Five Strategies to Improve Your Newsroom Workflow [VIDEO]

Jun 21, 2013

Find that balance in your workflow to produce great radio and digital content.

Pull that popcorn out of the microwave, kick back in a recliner (or desk chair) and get ready to have your workflow revolutionized. We talked with five leaders from member stations--a digital manager, a senior producer, a reporter and a news director--to get their input on how to work together and individually to meet the demands of both the radio and digital. These aren't big operations; you could accurately describe them as small to medium-sized, and they've all embraced digital platforms successfully. Each has a unique perspective, but if you watch all four webinars, you'll find the common threads. Not to give away too many spoilers, but some of the best paths to success include clear communication, a focus on engaging content (regardless of the platform) and a sense of place. These are some of our most popular webinars and, potentially, they can give you actionable ideas for your news operation.

Jim Hill
Digital Media Manager, KUNC

Jim talks about how you can be a big player in the digital space even with a small newsroom. KUNC has a news director, two full-time reporters and two reporters shared with Harvest Public Media and Rocky Mountain PBS.

Discussing Workflow with Jim Hill, Digital Media Manager, KUNC.

Highlights (timestamped to the video)

  • 4:00 KUNC’s digital first and content first strategy and the trajectory of growth. Hill and Will Snyder talk about the doubling of KUNC’s online audience, as well as Hill’s analysis of the types of content that resonate with the KUNC digital audience.
  • 10:30 Content drives growth: Hill shows how he made the case using data to show KUNC management and reporters the power of content.
  • 12:15 How does a small station drive digital news audience growth? Planning and commitment to a strategy, taking advantage of breaking news events to demonstrate excellent digital coverage, refocusing efforts on producing valuable content every day and eliminating the “radio” stories that only featured audio, instead producing articles that offer usable information from the audio piece (and the audio piece is posted with it of course).
  • 16:30 Jim Hill’s desktop setup, the feeds he monitors and how. Hill talks about setting up twitter lists, RSS feeds and other inputs; it's time-consuming but it’s immensely valuable in the long run.
  • 20:25 How Hill starts his day: early in the morning with email checkins with all the reporters, surfing around twitter, Facebook and his Feedly RSS reader for interesting local and regional stories, RSS-fed collections of current Youtube videos from the region. Hill creates these auto-updating collections of videos using the Youtube API.
  • 28:30 How Hill determines what stories go on the digital platform and on radio, and how he handles digital coverage of a breaking news event. During the Hyde Park Fire in 2012, KUNC lost its broadcast signal, but the news team was trained for digital production and moved immediately to focus on that platform, while the station continued to live-stream. Hill also discusses how and when to transition from instant coverage of a breaking news event to the deeper contextual stories around it.
  • 33:40 Hill talks about how he determines the appropriate digital treatment for a story. Multimedia elements can tell the story - pictures and videos often can replace hundreds of words of text. Unlike the “theater of the mind” of radio, multimedia can often do the heavy lifting of storytelling on digital platforms.
  • 36:15 The same story will often get different treatments on radio and digital, recognizing the particular needs of each audience. But Hill says great storytelling works across all platforms, so the core of the reporting is likely to be the same. It’s what you add to the story on digital platforms that increases its value.
  • 38:55 Hill discusses how he applied this approach during KUNC coverage of wildfires. It showcases his expertise at finding quality pictures and videos to illustrate the intensity of the fires, using Instagram and other trusted sources to augment KUNC coverage. This conversation again presents how important it is to plan for how the news team will respond to breaking news. It’s also important to understand the uniqueness and value of radio and digital platforms so that you can serve each audience well.
  • 47:20 Hill talks about live-blogging or offering frequent updates of breaking news stories. For the right kind of stories, this is an effective way to reach a large, interested audience with the information it needs. Stories build incrementally, with updates.
  • 50:00 Hill talks about how he uses vetted user generated content and creates Storify timelines of pictures and tweets to present an unfolding event.
  • 52:55 What happens after the story is published - follow-ups, finding new external content to add to your published work, and the social strategy to get stories in front of the audience.
  • 55:25 Hill discusses reporter responsibilities for tweeting and retweeting their stories, as well as KUNC’s Facebook strategy (based on Facebook’s algorithm in summer 2013)
  • 57:00 Jim’s Digital Takeaways: 1) Twitter (especially the Tweetdeck app) is so important for discovering and following stories; 2) Planning is paramount and Hill relies on the daily planning emails to communicate with staff; and 3) He gets the non-news station employees involved when he needs them. They contribute expertise, perspective, photos and much more to coverage.

