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Hirt: Newsrooms must change mindsets

March 27, 2010

Jane Hirt leads NewsTrain participants in a planning exercise. Photo by John Ryan

By Stefanie Buhrman

In an ever changing digital world, newspapers have recently been struggling to keep up with the internet on getting the most content to readers.  Trying to bring the two worlds together, Jane Hirt, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, led a discussion on Content Planning for Multiple Media and Multiple Deadlines and what journalists can do to keep content fresh all day.

To begin the meeting, Hirt showed the video “Social Media Revolution,” which addresses the ever growing use of social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter and even Wikipedia.  The use of these technologies has created a change in journalism, a change that Hirt said everyone can agree “the change is going to happen…very fast.”

So how does a newsroom adjust to these changes and turn itself into a 24/7 news organization?

“It is really a change in mindset,” Hirt said. “Until you get people to think in a multimedia world, it is not going to happen.”

In order for a cultural shift to be effective, a journalist has to want to learn.

“You have to change your focus from a news company that prints a paper that happens to post a website to a news company that hosts a website that happens to print a paper,” Hirt said.

This change in focus cannot come from just one individual.

“The change has to come from above,” Hirt said, referring to management’s approval of using social media outlets to parlay news to the masses. Without support from the top, changes will be ineffective.

Hirt not only refers to a cultural change, but a change in resources. With a motto of “Digital first,” Hirt discussed ways to make employees aware of how to use digital resources and the benefits they relay to the organization.

Currently, at the Chicago Tribune, Hirt and other employees take a digital IQ test to see what they know how to do and then assess training needs to get everyone up to speed.

Training topics in the past have been search engine optimization, how to use a Kindle and even how to work a flip camera.

To see the benefits, Hirt discussed the data analytics from chicagotribune.com, where they use tools such as heat maps, search engine optimization terms and what search terms brought a user to the website. These analytics have been used to make employees aware of things happening that they weren’t aware of before.

To get the audience involved, Hirt divided them into 5 groups where they discussed  various scenarios and how they would use various resources to solve the problems, such as training your newsroom, getting updates out about a court case in a strict court case or merely how to adjust deadlines and schedules to accommodate for all platforms.

To finish the discussion, Hirt answered questions. Members of the workshop asked how people are reacting to the online version, if online revenue will ever replace print revenue or how to know if search engine optimization is working.

“You have to ask yourself: What would you search for?” Hirt said. “You have to use real people speak.”

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