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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Boston Globe won the Pulitzer prize yesterday for breaking news coverage of the Boston Marathon. While I’m glad to have played a part in the coverage, I’m so sorry I had to.
We’re now at the one-year anniversary of the tragic bombings that took place. It’s a good time to reflect on what an honor like this means and to keep it in perspective. So many people spent countless hours reporting, editing, and updating the public on every single piece of information that came across our paths. And over time, as the accolades have piled up, the awards continue to be a somber reminder of what has taken place, both for those who were intimately involved in the coverage of the tragedy and those who were only on the periphery. Three people were killed — Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and later Sean Collier — while more than 260 others were injured.
That somberness, despite any hint of joy or pride in the recognition bestowed, remains. It won’t leave us. And if there were a better way to win an award, I would take it. I can only speak for myself in that sense. But that sentiment was shared widely yesterday in the newsroom after the awards were announced.
“There’s nobody in this room that wanted to cover this story. And each and every one of us hopes that nothing like it ever happens again on our watch,” Globe editor Brian McGrory said.
How we covered the Marathon in the very beginning
Boston.com was truly a pivotal part of the Marathon coverage for the Globe and was a prominent portion of the Globe’s entry to the administers of the Pulitzer prizes at Columbia University. As the leading web portal in New England, we were first with the news online and we truly were a 24-hour news operation going forward. In those immediate hours, I was manning the desk with then Boston.com sports editor Matt Pepin. We were putting together projects and photo galleries from the day’s race and were getting ready to wind down from the cranked up nature of the Marathon. That changed when the first tweets and photos came from the finish line. Matt and I culled those tweets together together before one of our producers, Steve Silva, sent his first dispatch.
I think a bomb just went off in Boston. Can't tell. Can smell smoke. Emergency vehicles everywhere. http://t.co/OTfZnvf9yh
What many people don’t remember about the Globe’s coverage is that those first tweets and photos were posted in Boston.com’s live race blog before we transitioned to the actual live coverage of the bombings. We ran both live blogs for a period of time because there were so many of our online readers — a substantial amount actually — who were on our site for the race coverage. Those numbers only increased dramatically in our race blog before we switched over completely. Maintaining both was seen as the right thing to do for our readers until it was no longer feasible.
This is where the quick thinking of Adrienne Lavidor-Berman, the Globe’s social media editor, came into such great use. She was able to deftly handle the transition and set us up for success. Matt and I handled the race blog (the sports guys) and Adrienne handled the bombings blog. We made sure to cross post until we finally made the split.
Also worth remembering was that both Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com, because of heavy internet traffic, were down for a period of time. During that period, the Globe actually had our live blogs hosted by ScribbleLive’s servers, which enabled us to keep publishing live and keep our readers informed. ScribbleLive describes this in full here.
You can only imagine all of the technical, emotional, and logistical difficulties that arose during that time. In that sense, it was remarkable we were still able to produce the content we did. So I think it’s important to note that while the reporting on the ground was pivotal, there should be quite a bit of recognition to our developers and web staff for being able to traverse such a difficult set of circumstances.
Again, I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish, but I’m really sorry that such a tragedy is what caused it. And as what was noted yesterday by the Globe’s sports editor, Joe Sullivan, when a stressful, adverse, and unwelcome situation arises, you never know how you’re going to react. The staff of the Boston Globe and Boston.com reacted by doing its job. I think the Pulitzer just recognizes that.