The Online News Association conference organizers came up with a great way to put together an interesting panel of creative journalists: They asked people to fill in the blank in the statement “If I were in charge, I’d _______.” The organizers then picked six people who filled in that blank and gave them each 8 minutes to tell the crowd.
The discussion was led by Andrew Pergam, a video editor at The Washington Post. The presenters were: Laura Lorek, a senior writer and founder of SiliconHillsNews.com, Anré Natta, a “stationmaster” at a community hub in Birmingham, Ala. called The Terminal, Nick Barber, a multimedia correspondent with IDG News, Cindy Royal, a professor at Texas State University - San Marcos, Samantha Kubota, a web producer at KOMU TV and Erika Owens, with the Philadelphia Public School Network.
Lorek started her presentation off by giving out all the buzzwords that would help you win ONA11 bingo. She was illustrating that there’s nothing wrong with having fun. Her idea, if she were in charge, would be to take our jobs a little less seriously.
“Sometimes we need to sit back and stop taking ourselves so damn seriously,” she said. She said we should also embrace “NEOTENY” - the practice of being an adult who has fun like a child. “You should be embracing fun because it leads to a more creative self.”
She said her son likes reading the newspaper because of the comics. She highlighted the always-awesome The Oatmeal. She said her son and his friends (middle school-age kids) love The Oatmeal. News organizations should take some cues, she said.
Lorek also talked about video games (gamification of news was a big topic point at SXSW Interactive this year). “News organizations need to be embracing the virtual world,” she said. Lorek said the younger generation isn’t content consumers, they’re content creators, so you have to give them an outlet.
“I get my news from Twitter, he gets his news from the XBox newsfeed,” Lorek said.
Lorek pointed to “Banker’s Song” video on YouTube as an example of having fun with a serious story. She also gave a shout-out to Qrank, a fun mobile news quiz app.
“Remember, play every day.”
Natta filled in the blank by saying, “Get on the bus.”
He said the way media organizations can ride that metaphoric bus, they need to:
* Have a mobile newsroom. “It’s easy to sit in a newsroom and wait for the news to come to you,” but that’s not a good way to “get that reporting done.”
* Social media training
* Outreach - at events and schools
* Through demonstrations
* Digital broadcasting (tweets, photos, etc)
“We can’t assume that everyone is operating at the same level,” he said. “I don’t know if we do a really good job on educating the public about what the new tools are at the same time as we’re using them. Sometimes, they can help us learn about new things.”
He said your website is one piece of the puzzle, but you need to get out into the community.
He filled in the blank by saying, “I’d make everyone a VJ.”
He said good video “serves your readers, viewers and helps your bottom line.”
Barber says professionally polished videos do much better to increase engagement than shaky, amateurish videos that some news organizations produce.
Barber, whose news service creates videos to be syndicated, talked about building a “video army”:
* Find a champion, train them, have them train your staff
* Choose the right equipment for the job (not necessarily the most expensive)
* Stress tripods or monopods to avoid those shaky shots (he showed off a video from his own company where they didn’t bring a tripod, but used Adobe After Effects to stabilize the video)
* Don’t worry about making a full news report (he showed off this creepy video to illustrate it - it got a ton of views, but didn’t have much production to it)
* Complement text articles (“We’re not always just chasing clicks.”)
* Deal with the “But I want to be a print journalist” mentality
His network has 460 websites, and the scale allows for monetization.
Royal, a professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, said she would “Make sure people understand how the web works.”
Royal asked whether “everyone” in your news organization knows what an API is, what SEO means, what a CMS does, what simple html does and how to embed content. (No one raised a hand).
Seven things everyone would know in an organization, if Royal were in charge:
* Everyone would know the history and background of the web. They’d understand how it started, the hacker and open source culture
* Everyone would understand the key terms of digital media. “We have to have a shared understanding” before you can find solutions.
* Everyone would know that Google makes money. “People need to understand how that works.” She pointed out that she has never paid YouTube a penny, but obviously it’s successful. She says news organizations have to realize you can make money with “free” content.
* Everyone would be able to explain why social media is important. Royal said, “There are really innovative ways we can integrate social media” into what we do.
* Everyone would understand how data can tell a story. She said she often does an exercise in class where she asks them to tell a story about renting or buying a house. The students often try to write an anecdotal story, but wouldn’t data or an interactive be more useful?
* Everyone would know a little html. Not everyone has to be a programmer, but you should be able to tweak coding in a blog, etc.
* Everyone would understand the elements of a digital and mobile-first strategy.
* Leadership needs to evangelize from the top.
* You need to foster a meetup culture. “People need to get comfortable with going to events. It’s OK to be the stupidest person in the room.”
* Encourage innovation through exploration. Let your employees play with tools and then use them.
She finished by saying that everyone should be excited about the future of media, not just down on the industry.
The 20-year-old student at the University of Missouri and a web editor/producer at KOMU said she’d help TV news target millennials.
She jokes that her biggest claim to fame was being retweeted by @OHnewsroom so, “I’m kind of a big deal.”
“Journalism isn’t dying, it’s just changing,” Kubota said. She said major networks didn’t use amateur content right away during the bombing and shootings in Norway.
She said younger generation is alienated when networks don’t know how to reach millennials (people born after 1982). Most of them had already heard of news events online. Legacy news organizations too often forget that, she said.
The solution to getting young viewers, she said, is that the “newsroom must become the soul of the operation.” Journalists could use flickr and video to reach them, but the TV network has to have different content.
“We have extremely short attention spans,” she said. “The web extras don’t have to be fancy.”
She said that a Twitter follower told her that she didn’t like KOMU because they see news on Twitter, then see the same things in the broadcast.
News has to be entertaining, have some snark, especially when using social media.
Kubota finished by saying, “It’s a new multi-faceted world out there, guys, and TV news has to keep up.”
She said if she were in charge, “I’d #fail”
By that, she means we should take software development best practices, and bring them into the newsroom.
“You want to fail so you can make mistakes quickly, and learn from them quickly,” the way software development generally works, she said.
* Fail fast
* Fail often
* Fail smart
She said we do this already, especially when talking about breaking news. You can’t wait around to give the news. Starts with a tweet, then a quick blog post, eventually leading to a next-day story. You are going at it in stages, just like software development.
To fail often, Owens said we need to be able to:
* Work quickly. Hold a daily standup meeting (5 minutes) to keep everyone on track
* Document things - software developers use bug-tracking software. She asked: Why don’t newsrooms use a similar thing?
* Evaluate and collaborate - engage your community, present feedback to staffers and be accountable and transparent to each other.
* Support each other as a team (and as a community).
Owens said a similarity between programmers and journalists is they are “always working.” She said programmers have pingpong tables and the like because they are always working. She says newsrooms should give journalists a space to have fun as well.