On the count of 3, go! How to get digital started in your newsroom

On the count of three, Go! (note: link has nothing to do with the content of this post)

OK. So, you want to start producing digital content in your newsroom. You want video, photos, Tweets, Facebook, etc. all worked into your (possibly nonexistent) breaking news process seamlessly. Of course you do. But how do you get it started?

If you’re in the position in your newsroom to try and work digital into reporters’ workflow, you likely haven’t “produced” your own content in some time. Sorry to do this to you, but you’re likely going to have to go out and do it yourself the first time. Don’t let that intimidate you. Let me share our experience of starting digital in Meriden.

It was actually almost exactly a year ago today. I had only been in the newsroom a month and our department was trying to figure out how to get digital more integrated into our news production. The plan was to jump on the first breaking news event we could and just run with it. And so, we did.

It wasn’t anything big. It was a fire inside a crematorium at a cemetery not far from our newsroom right before noon on a Wednesday. My department was secluded at the time, in the back of the building in the old library – miles (or so it seemed) from the scanner. I don’t remember how I heard about the fire initially, but when I did I went running into the newsroom and snagged a reporter, Dan, to go with me to the scene. After, of course, I Tweeted the news from our house account and posted it on Facebook (write that down).

An after thought at the time was to tell my supervisor, Carolyn, that I was leaving the office. She was in a meeting at the time, so I sent a text message (Hello, digital). She was ecstatic I was heading out. It’s good to have a strong digital support staff when starting your own revolution.

When we got to the scene, I was a mad man with my iPhone. I took photos of the Walnut Grove Cemetery sign, of firemen standing by the truck, of the crematorium, anything and everything. I Tweeted these photos with updates Dan got from the firemen. I emailed them back to the newsroom in hopes they would make it on our site.

I shot video (lots of video) with my iPhone but the files were too large to email back (you learn as you go). I ended up having to upload video to my personal Facebook account, become “friends” with my supervisor from my phone, and have her download the clips. From there, our Multimedia Journalist, Farrah, began editing together. Teamwork!

I was running around that cemetery like a lunatic. I wanted to gather as much content as I possibly could with my iPhone to be able to prove two points – that it wasn’t incredibly difficult to produce digital content and that this technology was necessary for our newsroom to move in that direction.

The newsroom was able to update the headline on our site based on my Tweets and add photos I took from the scene to the story. One even made it into print, although the lede art was taken by our photographer who made it to the scene as we were leaving.

This is one of the shots I took with my iPhone that went into print, the first time (to my knowledge) our company had ever done such a thing.

When I got back, the newsroom was buzzing. Carolyn had left her meeting to be able to coordinate the content I was sending back to the newsroom. Dan put the final touches on the headline when he got to his desk. Farrah was finishing the editing on the video and was about to post it to the headline on our site. The photographer added the “professional” photo to the online product when he got back. And it was done.

Our Executive Editor, Ralph, had come by while the video was being cut and was visibly excited about what we were able to do with such a tiny device. Each reporter in our newsroom had a smart phone at their disposal within a couple months of that day (of course, this was part of a larger technology initiative – but you have to sell the value of these things).

Now, our breaking news consists of these pieces – Tweets, Facebook, video, photos, developing headlines on the web – on a regular basis and it’s being produced by each reporter with the support of the everyone else in the newsroom.

My final two cents for those of you looking to get digital started: get your hands dirty. As soon as you can show what you can do with digital and how easy it is, it’ll become less daunting for your staff to do themselves.

Have any experience with starting a digital breaking news process in your newsroom? Share them in the comments!

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