Plenty to learn, cover one year after Freddie Gray

I’m in Baltimore this morning getting prepared for the National Association of Black Journalist’s Region 1 conference here, “One Year After Freddie Gray: Navigating Social Justice in Journalism.”

There has been an incredible effort by NABJ Region 1 director Johann Calhoun and conference chair Nicki Mayo to put on a fantastic program. And the conference team has put out all the stops for folks coming to town. There’s a reception tonight at Nancy by SNAC. The town hall tomorrow is packed with civic leaders like Baltimore Police Chief Kevin Davis, Baltimore NAACP chapter president Tessa Hill Aston and activist DeRay Mckesson. And we have great programs for everyone to enjoy, including both social media and Google tools workshops that’ll certainly offer actionable skills in addition to our great panels.

All of this, of course, comes one year after the death of Freddie Gray and the turmoil in Baltimore following massive protests and civil unrest. Charm City has a new presumptive mayor in Catherine Pugh and there has been much ado about reconciliation in the community. That’s what we’re hoping to explore and the role journalists play when tragic events like this occur.

For journalists in Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Virginia, there’s still time to register and get here for Saturday’s full slate and cover this story. Find out more here: nabjbmore16.com.

Now appearing on Herald Radio

On Monday, I will be debuting as co-host of a new show on Boston Herald Radio called “NewsFeed.”

Have you ever wanted to know how a newspaper approaches its newsgathering process? How the front page of a newspaper comes together? What decisions go into playing up certain stories over others? That’s part of the conversation we will have on “NewsFeed,” but through the lense of the Boston Herald. Joe Dwinell and I will be attempting to push the conversation forward on the news of the day while keeping this in mind.

It’s my hope that both new and faithful readers of the Herald as well as listeners of Herald Radio will get an inside look at how we operate and an opportunity to engage with us in a more direct way.

We’ll be broadcasting “NewsFeed” 1-2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Listeners can call in at 617-619-6400. Or text us at 617-286-5633.

For those unaccustomed to how I get down, I expect this to be an interactive experience. So whether you call us or text us, or just hit me up on Twitter, we’ll be as responsive as possible.

I’m joining the Boston Herald

I’ll be joining the Boston Herald on Monday June 8 as the deputy managing editor for news and multimedia. The announcement was in Thursday’s copy of the Herald. Here’s the text from the article:

Zuri Berry has been named as the Herald’s deputy managing editor for news and multimedia, it was announced today.

Berry comes to the paper from WFXT FOX25, where he served as manager of Web content, supervising digital staff on news projects.

Previously, he worked at the Boston Globe’s Boston.com as a content producer and writer, spearheading sports coverage.

A California State University, Chico graduate in journalism, Berry launched the social media efforts of a local daily newspaper, The Union.

“Zuri has built a career in steering news organizations through the challenges of new media platforms to extend their reach and reader engagement,” said Herald Editor-in-Chief Joe Sciacca.

“Smart, energized and committed to journalism, he has a strong appreciation for the collaboration needed to make a multimedia newsroom work,” Sciacca said.

In his newsroom leadership role, Berry will focus on expanding and enhancing the Herald’s integrated print and Web reporting initiatives, radio and video.

“I’m excited about helping the Herald strengthen its watchdog journalism through multimedia and building up its social media strategy,” said Berry, who starts in his new position on Monday.

“With strong platforms like radio to offer, it’s my hope to leverage the Herald’s brand to its maximum potential. This couldn’t be a better time to join, and I’m ready to dig in.”

ESPN’s redesign targets 5 important keys for a successful digital news enterprise

I have always been enamored with website redesigns. I’ve gone through a few myself and I’ve never walked away without feeling a little sore about something.

