Hopefully, Progress 2, Electric Boogaloo

I needed a laugh. So I gave this post a silly title. I had the Big Meeting with the newsroom (read: 3 out of 8 reporters counting the sports guys who didn’t show, the city editor, the managing editor and one photog who couldn’t stay for the whole meeting.)

I wrote down two words about halfway through the meeting: “Totally discouraged.”

I’ve had a little time to think, and maybe it’s not all doom and gloom. But here’s a rundown of how it went:

First twenty minutes spent complaining about not enough space in print for stories but how we would be shortchanging readers who don’t have computers yet pay for a subscription, if we offer up “more to the story” online which is free. Also spent this time complaining about not having enough time to tweet or get a story up online while trying to call contacts and get info for story that will be in print. Basically the meeting devolved into the usual discussion of how everyone’s too busy. I did not grow a pair and mention my ‘Time to lean, time to clean’ adage because I felt that going into attack mode would not be helpful.

On commenting: one reporter said they were wary of leaving comments for fear of appearing biased on a story – even if they’re simply posting factual corrections. Tried to reiterate that posting factual information that either corrects someone or that didn’t make it into the story (for space issues, perhaps) is not being biased. Tried to reinforce the idea that one does not have to engage in verbal battles or get suckered by troll bait. Just the presence of a reporter’s comment shows our readers we’re paying attention to them. Hopefully it got through.  This reporter showed she was reading comments at least by mentioning one she saw in a story yesterday, and after the meeting, she posted her first. So a reluctant baby step there.

On Twitter: “I don’t get it.” one of them says. “Do we get reimbursed for text messages we send?” … I discovered one reporter doesn’t even have a cell phone. Oh dear.

What I took from this meeting: some of them are willing to try this stuff but feel they have no time for it. Some of them feel something like Twitter isn’t suitable for their beat. On posting their stories to the web themselves, they *really* don’t want to be able to do that without an editorial proofread, which means longer waits for stories to go online and doesn’t help us get to our goal of posting stories online when a reporter comes back to the office. One solution was to use peer editing. Anyone handy can give a second read to a story before it’s posted. I’ll take that for now because it’s another baby step.

So baby steps happened. Maybe the meeting wasn’t as discouraging as I originally thought it was as I sat there. Half-way through, I wanted to leave because I felt like what I wanted to talk about with them was just going to fall on deaf ears. There is still a stigma about the web. And they’re not buying into the informality of posting to the web and how making mistakes there is okay because they can be corrected right away. I can sort of see their point on this because it goes to our credibility and reputation.

Same goes for commenting. Previously, anyone could comment and it was a virtual free-for-all and all of the trolls came out of the woodwork. We implemented registration and comments dropped bigtime. But the tone, when we do get comments, is much better. I prefer tone over quantity. We need to uphold our standards on the web that we do for print as much as we can.

We just have to find a balance. There has to be a way I can show them that you can tweet from a city council meeting even if you’re trying to get quotes and interview people. That even if you’re the reporter covering our whole region and you think nobody will care about reading a twitter update from BF, Nebraska’s village council meeting, it’s still worth it to show our region and our community that we are working to deliver your news to you in as many ways possible.

I’m just not feeling very good about the meeting. I would have liked a better turnout. I just sort of felt under attack throughout the whole thing which put me on the defensive, and made it hard for me to focus on things I wanted them to know. Being on the spot like that is not for me 🙂 It’s why I sit behind a computer all day 🙂 But maybe, just maybe, the baby steps will continue.

Hopefully, Progress

I love my newsroom. The people who work for my newspaper are quality, experienced journalists who know their shiznit when it comes to their beats. I thought I should just get that out there before I talk about this meeting we’re having tomorrow regarding getting them to do more web stuff. I respect these people and admire their ability to get out there in our community and be people-persons. As a very shy person myself, I envy that quality.

I think that’s why I worry so much about how much I feel like I’m nagging these guys about stuff like twitter and commenting. I have to find a balance between nagging and keeping their respect. There’s no magic way to go about this though, because all newsrooms are different. And, I’m finding out my newsroom is vastly different to most others. With the recent OWH purchase, and even with the GateHouse purchase of my paper, I discovered that my newsroom has it easy when it comes to the web.

