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Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Things I never learned at newspapers about making news on the internet

Digital First Media closed its short-lived Project Thunderdome – an attempt to provide content, support and coordination to a network of more than 100 local newsrooms across all platforms – earlier this year. What are the lessons editors and publishers around the world can learn from this brave but doomed experiment? Tom Meagher, the project’s data editor, outlines some of the most important lessons – “ones we never anticipated in our previous jobs in print-first newsrooms”.

The internet is not a deli: “The first misconception newspaper veterans have is the notion that interactive news teams are simply new-fangled print graphics desks.” While there are similarities in their creativity, editors shouldn’t turn to the web team as a support desk once they have finalised the story. Journalist-developers should be included in the assigning process and involved in stories from the start.

Hire new skills: You won’t find people with skills in web design, programming and motion graphics if you advertise positions in the usual journalism job pages/websites. These are the types of skills you’ll need to bring to your newsroom either through staff development or external recruitment.

Herd all the cats: Doing digital news well means bringing together staff with a wide range of skills, often from different departments. In this type of situation, the traditional newsroom chain of command doesn’t work, so you’ll have to foster new ways of collaboration. “Anyone can lead a project, but somebody must lead.”

You need a sandbox: An interactive team needs space to experiment in a way that doesn’t jeopardise the entire system: “Most CMSs are designed to prevent the kind of monkeying around that this new kind of online storytelling requires…If you’re starting a team from scratch, the very first thing you have to do is give it the tools it needs to succeed, and an autonomous development sandbox is at the top of that list.”

Iteration leads to bigger success: Experiment and adapt. Be prepared to fail. Carry out post-mortem reviews for all your projects, note what worked, what didn’t and how you’d fix it next time.

Be the journalist you want others to become: Start building a culture that supports the digital development of your company. Encourage journalists to learn about data analysis and web development – you might be surprised at how many want to be part of the digital future.


Read more: Things I never learned at newspapers about making news on the internet

Article by Peter Whitehead

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