In all of our ownership changes, I think this is actually just third time we’ve switched our entire website from back-end to front-end. We’ve gone through many iterations of the website itself, but the back-end hasn’t fluctuated much. And until now, we’ve always been sort of “stuck” on out-dated and clunky systems. Every time I have bemoaned Town News’ NewsSys software on Twitter I generally get a lot of sympathy.
At the end of 2011, we began working on a transition to Town News’ much improved BLOX system, complete with a fair bit of website revamping (but nothing too drastic that would freak out our readers.) But most of all, it required a fairly big change for the way we publish stories online. The copy desk had to alter their routines quite a bit, and while BLOX is much nicer and definitely more powerful, there’s a learning curve that we’re still traversing.
But gone are the days of having to publish the website every time we update the site. Gone too are the constant re-ordering of priorities to position stories where we want them. We still struggle with the new way of prioritizing, but we’ll catch on and get it flowing smoothly. And because we don’t have to publish the site when we add a story (once a story is added either manually or via .xml, it is live on the website) we now need to change the publish date or set a story as Do Not Publish if it’s not ready for public viewing. Learned that the hard way after some lifestyle stories went up on the site with our internal slug as the headline. Oops
Some of the things I really like:
Some things I either don’t like or am still learning:
Other than that, I’m really pleased with BLOX as a whole. We have had a few readers complain about the new look, but I’ve never heard of a redesign that didn’t have people that simply dislike change. For my part, the transition was fairly smooth, with a few bumps, but I know it was rockier for my boss and the tech manager in my department as they worked with Town news to get everything we want. But I would like to say Town News has a great team and has made this normally painful process easier.
Here is an email I sent out to everyone that, I swear, started off with just wanting to share a helpful link with them and keep Twitter in their minds:
This is an EXCELLENT resource for the newsroom and using Twitter to research, mobile tweeting, hashtags and more.
Some of you have Twitter accounts – even if you didn’t know it – and I have your login info and am available *anytime* you want to learn more about this important and really valuable tool. Come find me. And to those of you who don’t have an Indy Twitter account yet (like our awesome new photog), I’d be happy to get one set up for you.
Please consider learning more about Twitter and social media in general – I can sit with you one-on-one if you like. Lately, we are constantly getting scooped on Facebook and Twitter by other media outlets, and while I know it’s important to get the story for print, in today’s media, a breaking story is old by the time the reporter gets back in, writes the story and someone reads it before it’s posted online. Our readers are starting to turn elsewhere when something breaking happens.
Even just a quick tweet saying, ‘Accident at 281 and Webb – details online soon’ would help. We have to shift our thinking just a little bit if we’re going to stay relevant in the future. So that’s why I might seem a little aggressive in this email. I may go into nag mode until I get all of you using Twitter, even just a little
I hit ‘send’ before I could talk myself out of it and for the rest of the day, I went from frustration to elation when one of the reporters I believed was the least interested in social media approached me and told me that her concern wasn’t the technology – it was that she felt she didn’t have access to the technology. Blew. My. Mind.
It’s something I bemoan a lot here. I believe every reporter should be provided with a smartphone – or at the very least, access to a smartphone to take out in the field when needed. We managed to get a Droid that is used by our online reporter/videographer and he often tweets as @girightnow when he’s out. And that is fabulous and that is a LOT more than some small newsrooms get. But some of my journalists are using Razr phones with no texting plans. I mean seriously. Razrs. And while it’s awesome that we have our online guy, we also need our beat reporters to be more involved in tweeting.
So we gave the Droid to the reporter going to a board meeting today to see if she could manage a few tweets – so far she is rocking it and I am over the bloody moon. As I talked with my boss about this yesterday, I learned that we need to make sure the reporters will actually use the technology before we go out and splash a bunch of cash on it. We’ve been burned before (I’m looking at a dusty Zi8 video camera we bought in hopes of having the reporters grab it and go all the time) and so this time, we’re not going to get all excited and get ahead of ourselves until we’re sure they are on board.
The last thing I learned was that our paper’s Twitter/Facebook follower count has reached 1/5th of our print subscribers. That doesn’t include our “audience reach” of course, just the hard number of current subscribers, but that fraction also blew. my. mind.
I think we are finally past the “I don’t get it” stage or the “Who cares what they had for breakfast” stage. We’ve moved onto the “I need the technology first” stage. They get that Twitter and Facebook aren’t frivolous and unimportant. Now they just need to learn how to use them to their advantage.
Today I have
two three reporters tweeting – one who had never done it before, and one who usually has trouble getting it to work for him. Today is a good day.
My mother wrote stories all her life. Every year my dad bought her the latest Writer’s Market book for Christmas and she’d spend a lot of time submitting and resubmitting her stories and poems to magazines and publishers. Occasionally she’d get published, more often than not she’d get the dreaded rejection letter. It never stopped her though. She wrote because she was driven to do it. Creative urges boiled in her like a mad sea and she had to find ways to soothe it. She was a painter, a crafter and a writer.
It’s why I wish she was still alive to experience what’s happening in the book publishing world right now. E-readers, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Lulu… She would be in her element and the ability to self-publish would have delighted her beyond belief.
It delights me too. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m deviating from my usual newsroom/journalism/social media/freelance stuff here to talk a little bit about self-publishing. Like mom, I often feel overwhelmed with the need to be creative. Writing is my favorite thing to do, followed closely by photography and fiddling around with mixing audio loops into serviceable little tunes. A couple of years ago, I participated and actually completed NaNoWriMo (after a couple of failed attempts in previous years) and I’ve been working on that story refining/editing it since then. I will be selling it on Amazon when the editing is done. I don’t care if I only sell copies to friends and family – just the fact that I actually finished it makes me happy.
This is something I never would have tried to do if I hadn’t known I could publish the thing myself when it was completed. Years of watching my mom receive letters of rejection from publishing houses made me a little gunshy. Not now though. We truly live in an amazing time. I wish she could be here too.
Anyway, the book is called Revenants (Facebook, and Twitter), and it’s got elements of things I love. Like zombies. I love zombies. And a heroine with a funky name. And I had a blast making this book trailer:
And while I wait for my beta reader to do their editing magic (Read: wait for my sister to scour for typos and grammar errors), I am occupying myself by writing (very) short stories and selling them for a buck on Amazon and B&N. Just one up so far called Everything Will Blow which is a story I wrote a few years ago and updated so I could get a feel for the self-publishing process. I have to say that Barnes & Noble is the easier/quicker process. Amazon’s isn’t bad but there are a couple of programs you have to download for conversions/previewing so it adds several more steps to the process.
I work as the Web Editor and Social Media Coordinator for the Grand Island Independent, in Nebraska, which is owned by the Omaha World Herald.
~ Journalism allows its readers to witness history; fiction gives its readers an opportunity to live it. ~ John Hersey
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