By Daniel Paulling
Early last year, the Times-Picayune sports department resembled many others: too few staffers for everything it wanted to cover. But after the company's much-publicized change in focus from its newspaper to its website in October 2012, the department has grown.
NOLA Media Group sports manager Marcus Carmouche has about 30 full-timers, compared to about 20 previously, and 14 part-timers. He doesn't need to scrounge for people anymore.
“Which is a welcome relief,” said Carmouche, who was promoted to sports manager in June after previous sports manager Doug Tatum left to work for the Saints and Pelicans.
One year after the transition, Carmouche believes the process has gone well but is never ending.
“We're looking at new ways we can reinvent what we do and how we can do it,” he said. “One of the things we never want to be is stagnant. That's when the gap that we have established with us and everybody else that we're so far ahead of, that's when you might see it narrow.”
In addition to more staff, budgets have also expanded. Pelicans beat writer John Reid covered the team's Summer League in Las Vegas and flies in a day early to cover shootaround before road games.
But with the expansion has come an expectation of more content. Three hours after every Saints game, Carmouche said, there are about 15 pieces of content online, including three within three minutes.
Reid now writes a story from shootaround — the paper used to just include an item in a notebook — and shoots three videos after each game. He does two chats and at least one studio show each week.
“I think the age we are in right now in journalism, you have to be multi-dimensional,” Reid said. “It's no more you're a guy that goes out and writes well and breaks stories and be defined by that. You have to be broad in your beat. You have to be willing to adjust quickly.”
The transition at the Times-Picayune — which involved laying off more than 200 people and reducing home delivery — has been associated with reporters who create “buzz” posts designed to draw traffic.
But Carmouche was able to hire SEC/LSU writer Ron Higgins from the Memphis Commercial Appeal to do features and enterprise. Higgins flew with SEC commissioner Mike Slive to watch the South Carolina-Missouri football game in October and produced a 3,000-plus-word feature.
“[Higgins] is able to do features that nobody else in this state or maybe this region is able to do,” Carmouche said. “We're able to give readers stuff very few outlets, none in this state, are able to.”
NOLA Media Group's initial decision to stop delivering a daily print product — after planning to print just three days a week, it began printing a tabloid edition not for delivery and an early Sunday edition on Saturdays — pushed the Baton Rouge Advocate to print a daily newspaper in New Orleans.
But Carmouche doesn't see the competition as a newspaper war.
“We're in a media war,” he said. “We view our competition as more than just the newspapers here. We view it as the news at 5, the news at 6 o'clock, the news at noon.”
Some of NOLA Media Group's new projects include partnering with sister company Alabama Media Group to do shows discussing SEC football and recruiting. The expansion is all part of deciding how best to serve an audience in print and online.
“We're still going through growing pains now,” Carmouche said. “It's a good thing, actually. It shows how fluid this dynamic is. We're free to think outside the box. There's no blueprint of what we want to do and how we do it. That's what makes it so exciting. It's what we make of it.”
Carmouche and Reid shared tips on how editors and reporters can boost their digital presence.
Carmouche on what an editor can do:
“One of the things I would say is listen. Listen to your readership but also listen to your staff. They're the ones out there on the beats and on the streets. They know how to serve the readers best.
“Also, just be flexible. Know that not everything you do will succeed. There will be some instances where you think you have a wonderful idea but maybe the execution is not there. But be flexible about that. Nobody has a true blueprint on what our future holds.”
Reid on how reporters can best take video in interviews:
“Try to record your one question instead of tape-recording the whole interview. If Anthony Davis has a career-high six blocked shots, you just narrow it to that focus. 'OK, Anthony, were you surprised you were able to block that many shots?'
“When you shoot that video with him, you have that one conversation piece rather than having everything from the whole interview session. You put that headline above that video, it gets you a little bit more traffic than just, 'Catching up with Anthony Davis after the game.'”
Reid on how reporters can perform better on video:
“You have to take it as a conversational piece. I watch different shows on TV and watch what they do and take notes from that. [Reid believes NBA TV is a good example.]
“My flaw when I first starting doing these studio shows was I was worried. Am I looking too nervous? Am I speaking loud enough? Once I could get a couple of them, I got a little bit more relaxed. Just relax and take your time. Be clear and direct in what you say.”
Reid on writing for web:
“You have to hit things quickly. For example, the Pelicans are not playing very well right now. We're looking at what are the particulars. Their biggest problem is defense. I'm writing a lot of stories about [coach] Monty’s [Williams] reaction is to that problem and what the players are saying about those issues. I think you narrow your focus to one thing more rather than this broad thing.”
Personnel moves across the nation:
—Northeast Ohio Media Group: Hired David Cassilo and Scott Patsko as high school reporters … hired Tim Bielik, Mark Kern, Joe Noga and Robert Rozboril as high school producers
—Iowa City Press-Citizen: Hired Ryan Murken as new sports editor
—Kansas City Star: Hired Kathleen Gier as high school/Sporting KC reporter
—Southeast Missourian: Named Rachel Crader as sports editor
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Lost preps reporter Nate Latsch, who moved to Fox Sports Midwest
—USA Today: Named Dave Morgan as president of USA Today Sports Media Group
—Washington Post: Hired Tariq Lee as high school sports reporter
—Washington Times: Lost Nationals beat writer Amanda Comak, who was named director of baseball media relations and new media for Nationals … hired Zac Boyer from Fredericksburg (Va.) Free-Lance Star
—AP: Named Michael Giarrusso as global sports editor
—MassLive: Named Jim Pignatiello as high school sports producer
—NJ.com: Hired Dan Duggan to cover Rutgers and A.J. Perez to cover New York Giants … moved Brendan Kuty from news to cover New York Yankees … moved Jordan Raanan from Philadelphia sports coverage to Giants
—Wall Street Journal: Hired Sharon Terlep as investigative/enterprise sports reporter
—Columbian: Hired Erik Gundersen as Portland Trail Blazers reporter
—Peninsula Daily News: Promoted Lee Horton to sports editor
—Baton Rouge Advocate: Hired Ross Dellenger, who had been covering Missouri for the Columbia Tribune, as LSU football/baseball reporter
—Pensacola News Journal: Named news desk editor Jason Blakeney sports editor
—South Florida Sun Sentinel: Hired Ryan S. Clark as high school reporter
—TimesDaily: Hired John McWilliams to cover high schools
—Bay Area Newspaper Group: Promoted Marcus Thompson from Golden State Warriors beat to columnist
—Long Beach Press-Telegram: Hired Mike Guardabascio and J.J. Fiddler as high school sports reporters
—Orange County Register: Hired Mark Heisler as a contributing columnist
—Seattle Times: Hired Ryan Divish as Mariners beat writer