Questions you’d like to ask Jim Hill directly? @ejimbo_com on Twitter. 

Hilary Stohs-Krause
Multimedia Reporter, NET

Hilary's workload includes everything from filing for newscasts to building out long form features for web and radio to hosting live chats. She also built and maintains NET's presence on Tumblr, and if you're interested in getting a station perspective on the opportunities with Tumblr, you'll find a lot of food for thought in this conversation. NET's team includes news director Dennis Kellogg, five reporters working for both radio and television and one shared reporter with Harvest Public Media.

Discussing Workflow with Hilary Stohs-Krause, Reporter at NET Nebraska.

Highlights (timestamped to the video)

  • 5:30 Hilary’s day is, not surprisingly, a hierarchy of responsibilities. NET specializes in long-form “signature stories” which get web buildouts, so Hilary works on the multimedia aspects of the stories - video, Storify, etc. She also manages the network Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts.
  • 7:30 Stohs-Krause’s workspace setup - the apps she uses to monitor news, including Tweetdeck for Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and Tumblr. In Tweetdeck, Hilary maintains a number of Twitter lists so she can segment and organize the firehose of tweets that she has to consume.
  • 11:00 Stohs-Krause talks about the value of Reddit and how she uses it (here’s more about how to find value in Reddit).
  • 14:20 How Hilary finds stories. Since NET’s coverage focuses on in-depth stories, she looks for trends or patterns that are worth exploring. This becomes fodder for discussion in weekly meetings and results in a more formalized story pitch that includes plans for radio and digital elements.
  • 17:00 Stohs-Krause talks about how she gathers the audio and digital elements to create a story for radio and the web. She thinks in parallel - when she’s out recording an interview, she’s also scouting for photo or video opportunities.
  • 19:05 NET takes a different approach to coverage on its Tumblr - it’s focus is what it’s like to live in Nebraska. This content also performs well on Facebook. These social platforms are good tools to find interesting stories for broadcast and the web.
  • 22:50 Stohs-Krause gives an example of a successful news story that developed on social media and took a surprising turn. She used social media to help her report the story as it developed and also to let the audience know there would be more coverage on NET in the evening.
  • 31:30 Hilary talks about how she uses Twitter and offers this advice: Use hashtags sparingly to curate a conversation. Using them for irony gets old fast. She maintains a single personal Twitter presence because she says it helps her to present a balanced view of her life as a professional reporter and an individual with passions and interests.
  • 33:30 Instagram is not just a good way to share photos - it can also be a source for news reporters to find photos and sources.
  • 35:30 Hilary talks about the changing Facebook strategy of NET, as the station tries to move beyond just using it as a promotional tool for content. NET has experimented with some polls of users about news stories.
  • 37:40 In response to a question, Stohs-Krause talks about how she measures the ROI of the social and digital work she does. Google Analytics is especially useful, as are Facebook Insights and Tumblr data. If you want more information about how to understand and use analytics, check out this webinar.
  • 40:35 NET’s Tumblr - it’s seeing growth even though the NET audience there isn’t as large as on Facebook and Twitter. Tumblr’s user base skews younger and has higher minority usage, so this is an opportunity for NET to try to reach new audiences. The platform is about curation and so it doesn’t require the number of daily posts that Twitter requires, for instance. Stohs-Krause says the Tumblr was a hard sell at the station initially, but staff and management have come to see the value of it, especially because it’s relatively easy to manage. The NET Tumblr averages about two posts a day, of which 10-20% are promotional, 25% are original and another quarter are curated from other Tumblrs. Tumblr is an excellent way to explore local or regional memes, history, interesting photos, behind-the-scenes moments at the station and stories that are particularly compelling to your audience.
  • 50:15 Hilary answers a question about how she balances work and the need to stay connected with her personal life and the downtime she needs. She says her iPhone is key because she can stay plugged in without having to devote too much time to it when she’s at home or on weekends. But Hilary has built in a couple hours of weekend work so she doesn’t get behind. Those hours are accounted for in her official work schedule.
  • 54:00 Will Snyder showcases some of the different kinds of serious and humorous posts that are a part of NET Tumblr presence. The discussion here also provides some insight into the unique culture of Tumblr that will be helpful if you want to understand the community better.
  • 58:15 Hilary’s Words of Wisdom: 1) Radio comes first so do good work; but 2) Digital is a very close second and you can’t ignore it; 3) Get a smartphone - it’s so important for journalists; 4) Focus on the quality of your stories, posts and tweets over quantity; and 5) Twitter and Tumblr are easy and great platforms on which to experiment.

