Wick Communications

Avoiding holiday snooze

In journalism on December 1, 2016 at 3:06 pm

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Matt Lindberg called from The Montrose Daily Press the other day. He wanted to brainstorm ideas for the holidays. He dared verbalize what we all know: Sometimes our papers take a holiday as we get closer and closer to New Year’s. In fact, he gets credit for the term “holiday snooze.”

The holidays are wonderful in many ways, but they also present a perfect storm in your newsroom. More ads mean more space to fill. Fine employees want and deserve time off with family, even if it’s only a couple days for the regular holidays. Meanwhile, the rest of the world goes into hibernation. Government and schools close. Many sports and nonprofits slow down. … You are not alone. All newspapers struggle to stay aggressive and relevant in December.

I don’t know how much it helped, but I suggested Matt might think about three categories of stories. (Again, this isn’t revolutionary thought. But perhaps you haven’t thought about it in just this way:

Evergreens. Stories that don’t require some news event to propel them. Off the top of my head, I thought these might include local winter destinations, year-in-review kinds of stories, sports highlights from the year gone by. (See more in the list at the top of this post.)

Holiday stuff. This is ground you’ve already covered, and probably cover every year. School events, the local Christmas tree business, traditions like live Nativity scenes. …

The value of real news

In Accuracy on December 1, 2016 at 3:01 pm
These were the headlines from the fake news site, American News.

These were the headlines from the fake news site, American News.

You might have seen that the Ne York Times reported a bump in the number of print subscriptions in the days after a contentious presidential election. While many believe as the president-elect does, that the media is biased and can’t be trusted, others continue to believe a robust, independent, professional press is a hallmark of any democracy and a necessary check on the power of government.

In fact, The New York Times reports 132,000 more paid subscriptions to all its products — print and online — since the election. It remains to be seen how many of those new subscribers, many of whom undoubtedly took teaser deals to get started, remain after the churn, but this is really, really good news.

It reminds me that this is the giving season. Perhaps there is a campaign for holiday subscriptions in here somewhere for an ambitious circulation pro. “Real news” is important at the national level, and that is just as true in your community. I was completely taken with Josh Stearns’ post recently about finding worthwhile local news sources to support. You may want to support some of these yourself by making holiday gifts out of them.

In the meantime, what can we do to deliver on the promise of real news for our patrons? …

Know your commenters

In journalism on December 1, 2016 at 2:54 pm

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This week, I was fascinated by Christie Ashwanden’s survey of commenters published on fivethirtyeight.com. I imagine we have all wondered what motivates our commenters, both the well-mannered cogent ones and everyone else.

Among Aschwanden’s takeaways from her unscientific survey of 8,500 online commenters:

They are overwhelmingly male (76 percent), and mostly between the ages of 20 and 39. In her survey, people appear much less likely to comment on a story if they are over the age of 40, and only 5 percent of commenters are children or teenagers.

Four in 10 comment at least once a week.

The No. 1 reason given for commenting is to correct an error. Or should I say, perceived error? Aschwanden takes us down an interesting rabbit hole and uses a term I hadn’t heard before: The “backfire effect.” That is when a reader sees something, perhaps just a headline, and it reminds him of an opinion already held. In other words, your article might have no uplifting effect and only serve to reinforce false notions.

Our industry has been round and round with the comment question. We’ve discussed whether to allow them, monitor them, require registration, ban them, or only allow subscribers to comment. I’ve changed my opinion a time or two as well. Today, right now, I think comments are worth the trouble, if for no other reason than this: If we don’t allow readers their say, they are very likely to go somewhere else.

But I’m certainly willing to change my mind…

Clay