They’ve grown used to the Online department just “doing it for them” (like getting on to make a correction to a story, or doing all of our video.) Until GateHouse came along, reporters and editors had nothing at all to do with posting stories. It was either the copy desk each night, or myself during the day taking care of posting to the web. I know, right? I actually blame our old 64-step clunky system we used to post stories for that though, not the newsroom. But because the system sucked so much, the newsroom got used to not having to do it.

But now that they are posting updates now and then (still not at the frequency we would like), the more I talk about things like checking comments, posting comments, using twitter, the more they look at it as “more work.”

So last week, I had the commenting discussion (reporters should be watching comments, and participating when they can) with someone and I got the “Well they don’t have much time…” This caused the eyebrow to go up because I’ve been waiting to hear that excuse from the newsroom. Not to be a snarky wench, but it’s hard to swallow that when I see a reporter or two wandering around and chatting with others about non-work stuff for 30 minutes or more. So I brought this up to my lovely friend and coworker and it made him stop and think about that. He then agreed.

And as if to illustrate my very point, later that day a reporter wandered over and chatted with this fellow and another reporter for close to 45 minutes about football etc.

Now – don’t mistake me (because I know this may someday be read by the aforementioned reporters) – I have no problems at all with the chatting. It doesn’t bother me, and I enjoy the opportunities to get to know my coworkers better. I think in a wacky environment like a newsroom, it helps to have a strong relationship with your coworkers, both on a personal and professional level. I know that the work does get done, and I know there are days when everyone really is uber-busy. But the thing that I can’t find it in my heart to believe is that if you do have time to chitchat, you cannot then come back to me with “I’m far too busy to do this Twitter thing or read online comments.” Harsh, but true. It’s the old retail adage, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” Works in this case too.

So this meeting was called, by someone who is not me, shortly after I pointed out to my friend and coworker that that reporter made my chitchat point for me. This gives me much hope that we’re on the verge of a change. That a crack has appeared in the wall between Online and my newsroom. I’m hopeful, nervous, and hoping the meeting doesn’t turn into anything that would patch up that crack and strengthen the wall. I want the wall to come tumbling down. I want them to “get it.” I want to listen to their ideas and use them. I want it to be circular. It shouldn’t just be me and my department dictating what they need to be doing. It should be both departments collaborating on ideas to make the web AND print stronger.

So I’m going in with a sunny smile and as much enthusiasm as I can muster. I will not be antagonistic or let my occasional frustration show. I will not be snarky, condescending or patronizing (which is an ocassional problem for me when I talk to people who don’t/refuse to “get it.” Need to watch it.) I will be open to anything they have to say and do my best to find ways to refute their arguments without pissing them off.

I may need to bring the stress ball with me.

Are forums important anymore?

I would say yes, forums are still important even now when anyone can blog, anyone can leave a comment after a story, anyone can tweet about an event.

Forums are a bit of a different animal. I was pondering on this the other day when I realized that, other than watching posts via my rss feed, I hadn’t actually visited my paper’s forums in quite some time. I began to wonder if they were still such a vital component of community involvement. I used to tout our forums to anyone and everyone – heck I’ve been a proponent of them since before I started working at the paper. And the one thing that always bothered me about them was that it’s like pulling teeth to get people to join and use a new forum. I could never understand that. What could be better than being able to browse to a topic that interested me – or start my own – post my thoughts or ask a question, and be able to come back at my leisure and read the replies.

But for some reason, this concept was difficult for people to grasp. But I’m a forumer from way back, and when I came to the paper, I was excited about being given the responsibility of maintaining/moderating ours. Boy was that a shock. I’d had previous experience as an admin on a rather big music forum, as well as a number of my own forums, and I’d dealt with my fair share of trolls and whiny people. I thought I could handle anything. Until I met the merry band of bullies who dominated the Independent forums when I took over.

I think my mistake with those guys was remaining a participant as well as an Admin. I went from a regular poster to the head honcho and I probably took some pleasure in finally being able to deal with the bullies. I felt they were the obstacle in getting our forums to grow. They would attack and snipe at new users until they went away and considered the paper’s forums as their own personal playground. Putting a stop to that was a long arduous process involving quite a few banninations, and a need to grow a thick skin fast.