 

Mark Brush
Senior Producer, Michigan Radio

Mark started in radio but now leads Michigan Radio's digital efforts. Michigan Radio's news team includes a news director, assistant news director, eight full-time reporters, a commentator and a digital editor. The station has built some of the best online content packages in the member station sphere. Mark talks about ways to get your radio reporters thinking digitally.

Discussing Workflow with Mark Brush, Senior Producer at Michigan Radio.

Highlights (timestamped to the video)

  • 4:40 Brush’s digital setup - his work includes communicating with reporters and interacting with the audience through comments on the website, on Facebook and on Twitter. Brush says “Comments are content” so he takes them seriously. Brush uses Tweetdeck to manage his consumption of Twitter, and he segments his Twitter lists to watch what Michigan Radio reporters are tweeting, as well as what other news sources are reporting. He also watches website analytics carefully, using Google Analytics and Chartbeat. Brush says he keeps staff informed of what’s happening too. Staff can log in to analytics but he also emails the team with the top stories each week, and sends out emails immediately when stories “blow up.”
  • 10:50 Michigan Radio has created a “digital whiteboard,” which is a group of shared documents that the team uses to manage coverage plans. This replaces the physical whiteboard that isn’t useful for reporters who don’t work in the building, and reporters have access to Google tools like Drive so these docs are constantly available and up to date. This is a great idea, especially for stations with remote staff. The team also has a daily news meeting which involves the news team, the digital team (Brush and his interns) and the talk show staff. Everybody discusses what they’re working on and that can reveal overlaps or gaps in coverage.
  • 15:50 Do the reporters have digital quotas? Yes, Brush says the reporters are responsible for creating and posting the digital versions of their stories. But when the reporter is out covering an important story, the digital team will often publish an early version or versions of the story, so that the website has up-to-date news. When the reporter returns, she is able to add to the story. This way, an important story doesn’t have to wait for the reporter to get back to the building,. nor does the reporter have to take valuable time to pound out a story for the site on the spot.
  • 16:45 Brush talks about what stories work on which platforms and cases where a story works for both platforms. This is a robust conversation that takes place every day in the newsroom and every story gets a little different treatment.
  • 20:25 Brush describes how Michigan Radio covered a breaking news story - a Right-to-Work protest at the state capitol. The reporter on the scene filed for the hourly newscast, taking photos, tweeting, and checking in regularly with Brush back in the newsroom. Brush also monitored other news sources on Twitter, which allowed him to offer frequent updates on the website and twitter. He doesn’t have a set rule for how often he posts during breaking news, instead focusing on publishing when he has new information. There’s also a good discussion here about using external content from other news organizations, including the larger newspapers. Michigan Radio plays a curatorial role in sharing the good reporting it finds, as a public service.
  • 30:15 Brush offers more detail, in response to a question, on the digital responsibilities of reporters. 
  • 32:15 Brush discusses how he creates a digital package of content. Michigan Radio offered a specially created voter guide for Michigan ballot proposals that was among the most viewed stories that the station has generated. There were related audio pieces but the team re-imagined the information to make it truly useful for the digital audience.
  • 35:40 Brush says that digital training for the staff is ongoing. “We had the philosophy that this is new and we are going to learn it together.” The team shares what it learns and shares successes and learning moments so everyone advances.
  • 40:20 What happens after the story is published, in terms of follow-ups and updates? Brush gives an example of a radio story about ticks (which was posted to the website) that resulted in a second post with useful information and takeaways that weren’t in the original radio piece. That second piece generated thousands of page views. Brush says, “There’s the on-air voice, but we can also have an online voice.”
  • 43:50 Who edits the reporter’s web posts? Brush talks about Michigan Radio’s workflow.
  • 48:35 Mark’s Workflow Wisdom: 1) Everyone is a “web guy” - everyone has skills and interests to offer and everyone can make a contribution; 2) The website needs to be “produced” - there needs to be somebody in charge, an editor who manages the flow of content and who monitors its success; 3) Give your audience a seat at the table - provide them with helpful information that makes complicated stories more interesting and understandable.

