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New Haven Register, other JRC papers in Connecticut, partner with CT News Junkie

26 Mar

I’m pleased to announce that Journal Register Company’s newspapers in Connecticut will be partnering with online Connecticut Statehouse news website CTNewsJunkie.Com to supplement our coverage of state government.

We’ll be using CT News Junkie’s articles in our print editions throughout the state, which include the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register Citizen, and linking to CT News Junkie’s coverage online.

This will free some of our reporters to focus more on in-depth and unique coverage of statewide issues that are presently under-covered by a shrinking Statehouse press corps.

Earlier this year, for example, we announced that reporter Mary O’Leary would be focusing on more in-depth “explainer”-format coverage and “fact check” reports.

Christine Stuart

And state politics and government reporter Jordan Fenster will be taking a lead role on our previously announced “Citizens Agenda” project, a new approach to covering political campaigns that’s based on the issues most important to our readers instead of “the horse race.”

CT News Junkie has been led since 2006 by editor and lead reporter Christine Stuart, who has developed a reputation as one of the hardest-working journalists covering the Capitol.

Prior to joining CT News Junkie, Stuart was a local news and politics reporter for the Journal Inquirer of Manchester. Previously, she covered education, transportation and the Capitol for the Hartford Advocate.

Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe celebrates one-year anniversary

16 Dec

Hard to believe, but it’s been one year since The Register Citizen launched a “Newsroom Cafe” and invited its audience to be involved at every step in the process of local journalism.

Boiling it down, we’ve learned that:

Managing Editor Emily M. Olson leads a workshop for local organizations and church groups on how to get information published by The Register Citizen.

– Transparency builds trust.

– Openness improves your journalism, leading to new and more diverse sources and improving accuracy and context.

– Partnerships make you stronger.

As Andy Carvin said recently, it’s not about “leveraging your audience.” It’s about listening and knowing how the audience is telling its own story, and in some ways acting as a facilitator as the community organizes itself around common interests or goals.

If you feel that you must own and control every piece of content and platform for delivery, you will wither and die in isolation from the networked world.

In terms of tactical lessons learned over the past year, we’ve found that:

– There will never be a good time to commit time to audience engagement, becoming more transparent, trying new things and training staff, especially in a newsroom as small as ours. You have to “just do it.”

– Effective community engagement won’t happen on your terms, it will happen on the audience’s terms. Their lives don’t revolve around your internal process or desire to get a story done. But the power of the crowd can be amazing when you’ve tapped into something that citizens care deeply about and are either already organizing around or have been waiting for a platform to organize around. Readers (for the most part) aren’t going to tune in to the live stream of your daily story meeting because they care about what you talk about every day. They’re going to tune in because they know you’ll be discussing a particular issue that affects their neighborhood, workplace or family. Or the ideal – they’ll tune in because they feel welcomed to bring up that issue to you because you HAVEN’T been discussing it and they think you should.

– The logistics of community engagement deserve a dedicated staff position (or positions), but it’s a principle that must be incorporated into everything we do and taken up by everyone in the newsroom.

– “Just do it” should be the mantra given the urgent need to transform our business model and how quickly things around us change. But we need to spend more time along the way communicating internally and making sure that every employee understands and buys in to the underlying principles of openness and engagement. You can be undermined pretty quickly by staff who are just going through the motions.

Significant articles that have been written about the Newsroom Cafe experiment and/or its role in the JRC turnaround over the past year:

GigaOm, “For Newspapers, the Future is Now and Digital Must Be First,” December 2, 2010

New York Times, “Walk in, Grab a Muffin, and Watch a Newspaper Reinvent Itself,” December 15, 2010

Poynter, “Register Citizen Takes Analog Approach to Reader Engagement: Open Doors,” December 16, 2010

Suburban Newspapers of America, “Opening Up Your Newsroom,” March 7, 2011

Editor & Publisher, “10 Newspapers That Do It Right,” March 15, 2011

Nieman Lab, “Journal Register’s Open Advisory Meeting: Bell, Jarvis and Rosen Put Those New Media Maxims to the Test,” March 25, 2011

Poynter, “At Washington Post and Register Citizen, ‘report-an-error’ forms make it easier to identify, respond to mistakes,” April 4, 2011

NewspaperTurnaround.Com blog, “Why Our Small Town Daily is Adding a Full-Time Curator,” April 20, 2011

JoyMayer.Com, “Inside the Engagement Experiments at The Register Citizen,” May 4, 2011

Columbia Journalism Review, “John Paton’s Big Bet,” July/August 2011

EditorsWeblog.Org, “JRC’s Jim Brady: Uniting Digital First With a Face-to-Face Approach,” September 5, 2011

Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe blog, “What the Newsroom Cafe Has Taught Us About Improving Local Journalism,” September 13, 2011

The Associated Press, Open Connecticut Newsroom Wins APME Innovation Award,” September 15, 2011

American Journalism Review, “Wooing Them With Coffee,” October/November 2011

Connecticut Newsroom blog, “Corrections, Fact Checking and Accountability: Our New Approach,” October 26, 2011

Annenberg Innovation Lab paper by Melanie Sill, “The Case for Open Journalism Now,” December 7, 2011

John Paton’s “Digital First” blog, “New Media’s New Role as Both Medium and Messenger in a World of Partnerships,” December 13, 2011

Investigative and in-depth reporting bolstered by ‘Digital First’

28 Nov

“What about the journalism?”

