Clickable News

The new priority centers on stories that are clickable, meaning reporters have an incentive to write stories that generate controversy and people will want to share.

The new priority centers on stories that are clickable, meaning reporters have an incentive to write stories that generate controversy and people will want to share.

Much has been said about the economics of publishing newspapers in the digital age. Less has been said about the effect of the digital age on the economics of covering the news.

The new priority centers on stories that are clickable. Reporters have an incentive to write stories that create online clicks as much or more than front-page bylines. Some stories and their associated video and links may attract substantial viewership online and yet never appear in print.

Some cynics will say that news departments have always looked for ways to sensationalize the news to "sell newspapers." In truth, reporters and editors are more motivated by presenting news that people will read, whether they subscribe or pick up the newspaper on a park bench.

Today's environment is subtly, but significantly different. Reporters and editors are looking for news that people will read – and talk about. The conversation can occur online through "shares" and retweets, as well as around the family kitchen table and whatever has replaced the workplace water cooler. That's really what clickable news is all about. It is news you want to share.

As a consequence, government process stories have been replaced by harder hitting pieces about questionable government activities or policies. The measurement of newsworthiness has shifted from "news of record" to news that can cascade.

Cascading news can be as benign as the viral spread of the Ice Bucket Challenge to the continuing investigative coverage of the influence-peddling scandal engulfing former Governor John Kitzhaber and his fiancé Cylvia Hayes. These are stories that just keep rolling.

Once a story starts to cascade, it will attract more attention – and more reporters. A story at flood stage will have reporters digging to find new story angles to add to the swell.

The clickable news environment makes news-gathering techniques such as the ambush interview and siege stakeouts more mainstream. It also makes it harder to stop a story once it begins to cascade. It raises the stakes on crisis response.

Online connectivity is the floodplain for cascading stories. Online connectivity means you can share a story or your thoughts about a story with an entire community, not just with a few buddies over coffee.

Clickable news is here to stay, at least until the next big thing unfolds. You don't have to like all its implications, but it pays to learn how to cope with and conquer them. Media training provides a great opportunity to prepare and prep for the current reporting environment.

The Tale of Two Papers

Readers of The Oregonian are watching the at-times-painful process of the daily newspaper's digital conversion, as are the readers of The Washington Post. Both look like running backs zigging and zagging on a football field looking for an opening to break downfield.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post a year ago, raising expectations about its digital conversion. But Jeff Abbruzzese, writing for Mashable, says a grand design hasn't surfaced. The biggest development is the exit of rising star Ezra Klein, who wrote Wonkblog, a primer on public policy debates in the nation's capital that was the newspaper's most read blog.

The absence of visible change at the 137-year-old DC fixture may reflect uncertainty about what digital direction makes the most sense. It also may reflect the lull before the storm. One Washington Post official said recently the newspaper staff is being prepared to "stomach the chaos that comes with digital."

From a Press Release to Cooperative Journalism

The odd experience of pulling The Oregonian out of the middle of ad "inserts" tells you all you need to know about the state of contemporary newspapers. It also should tell you something about your chances to land a story in the news columns.

Organizations often substitute their need for coverage for a newspaper's ability to provide it. This only leads to confusion and disillusion with traditional media.

Newspaper staffs are leaner and working within new incentives, such as the need to develop an online presence. With less news space, the competition for stories is intense. Soppy story pitches won't grab much attention for reporters and editors on the prowl for stories with some pop.

Communicators can throw up their hands in disgust or they can resolve to become more of a partner with newspaper reporting teams. They can commit to story pitches with punch and built-in help pursuing the story line.

Times Documentary Exposes Newspaper in Transition

Anyone who needs to know how newspapers work and how the news business is changing should make plans to see “Page One: Inside the New York Times.” Director Andrew Rossi spent a year inside the NYT newsroom to make the documentary, which debuted in New York last Friday and will be released nationally July 1.

The Times represents the epicenter of events and trends shaking the news world, ranging from the search for a new business model – known as a paywall, getting ahead of the social media curve and the use of controversial news sources such as WikiLeaks. The film starts in 2010 with the WikiLeaks hot potato.

To delve deeper in the issues, Google the name of Bill Keller, who just announced his retirement as The Times executive editor.

“Page One” zeroes in on two contrasting figures on the staff, writes columnist Tommy Christopher of the website Mediaite: “The film focuses on The Times’ Media Desk, particularly on David Carr and Brian Stelter. They are fitting proxies for the audience, as they’re each outsiders, of a sort.”

“Carr is the nucleus around which the film gathers, and his musings form much of the narration. While a 25-year veteran, much of Carr’s career has been with alternative publications, and his backstory reads more like a pulp novel than the resume of a media reporter for the world’s most prestigious newspaper. His emergence from drug addiction and crime give him a hard, weathered edge,” says Christopher.

1959-1965: Portland’s Newspaper Strike

This is neither a Tip nor Trend, but an observance of a mega-moment in our local media history. Imagine this: Portland daily newspaper circulation drops. Reportorial staff shrinks. A new form of reporting emerges. And, old technologies are shoved out of the way.

Were these hot button issues on management’s desk at The Oregonian last week? Probably. But how about 50 years ago?