 

Gabe Bullard
Director of News and Editorial Strategy, WFPL News

Gabe oversees a newsroom that repeatedly produces viral content and breaking news for a digital audience while also producing great radio. There are five beat reporters, two producers, three hosts, a broadcast managing editor, a digital editor and news director. And in late 2012, the station launched a new five person investigative unit, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Bullard talks at length about strategies for finding the balance with story treatments. This webinar can be especially useful for news director and editors who are grappling with ways to make content more effective on all platforms.

Discussing Workflow with Gabe Bullard, Director of News and Editorial Strategy, WFPL.

Highlights (timestamped to the video)

  • 3:45 Bullard talks about the radio and digital responsibilities of the reporters, producers and editors - the requirement to meet the broadcast clock vs. the immediate demands of online. Producers are able to assist hosts and reporters with digital responsibilities, when necessary.
  • 8:30 Bullard looks at how the digital audience has grown and what data has revealed about the topics that the audience is interested in. The data has helped WFPL News focus on content that is of most interest to the audience. The station has more than doubled its digital audience (as of April 2013) and has broken several major stories with significant page views. Bullard shows the two major “spikes” which had occurred as of April 2013.
  • 12:15 Bullard promotes the idea of making audience data available to everyone in the newsroom. WFPL shows Chartbeat on a large screen in the newsroom, so reporters can see how the audience is interacting with their stories in real time.
  • 13:45 Bullard illustrates how stories evolve on-air and online with several examples throughout the webinar, showing how the workflow for each varies. He also talks about editorial decisions: which stories are appropriate for both platforms? Which stories might be best suitable just for radio or just for online? One example: rather intricate, unfolding stories might be better suited to digital, where the audience can read about each twist and turn. Such stories get a different treatment for radio because they are too complicated to present to listeners who are multi-tasking (driving, for instance) while listening. There’s also some good information in here about how to handle developing stories online. Bullard says there are times when he feels it isn’t necessary to post audio for certain kinds of stories - and he offers his rationale.
  • 29:50 Bullard gives an example of a major environmental series that caused a large volume of reaction when it aired on radio over several days; but the digital buildout of the series got very little response. He theorizes why this might be the case.
  • 35:00 Bullard discusses the evolution of the WFPL’s approach to presenting digital versions of interviews - long write-ups etc. WFPL has also experimented with positioning these longer pieces on Sundays, where they seem to draw an audience. The interview aired on radio as a three minute piece, but online it got a full write-up with extra material. Bullard says it took him a couple hours, but the piece was better and offered more viewpoints, including published criticism of the author's work, than a simple author interview or a transcription of the recording.
  • 40:15 In response to a question, Bullard talks about a typical day as news director at WFPL. There are daily news meetings and frequent consultations with the editors and reporters. The day becomes unstructured, although constantly busy, afte rthe 10am meeting, says Bullard.
  • 43:00 Bullard talks about the amount of content generated by the newsroom. There are at least six newscast spots a day for the radio newscasts. Reporters may generate 1-2 radio stories a day as well as posts, and reporters also create short online-only posts while they are working on feature-length pieces. Digital and Radio are in the same space, a large, open newsroom where everyone sits. The new investigative unit, Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, is in a separate room because of a lack of space but there are plans to build a larger newsroom. Host Ki Sung notes that we see the greatest success when the digital news function is embedded in the newsroom.
  • 47:10 The tools used by Bullard and the WFPL News team: The tools are simple but effective: Dropbox to organize all stories and share them with reporters and newscasters. Everybody always has the latest version of the story if there are changes. Bullard maintains daybooks in Evernote. The team uses Yammer to communicate and share information, problems, comments from listeners, notify others of finished stories etc. It’s a nice replacement for several different types of communication that use to take place on email. It doesn’t replace email completely, but Bullard likens it to “shouting across the newsroom.” Some things you just shout, and some things you say privately.
  • 51:30 Bullard discusses the resources involved in retooling for digital, how money was reallocated internally. It wasn’t a huge amount of money; it was decision making and budgeting based on station priorities. Sung and Bullard agree it doesn’t make sense to wait for new money to magically appear; one must shepherd one’s resources to provide services that matter most to the audience, and what matters most changes over time.