The issues tend to come at you sideways in a redesign launch. Most issues are only revealed after the publish button has been pressed. Adding to the difficulties of a redesign launch is often the numerous stakeholders. Even at the smallest of companies, they can (and sometimes do) veer a project off its intended path. I saw this happen with Boston.com when it relaunched in April 2014. (They’ve rebounded nicely in the past year.) So there are many issues to combat just to get off the ground, let alone launch. And that’s all before readers rip the final product to shreds. Because, you know, the Internet. I’m pleasantly surprised to see there have been few issues with the redesign of ESPN.com today. The sports behemoth has more news, info and commentary than any other website imaginable (and readers, too, with a self reported 91 million users in January), and yet it somehow figured out the shadowy pathway to handle this truly immense project with an unknown number of people likely shepherding it through today’s unveiling. Hats off to their digital team.

I think what is reflected in this redesign, which deserves some outside studying, is that despite competing interests for a wide range of verticals and subsections, there are some basic tenets that digital organizations are going to focus on no matter what. Tenets that I believe are key to any successful news operation today, regardless of size or scope. Here are five:

1. Mobile first — ESPN says 61 percent of their visitors came from a mobile device. This is in line with the overall trend for digital news enterprises. More and more readers are accessing content via their mobile devices while declines are being recorded for “desktop” only users. So it’s no surprise that ESPN focused on making a responsive website. (There appears to be three tiers, one for the full fledged site, another for the middling tablet and the last for mobile devices).

2. Real-time updates — Again, ESPN has more daily content it can possibly ever use being pumped into the Bristol brain trust. I’m sure, like it is for most major websites, the fight to get on the homepage is intense. What we’ve seen is that news organizations that have developed a stream — like Boston.com, for example — are able to quickly display new content on a site’s homepage without ever having to involve a curator of the homepage’s content. Readers will see more content this way, with links to articles, tweets from writers, videos, etc.

3. User experience — No website can ever underestimate the user experience. There’s obviously been a lot of thought put into this particular redesign, the flow of the site and its navigation. I’m sure with the changes made this will also be the top source of ESPN’s complaints. Designers can remark better than I on the pluses and flaws they see. But for the purposes of this post, it is extremely important to take care and respect the sensibilities of your readership. Digital savvy readers expect beautiful, modern and easy to read websites. Oftentimes that’s tough to do given all of the competing priorities. I would say that ESPN has successfully adhered to this tenet.

4. Video — The redesign’s emphasis on video smacks you in the face. More and more publishers are making the costly investment in video production, hoping to bank on increased ad spending on mobile video. With its vast array of digital properties, ESPN was already in a position to take advantage of the two concurrent trends at play here, and this redesign represents another step toward that.

5. Personalization — For ESPN, that means surfacing content on its users’ favorite sports teams. Translated for smaller news organizations, that means news your readers can use from their community. It’s certainly easier to address the personalization problem with sports and much harder for any general news organization, both to find and target content for fragmented audiences. The easiest way you already see this being done is with localized weather forecasts based on the location of your IP address. There’s certainly opportunity for innovation here.

I certainly expect ESPN to make some tweaks and changes in the days and weeks to come. Hopefully, they won’t take six years for another redesign. But I’m almost positive they will adhere to these five points of emphasis because that’s where the trends are heading. All news orgs would be wise to acknowledge as much in their next redesign.

How different is it editing a TV news site?

The last year has been a journey for me, transitioning from a digital producer role at The Boston Globe’s Boston.com to editing a TV news website as the manager of web content.

Over the course of this year, I’ve had the great privilege to see and contribute to the inner workings of a very different brand of journalism and contemplate how different the broadcast ilk of my trade approach their digital properties vs. the print folks. Without factoring in the size of my station’s operation as it relates to other TV markets, there are some striking differences that deserve mentioning.

