As I've made my way to many of the newsrooms in the Digital First Media family, one question I'm consistently asked is: "Can you give some examples of who is doing 'Digital First' right?" Truth is, there isn't one place that's doing it all right -- not at DFM, not in the world -- but there are examples all over the company where we're using traditional and digital storytelling tools to produce journalism we can be proud of.
To make sure that information was making its way around the company in a form that was succinct but helpful, I decided to start a weekly memo called, "The Three," where we discuss three projects we're proud of and describe how it was done. The first edition went out last week, and below is an edited version. I'll be posting an edited version of each week's note on this blog as well.
#1, Week of Jan. 16
1) Special weather coverage from the San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Steve Hunt, senior editor at San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and his staff made the best of a bad situation when a dangerous wind storm ripped through their coverage area. While the main office was without power in West Covina, Calif., Hunt said the staff didn’t need a newsroom and proved “that we have not only embraced a digital-first mentality, but also that we serve our communities much better than our competitors online.” The SGVT staff worked with sister paper Pasadena Star-News in the coverage.
The online team of Erick Galindo and Daniel Tedford launched a crowdsourced community map and readers shared their stories of damage. In a four-day period, the Google Map received 170,000 page views. Traffic to the site was nearly tripled during the widespread storm coverage, with use of social media, the website, e-mail alerts and so on to promote coverage.
In addition to staff multimedia and stories, videos filed by community members were also posted. The staff used Scribd to publish documents related to the storm.
The morale in the newsroom was boosted, he also said. The staff members “were just motivated to do the best job they could covering a big local disaster that affected most of our readers,” Hunt said.
Since the windstorm, Hunt has filled an open position with a backpack journalist.
In today’s digital age, and being part of Digital First Media, a reporter doesn’t necessarily need a newsroom to provide the latest, breaking news coverage.
2) Jim Matthews scandal coverage at Norristown, Pa.-based The Times Herald
The arrest of Jim Matthews, the brother of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, was and continues to be a major breaking story for the Norristown staff. The Times Herald began working on the story in 2009, and it still continues to unfold, with the recent charges filed and court documents released outlining Matthews’ alleged perjury and false swearing while testifying under oath.
The DA's investigation “was helped in part by the reporting two of our staffers had done and some editorials written along the way,” according to Online Editor John Berry.
Stan Huskey, editor-in-chief at The Times Herald, said reporters Jenny DeHuff and Keith Phucas won a Philadelphia Press Association award for public service for their reporting, and Huskey himself contributed an editorial. DeHuff also took first place in Investigative Journalism category for in the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association's Keystone Awards.
One result of the articles and editorials -- which focused on the weakness of Pennsylvania's Sunshine and campaign finance laws -- was a new law that featured stiffer penalties for violating the Sunshine Law.
Because The Times Herald broke the “Breakfastgate” story in 2010, competitors and national outlets -- including The New York Times -- have cited it in their own coverage.
Lesson learned: Follow up and sticking with a big story is important in any newsroom. Investigative reporting, strong editorials and a nose for news led to an arrest and a change to an important law. That's watchdog journalism at its best.
3) A community editorial board at Northern Michigan-based The Morning Sun
When Morning Sun Editor Rick Mills launched a community editorial board, he said he knew there was a “growing knowledge that a strong opinion page was just as important to the community as news coverage.” Mills said he was uncomfortable with the idea of every local editorial coming from him, an editor or even the staff.
Mills wrote a column outlining his perspective and suggested community members contribute to the opinion page on a regular basis. He created an application process and community members submitted informal introductions, answered some questions and addressed three local issues they felt deserved attention. Fifteen applicants responded. The resulting community editorial board has ranged from nine to 15 members. Regular contributors post weekly and share a community blog on the website.
“They have been extremely valuable in terms of ideas for editorials, positions and guidance, but also contribute equally to story generation. For a small staff, we more than doubled our eyes and ears by having community members looking out, talking to friends and coworkers and bringing back to us what they hear and see and think,” Mills said.
“My main advice would be to try it in some form, get media lab folks involved, teach them, and show them how important a newspaper's voice and a strong editorial page are,” Mills said. “In many communities there are many sources for news, we need to lead on more than just news and readers like and respond to strong local opinion pages.”