 Grace Hood, Reporter, KUNC

Grace Hood has won numerous awards for her on-air reporting in Colorado, but she also actively produces content for KUNC's website as well. She discusses how to do both without being overwhelmed. This webinar is useful for reporters who are creating content for multiple platforms, who are tasked with live-tweeting events they cover, or who participate in breaking news coverage.

Workflow with Grace Hood (April 16 2013).

Highlights (timestamped to the video)

  • 2:55 Hood talk about her daily routine: her Tweetdeck setup; the Twitter lists she maintains, including a list of all the reporters in northern Colorado; and the analytics dashboard for KUNC showing how stories are faring.
  • 4:45 Hood talks about how she has covered a number of different types of stories - including major breaking news events, such as the Hyde Park fire - and her contributions to the digital work headed up by digital media manager Jim Hill - photos, tweets, etc. Often, she’ll create followup posts to stories she’s posted earlier, as she finds now elements to share. This section of the webinar is a nice overview of different approaches to creating stories for the web, especially stories that are built out from radio pieces.
  • 13:00 Hood talks about some stories that didn’t perform as well as expected. It might have been the time of day, the day, or maybe the format of the post that caused it not to do as well as expected. One of the examples is an audio postcard with a video. It was a wonderful piece but the web presentation didn’t perform well.
  • 18:45 Hood talks about the initial resistance from members of the news team to doing the extra work for the web, but she says the transition was a good thing ultimately. And in response to a question from webinar host Ki Sung, Hood describes her time commitment to create various kinds of content, from webifying a radio story to creating a followup post
  • 22:40 Hood talks about how KUNC decides which stories to webify for the site. She says the team has learned that any stories that have “aged” will not perform well. Neither do webified versions of radio Q&A interviews. They’ve tried some different approaches, following a model used by Fresh Air, with a story and selected quotes, but a complete transcription is not worth the effort. There’s also a discussion here of the fun stories that have succeeded with the audience, but the “meat” of the KUNC digital service is quality news and that is drawing a growing audience. Here's some of our research on creating serious stories that are shareable.
  • 27:15 Hood spends several minutes talking about how she interacts with the station’s digital editor, Jim Hill. He offers advice to reporters looking for ideas for the digital versions of stories (photos, videos, etc); he edits the reporters’ work; he sends story suggestions to reporters and hosts; and he’s situated in the newsroom where he can always be in the loop. Here’s an example of Hood’s work.
  • 33:30 Hood talks about the complexity of gathering audio and interviewing sources, while also taking photos and video. She says it’s all about priorities: she must get audio, but it’s great to get extra content, too.
  • 35:05 Hood talks about the workflow involved in reporting a story, from the event to the post on the web. She also talks about how she sets aside time to do web-only posts. Hood says most of the time, she picks stories that are relatively easy to do in a short amount of time. In response to another question, she discusses why some stories published to the web don’t end up on the radio. Sometimes they’re too complicated to present to a radio audience or there’s no useful audio available. The conversation occurs over several minutes and she answers other questions about creating web-native posts.
  • 44:00 Hoods talks about blogging breaking news, especially in situations where multiple reporters are contributing. She says when she’s in the field, she’s spending her time gathering as much information as she can and feeding it back to the station. There, the digital editor and news director are receiving that information and creating and updating stories for the radio and the web. Here's more training about breaking news and live-blogging.
  • 50:15 Hood talks about her weekly workload - the web stories, spots and features that she’s responsible for.
  • 51:15 Social media, especially Twitter, is something Hood is expected to do. She talks about her learning process, how she improved her live-tweeting capabilities and her strategy for successful live-tweeting.
  • 55:15 In response to a question, Hood and Sung analyze a story mentioned earlier that had great promise but didn’t work out well. Was it because Hood posted it on a Friday afternoon? Was the headline specific enough to compel someone to read the story? Could the main image have been better?