I’m continuing my response to Phil Buckley’s excellent question: “If you were starting a news organization today, where would put your initial efforts?” (Previously)
A from-scratch news organization today would, of course, be an online-first enterprise. That doesn’t rule out print as a niche byproduct, but print would not be among the “initial efforts.”
So let’s focus on digital strategies and tactics, beginning with the easier ones:
- Even if you plan a print spinoff, like a weekly newspaper (or even a daily), lead with your dot-com brand. The URL should be the biggest thing on your business cards, your sales materials, the sign on your offices — everything.
- Be clear about your geography. Every day I come upon local news sites with no indication what city or state they’re based in. (Where is this site published? Where in New Jersey is this one? Where in oil country is The Derrick? What’s so hard about adding “Lewiston, Maine,” “Newton, New Jersey,” or “Oil City, Pennsylvania”?) Remember that sites all over the world may link to your content. Tell those visitors where they’ve arrived.
- Make it easy for people to reach you: publish a clear, accessible directory under “Contact Us,” with everyone’s e-mail, phone extension, cell phone and Twitter handle. Amazingly enough, some sites still omit “Contact Us” entirely. Others make it damned hard to find.
- Include plenty of links in posts and stories, both inbound and outbound. It’s what makes the web go round.
- Strongly encourage news staff to jump into comment threads and talk with readers. We do that here at NiemanLab, and it’s what turns commenting in conversation.
- Strongly encourage news staff to Tweet and blog, as well.
Not so easy, but still essential.
- Once your staff is wading in the conversational waters by dropping into comment threads, set up scheduled and impromptu real-time interactive opportunities like the Washington Post does.
- Stop thinking about posting stories. Instead, organize your content management as a cascade; let it flow from raw input into Tweets, social networks and blogs; distill it into a wiki; repurpose it into podcasts, print and niche products.
- Have one big happy staff focused on the digital product — don’t separate digital operations from print or anything else. (Consider the Cedar Rapids system, in which a core team of journalists produces content for Web, print and broadcast.)
- Make it easy for everyone — news sources, advertisers, readers — to do business with you online. Anything they can do with you by mail, over the phone, or in person, they should be able to do online, quickly and easily. This lets them do business with you on their schedule, anytime during the 168 hours there are in a week, not just in the 40 or so your office is officially staffed. Keep testing this: can a customer get an answer to a question, pay a bill, place an ad, submit a news tip, or find staff contact info anytime, day or night?
Complex or possibly expensive:
- Real social networking for readers: blogs, profiles, friend linking, commenting, sharing, the works.
- Start a news wiki, beginning with some segment of your local or topical content, to put your news in context.
- Think outside the box: find niche topics that will attract niche audiences, who might even be willing to pay for access. (By the way, if you do charge for some of your content, understand how to price-discriminate.)
- Hire some geeks to help crunch data, do math, and create visualizations: tons of government and corporate data is publicly accessible, but the English majors we generally hire to write stories are not good at pulling information out of the data or presenting it graphically. Imagine your site presenting stuff like this.
Your turn: If you were starting a news organization today, where would you put your initial efforts?
Photo by Matt Hintsa, used under Creative Commons License.