1. Dependent on Facebook — Not just Facebook, but really all social media. Unlike newspapers, which are often the bedrocks of the communities they reside in for news, the finicky nature of television viewers does not engender the type of repeat visitors and brand loyalty online that I’ve previously experienced. There is always a FOX, CBS, ABC and NBC to turn to when watching TV. In Boston, you can add in a regional news network (NECN) as well. Those options are always available to viewers. And when it comes time to seek out the news online, either to catch up on reading or for just a breakdown of any particular news event, TV audiences continue their perfidious behavior, playing around until they find their fill. So instead of a sort of dependence on the other guy to screw up, or for the local newspaper to possibly fail to fill the needs of its online readers, there is a heightened focus on audience development through social media. If one TV station can align itself with a concentrated brand awareness campaign and pay vigorous attention to best practices on key social media platforms (read: Facebook), that station’s site is more likely attract new and repeat readers, and in turn more viewers of its broadcast. (And make no mistake about it, Facebook is where this war is being waged.) I’ve come to see more clearly how all TV news sites have developed these come-from-behind strategies based on leveraging Facebook for readers. Obviously some stations have better strategies than others. But what’s been interesting for me is comparing how much more important Facebook is to TV than newspapers, especially considering all of the other aspects that go into a complete content strategy. Gone are the conversations about tremendous story angles to pursue and how to produce them online, replaced by the boilerplate, “this will do well on Facebook.” Unfortunately, that is the end of the conversation for some.

2. Whose byline is this? — As a digital editor, my job is to maintain the integrity and freshness of the site and our station’s mobile apps, then market our content aggressively on social media. That also means being first on breaking news and weather (a core tenet of our station). That’s the simple part. But what initially vexed me when I took on this job was the station’s reporting process. There is a dependence on the assignment desk for details, sources and contacts with public safety agencies that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. (Producers, to my surprise, spend a considerable amount of their time sketching out each show.) This is nothing like what you may experience at a newspaper or magazine and nor is it like the experiences others face at smaller stations from what I’m told. But it’s indicative of a vastly different process. For the digital producers on our site, the responsibility to write, self-edit, edit, and evangelize content is paramount. However, all of the details that make up their stories — the ones you see online at any given moment — are passed along from our assignment desk. Our digital team is fashioned more like the old re-write desk of newspaper lore. It’s also very similar to when our TV reporters file their stories. Their scripts are written for the broadcast, oftentimes in broadcast speak. Our digital producers edit those stories to align them with a more conventional online writing style (a custom mix of AP and our own). In contrast, in previous posts at newspapers I edited fully formed stories for online publication while working on my own stories on the side. So who’s doing the reporting? The station, of course. Pay no attention to the byline.

3. Mobile app wars — Again, the name of the game is audience development. If you don’t know where your audience is, you’re not paying attention. ComScore, one of the leading marketing and analytics companies in the country, pegged app use at 52 percent in December 2014. That’s not just consuming news. That’s 52 percent of all time users spend online. Strategically speaking, TV stations pay a good portion of their time considering their mobile apps with good reason, tweaking and toying with their mobile offerings in order to better serve their readers. That’s just not the case for print publishers, who have what I would consider a lackadaisical approach to their mobile apps. Pay attention to any ABC owned station and you’ll see very quickly how central the app is to the entire news organization, with push alerts coming at all times of the day. In Boston, you’re beginning to see every TV outlet move in this direction with tremendous benefits in page views and repeat visitors. The push/text alert is more important than ever. Digital staffers for newspapers sites are still catching up to this aggressive momentum.

Of course, there are many other obvious differences that speak to the online editing process in going from a newspaper to TV station. But in my journey, these few are considerably more important because of the success or failure they represent for any digital news operation. They are, what I would consider, translatable. A keen eye on audience development and editing will always be important and I’m glad it is a heightened focus in my current medium.

What’s the next digital disruption for journalists? It’s gotta be the CMS

The other day I did a Skype session with students at my alma mater Chico State to discuss what a web producer does as well as my path from college to where I am now.

It was a productive conversation that allowed me to break down what still is an mystifying position for much of the public. It’s not anyone’s fault they don’t know, the job is dramatically different from one shop to another. And it’s kind of nice to explain it to at least a few graduating seniors who will quite likely have their first opportunity in the business as a digital producer, given the way hiring is happening nowadays. And of course, I love the questions students ask. They’re varied and well thought out, ranging from how I could pull off moving to the east coast and what it was like covering the Patriots. But then I got hit with a question that I think I’m going to continue to ponder for quite awhile, which is what I want to explore here.

