Thursday, August 26, 2010

The ideaLab at Journal Register Company

There's so much to detail about our first ideaLab meeting Wednesday that it is difficult to know where to begin.

JRC Corporate Office

After a long night of introductions and good food, everyone gathered at JRC's corporate offices in Yardley, PA and filed into a large board room equipped with a projector, Wi-Fi and plenty of outlets for 15+ laptops, iPads, and other devices that we all had with us.

Jon Cooper, vice president of content for the company, began the day by talking about the structure of the ideaLab , as well as how the company planned to re-organize its operating model to become more efficient and stop the same work being done multiple times in different offices across the company.

For the ideaLab, Cooper stressed that there are no rules for this experiment. Our goals are to play, experiment, learn, and teach, since sharing knowledge with others had not typically been the norm at JRC in the past.

He also pointed out that the company's Digital First mandate did not mean "print never," but rather a change in the mindset of how the company operates - the goal being to create products which include audience engagement and provide customers with the option to choose the content they want and what medium they want to consume it with.



Cooper also brought up a good point that with how the company is moving forward, everyone in the newsroom is the online editor - how producing content should not depend on the delivery mechanism.

Most importantly, he stressed that everyday, we need to think of our audience first, because without them, we don't exist.

Then there was talk of Project Thunderdome, an ambitious plan for the company to make its national AP wire pages uniform across the company, with two templates for broadsheet publications and tabloid papers like The Record.

In the next 30 days, the company will determine which property does certain sections the best and use those locations to produce national content for each of its locations - saving time, decreasing costs, and freeing up employees at many JRC locations to focus on producing quality local content.

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Next up was Betsy Morgan, who gave a short presentation on being able to succeed on the web, based on her extensive experience as former CEO of the Huffington Post and former VP of CBSNews.com .

She said that her belief was that everything you do on web should be simple and authentic.

Some of the things she asked us to think about was whether we could describe what we were building in 10 words or less, what makes our content unique, and how we can determine if our audience cares about what we're doing.

One of the biggest things I took away from her talk was that we should become obsessed with our metrics, for web traffic as well as for projects and goals that we are trying to reach in our own offices, whether through Google Analytics, chartbeat, or any number of custom-tailored tracking services.

She also mentioned how there was a lot of value in gathering offline data, integrating it into  a Google Map or something similar so that we could better understand our audience, where they were located, and who wasn't reading us.

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Jay Rosen took an interesting approach in that instead of a traditional PowerPoint presentation, he opted to go around the room asking members of the ideaLab to tell him, as well as the room, our experiences from learning about the ideaLab, being chosen, what we hoped to do with the experiment, and what we were worried about in the process.

Besides getting a personalized view from almost each of our 15 members, the discussion allowed us to pinpoint what we each planned to tackle first as part of the ideaLab so that several of us were not working on the same thing without communicating and sharing our progress with the rest of the team and company - which would defeat the purpose of the experiment.

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Part of the ideaLab doing presentations at corporate.

After some group exercises and a lunch discussion on digital trends across the industry, Rosen and Cooper later challenged us to come up with one problem that we were going to work to solve over the next 30 days before we left for the day. Simply learning to use our newly provided gadgets was not enough - we had to think of a challenge that we could overcome for the benefit of our properties as well as the company.

The first problem I chose was to get every reporter and photographer in our newsroom filing their content from the field. I don't envision this happening for every article we produce, but I see it as a real benefit for reporters to be able to stay out of the office to uncover more news, as well as be able to report instantly from the scene of a crime, meeting, or press conference. It's something that news organizations have been doing for years, but we are just now trying to catch up with.

I'll be working in part with Karen Workman, a reporter with the Oakland Press in Michigan, who had the same goal for her newsroom.

Other projects selected by ideaLab members included instituting more live coverage of sports and community events, incorporating crowdsourcing into all of their paper's beats, improving sports coverage using technology, developing a digital local arts and entertainment section, and several more.

I think I speak for everyone who attended our meetings over the last few days when I say that this is a very exciting time to be a part of Journal Register Company.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Matt DeRienzo said...

Awesome stuff, Tom, and thank you for blogging about it. I am interested in how the Idea Lab team is planning to integrate and communicate what it is doing with the rest of JRC, and how its work dovetails with goals at individual properties.

August 26, 2010 at 11:29 AM 
Anonymous Steve Shoe said...

Tom: Great goal to take on. What ideas do you have for helping reporters and photogs file from the field? I know both of our offices struggle with similar tech. Or is it too early to share?

Also, I love the name, but why "Project Thunderdome"? I fail to see the connection to one of Mel Gibson's greatest movies (though I'm always happy to reference it).

August 26, 2010 at 1:45 PM 
Anonymous tcaprood said...

I know that fellow ideaLabber Chris Stanley has blogged about it - http://bit.ly/aNZPjP - as well as Kelly Metz - http://bit.ly/bcO4Hc Not sure about the rest of the team so far. Rosen encouraged it during the meeting and hopefully some more of them will if they haven't started already.

August 26, 2010 at 7:54 PM 
Anonymous tcaprood said...

We are certainly lacking in tech. Right now I'm thinking of just loaning out the ideaLab netbook and iPad to start and seeing what happens. We have another netbook kicking around in sports with an air card right now which I think Fitz uses for the track and stuff, so that's covered somewhat in their department. I know most of the reporters will be able to handle it, but photos are really important to, even without any initial editing.
As Rosen and others told us repeatedly, I'm going to start looking into who does mobile journalism the best and try to model it after them. Hopefully Saratoga can follow suit as well!

August 26, 2010 at 7:59 PM 
Anonymous Journal Register Company ideaLab: 30 Days of Problem Solving « The Ben Franklin Project said...

[...] read more about the day’s events from Labbers (that new name can’t come soon enough) Tom Caprood, Chris Stanley and Kelly Metz. You can also go back and watch Ivan Lajara’s captured stream [...]

August 26, 2010 at 10:02 PM 
Anonymous Steve Shoe said...

I think the vast majority of the audience is more than happy with a decent handful of photos taken at the scene with a mobile phone or point-and-shoot. Camera phones are getting much better. At the scene of, say, a car accident, a shot of the crumpled car taken with a Blackberry or iPhone or Droid or whatever, at the camera's highest dimensions/resolution, is just as effective at telling the story as a shot taken with a Nikon.

Not to downplay the work of professional photojournalists in the least. Given the choice, I'd rather have a skilled photographer supplying me with pictures; but in the mobile, digital first world, a smartphone that can e-mail photos right to the newsroom is much more expedient.

So I say: Smartphones for all JRC reporters (with the added benefit of being able to type stories, albeit more slowly).

August 27, 2010 at 7:42 AM 
Anonymous How to get a newsroom to cover stories live | Ivan Lajara's bad ideas for IdeaLab said...

[...] IdeaLab, including yours truly, met at the company’s Yardley, Pa., offices on Wednesday to brainstorm the future of our industry. JRC advisory members Betsy Morgan and Jay Rosen were present and shared their insight into what the [...]

August 27, 2010 at 1:02 PM 
Anonymous tcaprood said...

Smart phones are certainly a good way to do it. We'll get an immediacy that will benefit both editors and our audience, plus give readers a sense that the reporters are doing their best to bring the content to the masses the best way they can. Next week I plan to shift into full drive on all this. I'll keep the blog updated with how everything is going.

August 27, 2010 at 6:11 PM 
Anonymous Journal Register Co. ideaLab meeting provides inspiration « ideaLab Heritage's Blog said...

[...] Check out what another ideaLabber had to report. [...]

August 29, 2010 at 1:43 PM 

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