Newsrooms traditionally reached their audience through one channel and measured a story’s success by its impact on the local community.
However, that’s all changed, said Ellyn Angelotti, Director of Custom Programs at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
Audiences now access a media outlet through multiple channels. In addition to traditional print and broadcasting, newsrooms maintain desktop and mobile sites, tablet apps, blogs, and social media.
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The community has diversified and impact is measured on a greater scale.
Angelotti, who also teaches social media and law at Poynter, was joined by Circa News Director David Cohn, Washington Post Mobile/Tablet Editor Theodore Kim, and moderator Sarah Skerik for a discussion on how newsrooms are adapting to the ever-changing media environment.
At the Washington Post, Kim said, evaluating a story’s success depends on the individual piece. While the publication’s ultimate goal is to effect positive change in government and society, the Post offers news sections and 30+ blogs on a variety of topics. An entertainment or sports story may be guided by different metrics.
Each section looks beyond universal metrics to discover how specific engagement is influenced by human production. The Post may examine a story’s clickthroughs to determine whether there is something in the user experience, headline, or story arc that worked well and can be replicated or improved upon.
Kim clarified, though, that it’s important to remember every newsroom – from the Huffington Post and New York Times to the Dallas Morning News – has different revenue strategies and ways it views its audience.
For instance, whereas news is commonly thought of as a one way stream, Cohn said Circa looks at it as a back-and-forth relationship between the outlet and audience.
The mobile news app measures success based on a unique metric. When a reader is on the app, they can “follow” a story that interests them. The next time someone visits the app, Cohn’s team delivers quick updates based on what’s changed since that individual’s last visit.
Keeping track of what readers consume allows the app to customize the best possible experience and build a relationship over time.
Metrics’ Impact on Journalists and Newsrooms
Although a journalist may be more focused on serving their audience than forecasting metrics, it’s clear that metrics have had an impact on storytelling and the role of journalists over time.
One of these changes is a breakdown in the inverted pyramid structure. Kim cited the popularity of the Post’s 9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask and how it bridged the gap between old and new storytelling.
On the one hand, the story fit the traditional role of the media by educating its audience on the intricacies of an important and complex topic. However, its execution took a new approach. The headline was written to be very shareable on social media and the story format broke the issue down into 9 bite-size items of substance.
Circa, similarly, has found success by organizing its stories into atomic units: facts, quotes, statistics, events, and images. These “snackable” formats are gaining popularity because audiences want to get to the point quickly.
Metrics also come into play when determining which stories are published.
Newsworthiness used to be decided by editors and publishers, said Angelotti. But more often, we’re seeing it defined by what a newsroom’s social networks and online audience are talking about.
Kim agreed, with a caveat. If everyone is talking about something on social media, a news organization should pay attention to it; however, it may not necessarily be newsworthy.
We have to keep in mind that the number of active social media users is a fraction of the world population, he said. When something is being talked about on Twitter, the tendency is to think that everyone is talking about it. That’s not always the case.
Because of this, most journalists use every tool that’s out there: They’ll have multiple columns up in Tweetdeck while filtering through incoming email and keeping an eye on Google News alerts, saved searches, and the newsroom’s other notification systems.
As Angelotti succinctly put it: “Journalists have gone from just being storytellers to sensemakers.”
It’s a journalist’s responsibility to sort through the glut of information, verify it, add context, and give the audience the resources to think critically.
How can PR help, not hurt this newsgathering process?
Kim estimated that he receives 600-700 emails a day. Conservatively, 10 of those emails are relevant pitches for stories.
To improve your pitch’s chance of cutting through the other emails, it’s important to understand a journalist’s audience. Journalists develop a niche and expertise. They know and understand who their audience is and how to serve them. “If your pitch can sync to that, all the better,” said Cohn. “If it’s out of left field, it’s like finger nails on chalk board.”
Angelotti said that a pitch is more compelling if you go beyond the boilerplate information, and tell a story. A good journalist will take that as a first step and push it further. They may not use your version of the story, but the process you undergo to research and craft your brand’s narrative surfaces valuable insight.
The same goes for multimedia, said Kim. Although it’s helpful to have images and video available, many reporters will not use your video package in its entirety. It’s important to make your materials editable and easy to break apart.
The panelists agreed that the best way to get your story heard is by building a relationship with the journalist. “Ask yourself: How many times have you engaged with a reporter on Twitter? Have you retweeted and read their stuff?” suggested Kim.
One thing is clear: While journalism and public relations are constantly in flux, thorough and thoughtful relationship building isn’t going anywhere.
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As a media relations manager at PR Newswire, Amanda Hicken enjoys helping journalists and bloggers customize the news they receive on PR Newswire for Journalists. Follow her at @PRNewswire and @ADHicken.