Digital First means Journalism First

23 Aug
After three and a half years in a publisher role with Journal Register Company, I returned to the newsroom full-time yesterday, and I’m excited about the good we can do with a large network of journalists and potential journalism partners in Connecticut.
My agenda as the company’s “group editor” for Connecticut is a rapid acceleration of our transition to truly “Digital First, Print Last” newsrooms in Connecticut. It will be the most significant change we have faced in our careers. But to me, it’s a return to why we got into this business in the first place. To pursue good journalism and make the world a better place.
With few exceptions, we’ve embraced the concept of “Digital First” as a strategy for our company and the industry.
But the “Print Last” part is a more difficult transition to make. It means the work day is radically different for some of us. It means different schedules in some cases. It requires a much different cost structure. And it means that jobs with a 100% or near-100% focus on print might no longer exist. It means new types of jobs and roles must emerge.
Unless we become “Print Last” in mindset and structure, we’ll never really be “Digital First.”
I’ve been fond of saying that “Digital First” really means “Reader First,” “Community First” and “Journalism First.”
That’s why we’ve pursued so many “community engagement” initiatives in Torrington, including opening a newsroom cafe, live-streaming story meetings and inviting the public to attend, launching the Fact Check box, etc.
The Web has put the reader in the driver’s seat. Their own ability to search and find news according to their interests, including via referrals from their friends and co-workers via social media, and slicing across millions of news sources, has replaced sole reliance on “the local paper” and “the nightly news.”
And the Web and mobile devices have enabled readers to be sources of news themselves.
We can’t and won’t be relevant or survive without partnering with our audience at every step of the process of local journalism.
“Digital First” means telling readers what we know, when we know it, instead of when our preferred platform (i.e., print) is scheduled to be delivered.
“Digital First” means linking to other sources of information (even traditional competitors) within articles, to benefit the reader.
“Digital First” means enriching traditional text articles with multimedia including video, audio, source documents, timelines, graphs and databases.
“Digital First” sometimes means that the best way to report the news is not with a traditional article format at all.
“Digital First” means that we are transparent and open about how we go about reporting the news and dealing with sources, errors and corrections.
“Digital First” mean that we all have a lot of learning and training to do on the use of tools that will better help us serve readers and engage with them.
“Digital First” means that we don’t waste an ounce of inefficiency clinging to silos that are built around the title of one brand platform, whether that’s the Shoreline Times, the New Haven Register or Connecticut Magazine. It means that we all work together to cover the hell out of the communities that we serve, and worry later (or let someone else worry) about under which mastheads or niche content sites that work is delivered.
How many examples can you cite where our three daily newspapers and numerous weeklies in this state, along with Connecticut Magazine, pooled their resources to do some kick-ass journalism that made the world a better place and gave readers confidence that we are fulfilling our role as watchdogs on their behalf?
We’ve got a state with many problems. We’ve got an audience craving answers that can only be found through in-depth and hard-hitting journalism. And it’s an exciting time because we are becoming more free than ever to focus on that core mission of journalism, and have so many new tools and partnerships available to use in serving that mission.
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