Susan Hassler, editor-in-chief of the excellent IEEE Spectrum Magazine, concluded the Editorial Best Practices & Workflow track at last week’s SIIA Regional Training Series with a familiar refrain: use the actionable New York Times Digital Innovation Report. Her favorite line from the 96-page tome is that it used to be hitting the send button on a story marked the end of your work; today, it marks the beginning.
Hassler has put together her own Top 11 from the Times Report. Here they are with some of my notes and quotes from the Report:
1. Build your structure with Legos not bricks. “The right structure for today won’t be the right structure for tomorrow,” the Report said. “Our needs will change quickly and our skills will become out of date. More than anything we need to make ourselves adaptable. That means constantly assessing needs, recruiting talent and changing structures. And that means sometimes creating jobs with expiration dates to help us in transitional moments.”
2. Add the necessary digital capabilities to your staff. “Create tools to become a platform for the reaction after the news breaks. For example, we could create an interactive quiz or survey related to the draft, or start a moderated discussion thread with prominent figures.”
3. View your output like your audience does. IEEE launched a new mobile site in January, and since that time mobile traffic has jumped 80%—now accounting for 15% of all traffic. Part of that had to come from optimizing the designs for mobile.
4. Empower your staff to do more testing. Create a culture of experimentation. As an example, the Times Report said that people interested in the longtime hit show Wicked were having trouble finding the original Times review. They suggested adding landing pages for the cultural content that are more like guides. Optimized for search and social, these guides would serve the reader who want a more timeless resource. Most B2B publishers have similar “timeless” content that should be made easy to find. One other great quote: “Reward experimentation. Currently, the risk of failing greatly outweighs the reward of succeeding at The Times.”
5. As you enter into new areas—webinars, live events, etc.—rethink the competition. You’re taking on new types of companies now—it’s a different playing field. In-person attendees, people on the webcast, digital subscribers are all now members of your audience.
6. Consider creating a digital fellowship program. Partner with a local university or community college. “Once [students from those programs] are in the door, we have a better chance of retaining top performers.”
7. Let employees transfer easily between editorial and business units. For smaller publishers, the idea might be to give editorial people the chance to sit in on a business or marketing-side meeting/task force and vice versa.
8. Coordinate your efforts. There are pockets of people doing lots of interesting work. “The newsroom should begin an intensive review of its print traditions and digital needs—and create a road map for the difficult transition ahead. We need to know where we are, where we’re headed and where we want to go.”
9. An article begins life when you hit send. “We need to be better advocates of our own work,” the Report concluded. “[This] means identifying and sharing best practices at the ground level, and encouraging reporters and editors to promote their stories. In addition, we must take the process of optimization, for search and social, more seriously and ensure we are updating our tools and workflow along with our changing needs.”
10. Find staff people who take well to digital. Make sure hiring managers understand the demands of the jobs they’re trying to fill, and can assess the skills of applicants. Put less emphasis on traditional journalism skills in digital hires, and put more emphasis on digital skills in journalism hires. Empower and develop your digital talent by asking them to help shape, rather than simply implement, strategy.
11. Start a task force to lead the digital-first, new-product thinking. One conclusion I found interesting: “Kill off mediocre efforts. To free up resources for new initiatives, we need to be quicker and smarter about pulling resources from efforts that aren’t working. And we must do it in a way that is transparent so that people understand the reasons behind the decision, so that they will be willing to experiment again.”
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 , and then SIIA in 2013.