I’ve been attacked verbally, threatened, and one banned forum poster came down to the paper and started to get, uhhh, grabby. He had to be physically ejected form the building and I had to take a couple of hours to calm my nerves and speak to the police. I’ve had my car egged at the height of summer when the yolk etc. had time to bake right into my paintjob, which is now ruined, and my car looks pretty ghetto. I’ve had to move and have my number unlisted.

Here’s a sampling of some of the stuff we forum admin get to deal with (and I’m sure most print editors dealing with Letters etc. get similar stuff – but Internet people seem to be braver):

Here is the ‘Well, I’m such a nice guy I stopped my friends from flaming your forums’ approach: “Just so you know…I mentioned to several people I know from other message boards how I felt you were picking on me. They, being computer gurus and technical wizards, readily offered to barrage the Independent forums with pornography, trolling, and profanity. As well as posts aimed at making your job miserable as a moderator.  Out of respect for my hometown board and to the regular posters on there…I asked them not to.  I didn’t feel like you had done anything that warranted that type of disruption.”

Then there’s the always classy rant: Have I told you lately that your a F*CKING C*NT. P.S. I see you still allow _________ to be a bias little dictator, so that makes you even more of a F*CKING C*NT.” and “and “Since I can no longer defend myself on the board, if I read another word about me from your faggot mod., I will be coming to visit you. You got that c*nt.”

So the lesson I learned was that the best way to moderate a rambunctious, flamey forum was to remain an anonymous mod. Don’t participate (or if you really must, do it under another name and don’t associate yourself with the administrator account.)

Funnily enough, once the trolls were finally all gone (after numerous second chances after promises of good behaviour), an odd thing happened. Users started to not be afraid to come and post. We began getting an influx of new users posting on more topics, participating in more threads in a civilized, adult manner and badaboom badabing, I could step back from it and not play Nazi so much.

So even through I went through a sort of mini-hell as the forum admin, it was worth it to be able to offer a place where people in the community can come to discuss latest stories, talk about local government, participate with other sports fans talking about the latest Big Game and just interact.

So I think they’re still valuable as a tool. Yes you can comment on stories now. But those stories drop off the main page after a day or two and get buried. Threads don’t carry on. Discussion is only immediate rather than long-term. Yes you can start a blog of your own to talk about stories in the Indy, but driving traffic to it is an arduous process. I think a community needs a central location online to gather and talk about the everyday stuff that affects them, whether it’s something we put into print or not. I can think of no other business in town who’s better suited to provide that location than the local newspaper, and no better tool than your basic forum.

So while I was thinking about all of this, and wondering if it’s still worth it, even after all the crap I dealt with – after all the crap forum mods everywhere put up with – and I decided that yes, they are still worth it. I’m not exactly sure what the future holds for our long-running forums now that we have new bosses with new policies etc. and the rumours are already running rampant on our forums claiming the OWH will shut ours down etc (though I’ve heard nothing about it myself.) I doubt they will close us down, but if it comes up, I’ll fight for them.

So long and thanks for all the fish

My newspaper was sold today for the second time in 9 months. It’s the weirdest feeling ever. I’ve never been through a takeover before, let alone two of them and it’s been quite the ride.

When GateHouse purchased us, along with 13 other properties, from Morris, it was like a bombshell announcement that took everybody by surprise. There was excitement mingled with a healthy tinge of fear. What does this mean? What about my insurance and retirement? How do we keep the site running with new tools? Aw man we *just* did a redesign and now we have to do it again?

But GateHouse was good to us. Right after I found out about the news, I blogged it in my personal blog, and not even a day later I had a lovely ‘welcome to the family’ message from Howard Owens. That right there went a long way toward making me feel pretty good about our new owners. GateHouse worked hard with all 14 Morris papers to get us integrated quickly. We had some battles and we tried hard to fight to keep our new design, but we understood the importance of maintaining a sense of uniformity among all the papers in the company – both from an administrative and branding perspective. once we got over ourselves, we could see the wisdom in it.

