Your news organization should have a point of view

If you follow me here or on Twitter, you already know I’m a fan of Chicago News Co-op‘s reporting. Besides employing talent like Mick Dumke and others, they have a very specific way they go about things that I enjoy and approve of.

One of the things they do that I absolutely love is that if you sign up for it, they will periodically e-mail you something that looks like this:

 

 
   
 
 

Chicago News Cooperative

Today’s Report


For more than two decades, Mayor Daley was able to coalesce the city’s many neighborhoods and ethnic groups mainly through modern-day machine-style political muscle. 

With Daley leaving office, all bets are off. The city’s diverse neighborhoods, in many ways, will be toss-ups. Just how candidates will rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of a varied constituency without alienating one group over another one race will be the subject of a series of stories we plan to do over the next weeks and months leading to the election. Labeled “After the Dynasty,” the series will look at Chicago’s future without Mayor Daley. Our reporters and photographers are fanning out across the city to find out voters’ thoughts as we head toward what will be one of the most competitive elections in the city’s recent history.

Today’s story looks at the traditionally white wards. Long a base that felt well-served by its public officials, support for the mayor has eroded over the past few years as services have been cut and the economy has taken a toll on jobs.  As reporter Mick Dumke points out, though the number of white voters has dwindled, it’s still an important base and could be decisive in determining who will be the next mayor. 

Columnist Jim Warren took in this week’s gubernatorial debate between Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican candidate Bill Brady. Not surprisingly, Jim didn’t find much to like in either candidate. That’s what happens when one of the few highlights is this: The candidates agree to sell more Asian Carp to China. 

On paper, Mike Quade just might be ready for The Show. A journeyman manager and coach who toiled in the minor league system for many years before coming on to manage the Cubs after Lou Piniella left town this summer. Though the Cubs haven’t played too shabbily under the 53-year-old, Dan McGrath explains that a shot at a permanent job as manager of the North Siders is not certain. 

Finally, Daniel Libit checks in on Sen. Roland Burris, whose mounting legal bills will leave him with more than $600,000 in debt when he leaves office shortly. Friends say that the money trouble is weighing heavily on the normally cheerful Burris. 

Thanks for reading,

Jim Kirk

Managing Editor

 
 

 

Now, at first I didn’t think much of this.

Many news sites send e-mails of some variety and I subscribe to many of them (or have in the past). What I realized right away with CNC’s e-mails is that I was reading most of them all the way through and following most of the links to stories. I realized that I liked this letter style and how it always signs off with “thanks for reading.” I realized that I enjoyed how often all the recent reporting is tied together in this one message and how one story might play off another.

This type of a message to readers is probably not new to you. In fact, you’ve probably seen it in most print magazines. It’ll be at the beginning and usually features a smiling photo of the Editor-in Chief along with their note about that issue’s content. I’ve no idea of the history of this (and would love it if someone could fill me in) but I imagine the initial thinking was that it would help guide the reader through the issue, point out some highlights and maybe allow the editor a chance to write something themselves, not only oversee other writers and editors.

Newspapers on the other hand don’t appear to have the same robust tradition. While I’ve sometimes seen notes from editors, ombudsmen and the like, it doesn’t seem to be consistent across many papers. Perhaps part of the problem is that newspapers have been a general interest product for a long time, while magazines often focus on a topical area or a niche audience. Maybe it’s easier to write to a target audience than a group called “everyone in the town that subscribes to our paper.”

In the digital age, some uniformity has come to the newspaper business in this area. Unfortunately it has come in the form of dry, boring e-mails that do little more than provide links to the day’s main stories on the paper’s website. It’s dry. It’s boring. There’s no editorial voice and it’s apparent. If the best anyone can do is simply to segment their content into huge, amorphous subject areas, then the newspapers’ conversation with readers via e-mail is in trouble.

Lest you think my battle is only with dead tree media, it’s not. Mediaite, to cite one example, is a born-on-the-web content producer. They of course have an e-mail newsletter as well. If you’ve ever been to this website, you know that a lack of voice or point of view is not a problem for them. Nevertheless, the e-mail is terrible. It takes an unimaginable amount of time to scroll through it, because it seems to include almost every piece of content on their entire website. Every headline blares at your in Mediaite’s combative tone and each one is accompanied by a photo. It’s sensory overload and what’s more, I don’t get any sense of whether the site’s editors think one piece of content is more important than another or more worthy of my attention. 

Now you might note that Chicago News Co-op doesn’t have the problem of content overload and it’s true. Their small staff can only produce so much and in many cases it’s the type of work that can take weeks of interviews, phone calls, etc. So, you might say, they don’t have a lot of content so it’s not hard for them to present it all nicely in one e-mail. This would be a fair argument if every site which produced a lot of content had terrible e-mail newsletters. They do not. The Daily Beast for instance produces quite a lot and their daily e-mails are fantastic. Here’s an example of the morning one:

 

October 1, 2010
The Daily Beast
The Morning Scoop

Cheat Sheet Buzz Board Big Fat Story Blogs and Stories Video Galleries
Sexy Beast Book Beast Hungry Beast Art Beast Giving Beast
Cheat Sheet - The Beast Picks the Best
POWER SHIFT
1.Obama’s New Fixer Starts Today 

Pete Rouse, set to be named interim White House chief of staff on Friday, is the temperamental opposite of his fiery predecessor Rahm Emanuel. The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove on how this unassuming Capitol Hill veteran, a cat-loving bachelor famed for managing down in a town full of suck-ups, will change the tone at the White House. 

