How technology is changing business journalism
by Liz Hester
The Society of American Business Editors and Writers fall conference began in New York on Thursday with two lively panel discussions — but only after everyone had a couple of drinks at the opening reception sponsored by the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University.
The first panel, “How Social is Changing the Media,” featured Martin Wolk, executive business editor, NBC News Digital; Lewis Dvorkin, chief product officer, Forbes Media; and Emily Friedlander Peck, managing editor, business, The Huffington Post.
Wolk kicked off the discussion by outlining NBC’s evolving strategy. One interesting tidbit: It gets about half its traffic on breaking news from mobile devices. NBC is active already on Facebook and Twitter, and is looking at Pinterest and Instagram as other places to increase its presence.
DVorkin, who is credited with reinventing Forbes digital which now relies heavily contributor content, said it is looking to reinvent the newsroom processes and build a sustainable model for journalism. His sites are “banking on the individual as a brand” as well as for each person to be accountable and accurate.
Forbes contributors can see how many people are reading and commenting on their posts every 15 minutes. They also have tools to integrate with social media. The idea is to create a new model that’s profitable and lucrative for the writers involved.
The Huffington Post web site also has constant feedback, enabling editors to shift resources according to reader response, Friedlander Peck said. She admitted that many people in the newsroom were “obsessed” with the data, but the site also pushed stories it thinks are important. It’s this balance of giving the audience what they want and also pushing stories that should be told that makes the site successful.
Friedlander Peck gave the example of David Wood’s stories on soldiers returning from war weren’t the most read, she said, but he ended up winning a Pulitzer since The Huffington Post continued to run and promote them.
Forbes has built a new concept in newsroom that includes data analysis and audience development, Dvorkin said. Top editors meet weekly to go over what readers are responding to and push stories through social media. A representative from the ad sales team is in the newsroom to help fulfill campaigns for spiking news.
“We want to produce relevant content. We only know it’s relevant if we look at the numbers and see where it’s going,” Dvorkin said. “Our expertise is content. What we’re trying to do is be good technology integrators.”
Forbes contributors are contractually required to respond to reader comments, helping drive the conversations. And they view all content the same – journalists, marketers, contributors – and it dynamically flows through the site. They’re also paid for building a loyal audience, so a contributor is paid more for return clicks.
At the Huffington Post, Peck said that contributor content looks different than staff content, but that it may be hard for readers to tell the difference. Staff reporters are more closely edited, while bloggers don’t receive the same level of editing.
For some in traditional newsrooms, the notion of having ad salespeople and markets contributing to a site may be controversial. But audience driven content is helping both sites sell ads and increase readership.