Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A new decade in the digital age


"Change" was the mantra of 2009.

In 2008, Washington Window, the newspaper I edit, was a monthly publication. In 2009, after budget cuts, the paper began its transition to becoming bi-monthly in 2010. This raised all sorts of questions about what it could and should be to best serve its readers in the digital age.

There were various reasons for this change, among them:

  • the economy
  • the national church's decision to relaunch its monthly newspaper, Episcopal Life, as a quarterly, affecting dioceses who publish their news as a "wrapper" and sparking a church-wide trend away from monthly publications.
  • the new media explosion, which means people are seeking cheaper and faster ways to diseminate news and information
  • the rising cost of newsprint

I worried that unless I got a grip on new media, I would find myself in a backwater faster than I could say "legacy media."

But where to begin?

I've been experimenting more with "online extra" features, for the most part photo galleries like this one about a recent tour of historically black Episcopal churches in Washington, D.C.

I've been on Facebook for several years, but haven't really used it for work, though some readers have "friended" me. I'm planning to set up a fan page for the newspaper, but wanted to get pointers from the ICFJ class I'm taking so I could do it right the first time.

I wanted to explore Twitter, which until this class I had only read about. And I wanted a way to connect with readers more interactively. As the Window transitions to fewer printed issues, more news will need to be published online, and a blog is an easy way to do that.

Readers have asked about all these things, and some also have requested an RSS feed. And we all know that when readers ask for something, we need to find a way to deliver.

Embracing 2010

Thanks to the ICFJ I have an improved action plan and have had a chance to practice using the tools I'll need to take the Window into the new decade.

In the next print issue, I plan to invite people to become Facebook fans of the newspaper, follow us on Twitter and visit a new blog which will contain "extra" content and breaking news.

I also have some ideas about how to expand beyond slideshows to create audio-visual presentations, but will need to practice a bit more with some of those tools.

Better prepared next time

Headlines during the current crisis in Haiti -- at least in the United States -- often seek to contrast the response to the Jan. 12 earthquake to the haphazard and slow response to Hurricane Katrina.

I feel like Haiti was my Hurricane Katrina, in that I could have done so much better if I had been using these new media tools. For example, I could have:

  • Used Twitter to quickly send out the most pressing information -- how to help.
  • Posted updates to a blog.
  • Sent out a message through Facebook.
  • Included videos like the one below on the blog and on our homepage to give people a sense of how the Episcopal Church in Haiti was impacted and how it is responding.
  • Created and embedded a "pastoral message" from the Bishop of this diocese.

Sadly, there will always be a next time. And next time, my goal is to get the word out faster, across more platforms, to help more people do what they do best in times of trouble -- reach out a human hand to help a virtual stranger.

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