I was asked, and I’m paraphrasing, “what are some of the tools that I’m seeing out there that are really going to change the game for digital journalists going forward, and what can those going into the job market do to prepare themselves for the inevitable changes?” In the moment of the conversation, I deferred to a couple of fairly new search tools and devices, including Geofeedia and Banjo, both of which allow users to find social media posts in specific locations as they relate to news events. They’re both on our radar at my news outlet. Large scale news events (at least large in the sense that they draw a ton of people) definitely require greater attention and resources, which is why tools like these two can be immensely helpful in tracking down images and video. (Just take a look at our Keene State coverage from Saturday, which includes photos scrounged up from users on the ground using Banjo.) Other than that, I told the students storytelling is the most important factor of any new digital tool and how that storytelling is woven into the digital space matters. But I almost feel like those two shiny items and my thoughts on storytelling really aren’t sufficient for what news organizations really need going forward.

Later on, when I really thought about it, I kept circling back to this crazy idea of an elections tool. That would be cool. And useful for news orgs without the dev resources to build their own. Unfortunately though, that wouldn’t really fix some of the intrinsic problems for digital journalists. For instance, how would a massive data oriented tool, like one for elections, be implemented on different websites? The question is what drives me to write this.

Of all the things that come to mind, the bellyaching seems to unnaturally revolve around the content management system in place. And while most CMSs do an outstanding job of compiling stories, wire feeds, video, etc., all while making the stew appear presentable, there are consistent deficiencies for front-end users that keep popping up. You know it’s a sad state of affairs when some organizations are in a battle over rich text editors within their CMS that won’t allow for easily embedded HTML. Or woe is the org that decides to compile some data, in table format or otherwise, and there is no means of displaying it on the site because the CMS doesn’t support it. Don’t even think about inserting a table of data within the body of a story. The headaches can be endless, especially for those who want to be creative.

These are things that web producers deal with on a regular basis. Finding solutions for these problems has become an integral part of the job. Support is often barely in place. That’s a frustration I think many individuals in my position have because you end up wasting time figuring out what you can do vs. figuring how to make awesome content. And if you can, is it easy to do? (Working in Methode while at Boston.com, the process for dropping embeds into stories was a lengthy one.)

The CMS, the most basic and often complicated tool for digital journalists, is where the disruption is needed in the industry. It’s where the advancement is both called for and necessary. It’s where news orgs can win back disillusioned digital natives, who often have to muster along with early 2000s technology. And it’s where, in its most basic form, the creativity can either thrive or die.

New job alert: Leaving Boston.com for Fox 25 News

Good news. I’ve accepted a position at Fox 25 News in Boston as a senior web producer, ending my almost five-year tenure with Boston.com and the Boston Globe.

I’ll be moving out of sports and into the news department again, which is a move I’ve been looking to make for some time. I’m excited about that and I’m excited about working for a broadcast outlet, which I believe is ripe for some digital innovating.

I think a lot of people will wonder why I would give up a job that lets me cover professional sports and travel. For me, it’s about growth. I am fortunate enough to have covered a Super Bowl, two Stanley Cup Finals and an NBA Finals while with Boston.com and the Globe. Only sports journalists in Boston are that lucky. So those are memories I will never forget. But I’m also very much interested in doing stories of impact, something I don’t think I can accomplish at Boston.com.

I’m certainly thankful to the many people at Boston.com and the Globe I’ve had a chance to work with. There’s way too many to name, but I’ll give a special shout out to Matt Pepin, Joe Sullivan, and Bob Holmes, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with very closely and getting to know well. I really want to thank them for their support over the years. And the same goes for past editors at the Globe and Boston.com like David Beard and Greg Lee. I really appreciate them, too, for what they’ve done for me.

So onward I go. Soon enough, you’ll find my work on myfoxboston.com. Just five more letters to remember.