Building an innovative website or multi-platform newsroom involves considerable hard work, requires a combination of creative and technical skills, and the right temperament, such as perseverance and ability to innovate at a quick pace. As this business provides recognition and monetary benefits, the effort satisfyingly pays off.
A mobile first digital newspaper is different from most other online news business in the sense that success depends not just on journalistic content, but also on a focused, well thought of mobile strategy.
Based on his experience working on Cronkite News, where students manage multiplatform publishing in seven verticals, here are Mike Reilley‘s account and tips on how to build a mobile first, cross-platform digital newspaper. A great guide, if you ask me. Not only for businesses but also for any other type of organization you’re in!
1. Assemble a small team to run the project but be transparent
This first tip may sound contradictory, but it’s actually a delicate balancing act of communication and quick decision-making.
Callahan formed a five-person web redesign committee that determined the creative direction of the site. But the group didn’t work in isolation. My digital production bureau students were involved from day one, working on design concepts and navigation as well as figuring out how to better present our news program, Cronkite News, which appears weeknights on Arizona PBS during the school year.
We also involved our fellow Cronkite News directors at weekly meetings, where we discussed design, strategies, social media, SEO, cross-promotion and other aspects of the news brand. Always be open about changes as you’re implementing them.
2. Play to your strengths but explore what your news outlet isn’t doing digitally
Beyond making the site more mobile-friendly, we wanted to better showcase the Cronkite News broadcast on the site and expand our data visualizations. Our digital production bureau teamed with reporters to build the visualizations, and one of our students suggested featuring the news program on one of the slides in our home page’s top rotator. Broadcast professor Melanie Alvarez and Associate Dean Kristin Gilger helped us develop a TV schedule at the bottom of the home page that highlights the Arizona PBS 2.5-hour news block.
The digital team used responsive design with Bootstrap so the site would work and look great on desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile. Photo courtesy Kevin Brown Designs.
3. Remember that mobile design is only a small part of a larger mobile strategy
If you’re not thinking mobile, you’re dead. It’s something we hear at conferences all the time. So when we rebuilt the site, we knew it had to not only look great, but also function well on multiple platforms. That’s why we went with responsive web design rather than an app, so it could work anywhere. And we continue to build our mobile strategy beyond just the design, looking at various ways we can package public affairs stories that appeal to the on-the-go audience.
4. Create a digital workflow, and newsroom geography matters
Callahan helped us tailor our daily news meetings to be multi-platform discussions. We switched from using our client news budget for website planning to an internal Google Doc that was updated throughout the day.
This spurred more lively discussion at the morning meetings about how to package stories visually. This was a landmark move not only for the new website and digital platforms we were building, but also in shifting the newsroom culture.
Our biggest challenge moving forward remains geography. Our digital production bureau is on the second floor, and the main newsroom is on the sixth. That seems like worlds apart, particularly on deadline. My goal for the upcoming year is to somehow find room in the main newsroom for digital production. This issue is not unique to Cronkite, and I’ve heard from many colleagues in professional newsrooms who are dealing with geography amid cultural transition.
5. Make analytics a routine in your newsroom
I require all of my students to write weekly analytics reports that we share with the directors. We measure web traffic and social media, and use many tools to analyze how our social media accounts are affecting traffic. If you aren’t requiring this of your students now, start this fall.
Costs are low. We use free Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, YouTube analytics and Twitter analytics in the weekly reports. We also use a paid version of Chartbeat to measure web traffic in real time. Social media analytics tools such as Moz, Tweepsmap and Tweriod give our students and faculty insight into followers and their behaviors.
We use the analytics to look for trends. We’ve found that many of our stories about the Navajo Nation are shared heavily on Facebook. Our sports business and sports medicine stories are among our most-shared on Twitter. This insight gives us new perspectives when we enter news meeting discussions with our students.
6. Write a primer and establish guidelines as you go
I co-drafted a social media strategy with broadcast colleague Heather Dunn. As we built out our site on a development server, I wrote a primer for students and faculty directors while we were constructing the site. This helped in training new students and faculty. All it takes is a Google doc, and it’ll pay off.
Cronkite News headlines and links appear on ADOT TV screens in five Phoenix locations. The boards will expand to 30 outlets statewide by 2016 and include Cronkite News newscasts. (Courtesy photo)
7. Innovate … and keep innovating
I always tell my students that I’m a bit of a mad scientist, someone who’s not afraid to experiment with new concepts and tools. I often team with our instructional technologist, Nic Lindh, to try new tools and storytelling platforms.
We built data visualizations in Tableau Public, Google Chartbuilder and Datawrapper. We built interactive quizzes, designed dozens of static infographics and built maps in Google Fusion Tables and CartoDB. Some projects turned out better than others. But with each graphic or experiment, we learned something.
And our learning is far from done.
This summer, we worked with the Arizona Department of Transportation to feature Cronkite News branding, headlines and web links on video displays at DMV locations throughout the state.
Waiting times often extend beyond an hour, and DMV visitors surveyed said they want news while waiting. Now they have it. By fall, a closed-caption version of our Cronkite News broadcast will air on the boards. Our headlines also run on a ticker on our downtown building.
We hired Eric Newton as the innovation chief for Cronkite News. He’ll work with our directors and students to think through creative new ways to reach our audience.
Multiplatform publishing success isn’t guaranteed in seven tips, though this is a start. Often, publishers are left to develop strategies based on instinct. But you can count on it, that every platform is a learning opportunity.
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