Journal Register Company’s ‘one new technology’ challenge

One of John Paton’s first blog posts after becoming CEO of Journal Register Company in February was a challenge to every employee in the company to “learn one new technology” in 2010. The idea came from a reader of his blog, Shafqat Islam, who was excited about the aggressive “Digital First” strategy Paton had announced for JRC.

I checked in with each member of my staff of about 40 people in Torrington, Connecticut, last week to see how we’re doing.

As expected, I guess, the newsroom leads other departments in fulfilling the goal of learning one new technology, and newsroom employees involved more directly in journalism and content gathering lead those whose jobs are more heavily tied to our print edition. Copy editors and page designers, for example, have been the slowest to learn and embrace new technology.

Similarly, our graphic artists, whose job is 95 percent tied to creating ads for the print editions of our daily and weeklies, and pages for our shopper, are farther behind than any department in the “learning one new technology” challenge.

It’s a chicken and egg thing. The more your job is tied to print, the less mindset and time you have to devote to learning about digital technology. But the less digital technology you know, the more doomed you are to be stuck in a job with a viability that is shrinking every day and will at some point be obsolete.

If we are going to be relying on these employees to be part of a completely “digital first, print last” culture, as a manager I need to disrupt this cycle and get people off the hamster wheel.

Journal Register Company is offering unprecedented training programs on the use of video in news and advertising, social media, search engine optimization and more. Getting employees to take advantage of them is the obvious step, but integrating them into the way you do business on a local level is the real key. And we’re up against 120 years of inertia built around meeting our next print deadline.

But let’s talk about our progress!

John Paton’s decision to provide a Flip camera to every reporter in the company taught most of our newsroom to expand the presentation of their journalism to a whole new medium. We have shot video with almost every kind of news story. Staff have learned more about editing video. And we have branched into live-streaming of video, including the web broadcast of some important local selectman’s meetings and candidate debates during the recent election season.

The most prolific videographer on our staff is Peter Wallace, a sports writer, the longest-serving member of our newsroom, and the guy in the room most likely to be voted “old-school newspaper guy.” (And while sports stories get the least amount of page views on our website by category, we have discovered that sports videos get the highest amount of views. It’s clearly about finding the right medium to tell a particular kind of story.)

Journal Register Company’s Ben Franklin Project helped reporters and editors learn about the incredible amount of free, open-source tools available for enriching our presentation of the news, and they now regularly embed video (our own and from other sources), source documents, Google Maps and more to enrich stories.

Journal Register followed up on Ben Franklin with the JRC Idea Lab, and we were fortunate to have one of our reporters, Kaitlyn Yeager, chosen for it. Kaitlyn’s Idea Lab work has brought many great ideas and learning experiences to the staff so far. An example was election night, when we used Google Docs to create a large, town-by-town voting results chart. We embedded it “above the fold” on the home page of our website, and Google Docs allowed multiple staff members, at the same time, to input results that showed up on the web in real time. It made for the fastest and most comprehensive election night results we’d ever been able to provide to readers. That chart, and what we have learned over the past nine months about search engine optimization, helped us lead all Journal Register Company newspapers in the traffic bump that we got from election night – up 77.4% in page views and up 72.1% in monthly unique visitors.

Effective use of social media was the “one new technology” that many staff members chose when John Paton made his challenge in the spring.

Newsroom staff have settled into a routine on breaking news stories of posting even a brief confirmation of the story to our website, posting a link to Twitter, sending a blast to our free email news alert subscribers, and then sharing on Facebook. Soon, that process across JRC will start with a text message to mobile phones.

Social media was also the “one new technology” that most of our advertising staff wanted to learn this year.

Our classified department is using Twitter to promote online job postings through our partnership with Monster Hot Jobs, getting better results for our advertisers and more traffic to our “help wanted” site.

And while sales reps and managers have lagged behind the newsroom in using Twitter, Facebook and Four Square to connect with clients, they have learned this year that they need to work with clients on how to incorporate these free social media tools into an overall marketing plan. In the past, through our own ignorance we would have ignored their role or treated them as competition.

We started 2010 intrigued by John Paton’s challenge to “learn one new technology.” We have found, over the course of the year, that the company is creating an environment where we are continuously learning.

Can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2011.

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2 thoughts on “Journal Register Company’s ‘one new technology’ challenge

  1. Wow, thanks for the update. Would love to hear more from other JRC newspapers to see how things went.

    Congrats to your staff for making progress – it’s not always easy, but it will make a big difference in the long run. If there’s anything we can do to help, please email me.

    Like

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