Archive for March 2011
This morning we welcomed a new editor at The Register Citizen in Torrington. Yesterday, our company announced its first-ever profit sharing program and handed out an extra week’s pay to every employee.
Both made me stop and think about the contribution of Emily M. Olson and hundreds of employees like her across Journal Register Company.
For years, Emily worked hard for “the old JRC” as a reporter and editor at our weeklies in western Connecticut including the Litchfield County Times and New Milford Times.
She was editor of the Litchfield Enquirer, the oldest newspaper in Connecticut, in January 2009 when JRC filed for bankruptcy, closed the paper and laid her off. Three months later, our neighboring JRC division in Torrington had an opening for a copy editor, and we brought her back into the company.
Emily was promoted and became the founding editor of four new weekly papers that we launched in early 2010 as “the new JRC” emerged under the leadership of John Paton. One of the papers we launched was The Litchfield News, filling the void left by the Enquirer’s demise and utilizing Emily’s knowledge and relationships to re-establish our commitment to that community under a new business model.
Fresh off this success, Emily was promoted to managing editor, the #2 position in our newsroom. Then our top editor joined the staff of our sister paper, the New Haven Register, and Emily filled in as we launched a thorough search for his replacement.
By thorough, I mean that this was five and a half months ago, and our new editor started this morning.
In the meantime, we underwent one of the most radical transformations of a physical newsroom in the country.
When the New York Times came to interview staff about the launch of The Register Citizen Newsroom Cafe and an “open newsroom,” the reporter wanted to speak to the person on our staff with the longest history in print newspapers. Someone who might have the most natural resistance to suddenly conducting story meetings that are open to the public and live-streamed on the web. Someone who might think engaging the audience at every step of the process of local journalism is too much a departure from traditional media.
That would be Emily. Except her message was incredibly positive, despite the huge leap we were making into uncharted waters. And despite the fact that she was holding down two jobs at the time (and three jobs for a while as we unexpectedly had a vacancy in our weekly editor slot as well). And despite the fact that she hadn’t quite signed up for such a position of leadership in our own newsroom, not to mention the newspaper industry itself.
She was designing print edition pages at midnight and appearing on NPR with Jeff Jarvis at 9 a.m. the next morning articulating an incredible message of change for traditional newspapers. And then back at the Newsroom Cafe, talking to members of the public about story ideas and corrections and bringing the community into the planning process for the day’s local news cycle.
Who is behind what has been called a remarkable – and remarkably rapid – turnaround at Journal Register Company? People like Emily Olson and many, many others like her across the 992 communities the company serves with local journalism and advertising. As John Paton asked them to do just over a year ago, they are “changing the tires of a car while it is driving down the highway.”
Last year, we got some attention in the newspaper industry for taking a relatively simple step toward improving accuracy. We added a “Fact Check” form at the bottom of every story on RegisterCitizen.Com.
So we were thrilled when a “top 10″ major U.S. newspaper, The Washington Post, implemented something similar about a month ago.
They invented a better version of what we were doing, and so we’ve learned from that, and overhauled our “Fact Check” program to incorporate a lot of what they’ve done.
Now when you click on the “Fact Check” box at the bottom of a story where you notice an error or omission, you will be directed to this page. It gives readers more opportunity to point out what was wrong, to tell us what should have been written, and to even suggest other sources we could speak to who would help us improve the story.
The new system also provides readers the (completely optional) opportunity to provide contact information and an opt-in to be contacted in the future if we write about the same topic or similar topics, so that we can avoid similar mistakes down the road on which the reader might have insight.
Instead of going up immediately and unfiltered, online story comments are now being screened by monitors prior to being posted on the site.
The downside is that there might see a slight lag time before you see your comment appear. We don’t expect that to be a long lag time, and feel it is far outweighed by the benefit of being able to screen out comments that are obscene and blatantly and intentionally untrue.
When we implemented a similar change at RegisterCitizen.Com last year, we expected to see a drop-off in the overall amount of story comments because of that loss of immediate back-and-forth debate. But after an initial dip, we found that the overall number of comments came back stronger than before. We think that’s because some community members who were so disgusted by the nature of what the nastiest comments left our forum, and came back when it was safe again to have a decent conversation about local news and sports.
Why don’t we switch to a “registration” system, some have asked?
First of all, if the goal in suggesting that is to require people to identify themselves and “own” their statements, registration does not force anyone to identify themselves. It is still an anonymous system, as it’s easy enough to register as “Mickey Mouse” and create an email account such as firstname.lastname@example.org. And it would not cut down on abusive comments among those who really want to be abusive. Other than make it more difficult for everyone to comment in the first place. There are programs that allow you to login via your Facebook or Twitter identity and comment, and that’s the closest thing out there on the web (but still possible to manipulate) to an “identity” system. I can see us adopting some kind of hybrid system down the road where you can sign in and identify yourself that way, but also choose to comment anonymously instead if you wish. And it will be up to the reader to consider what stock they put in anonymous comments vs. identified comments.
More importantly, the nature of the web is that readers find stories based on topics of interest to them, referred by Google searches, friends’ recommendations on Facebook, etc. That means they might be reading about river quality, or dirt bike racing, on 15 different sites. If we all required separate registrations, it would kill any kind of conversation. We feel the input of people who visit occasionally and don’t want to take the time to register is valuable.