New Tricks: Journalism on demand

April 14th, 2011

Author’s note: This is an old memo I wrote from my days at Tribune Company. I’ve edited it into a blog post and have added a couple of links, but it’s very much a media rant. Enjoy!

What is it about Zappos that makes it an innovative, well-regarded company?

It’s not that Zappos sells shoes and clothes online, and it can’t be because of Zappos’ sleek Web site. (In fact, Zappos.com isn’t the most visually attractive website.)

Every inch – well, perhaps not every inch – of the page oozes, “We care about our customers.” There are links to live chats, and a company phone number is posted in a place that’s easy to find. It’s not buried on some hidden  customer service page. (Read Zappos founder Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, for more on this.)

The fact is this: If you go to any news Web site, how does it feel? Does it feel like the news organization cares about what you think the news is?

Newsrooms are constantly reorganizing and changing the look and feel of their digital and print products, but I believe that there’s a unique opportunity to change the way people actually experience the news.

Here’s my point: Experiment with small, cross-functional teams to change the environment in which folks experience our content. And there are some things that you can gain:

  • A feedback loop or connection with readers that you’ve never had before.
  • Insight that will help your figure out ways to improve the quality of your reader comments. (On this point, this OMNT post is a must-read.)
  • A look into reader dynamics.
  • Experience. This will help teach your community managers, digital producers or bloggers how to wrangle a community.
  • Expand the reach of the online communities you’re trying to build.

Most importantly, this will let your readers know you’re listening in ways mainstream media tends not to. My vision of true “journalism on demand” isn’t just similar to a restaurant comment drop box, but is a living, breathing, dynamic community.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  1. A Small group of forward-thinking, customer-centric – not necessarily social media-savvy – folks in your news organization. A reporter. The public editor.  A web producer. A marketing team member. Someone in ad ops. A circulation manager. Anyone who really wants to gain these insights, and someone who likes side projects.
  2. A platform. Start small. Try putting a link on a homepage to a live chat. From there, we can possibly build forums. Events. Anything. Try to make your community vibrant and open, because if you do, you can market it somehow.
  3. A message. If you think of branding your platform from the start, you’ll get support from the  top down.

True journalism on demand can be an industry-changer. Be willing to test technology, timing and figure out what you even want to know. Don’t rush this into looking like a hokey marketing initiative, but a real effort to connect with your readers. (Perhaps, at some point, you can extend this into a chat with your advertisers.)

This isn’t cutting edge stuff, but test with some basics, including forums, live chats, instant messenger (or Skype), and customer service-driven platforms (e.g. Get Satisfaction).

If you do this, it should be a two-way street. In addition to getting ideas from readers, you could pitch ideas to them, asking what they think you should write about. The idea that gets picked will get done in a timely fashion.

Experiment with treatments. Is your execution a blog? A forum? A poll? Is this promoted in a box with a graphic, or as a text link? You don’t know what will resonate until you try.

Lastly, steward the conversation, and have clear, concise rules of conversation. If you’re waist deep in it, you can drive a positive experience for everyone.

What examples of “journalism on demand” have you seen in the news world? Is your news organization doing something along these lines? Please leave your thoughts as comments below!

- Daniel B. Honigman

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Entry Filed under: media rant,New Tricks


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