I’ve enjoyed meeting GateHouse peeps on Twitter. I love being a part of something as awesome as WiredJournalists (started by some GHS folk.) I haven’t known them very long, but they’re good people. I can just tell. And I’m sorry to be leaving them. They have the right ideas when it comes to online journalism and I hope they keep that enthusiasm for it.

At the same time, when the announcement was made this morning that the Omaha World Herald purchased The Independent and York News Times, I was, to put it mildly, floored. They sent pretty much every Very Important Person in the company to welcome us (and they brought juice and cookies! :)) so there was a real emphasis on this being a great thing for The Independent.

Only time will tell. But I’m a glass half full kind of person, and I hope this means great things for my paper and this job I love.

So, thank you GateHouse, I learned so much in the brief time I got to work with you guys and I wish you all luck. You’re all wonderful people.

And Hello Omaha World Herald and Co. I’m looking forward to working with you!

Tailoring the Twitter Approach

I’ve been thinking about different ways I can approach my newsroom about Twitter. I decided the best way is to approach each reporter individually, and tailor my spiel to each reporter and their interests. Luckily, I have a small newsroom so this probably wouldn’t fly in the larger ones.

Short of a directive from on high, my reporters are still not showing much interest after me previously mentioned flurry of messages about it. I have had some minor successes with one of the photographers who gamely jumped in feet first and did his first proper tweets today. I’m so proud 🙂 After the emails I’d been sending, he came to me wanting to know more. So we got him set up, and I showed him some other photogs I knew of who Twittered (one of them being a friend of his who used to work for us and now works for another paper) and I think that helped. I had some Twitterati give him some encouragement, and got him set up to use his cell and all that good stuff. And I think he will be the one to take advantage of it. Just need to keep up the encouragement and hope that he is able to break a story on it.

Our senior writer also approached me to find some time this week where I can show him how to use Twitter. With him, I will have to approach him a little differently. He has blogged off and on the past couple of years, but I believe he has trouble letting go of his instinct to write for the paper and not for the web. He tends to turn his posts into masterpieces of column-length proportions. This made him regard blogging as another column he had to write, and so gave it up. He has trouble understanding the informal nature of a blog, and that even a blurb is ok to post. I’m hoping that getting him to Twitter will reinforce that informalness (yes I just made up a word/. I can do that online :)), and I think as I’m showing him Twitter, I will work that in. He has a tendency to make simple things much harder than they need to be. I need him to see that Twittering and blogging should be simple and quick.

After I tackle that, I will contemplate how to get the rest on board. I’m sort of hoping that if they see the two using Twitter, it will have a domino effect. Perhaps they’ll talk about it, or tweet in the office so the others can see it’s as easy as sending a text message and not really an extra load of work at all.

Fingers crossed.

The Battle to Integrate Twitter in the Newsroom

I know I’m not alone in this battle. And maybe use of the word “battle” is incorrect. But sometimes it sure feels like one. But there must be hundereds of newsrooms like mine where the reporters are slow to try new technology and often hold up their “Oh great, more work” placards whenever something new is introduced to them.

I can sympathize. For a mid-size paper, we really have a tiny newsroom. Five news reporters, two full-time photogs and three sports guys. We cover Central Nebraska. That’s a lot of ground to cover for eight people. And so I feel this huge burden of guilt whenever I want to ask them to use a new tool for getting the info out. I like my newsroom and the people who work it, and the last thing I want is to add to their workload.

But there are some tools out there that would either be minimal work, or perhaps even ease the workload. It’s just a matter of finding a way to make them understand that. Twitter is such a great tool. How cool would it be if we could tweet a breaking news story before anyone else? Just takes a simple cell phone text and wham-bam we beat the competition.

Or how about tweeting the scores from a local ballgame? Or texting/tweeting updates from a volatile city council session or high profile court hearing? Drive by a terrible accident? Send a tweet, let the followers know to avoid a certain intersection during high traffic.

It’s so easy. And so far, in my 4 years here, getting Twitter introduced and used by anyone other than me has been one of my biggest obstacles.

