By Patricia Lee, Grantland
SANTA MONICA, Calif. – With an increasingly faster news cycle and the public’s need for instantaneous information, many newsrooms are teaching their reporters to adapt for the web. At the annual APSE West Region meeting at Yahoo! headquarters, two sports managers from the San Jose Mercury News discussed a new "digital first" strategy at their company aimed at transforming the sports department.
“The one thing we know is that all of us are facing change,” sports editor Bud Geracie said. “Digital first means seeing it, tweeting it, reporting it, posting it all to the web within a few minutes—unless we can do it more quickly than that.”
Geracie and assistant editor Mark Conley addressed issues they’ve seen in their department’s transition and how they helped reporters embrace blogging, Tweeting, updating Facebook pages and crafting SEO-friendly headlines.
“Everyone on staff has a Personal Digital Strategy, with target goals for analytics such as Twitter followers and page views,” Conley said. “Mandatory training is being administered on topics such as SEO, Twitter, Facebook and Storify.”
The paper’s success can be seen in its reporters’ numbers. A spreadsheet shared with editors at the meeting shows a writer’s page views increasing from 65,446 in August to 69,712 in September to 200,213 in October, which was during the San Francisco Giants' World Series run.
Top headlines were SEO-friendly, with 49ers coverage topping the list, followed by stories on the Giants. Heavily trafficked baseball articles had headlines like “Tim Lincecum speculation shot down by Giants” and “World Series Giants did a number on the Detroit Tigers,” which garnered 9,140 and 6,844 page views, respectively.
Despite the increase in the reporter’s numbers, Geracie and Conley found that the reporter was often reluctant to write brief stories that he thought were insignificant or sensationalized, like the Lincecum one. They added that this problem is one that comes up more often with traditional print reporters.
“It’s getting them to realize that it’s a different threshold, and that if it’s part of public discourse and it’s being talked about, then people are going to want to know if it’s legit or not,” Conley said.
Geracie added, “For guys like this writer in particular, you feed the beast on the easy ones that take two minutes, and you save time on the real journalism you want to do. It’s kind of like making your sales quota then doing what you want to do.”
To help their reporters meet their individual Personal Digital Strategy [PDS], the two meet with their assigned writers every 30 days to evaluate the staffer’s performance over the past month and talk about what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve.
Geracie and Conley shared tips they found helpful when dealing with difficult writers and helping transition their newsroom into a digital-first newsroom. Among them: Actively seek contagiousness among staff members, let no teachable moment go un-taught, appeal to sportswriters’ competitive nature, publicly recognize jobs well-done, and be willing to try anything — but be ready to abort it quickly.