Musings on a content-first media organization
Note: The following is an evolving document of one person’s pursuit to build a content-gathering organization from the ground-up, if only in their mind.
People will always want news and information. In 2010, gathering, organizing and producing that news and information no longer involves only printing plants, ink barrels and delivery trucks. It does – and always will – involve quality local journalism created within a workflow that allows established brands and products to take advantage of evolving digital platforms.
There is an opportunity to merge two worlds that until now have largely been separate – the process of creating print and digital products. Within this window, a media organization can assess its current structure, address inefficiencies and create roles that will allow it to commit to gathering, organizing, producing and promoting compelling, quality content in formats the audience wants.
Creating a content-first media organization
The current structures of most media organizations do not provide an efficient workflow for current and future products. In most cases, as new and emerging initiatives rise, they are tacked on to existing product development tracks and workflows.
To succeed in world where digital products take on more and more importance, a media organization must consider new ways to take full advantage of its seamless integration of content and production, as well as the strengths of staff.
To achieve this, consider a media organization structure with a clear, constant flow of content and information. This structure will accommodate future growth and development of additional products. And it will increase efficiency by devoting personnel to the most important aspects of our industry: gathering compelling, quality content; ensuring it is accurate and complete; and distributing it across multiple platforms.
These ideas aren’t new, but rather an aggregation of several structures implemented throughout the country that have been successful.
Roles within a content-first media organization
Content Gatherers: These content creators – reporters, writers, columnists, photographers, videographers, interactive producers – are housed in topic-based groups or pods. A Content Editor will oversee each pod, which will house multiple reporters whose only job is to gather content: stories, blog posts, photos, public records, videos, databases, social media posts, audio, etc. The content will be layered with other storytelling forms by reporters within the same pod with specialized skills.
• Gatherers can focus solely on content.
• Gatherers working together on similar beats within pods will promote better communication and planning.
• The overall reporting pool will increase to include different forms of content than just stories, i.e. photo stories, databases, video reports.
Content Editors: These frontline editors oversee a topic or geographic-based desk made up of gatherers. They assign coverage, develop deeper stories and special presentations and help prioritize news coverage. Most important, they are a resource of knowledge that will allow for more coaching and training opportunities within the pod.
• Editors focus on quality, coaching and training; not merely budgeting or filling sections.
• Pods provide a better perspective on issues that cross geographical boundaries and topics.
Content Directors: These “platform editors” will have a big picture view of the pool of content that is created each day, and they will have the ability to spread it to the appropriate section and product. These directors will have an appreciation for using a products’ space, not just filling it.
• Directors focus on big-picture budgeting across all products.
• Provide a filter for quality content.
• Provide better management of content over 24-hour news cycle.
Content Producers: This desk makes the products happen. It starts with a central copy desk staffed day and night that brings constant and consistent editing for all products. Once the content is edited, separate staffs will handle the production of print and digital products. The idea is to give personnel the ability to tailor content for individual platforms rather than produce generic content for all products.
• Provides a central editing desk that brings a constant and consistent reader experience in all products.
• Allows for an earlier production cycle, as content for the print and digital products is readied throughout the day.
• Moves production from a staggered cycle – updating the Web site with content, editing content for print, then publishing content to the Web site – to a parallel cycle with value added at each step and content tailored to a particular product.
This structure and the underlying tasks required of each level, could put any media organization in a position to further establish their current roster of products. It could also put an entire enterprise in a position to develop new products that will fit seamlessly into a workflow that accounts for content-related aspects of a product launch: gathering compelling, quality content; ensuring it is accurate and complete; and distributing it across multiple platforms.