It’s For the People: Demystifying the Digital First Philosophy

It’s for The People! (note: link has nothing to do with the content of this post)

It’s possible I get entirely too excited right before noon on Wednesdays. Today was my third #dfmchat and, to this point, my favorite. Today’s topic was “how Digital First can improve journalism” and, let me tell you, all it can do is help! Let’s begin at the first question:

Q1. How can Digital First help journalism?

It’s for the people! Digital journalism is the way to best serve our readers and our communities. It’s really that simple. Readers need and want two things more than anything else: news (right now) and to be able to voice their opinions about the issues in their communities. A Digital First attitude allows media outlets to serve those two needs seamlessly, if done properly.

The immediacy of the news we report should be just as important as the accuracy. That is an ongoing battle in our industry. It’s easy to Tweet scanner chatter and rumors in order to be the first outlet to have a story but, it doesn’t look good when the story you report is false. Although you never want to find yourself in that situation, the digital medium allows you to correct, and take accountability, for your mistake.

Digital gives media outlets the power lead and moderate conversations with their readers about the news they report – in real time, publicly. Your news content is made more relevant and powerful when the voices of the people affected are right there with the story.

My favorite answer to Q1. comes from Chris March: “The digital audience is more engaged, more participatory with news and content than print medium. And it’s always current.”

Q2. How can Digital First improve credibility, reliability, and trustworthiness?

Transparency is key. This is fundamental of journalism, in digital, television, and print formats. You have to get the news right. In the cases where you get it wrong, you need to correct the error and be accountable for it.

In newspapers you can print a correction the following day. Digital gives you the power to correct the mistake, should you make one, immediately, and have current, correct information in its place. The power of digital helps with immediacy, but accuracy is still the big picture.

Be accountable and your readers will trust in what you report. (This does not mean report anything you hear and correct it later – use your sound news judgment and journalism ethics. Stick to the basics.)

My favorite answer to Q2. comes from Ivan Lajara: “Transparency and openness help, bundled with basic journalistic tenets, ethics, et al”

Q3. Many colleagues are skeptical of a Digital First approach to journalism. What do you tell them?

I have several different solutions to this problem, but a few have had more success than others. You don’t want to tell these skeptics anything. For best results, you are going to want to show them.

First, you have to show what digital tools can do for journalism yourself. Go out there and Tweet a breaking news story. Take photos, shoot video, and update your headline online. Roll up your sleeves.

Second, find someone in your newsroom that is digital savvy and work some digital into their workflow. Once the skeptics start to see someone else going digital, it won’t be so daunting of a task. In my experience, the skeptics get excited once they see the power of digital and will want to harness it themselves.

Third, get your newsroom trained. This is imperative. Your content producers (reporters, photographers) as well as editors need to be trained in new technologies and digital processes. Have someone set up some bootcamps and be available to aid your staff in digital production.

My favorite answer to Q3. comes from Tom Caprood: “Love when I can SHOW them how #digitalfirst improves journalism.”

Q4. Give specific examples of how do you think Digital First has helped journalism. Do you think there are times where it hasn’t?

The first time our newsroom had a “digital first” attitude was during an October snowstorm in our area that left thousands powerless for days. Our readers needed to get emergency information (shelter information, power outage numbers, etc.) throughout the day – not the next morning.

Digital platforms gave us the power to serve our community during this emergency situation. We utilized our website and mobile site to keep readers up-to-date with clean-up efforts. We used Facebook and Twitter to reach out to people without power and see what locations were hit the hardest (we even put together an interactive map based on reader input). We used email blasts to give people breaking news and updates about their areas. We reached out with safety tips for using generators and reminded people to check on elderly neighbors.

And each morning, we put a paper on their doorstep.

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