Tag Archives: WBZ

While media changes, the goal remains the same

Despite changing landscape, outlets must still cater to target audiences to remain relevant

Ten years ago, Andrea Courtois was just starting her career as an assignment editor in Providence, Rhode Island. Ten years ago, Rafat Ali was in the throes of his first startup, paidContent. Ten years ago, Justin Ellis was a reporter and columnist for the Portland Press Herald of Maine.

Ten years may not seem like a long time to anyone over the age of 30, but in the world of journalism, ten years has meant significant changes and adaptation. Though the three journalists just mentioned came from different media within the same industry, and had very different ways of conducting their jobs ten years ago, now how they research stories, cultivate sources, and follow leads is nearly identical. Nearly all of it is done online.

Courtois is now an assignment editor in Boston; Ali has sold his first startup to Guardian Media Group and launched a second, Skift; and Ellis is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

All three of them are quite aware of the changing dynamics of digital journalism. “Print and magazines have their place,” said Ali via Skype. “But daily newspapers in the U.S. do not make sense economically.”

Ali created his first startup, paidContent, in 2002 as an online news outlet that focused on aspects of digital media including business dealings, moves, and general news. In 2008, he sold this startup to Guardian Media Group. He took some time off, and in 2012 launched his new startup, Skift. Skift’s business model is providing news, information, data, and services to all sectors of travel.

In order to be sustainable, outlets need to diversify and think about other ways to brand themselves, suggested Ali. In addition to writing articles, sharing data, and engaging with readers via social media channels, Skift also hosts conferences and events. “There is a creative renaissance in conferences and events,” said Ali. “I think TED changed how we look at things, that we can build events around a certain subject manner. The Atlantic, Quartz, (The) New York Times, they’re all building revenues around events.”

PHOTOS: 15 minutes as a television assignment editor

Inviting audiences to events can help readership and loyalty. And so can engaging them online. Courtois tries to do that every day as an assignment editor at WBZ-TV. During a recent interview, Courtois said there’s a wide variance of acceptance of digital journalism throughout television newsrooms. She indicated that the level to which these newer platforms are used to enhance the traditional one depends on direction from news directors, producers, and ownership.

For her own growth and knowledge, Courtois said she takes the lead in many cases. “I try to check out whatever everyone is talking about,” she said. “Whether it’s Instagram or Snapchat or anything else, I usually sign up for an account to at least check it out.”

Whereas ten years ago Courtois would spend her time reading newspapers online or in print, these days she spends most of her time using TweetDeck cultivating stories for her crews.

“I set up (a reporter’s) entire story yesterday using Twitter,” she said, while sitting at her desk. “And people will tweet me tips all the time.”

As she said this, she stopped mid-sentence to turn up the volume on the police scanner to listen to a dispatcher talk about a reported attempted abduction. Courtois still uses more traditional means to get stories – whether it be a police scanner, email, or a simple phone call – but she said social media and digital journalism are what get most of her attention these days.

She even remembers when she signed up for Facebook in April 2007. “It was the day of the Virginia Tech shooting,” she recalled. “I had an intern tell me about Facebook, and I signed up to try to find students from Rhode Island who were there.”

“I also work to get permission from people to use their photos,” Courtois said. “Once I get that, I email it to everyone from reporters to producers to graphic designers, to let them know the information and the appropriate credit.”

The pictures and videos she finds online travel fast, much faster than when there was just one evening newscast and a morning paper.

Justin Ellis spends a lot of his time at Nieman Journalism Lab evaluating from where journalism has come and where it’s headed.

“Newspapers are not dead,” he said decisively during an interview at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. “But they need to figure out different ways to be more effective in how they’re distributed.”

Ellis went on to say that The Washington Post and The Boston Globe have recently been able to lean on wealthy owners to evaluate their next steps, including how to reach and serve audiences, which includes a heavy focus on mobile devices.

“A news website now has more than 50 percent of its traffic from mobile,” he said. “Places need to pay attention to creating custom experiences on mobile.”

