From the convention: To improve your site, be consistent, be quick, be right and be fun June 28, 2010
SALT LAKE CITY — Readers want information — and they want it now — not on the 5 p.m. or 11 p.m. news and certainly not in the morning on their front doorstep.
They don’t want to wait, and they’re not, as newspapers have taken an aggressive approach to disseminating breaking news as it happens through social networking sites and blogging.
Readers want constant updates and also want to be able to weigh in on USA soccer coach Bib Bradley’s strategy, Carlos Zambrano’s mental stability or LeBron James’ decision to hold the NBA hostage.
Donna Eyring, deputy sports editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, explained just how important it is to get the news in front of readers as quickly as possible during the Improve Your Website workshop at the 2010 APSE Convention in Salt Lake City.
“The audience is everywhere — all over the world,” Eyring said. “People want to know everything right now. We have to get the news to them how they want it.”
Whatever device (office PC, mobile device or the new Ipad to name a few) is used to receive news of John Isner’s 11-hour, 5-minute marathon victory at Wimbledon, the execution of breaking the news must be fast while remaining accurate.
Workshop panelists emphasized that editors need to be very clear about what to give readers and be consistent, be quick, be right and in the right instances be fun.
“For a newspaper, the web is all about building, and reflecting, your community,” said Lauren Gustus, sports and business editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Writers and bloggers need to be personal — maybe to the point of even letting your readers know you’ll be out at a bar or restaurant, giving them an opportunity to have some personal interaction.
John Hassan of ESPN.com said via e-mail that besides giving people a chance to weigh in on various topics that “the Web is great for aggregating and developing a database of information on an ongoing story. You have to do that with discipline and consistency.”
Hassan did not attend the convention and was replaced on the panel by Boston.com’s Matt Pepin, who cited various examples of giving readers opportunities to interact on his website through photo galleries.
Manny Ramirez’s return to recent return to Boston was an example of “marrying images and text to generate traffic. Surveys and polls also provide a satisfying experience” for readers, he said.
ESPN’s Patrick Stiegman also touched on fantasy sports’ role in attracting an audience.
“Do it if you’re not doing it already,” Stiegman said. “Fantasy sports is a year-round activity that is an incredible driver.”
The panelists differed on social media’s impact on their websites.
Eyring, of the Post-Gazette, said, “(Social networking) still a very minor part of what drives Web traffic to our site, but I’m not dismissing it. (I’m addicted to the Pirates reporter’s Twitter feed.) But we have to be careful that it supplements our Web presence, not supplants it."
ESPN.com’s Hassan said that social media has had a significant impact. He says Facebook has worked well as people share links.
“Twitter has been more problematic,” he said. “Twitter is something we sort of have to do, not really want to do. It’s just a lot of self-promotion and baseless speculating. We’ve spent a fair amount of time defining how our people can use Twitter.”
The Reno Gazette-Journal uses social media to “put our content out there – tweeting links to blogs, breaking news, etc. And, on occasion, for live scores,” Gustus said.
She said that while tweeting local high school football games does generate some traffic, blogging is one of the real keys to driving readers to RGJ.com.
“Local sports blogs, our Wolf Pack blog and prep blogs in particular” have attracted readers, Gustus said.
Pittsburgh also has reaped similar success in the blogging world.
“Several have been very successful in driving readers to our site throughout the day — some dozens of times a day — and in building a community of loyal readers,” Eyring said.
Gustus and Eyring stressed the importance of reporters being obsessive about updating posts throughout the day. Another key component to blogging and driving traffic to your website is the reporters’ personalities, and how they connect with readers.
While blogging has had a positive effect on websites, video has not been a successful tool. The cost and time to produce video outweighs the return, panelists said.
“Although I like having a video presence on our website and believe it’s an important part of our coverage — and even generates some revenue — it probably returns the least page views for the time and energy invested,” Eyring said.
Editors face plenty of challenges: keeping up with technology, protecting investments in reporting, dealing with questionable social media reports.
“Your reputation is important. Keep your head while all around you are losing theirs,” Eyring reminds. “Don’t feel the need to respond to every Internet rumor if your reliable, long-time sources are telling you otherwise.”