Try it, refine it – or throw it away

Try new stuff! If it doesn’t work, just stop doing it. Then move on and try something else.

That’s what Mackenzie Warren, director of content at Gannett Digital (that’s the digital division of what’s currently the USA’s largest media company), advised a group of Norwegian media executives at the Norwegian Institute of Journalism this week.

Now, let me first point out that Mackenzie Warren has been a journalist since the age of 14. He’s been a photographer, reporter, online editor, managing editor… just about anything you can be in a newsroom. Except that at Gannett, and at Fort Myers News-Press, where he worked before heading up the digital content section at Gannett, they no longer call it a newsroom.

“We’ve done away with the word “newsroom”. There’s no news in a newsroom (desk reporters are often the last to hear of a story). Plus, it’s not news we do – it’s aquiring, processing and distributing information”, he said.

Now, the Gannett publications have more of a control centre where section editors (sports, news etc., not print, online or TV) monitor the competition and also what the readers and viewers are responding to at any time.

“We monitor what people actually read or use – which isn’t always what journalists consider the most newsworthy story. Being a journalist is about collecting information and connecting, packaging and distributing it,” Warren said.

Mackenzie Warren is known to some as “Mr MoJo”. At the News-Press, they have equipped their reporters with cameras (both for stills and video), laptops and mobile phones, and expect them to spend most of their time in the field. They write, shoot, and publish from anywhere, anytime.

“At first, there was a lot of reluctance toward learning new technical equipment. But, once given the proper training, they find being a MoJo both fun and rewarding. It’s the beeing a journalist part that’s difficult, the technical stuff is easy. I’d rather reeducate trained journalists than trying to teach a techie to report,” said Warren.

This MoJo – mobile journalist – is now in work throughout Gannett’s publications. This is Mackenzie Warren’s approach to development: Try it, refine it, then spread it to other’s. Then move on and develop something new. And if it doesn’t work, just stop doing it.

“We keep trying and improving and developing all the time. We don’t have to be perfect, we just need to start somewhere and get better from there.”

Warren thinks the curator-journalist is someone we’ll meet more often in the year to come.

“Everybody’s a publisher and participant now. The journalist may not have to be the storyteller, but the story manager. We need to create the space where people feel secure about coming to tell their part of stories – curating the audience. The curator-journalist may use language like “we” and “I” and “us”, language you wouldn’t normally do in traditional journalism. But he or she manages a community and relates to the members of that communities as a person.”

One example is The Journal News in the Lower Hudson Valley, New York. Their attention to fans of the New York Yankees baseball team includes live web-tv sessions with the specialist reporter, discussions via CoverItLive and more. Another example, perhaps the most exciting one right now, is the USA Today Cruise Log. The cruise log has seen a traffic increase of 1,000 percent in the past year, it’s immensely popular.

Gannett is also looking to find new business models. They create micro-site to target very specific audiences which are popular with advertisers. In the upcoming year, they believe their knowledge of their audience (age, gender, interests, how they behave online and which pages or sites they see) will be incredibly attractive to advertisers.

They don’t know yet if this will be a success. But Warren’s final piece of advice? TRY STUFF.

Three rules for experimentation:
1. You have to give it a try
2. Failure is a part of success
3. You cant really break anything

For a full transcript of Mackenzie Warren’s speech, see the CoverItLive version. The transcript is in English, but there are some tweets in Norwegian there as well.

Norwegian MoJo Frank Barth-Nilsen has written a blog post on Warren’s speech as well.

1 thought on “Try it, refine it – or throw it away

  1. Pingback: Mediehusseminaret på Institutt for Journalistikk |

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