Ellis doesn’t necessarily see it as a dire time in the news industry, but every outlet needs to figure out what its audience wants and needs. He said those outlets then need to be able to service that need.

“When you’re not consumed by scale, it lets you hold on and thrive,” he said. He pointed out that niche organizations, like Ali’s Skift, don’t need to be all things to all people, but they do need to do what they’re doing well. “These small- to medium-size websites with a dedicated audience can do really well,” explained Ellis.

But if editors and owners want their outlet to reach the largest possible audience without being true to a dedicated audience, it may not do as well. Ellis added that niche doesn’t need to be as specific as a media outlet that solely focuses on small businesses; it can be local television stations or newspapers. “The news in Boston is different than in Lowell than in Springfield than in Portland,” he said. “But readers of The Boston Globe aren’t going to the site just for Patriots news; they want to know about news in their community.”

Ellis said in order for news organizations to continue building community they need to focus on their social media presence and the comment sections of their websites. Ellis said Twitter has become an accepted source and not a fringe tool, and fewer people are skeptical of it. But the audience there is still small, and the reach is far smaller than on Facebook. “The people on Twitter are generally people in media or tech or work in entertainment. Electronic media for them is already the norm,” he said. Instead, organizations need to be active on Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, and pay attention to their comments.

“We’ve reached a point with comments where in order to make them effective, they [news organizations] need to know what their goal is,” Ellis explained. Additionally, outlets need to spend time moderating them, putting effort into watching them, and laying down the law on what is acceptable and what is not early and often.

Recently Kara Swisher’s latest venture, Re/code, decided to go the way of Reuters and eliminate comments on articles. The time spent monitoring comments on their own site wasn’t worth it, Ellis said. Instead, Swisher and the site’s co-founder, Walt Mossberg, wrote to readers that the conversations would continue on social media platforms. “In effect, we believe that social media is the new arena for commenting, replacing the old onsite approach that dates back many years,” they wrote.

“In an ideal world, investors would be discussing things (in the comments section), but they don’t have the time to put into that,” Ellis said. “Frankly, the conversation takes place on Twitter.” But that conversation is segmented, there’s no community, and it’s limited to 140 characters at a time, he added, which doesn’t necessarily help to build brand.

While it’s unclear where journalism is headed, all three seem to agree there is an expected focus on community, digital footprint, and mobile. But how news organizations, big and small, get there isn’t clearly outlined. For now, as Ali explained, organizations will need to focus on making themselves and their product so important to their customers that if that product went away tomorrow it would be missed.

15 minutes as a television assignment editor

I had the opportunity recently to visit Andrea Courtois at WBZ-TV in Boston. Courtois is an assignment editor for the television side of the operations, though she works closely with the folks at WBZ NewsRadio 1030.

As an assignment editor, Courtois is responsible for gathering elements for the newscasts including interviews, information, and now, in the age of digital journalism, tweets, updates from Facebook, and photos from Instagram.

In the ten years that Courtois has been an assignment editor, she says her job has changed tremendously. She says she tries to stay up-to-date with whatever new social media platform there is, where people are talking, and how to use social media in news gathering.

Her job is incredibly busy. In the 15 minutes I took these photos, Courtois had numerous phone conversations, often on two phones at the same time; she was writing emails while talking on the phone; she monitored Twitter; she booked satellite time for her crews in the field; and she was listening to the police scanner, at one point stopping mid-sentence, turning up the scanner, and listening to a description of a reported attempted abduction.

Talking about the “Future of Journalism”

There has been a lot said about the “future of journalism.” What will it look like? Who is part of the conversation? Which outlets will survive?

The changes that this industry has seen in the past 10 years are significant. Much like the invention of the printing press or radio or television, the shift to online news impacts delivery and consumption of news in direct ways. It changes the advertising dollars, which changes the budgets, which causes adjustments in staffing. And that’s just a start.

For my final project in for Fundamentals of Digital Journalism class in which I am currently enrolled, I intend to talk with people who are part of this moving target, as well as some who are watching and analyzing it. I want to answer the question, “What is the future of journalism, and how is digital impacting traditional media?”

