Improving media capacity: How new tools help readers and reporters

Editor’s Note: Recent innovations—the Internet, social platforms, and mobile devices—have upended how we receive, consume, share, and interpret the news. In this FixGov series, experts weigh in on the challenges facing the industry and discuss possible ways to enhance news coverage and improve media capacity. On May 19, 

senior fellow E.J. Dionne convened a panel of top experts

and practitioners to discuss fixing the problems facing America’s Fourth Estate.

The revolution will not be televised. Instead, it’s being Meerkasted and Periscoped, tweeted and upvoted on Reddit right now.

In fact, the revolution in journalism entered its fastest phase a few weeks ago with the launch of free, widely available livestreaming apps, smashing the final significant barrier to entry left in the industry. It used to take an expensive printing press or FCC license to reach millions of people. Now it takes exactly two clicks on a smartphone to broadcast live video around the planet.

These are the most powerful tools to reach and influence more people—faster and cheaper—than ever. The people who lamented the rise of the 24-hour news cycle should not be worried about the cycle devolving into a second-to-second war for online “eyeballs.” Coupled with a reporter’s drive to relentlessly seek truth, these new tools will be the biggest improvement to journalism in a generation. They are reinvigorating the industry, adding fresh voices to the conversation and providing greater access to reporting.

Fellow ink-stained newspaper readers: it does not mean the world is ending. It means we need to do a better job of constantly driving the news agenda across all of our platforms – print, digital, social and mobile.

In New Hampshire, our readers are currently helping to vet the next president, a responsibility we take seriously at the largest and only statewide newspaper. These new tools will impact our coverage in several ways, making us more responsive, increasing our accountability to the public and subjects we cover, and giving us the ability for instant feedback.

As the first newspaper in America to tease a Periscope broadcast above the fold, our goal was to show a new audience our work, bringing them into the fold. It was also an opportunity to show ourselves—and our industry—that new platforms were not an existential alternative to run from, but a new opportunity to embrace. When candidates and potential candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or even Donald Trump sit down to speak with reporters and editors in our paper’s board room, we let the country in. It did not take away from the classic long-form interview; instead, it added hundreds of new voices.

That does not mean something doing well on one platform – like the brief internet sensation caused when a staffer for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul licked the lens of a camera at the back of campaign event – needs to lead or even be represented on other platforms. (“Lickgate” was not in print.)

Our strategy has been to harness the positives from every new platform to create a singular mission: Driving the news agenda. It isn’t enough anymore to break an in-depth investigation on Page One without a follow-up ready for people visiting our site on their lunch break. Breaking stories doing well on mobile need to be followed up with deeper reporting and context on our website that evening and in print in the next day’s paper. It has forced everyone in the newsroom to think harder about our multiple audiences.

Here’s the good news: The strategy has paid off. It has led to triple-digit percentage growth on our mobile platforms and social media referrals in the last six months. The number of people we reach every day has never been higher, showing interest in our local journalism has actually never been greater. As the presidential primary continues, we expect the trend to continue.

News, in all forms, is what brings us together as a community. It’s where people go to share their stories of success and failure, pride and sadness. At the end of the day, journalists have both the experience to spot stories people will talk about and the training to tell them.

Editors who were once the sole curators of content—paid to help show consumers what was important—now have help from instant analytics and more than 2 billion of their closest friends, also known as smartphone users. We should be thankful for the help and harness the new interest for the public good.