All the President’s Men: A great scene that’s representative of the newsroom power structure. If you watch the movie, there’s a newsroom meeting that says it all. Trust me, you’ll recognize it.
Journalists are a protective bunch, especially when it comes to their newsroom meetings. The invite lists typically enforce the professional hierarchy they not-so-secretly crave. My favorite morning news meeting remains the one I attended in the early 80s at Newsweek. At 10 am (news was a civilized profession back then), talented editors who had risen to proud gatekeepers reveled in debating and deciding what the magazine’s then three million subscribers should know every week. The best afternoon show was lorded over by Abe Rosenthal, the legendary New York Times editor. Thirty years later, I can vividly remember the processional march to his office and the power seating at “the 3:45,” as it was called. The Old Gray Lady got the pomp and circumstance it demanded from the chosen ones.
The New Newsroom at FORBES is not that kind of newsroom — and just two weeks ago we upended the traditional morning meeting. It’s now a far more inclusive, continuous and real-time idea-generating process — a “group think” that reflects the era of social media and the strategy of Forbes.com itself.
Our dramatic newsroom transformation began nearly two years ago. To start, we changed roles and responsibilities for nearly everyone. Next, we added producer and audience development teams. After that, we inserted a layer of real-time data analytics into nearly everything we do. We even took the heretical step of moving a representative from the Digital Ad Products group into the heart of The News Newsroom. In our latest move, we once and for all put an end to the journalistic caste system by deploying a piece of community software. Now, the morning news meeting never really starts or ends because it’s ongoing. Nearly every staffer can dive in at will with ideas and thoughts at any time. We’ve even started to put the newsroom software in the hands of non-staff contributors to access. After all, they’ve got ideas, too.
Here are the five real-time newsroom screens that have become critical to The New Real-Time Newsroom.
1) Making the newsroom social. News today is about voices — we have 1,000 of them publishing on our platform. Why shouldn’t the newsroom discussion be filled with voices, too? Now, our editors, reporters and contributors can join the newsroom debate through Campfire, a real-time tool that fosters team collaboration. In what amounts to continuous group chat, skilled journalists and topic experts can trade story ideas with one another; upload links and documents; suggest, hand out and discuss story assignments; and be part of the general news flow. The discussion has a realness to it, much like the late-night bar room chats journalists use to debate stories and prepare for the next day.
2). Tracking what’s happening on the site. Our reporters and contributors generate a continuous flow of content with our easy-to-use publishing tools (often 500 posts over a rolling 24-hour period). We wanted a way for both news consumers and FORBES programmers to keep up with it all. A few weeks back we launched a new Real Time page. Newly published posts are pushed to the page every five seconds. The sharing of Forbes.com stories on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is updated every 15 minutes (rolling over the pie chart shows the breakdown). It also doubles as a publishing tool. FORBES editors can “pin” posts to their channel pages directly from the Real Time page. I use it as an alternative home page, and I suspect many visitors will, too.
3). What’s trending, what’s being talked about: Trending stories and active conversations are key components of a soon-to-be-promoted Most Popular page. Again, it’s for both consumers and our staff. News junkies can see the stories that are popping, based on an algorithm that measures comments, social sharing and page views. These are the stories that could eventually make their way to an accompanying Most Read module. In monitoring trending stories and conversations, our producer desk and audience development teams can better understand audience interests and alert writers to join the dialogue and consider writing follow-up posts.
4). Real-time site usage: Chartbeat tracks and measures our traffic — every five seconds. It’s the go-to tool for everyone in the newsroom. Monitors adorn the newsroom walls. I have it on my cell phone to stay in touch with what’s happening. The numbers to the left show concurrent browser tabs open for a post. The green arrows represent acceleration (the red ones to indicate deceleration are not my favorite). The tool also tracks search and social usage (see the favicons to the right of the headlines) for the each post and the entire site. One click on a headline reveals next-post pathing and a second clicks takes you to the post itself.
5). The contributor dashboard. This is a portion of a new real-time data dashboard that our programmers and producers use to monitor each of our 1,000 content creators. We can track many layers of activity and performance by time period (the one below is mine for May) and use the data to help them attract and build loyal audiences. We will eventually roll it out to our reporters and contributors, replacing the less data-rich individualized dashboards they now use.
The thinking, workflows and atmosphere of the newsroom must continue to evolve if the news industry is to keep up with explosion of social media. I was visiting the offices of Gawker last week to learn more about Nick Denton’s new comment system. During the discussion, Denton talked about how the Gawker newsroom uses collaboration software. Then he started to think out loud about ways to make the banter on it part of a story itself. That’s interesting (we have slightly different plans for how to do that), and a far cry from the reports I get from newspaper newsrooms I worked in 25 years ago. They seem hopelessly stuck in another era. That’s why it’s going to be fun to watch what unfolds at USAToday, a listless news operation that now has an aggressive new president and publisher. Larry Kramer, founder of MarketWatch, says USAToday needs to separate itself from the pack. “We don’t just need to have a voice,” he says. “We need to be an orchestra of voices.” Cultural change in the newsroom is required to make that more than a snappy sound bite.