Webb on the Web: Convert Your Newsroom Staff - Part Two

byAmy Webb
Nov 3, 2008 in Digital Journalism

Last week, I talked about ways to convert any staff into digital adopters. This week, I offer five more strategies to try in your newsroom.

6. Provide access to gear for everyone
Too often, only the photographers get to play with new equipment in newsrooms. We recommend initiating a program that allows all staff, regardless of position, to gain access to equipment and training.

Adapt It: We recommend building a small library of gear: audio recorders, digital cameras, digital video cameras. This need not cost thousands of dollars.

Create a library system so that all staff members - even those on the business/ advertising side - can gain access to equipment. We recommend that you create a series of short, clear instruction sheets that explain the basics of how to use the equipment. But really, it's best for staff to explore and learn on their own.

Outcome: The more access staff has to experimenting with equipment, the more likely they'll be to use it for content. For example, if business staff has the experience of shooting video, they may become more motivated to develop new ad-buy video models for your website.

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7. Develop multimedia storytelling templates
Your staff may be eager to try multimedia techniques, but without a formula or template for creating new content, they may be reluctant to try on their own. Offering a series of templates will remove at least one barrier from creating digital content.

Adapt It: You might brainstorm internally to determine what kinds of digital stories you're most likely to use on a given website. Examples include: data-driven interactive projects (charts, tables), photo slideshows with audio, videos with polished graphics, simple interactive maps, simple timelines.

Depending on the content management system and the available software, it's easy to create basic templates that can be used again and again for any website. Create a series of fixed templates that reporters can choose from for virtually any story. Include an explanation of what kind of information is required for each. For example, the photo slideshow might require: 10-15 300 dpi images cropped to 300px x 400px, nat sound for a minimum of 120 seconds, audio that describes/ narrates each of the images, full cutlines and scene information for each saved as a txt file.

This enables all staff to participate in the multimedia storytelling process - and removes some of the critical decision-making steps from the process.

Outcome: Offering pre-built templates is a good way to encourage staff to collect and create content for the web. This also makes it easier for web teams to streamline their workflow because sizes, qualities, nomenclature and the like will have already been determined and formatted correctly.

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8. Start an internal ________ user group
Take a cue from the technology world. There is a user group for virtually every software application and digital media tool. Most user groups connect via wikis and listservs, and occasionally they meet in person. Their purpose is to troubleshoot problems related to a particular application/ tool, to share enhancements and news, to offer advice and sometimes to just act as a sounding board when frustration strikes.

Adapt It: Determine which software applications and digital tools your organization relies upon most heavily. These will likely be your content management system, your workflow or edit system, your photo correction/ editing system, your video editing system and in many cases Flash, which is an interactivity software application.

We recommend that you create a user group for each and that you invite people to join in. You can create a listserv (example: BayTribuneFlashUserGroup) and let folks hash out problems or share ideas on their own. Every large digital media company (Google, Microsoft, Apple) maintains internal user groups.

Outcome: This should encourage teamwork and will aid in continuous learning/ training throughout the organization.

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9. Appoint a tech guru/ evangelist
If your organization already has a staff member who is enthusiastic, affable and excited about technology, consider appointing him/her your organizations Chief Technology Evangelist. This concept was popular during the dot com bubble in the 1990s, but it's a great way to win over staff who might be reluctant to embrace technology.

Adapt It: Determine who among your current staff would be the best candidate. This role should not supersede his/her current duties. The evangelist should instead be responsible for spreading enthusiasm and for motivating others to try out new technology.

S/he might maintain a blog about technology just for your organization. S/he could also lead informal brown bag lunch talks or even coordinate a quick field trip to a local tech company.

Outcome: Every organization can use a cheerleader. The more his/her enthusiasm spreads, the more others will become motivated to use digital media.

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10. Coordinate a series of master classes
A good way to inspire and motivate staff is to offer a series of master classes conducted by someone who's both a great teacher and an expert practitioner.

Adapt It: Coordinate a series of workshops or classes that can be held during convenient times for staff. Workshop topics should be very specific and address a granular topic, such as "how to embed video using our content management system" or "how to create a data-driven real-time election graphic." We DO NOT recommend holding general sessions, such as "Photoshop basics" or "Flash for beginners," because without constant use, students will quickly forget what they've learned.

Workshops should have a specific goal (make one chart with three data fields) that can definitely be accomplished in the allotted time. The instructor could be someone on staff or might be a person from outside your organization. We recommend that the workshop sessions are very small - 10 people, maximum - and should include only those staff with enough of the required skills for that particular project so that they can refine and enhance what they already know.

Outcome: Advanced training is always appreciated but rarely offered at news organizations. This will motivate staff and encourage further growth and development.

To read all of Amy Webb's Webb on the Webb columns, click here.

Amy Webb is a digital media consultant and head of Webbmedia Group, LLC. Find more multimedia tips and ideas at her blog, http://www.mydigimedia.com. Webbmedia Group is a vendor-neutral company. Any opinions expressed about products or services are formed after testing, research and interviews. Neither Amy Webb nor Webbmedia Group or its employees receives any financial or other benefits from vendors.