Justin Ellis, an editor at The Nieman Lab, writes about and gives lectures this topic often. I have already been in touch with Ellis, and he has agreed to talk with me about this.

Additionally, I spoke briefly with Rafat Ali, CEO of Skift. Ali has never been one to mute his mouth regarding media, and he has recently posted a few articles about his current thoughts on the future of journalism. As someone who has started two niche media companies, paidContent before Skift, Ali has personal experience in how this industry is changing and moving online.

I would like to bring Hilary Sargent of Boston.com into the conversation, as well as Andrea Courtois of WBZ-TV. It would be great if I could also get interviews with Brian Stelter and David Folkenflik, but I’m not going to hold my breath on those.

From now until the day it’s due, I will likely be asking anyone and everyone I know in journalism what their thoughts are, and I will plan to include as many of those thoughts as possible.

WBZ lets veteran reporters go

I was shocked and disappointed to read that WBZ-TV in Boston has not renewed the contracts of Joe Shortsleeve, Sera Congi, and Michael Rosenfield. Shortsleeve has been with the station for 24 years, earning him the title chief correspondent. Congi has been there just shy of 10 years. Rosenfield has not been there as long as the other two, but he was the New Hampshire bureau reporter.

I worked at WBZ for some time as a web producer and have maintained friendships and contact with several people I met while there. (I was always excited to tell people I worked with Jack Williams – as I had grown up watching him and even framed his autograph which I got when I met him as a senior in high school.) Getting to work at a place I watched for so long was really awesome.

I have seen this a lot in my time in the industry. A new news director is hired, there are a lot of moves, many people either leave on their own or find themselves looking for one, and the decks are reshuffled. It’s no fun, and morale for those who remain suffers.

I know these three will do okay and find themselves in a good position, but it’s still tough to see this happen to former co-workers.

When Social Media Pays Off

This winter we’re getting blasted with snow. We already have 50 percent more snow than a typical winter and it’s only the beginning of February. Needless to say people are a little sick of it. Add to that the rain we’ve received and lots of roofs in Massachusetts have given way, or look like they’re about to.

Many schools are on that list, and therefore classes have been cancelled for several days in order for crews to remove the snow from the roofs and declare the buildings safe.

On Monday night I happened to be on Twitter when I saw a friend of mine pitching a story to two other friends and a local television station. It looked a little something like this:

I wasn’t about to let these guys be the only ones to talk with Tyson about this. So I jumped in on the conversation and asked Tyson what more to the story there was.

He told me parents were begging to shovel the schools’ roofs so their children could go back to school. Some parents had even taken to Facebook joking about it.

We exchanged a couple of direct messages, and I then sent a few direct messages to WBZ-TV’s managing editor and one of its assignment editors. I told them just what Tyson had told me.

The next morning I walked into the editorial meeting just in time to hear, “Kara’s talked with some parents in Hamilton who are fed up with the number of school days they’ve had…”

I put Ron Sanders in touch with Tyson Goodridge and the rest, as they say, is history.

The story led the newscast at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. with Ron in Hamilton as crews behind him continued to shovel off the roofs. The parents and kids watched from home… getting ready for yet ANOTHER snow day.

Just drop an “L”

Some of you have already heard this.  Others have figured it out on your own.  But I figured, I’d tell you all where I am these days.

After 8.5 years with NEWS CENTER, most recently primarily with WLBZ, I signed off on my final news cast last Thursday.  Five days later, I started the next chapter of my life, and dropped an “L.”

I am working as a web producer at WBZ, the CBS station in Boston.  I am working in the newsroom, posting stories, video, pictures and anything else to the station’s website.  Sometimes it’s reporters’ stories, sometimes it’s information from the assignment desk, sometimes it’s an original story.

So far (two days in), I’m loving it.  While it’s similar to what I was doing before, the tools are different, and the learning curve is steep.

And no, I don’t miss being on air.  I’m still a journalist, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.