Ryan Sholin wrote an interesting article in which he says “…stop thinking about Twitter as a place on the Web, and start thinking about it as a platform for publishing.” I like that thought because it underscores one of the major problems in overcoming this obstacle: Twitter perception.

Twitter is a silly name. “Tweet” is a silly name for referring to the updates. It doesn’t sound professional. And when trying to explain the service to the newsroom, I get giggles everytime I say “tweet.” So the perception is that Twitter is just a flash-in-the-pan social media-whosit-thingie that will go the way of using Blogger to post news updates.

I’ll tell you who my biggest obstacle is, and that is our head sports editor. Nice guy, good writer, but looks upon the web as a denizen of basement-dwelling freaks who should come into the light more often. Nothing I say can change his mind, and so unless the order comes down from on high, I don’t think he’ll ever listen to me.

The rest of the newsroom… well, we have two reporters who have been willing to try new things, such as using the handhelds to grab video or even blogging (though one gave up blogging when his traffic dropped after we switched layouts and he couldn’t be featured as prominently as before.) The others seem indifferent.

Yesterday I sent an email to them asking them, again, to do what they can to check in on the comments their stories generate. One replied back asking me basically if I’d just do it for them and let them know when there’s a good one they can look at. I blinked a few times, and scratched my head. I think they missed the point.

But today, my publisher emailed them and backed me up (yay!) and also pimped the use of Twitter as something they need to be doing. After I fainted, I quickly threw together a quick Twitter For Dummies page and sent it to them in the hopes that the publisher’s email combined with the message that they must help us interact with our readers would get them interested in learning more about Twitter.

That was early this morning. It’s nearly time to go home now, and I haven’t heard a peep from any of them. And this is where I stand right now. I’m almost thinking that I should just set up Twitter accounts for each of them, go around and give them training whether they want it or not. I’m really frustrated. And I know I’m not the only one experiencing this problem.

If anyone finds their way to my little blog here who has any advice that doesn’t involve nagging the newsroom until they all hate me, I would greatly appreciate it. I can nag if I have to, but I’d rather not.

[UPDATE 081308] One photographer is now on his way to Twitterdom! he tweeted his first tweet this morning, and is set up to tweet from his phone. I asked his old friend and fellow photog, who is a regular tweeter, to give him some encouragment and help if he needs it so yay! I’m hoping for a domino effect here. While I was helping to get him set up, the other photog wandered in to watch and asked a question or two. Fingers crossed!

I think when the new/old videographer starts back up next week, I’m going to ask him to sign up as well.

Music Madness – Big Success So Far

Okay so it’s only day four of a six week tournament, and time will tell if we can hold our readers’ interest for that long (we did for Movie Madness, so it stands to reason…) but I’m over the moon about the results of the tournament so far.

As of this post:

  • Pageviews for Music Madness site: 5, 126 – Average per day: 583 – Today alone: 644
  • We’re up to 21 Twitter followers for @gimusicmadness
  • The 4th bracket closes tomorrow but all total so far, we’ve had over 1,000 votes in the polls, far exceeding the Movie Madness turnout.
  • We had a great turnout last Thursday for the Liveblog with the guys, so much so that they wanted to continue it on Friday (traffic dropped, but I think that’s because we didn’t plan and therefore pimp a second day of chat.) The discovery by our senior columnist that Cover It Live was so powerful and yet so easy to use had him dreaming up other applications we can use it for, so even if the turnout had sucked, that alone would have made it worth it. Anytime I convert someone in the newsroom to new things is a total victory for me.
  • We had some server stress the first day, (which was a good thing if you think about it 🙂 ) but WordPress is holding up magnificently, and handling large volumes of voting really well.
  • We sold three sponsors, so yay it’s made a little money!
  • The combination of print and online to make this thing work has been seamless thanks to good planning. Daily teasers in the paper, house ads and banners, Twitters, and blog posts – at least three of those options were completely free publicity (I don’t know if I can make that claim about print stuff, Do you count cost of ink and space on A-1?

The final bracket voting ends tomorrow at noon, and then I have a wee break where I’ll be building the polls for Round Two. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the interest level in the tourney, both in-house and from our readers. Six weeks is a long time.

And I can’t believe Van Halen’s “Jump” is moving on. I really hate that song.