Steve Outing gives us a lot to think about in his latest E&P column, Advice for Small Newspapers. It’s certainly an important and worthy topic, especially since there are WAY more small papers than large ones.
1. Copy and build from the industry leaders
Among the sites Outing suggests emulating is Bakersfield.com. Good advice, and the social networking/citizen journalism stuff is important, but the easier stuff for small papers to steal from Bakersfield are the video and blog models. It’s pretty basic and affordable stuff.
2. Don’t hire print-focused employees
Outing suggests hiring more recent grads. The problem is, I’ve run across far too many recent J-school grads that are as traditional in their thinking as any crusty old city editor you care to name. I’ve talked to other hiring managers about how hard it is to get recent J-school grads to take positions in the online departments — they all want to work for print. I’ve seen shiny new grads in newsrooms who won’t pick up a video camera or file a web-first story. It’s a pretty amazing phenomena. Instead, you need to develop an interview process that helps you discover who is really passionate about online. It’s not enough to be able to know how to search Google, find YouTube and buy on eBay. You need journalists who are immersed in this stuff. The best hires already have blogs.
3. Hire a hot-dog programmer, one way or another
Simply put — we need more people with technical passion and a hackers soul in our business.
4. Find (free or cheap) help and go crazy with experimentation
Easier said than done. I’ve offered many internships over the years, opened my doors to all kinds of “get your foot in the door” opportunities, and have found very few takers, even when the money will buy more than a beer and pizza. Rob Curley has done great with this tactic, but we can’t all be Rob Curley.
8. Utilize the camera-toting army
Digital video cameras are pretty cheap these days. How about setting up a citizen loaner program, where you lend a camera to folks who sign up and let them keep it for a week. The payment you expect for loaning the camera out is a video story at the end of the week.
This reminds me of a very successful effort we did in Ventura about seven years ago: John Travolta was shooting Swordfish in downtown Ventura, so we went and bought a bunch of disposable cameras (this was before the proliferation of digital) and I went out on Main Street and approached local gawkers and said — shoot pictures for us, and when you turn the camera in, we’ll give you $20. We got lots of great pictures (all but one camera was returned) and the photo essays were popular with site visitors.
It also reminds me of what I said before about not buying a lot of expensive equipment — instead, outfit your newsroom with point-and-shoots … and use the left over money to arm local people with cameras. In other words, don’t loan the cameras — give them away … they’re cheap enough and enough will fall into the right hands that you’ll get some good stuff regularly.
9. Mix up professional and citizen reporting
I absolutely agree. So called citizen journalism should not be ghettoized into separate sections of the site. And so long as you have a print paper, a lot of it should be appearing in print. This helps motivate participants and it promotes the web site.