and tiered-access plans are also proving successful, West said.
At The Salt Lake Tribune they don’t believe that long-form projects can fully pay for themselves, but the company is busily diversifying with projects that subsidize newsgathering. The company puts on events and even has a real-estate business that buys and sells houses.
Although legacy media has cut back on investigative projects, smaller start-ups are showing promise in filling the void, Mernit said.
Oakland Local funds its projects with small grants, advertising and fundraising campaigns for specific projects through via Spot.us. It hasn’t yet reached sustainability—she’s still not paying herself—but the diversification is helping point the way.