Spurred by what he saw as a less-than fully realized effort to report breaking news on one of our news sites, Wick Digital Sales Manager Jim Keyes sent an email to some of us the other day. It was an urgent plea for better planning before we are pulled in a thousand directions by some big news event.
It was an impassioned plea that offered a litany of best practices for getting news up quickly and digitally, and I nodded along with him.
Before I pass along his tips, I wanted to make a couple points, about our digital opportunities and planning for Some Big Thing.
First, if you consider the Web to be an afterthought or think you don’t have time for digital reporting, allow me to retort. We got into this business because we believe in the power of information. We all want to reach as many people as we can as quickly as possible. Lord knows, I love having a newspaper in my hands, but the newspaper itself is not the thing. It’s what’s inside. The digital universe is vast. Using digital tools is relatively inexpensive. You can post a story or photo much, much more quickly than you can print it, and you can conjure maps from thin air, publish videos, share comments – all within moments of the news breaking. More and more (and more and more) readers are migrating to devices. The days of being solely a “newspaper editor” are over. …
Use all the tools at your disposal before the competition does, and please don’t ever let me hear you say you don’t have time for digital.
Secondly, let me say that I’m a big believer of planning for a big event. It’s not that I think the plan will eliminate headaches on that fateful day. I know better. The purpose of the plan is to create the expectation that coverage will be instantaneous, innovative and involve everyone. I think you can get lost in the weeds of planning that Sally will call the fire chief and Billy will drive to the courthouse, etc., etc. There is no end to contingency planning, and any turnover means the plan has to be revisited. That doesn’t mean no plan is the best plan.
Here’s what I want you to do today: Make sure everyone in the newsroom has the newsroom contact list – phones, email and addresses. Key people need contacts for advertising reps, production people, probably everyone. Now add obvious contacts for police, fire, city manager, etc. You won’t think of everyone, and you should keep a long list digitally. Keep these lists in the office and at home but also in the cloud, where you can get them anywhere. And everyone in the newsroom should have basic facility with the Web tools you are provided. If that isn’t the case, you have an urgent problem.
Sorry, Jim, back to you. Here are the really good ideas that he suggests in a big news event:
- Update the mobile site immediately;
- Dispatch some sort of image capturing person to the location as fast as possible;
- Develop and therefore “own” a twitter hashtag for the emergency;
- Have a tweet suite (editors need to practice tweet suite / hoot suite models) set up ahead of time following newsmakers — PIO’s twitter feeds, Highway Patrol, National Guard, Forest Service, emergency services command, police departments, National Weather Service, city hall and county government, sheriff’s office and unique twitter accounts that relate to the story. Then monitor and broadcast them on your hashtag;
- Post on Facebook immediately – include other related FB contact aggregation;
- Update the website with a preplanned breaking news sections (like the one you see at top, developed by Wick Digital);
- Large images and huge space on the site matters;
- Send out newsletter update with content;
- Use a smartphone to capture any video. National attention and pageviews will help this;
- Use strong keywords / tags in every story and image;
- Have a secondary story or update that is not just the original story with updates strung along;
- Set up a live blog on the site – (Christian can help with vendors for this.) This encourages audience participation not just consumption of content;
- Set up and plan ahead of time the follow up stories and coverage as the immediacy of the event escalates or decreases.
And Jim goes on from there. He’s very passionate on the subject and with very good reason. We need to own these events in our hometowns and we can’t do that merely with a fine newspaper.
Please talk about this in your newsroom this week. It’s easy to put off. Please don’t do that. I’m happy to help with ideas and clarification. My phone number is (650) 726-4424.