That’s the question media analyst Ken Doctor asked a few months ago about both the philosophy of a “digital first” approach to running newspapers and the newly formed company “Digital First” Media that now oversees both Journal Register Company (including the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register Citizen, among other publications, in Connecticut) and Media News Group (ranging from the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News to the Berkshire Eagle and Lowell Sun in Massachusetts).

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo

CEO John Paton has a plan that many see as the best hope for rescuing the newspaper industry (in case you missed it, see the recent New York Times story here, and a more extensive Times interview with Paton here).

Will Paton’s formula of cutting print edition-related costs and emphasizing Flip cameras, mobile phones and Twitter improve local journalism or leave a multi-platformed but shallow and empty reproduction in its place?

At the end of the day, Doctor asked, “Are the readers, the citizens of its communities, better served?”

Without question, Journal Register Company news organizations are serving their communities better in breaking news situations thanks to the philosophy of “Digital First.” Hurricane Irene was a great example. When it comes to speed and use of platforms beyond print – from SMS alerts, to social media, blogging, video – we are light years ahead of where we used to be, and our audience has benefited.

But what about depth, context, investigative reporting?

It has taken longer to bear fruit, but as Digital First shifts emphasis away from the print production process, it is freeing up resources to invest in better journalism. And “slow news” – journalism that delves deeply into a story, that invests staff time in investigative work – has a prominent place alongside the breakneck pace of breaking news alerts.

This morning, we announced a newsroom reorganization in Connecticut that will establish a full-time investigations editor position at the New Haven Register for the first time in more than 20 years. A second full-time position will be devoted to the “explainer” format of in-depth reporting on local and state issues and “fact checking” statements made by politicians, public officials, activists and business leaders.

Mary O'Leary

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, who joined the Register in 1992 and has covered courts and served as Naugatuck Valley bureau chief, will be charged not only with pursuing investigative stories on her own, but in creating a culture of investigative reporting in the newsrooms of the New Haven Register and its sister JRC papers in Connecticut. She’ll team up with staff reporters to pursue stories that the daily grind of a beat don’t allow them to pursue. Michelle draws upon strong knowledge of court and Freedom of Information Act process and award-winning investigative experience in writing about cold case murder and missing persons cases.

New Haven Register Topics Editor Mary O’Leary, who has 31 years of experience covering state government and a variety of other beats at the paper, will be freed from chasing the press conference of the day to focus on in-depth reporting. She will split her time between “explainers” and “fact checking” – both aimed at cutting through the “he said, she said” blizzard of political spin and process to help our readers get to the truth.

We are creating these positions and replacing Michelle and Mary in their old beats, for a big net increase in our “feet on the street” reporting. And we’re doing that by consolidating positions that were focused either entirely or primarily on the process of putting out the print edition of the newspaper.

Corrections, fact checking and accountability: Our new approach

26 Oct

We’ve talked a lot (and hopefully done a lot) over the past year about bringing more openness and transparency into the way we operate our newsrooms.

This week, we are launching new “Fact Check” blogs at our three daily newspapers in Connecticut with an aim of more transparency in how we handle errors and engaging readers in an ongoing conversation about our accuracy and approach to reporting.

I can’t think of a more important starting point for openness than how our reporters and editors handle mistakes and corrections, and we’ve taken some big steps this week to improve that process.

Last year, we launched a “Fact Check” box at the bottom of every story appearing on the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register Citizen websites. It was a simple but very visible statement of accountability to our readers and sources, inviting them to challenge the facts of our stories, to point out errors, to show us missing context.

Earlier this year, after the Washington Post did the same, but greatly improved the format, The Register Citizen switched to a longer-format version that encouraged readers to not just point out the error, but suggest ways that we could expand or improve the story, other sources we should talk to, etc. It also encourages readers to leave their name and email address so that we can follow up with more questions or confirmation that the error has been fixed. And it includes an “opt-in” asking readers if they would be willing for us to contact them as a potential source or fact checker on future stories about the topic in question.

This week, we added the improved, longer-form Fact Check to the New Haven and Middletown websites. We also have posted a detailed, written corrections policy on each of our sites.

Key parts of that policy include making lots of corrections (a comprehensive approach, from misspelled names to major errors), telling readers what we got wrong instead of just vaguely admitting a mistake, listing the correction at the bottom of the story in question instead of just quietly “fixing” the mistake on the web, and creating an easy place to find a listing of all corrections we make.

So now, in addition to being listed at the bottom of stories, corrections will live on “Fact Check” blogs – click here for New Haven Register, click here for the Middletown Press and click here for The Register Citizen. You can also find the corrections and blogs easily by typing NHRegister.Com/corrections, MiddletownPress.Com/corrections or RegisterCitizen.Com/corrections.

But the blogs will also be used to fill a key missing piece in our “Fact Check” program – transparency and communication on what happens after you submit one of those Fact Check reports. Up until now, it hasn’t been clear to people who submit a report whether it was ignored, acted upon, debated in the newsroom, or what. We intend to use the new blogs to explain what we do with these reports, including when we decide that a Fact Check report is unfounded and we stick by our original story.

We also want to peel back the curtain and be open with our entire readership about how often we are being challenged and on what.

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.