Communication Breakdown: Quotas and Clicks – The Impact on Local Government

New York Times: Risks Abound as Reporters Play in Traffic

 

 

We asked Bridget Doyle, Lombard (IL) communications coordinator and former Chicago Tribune reporter, for her response to the recent Willamette Week article, “The Click Factory.” The article described the Oregonian’s new strategy of offering incentives to reporters to develop a more robust online presence. Oregonian reporters were shown a PowerPoint presentation titled, “Performance Management Process Overview for Employees” that described the new set of expectations.

We asked Bridget to respond to two specific items. As a former Chicago Tribune reporter, what are her feelings about the Oregonian and The Times-Picayune‘s move to a “click and quota” driven approach.  And, if this is the new normal, how does the change impact local government communications? 

Communications Breakdown: Journalists with “quotas” are looking for stories… Let’s help.

 by Bridget Doyle, April 9, 2014

As the proud holder of a Missouri Journalism degree and a former newspaper reporter, it’s hard for me to watch media companies continue to squeeze smart, hard-working journalists for every dime they’re worth. Especially true in print media, we’re seeing more and more local reporters working with a designated story quotas – some newsrooms might soon see “ compensation for those employees who post most often.”

images (1)This type of mass-produced, assembly line-style journalism jeopardizes the quality of stories (number of sources, time spent writing) along with leaving more room for error. It’s no knock to those who are placed in this type of work environment – the expectations are high and the stress levels are higher. These web-based metrics systems not only measure how often a reporter posts, but also includes the number of “clicks” a story receives. I can tell you from experience, it’s often not the hard-hitting news with the highest readership – it’s more often the silly cat photo gallery or the police arrest involving an attractive girl’s mug shot. Additionally, pay rates and job security for reporters continues to decrease, thus many newsrooms are packed with reporters fresh out of college. These are smart, driven people who, by the very nature of being new to the working world, likely lack experience.

As local governments, we have a vested interest in helping out local media. Why? We work every day to serve the greater good for our communities, and it’s important our residents and business owners know what’s going on in our towns. The positive feel-good initiatives, future plans and projects, the challenges our towns might face and decisions made by elected officials should all be communicated to the people who pay money to live or work in a town. As much as we might share on our websites and social media, it’s news coverage that we need most. The good, the neutral, the not-so-good stories all need to be covered, and we need media to help.

So what can we do to help keep strong, for-the-people journalism alive and our reporter friends covering the cities and towns we work for? Well, lots actually.

images (2)1. Cover your own meetings, send press releases in story form to reporters. If there’s something interesting at an upcoming meeting but no reporters are available or interested in covering it, do it yourself. Write the story using as much detail and information as possible and put it in the form of a press release or news item on your Village’s website. Send it to reporters after the fact and offer to provide additional interviews with staff and resources as-needed. Maybe they won’t be interested, but you’re doing your due diligence to make sure important or interesting news is covered.

2.  Scour all Village departments for news, regularly send pitches to local reporters. Reporters are often spread so thin, covering so much territory or more than one beat that they may miss important goings on in your community. Regularly check with your various departments to find out about upcoming news items and things that may be of potential interest to local journalists. Perhaps once or twice a month, send story ideas to your press list including the topic, background on the topic, why it is interesting or important to the community and contacts for the story.

3. Ask your reporters what kind of stories they’re looking for and how you can help. Different newsrooms are seeking different stories. Some may want their reporters to focus on meeting coverage, others want construction updates, maybe some want a focus on human interest stories. Pick up the phone and call your media contacts and just ask – “What kind of story ideas should I be sending you?” The reporter will be pleased you’re interested in helping and their interests may surprise you. This is also a great way to touch base with local media. Sometimes you need them, sometimes they need you. Fostering a good relationship is healthy for all.

 

 

4. Send photos and video as compliments to your press releases. In a world measured by “clicks,” photos and video are king. If you can provide any type of extra media to your reporters (no matter the quality of your photography skills) it may help them. People are more likely to click a story with a photo, so you’re also helping yourself. Video is also great too. Establish an official YouTube channel for the Village and send videos as complimentary media, if possible.

images (3)5. Make sure other Village Staff call reporters back. This can be an obstacle, since many Village staff members are busy with tasks and meetings pretty much all day. However, talk to your co-workers and plead with them that, if they get a call from a reporter, they do their darndest to call him or her back within an hour or two. Reporters aren’t working on daily deadlines anymore – their deadlines are essentially all now labeled as ASAP. If the Village doesn’t call them back, they might be forced to ditch the story and move on. Offer yourself as a resource to reporters if they can’t get a hold of the staffer they need. Maybe you can help move the process along with a gentle nudge or get the facts from that person yourself to pass along.

If you have any more ideas about how local governments can work better with the media, email me anytime at bridget@sarahhellems.wpengine.com.

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