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This post was written by Rod Overton, the recently laid-off web guru who was the subject of this post about the newspaper industry.

Here are 8 things newspapers need to do RIGHT NOW to survive (I wrote these about a month ago, but have been thinking them — and pushing various aspects for a couple of years):

1.) Immediately stop entering ALL contests. Period. They send exactly the WRONG feedback loop to reporters and editors.

2.) STOP hiring people based on their clips. Integrate online cooperation — and REAL — data about their impact on the online product into the hiring process.

3.) Start really looking at analytics and studying what you are doing well and do more of that. You can now use analytics to determine this. Start doing it.

4.) Look at what other aspects of time people use the web for and consider integrating parts of those “news” or information into your site. Weather is a perfect example. It’s the second or third most popular thing people do on the Internet. Yet, this newspaper refuses to expand its weather section to try to capture that group. It would cost about $500-$800 per month to have a completely kick BUTT weather section that would compete with TV sites and, but no one wants to do it.

5.) Largely centralize the news-gathering efforts. Keep one small group to do “think pieces” or long range investigations. Everyone else needs to report in ONE silo and have everything run through about 2-3 people for decision making. Currently there are TOO MANY silos with information that never makes it to the right people who can determine if that information would be best used (and how) on the online product.

6.) Emphasize speed and jobs that people do that no one typically wants to do. For years, the general message from newspapers is that those who do the least real work are those who will not be advanced or rewarded. Change the entire reward process.

7.) Create an assignment desk to handle all work assignments and workflow and center all actions around that. At the end of the day, take what you have and then put it in the paper — and let that be that. What is in the paper is just an afterthought. I have seen this exact model work in TV for a 6 o’clock newscast at perhaps the best local TV station in the nation. Why won’t it work for newspapers?

8.) Make NEW hires. Don’t just shift people around to keep layoffs from happening. Get new blood in the door to make the changes that are NEEDED. Don’t just try to hold on to who you have now because you personally like them. They are great people, but are they really who you need to move forward?

Rod Overton can be reached at rodneyoverton (at) yahoo dot com.

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This post is more of a transcript of a conversation that started on Facebook late last night and ended with a phone call earlier today.
I asked friend and former colleague Rod Overton about his job search and whether or not anything was in the hopper. He’s been out of a job since June and I’d been seeing a lot of his comments on the blog LostRemote. My question opened the door for a really good chat.

He answered with this:

“The real problem now is that media companies simply don’t want the truth or common sense. Sizzle, pizzaz and not examining what is not working (and then cutting that) is what they want (sorry for the double negative, but you get the point — they don’t want anyone to look behind the curtain or say the emperor has no clothes.)”

I then asked Rod to tell me more and indicated that I was interested in posting some of what he was writing on my blog. He was happy to oblige:

“The common thread to most of my messages on Lostremote is that during this upheaval (TRB bankruptcy, Belo bankruptcy and McClatchy at 73 cents) publishers and editors (and to an extent TV GMs) are not taking advantage of the environment to make (what is to them) serious changes.

Instead they seem to hope to skate through it as unchanged as possible not realizing that the situation itself is showing them they need to change.
A selfish case-in-point: Someone with my skills goes unhired while people with skills that are quite easy to come by are retained and — in some pathetic cases — shifted to new media roles they will ruin just as the legacy product was ruined.”

Still with me? There’s more.

I called Rod this morning and we spoke a bit more about some of this. He told me some stories about his interviewing experiences and organizations so resistant to change I thought I was sitting in 1987. I knew it was true though because one of the most profound statements he made was this:

Newspapers are stuck on a singular solution!

He says no one wants to overhaul everything and create systemic change.
What he’s referring to is initiatives like writing shorter stories, or adding more color to the front page or including more photos and a digest of what else can be found inside.

Short-sighted solutions that tackle maybe one issue that are seen as the one solution that will change things for the better.

What are your thoughts on this? Are any other organizations or industries focusing on a singular solution? And is the emperor wearing anything at all? What do you think of Rod’s rant?

Thanks Rod, for the interesting conversation. And I hope you find something soon.

*If you’d like to connect with Rod, you can find him on Facebook and LinkedIn

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One of the messages I tried hard to drive home during a session I held at the NC Center for Non-profits Statewide Conference two weeks ago, was this: Stop depending on the news media to tell your story!

It’s amazing that in this day and age of social media, many organizations and industries are still so heavily reliant on traditional media. I got the feeling during an informational lunch which was hosted by the Marketing Director of a local TV station and attended by several leaders of non-profit organizations, that everyone around the table would give their left arm just to know the magic secret behind getting news coverage.

“How do we get you to come to our events,” one woman asked.
As a former assignment manager at numerous TV stations, I know that there is no magic secret and I told them as much. I even went further to tell them that I was one of many managers in newsrooms across the country, who routinely tossed their well-crafted press releases in the recycling bin.

I saw shock on the faces of many. I went on to discuss the 22 minute news hole and the plight of producers charged with presenting the best and most important news of the day during that time frame. Couple that with a small number of news crews, and throw in a 2-alarm fire, and the chances of your festival or major fund raising event getting coverage are really slim. Actually the chances are pretty much non-existent.

“Have you ever thought about shooting your own video and providing it to the station?” I asked.
“We can do that?”

Yes, but you can also post your own video on YouTube and other video sharing sites. You can post it on your own website, or provide a link. You can submit it to communities that accept user-generated video. And that’s just a start. There’s so much that can be done beforehand to generate buzz that doesn’t involve traditional media.

It’s a brave new world, where you control a lot more than you once did, so learn the ropes and get involved. With social media comes freedom and it’s time for non-profits to break free.

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.


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