Friday, 30 September, 2011

From convergence to engagement –WAN-IFRA Chennai

Apart from the reflected buzz emanating from hyperactivity of the Tamil and Malayalam newspapers in recent months, the WAN-IFRA conference was interesting. The newsroom summit discussed innovative concepts that can continue to leverage the content leadership of print, and there were many presentations that included case studies and examples from Asia and India.

This IFRA shifted from convergence to engagement. Raju Narisetti illustrated the example of The Washington Post, which a couple of years back had a website that was going nowhere, like many other newspapers and magazines. The solutions were to combine the print and web newsrooms which were earlier across the river — away from each other — into a common web-first operation. This meant a robust multimedia CMS or editorial system instead of the three separate systems that were in place. It also meant a new set of skills and as Narisetti said, “Traditional newsroom skills are not sufficient in the digital space.” He emphasised the need to populate the team with search, social and traffic experts.

As Narisetti illustrated, a print story just pasted into the CMS generally cannot work on the web. The web requires packaging and essential elements to make a story ready for the web. The story is ready when it contains some or all the following elements — hyperlinks, further reading, galleries, photos, graphics, video, database and interaction. He gave examples of how an interesting sidelight of a story highlighted by a blog or a tweet can drive huge traffic and often even displace the main story.

It’s obvious that editors like Narisetti are both intrepid and persistent. In his presentation about the changes at The Washington Post he talked about creating a metrics driven culture — the mere idea of which would have had him laughed out of any newspaper a decade ago. And finally he said that even a measurable increase in traffic is not enough. The goal is engagement and this too is not rocket science. There are helpful open-source tools that can enhance daily stories, and increased social outreach can spark conversation on newspaper websites.

While Narisetti is of Indian origin and now heading a leading daily in the United States, Lin Neumann is of American origin with experience in several Asian newspapers. Neumann is the chief editorial officer of an English language start-up in Indonesia, The Jakarta Globe. His presentation at Chennai spoke about using Facebook and Twitter to build up the new daily and its website. Neumann hired a fresh college graduate to get young people to register on Facebook and Twitter through the Globe’s website. His single employee in turn went to schools, colleges and shopping malls to promote the newspaper and its website with the help of college students who wanted to be part of the new social networking media. The eight most active helpers were rewarded with a Blackberry each. Thus by enabling the social networking inclinations of the young people of the city, the new Jakarta Globe quickly gained traffic and importance in their lives. Neumann also concluded saying that now that the traffic is there, the issue is engagement. How long can you keep the reader on your site? How can you mobilise your readers as news sources?
—Naresh Khanna

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