Read it at The Daily Beast 

FACT V. FICTION
2.What’s True in the Facebook Movie 

As The Social Network opens to rave reviews and high expectations at the box office, The Daily Beast’s David Kirkpatrick—who has spent the last year and a half researching the real history of Facebook—separates fact from fantasy in the new film. Kirkpatrick finds the hotly-anticipated film to be dramatic and well-constructed, but still and amalgam of fact and fiction. 

Read it at The Daily Beast 

VACUUM
3.Iraq Sets Mark for Time Without Gov’t 

Remember those Iraqi elections nearly seven months ago? Iraq seems like it doesn’t. A parliamentary election was held on March 7, but politicians are still stuck brokering backroom deals, unable to form a government. And today, the 208th day since the election, the country will break the ignominious record for the longest time between a parliamentary election and forming a government. The previous mark belonged to the Netherlands who went 207 days without a government in 1977 after a series of attempts collapsed. In Iraq, frustration is growing among U.S. officials—who think that the vacuum could soon pose a security threat—and from the people who risked their lives to go to the polls. “Iraq has very weak institutions and a caretaker government that can do very little,” said one expert on the Netherlands and Iraq. “This makes for a potentially highly unstable and precarious situation.” 

Read it at The Washington Post 

WHO KNEW?
4.TARP to Cost Far Less Than Feared 

Could TARP, the $700 billion “bank bailout” that epitomizes the invasive big government ideology that gave rise to the Tea Party, actually be a good investment? After the Treasury Department announced a deal with insurance giant AIG today that begins the process of repaying taxpayers, the eventual cost of the program—enacted under George W. Bush shortly before Barack Obama took office—is now estimated to be a relatively small $50 billion. In fact, though a final accounting won’t be available for years, it could even become profitable for taxpayers. “This is the best federal program of any real size to be despised by the public like this,” said Douglas J. Elliott of the Brookings Institute. Of course, President Obama and the Democrats won’t be touting any of these accomplishments; the TARP bill is still reviled by most Americans. In a recent survey, one in three citizens said they didn’t believe it was even necessary. 

Read it at The New York Times 

AMENDMENT
5.Stricter Rules For Deep-Water Drilling 

In an effort to prevent another environmental catastrophe like the BP oil spill, the Interior Department issued a new set of rules Thursday aimed at improving safety for deep-water offshore drilling. The new rules mean the resumption of deep-water oil and gas drilling, put on hold following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is not far off. “There are a series of technological and safety reforms that this administration is very serious about implementing, that need to be implemented and secured prior to the lifting of that moratorium,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. The new “drilling safety rule” tightens standards for the use of drilling fluids, well-bore casing, cementing in an exploratory well, and requires companies to improve the efficacy of blowout preventers-since BP’s blowout preventer failed. In addition, the new “workplace safety rule” requires oil and gas companies to develop better plans for dealing with worst-case scenarios when it comes to spills. 

Read it at Los Angeles Times 

Latest-Cheat-Sheet
LEGAL WOES
U.S. Sues Fox News Network 
For conduct in gender bias complaint. 

JUMPING SHIP
Lead Lawyers Ditch Blago 
Ahead of retrial on 23 counts. 

HEALTH HAZARD
Researchers Find Carcinogens in Gulf 
Levels spiked after BP oil spill. 

OVERPROTECTED
Britney to Remain Under Father’s Control 
Conservatorship upheld in court. 

JUNK SCIENCE
Harvard Awards Ig Nobel Prize 
To study of rollercoaster therapy for asthma. 
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They have a ton of content to choose from, but each day they give me their “Top Five” as well as other stuff in certain subject areas at the bottom. This e-mail is opened by me every morning, I often click on many of the links and then go on to share the stories I enjoy, usually on Twitter. So you can see that something is going right here. This same e-mail gets sent to everyone who signs up for it. I don’t know the experience of others, but they’ve got me pegged. This is content I find interesting, thought-provoking and worthy of being shared with others.

The bottom line here is that your news organization should have a strong voice/point of view and that point of view should be coming across in all your communications with readers. If you have no point of view (a matter for another post some other day) the least you can do is tell your readers what pieces of content you feel are truly worthy of their attention. Now, if you have a general audience or worse yet, if you don’t know who your audience is, you can see how it would become very difficult to decide what’s most important to them. See, a point of view matters, even if it’s now outwardly stated. But even if you lack a strong voice, be edgy, be interesting, be compelling. Tell your readers why this information should matter to them or why they absolutely must click on that link. 

Think of it this way. If you’re a newspaper in, say, Tulsa and if someone signs up for a business news newsletter on your website and gets a bunch of links with little else, how is that different than them searching Google for “business news in Tulsa?” It’s not.

Do you want to be your reader’s Google? Sure, that would be amazing. Is it going to happen? No. There already IS a Google and in case you haven’t heard, they’re quite popular. So you need to go the extra mile. Your reader can already find your content online. Now the challenge is to tell them why they should pay attention to it. 

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous October 21, 2010

    Love this post! Think it comes down to a conversational or fun way to deliver the news as opposed to dry. Great examples above.

  2. Anna Tarkov October 21, 2010

    That’s a great point about it needing to be conversational. After all, news is the ultimate topic of conversation. Current affairs are what people are very often talking about, whether online or in person, with their friends, family and co-workers. And when they do it, they’re not saying “The councilman opposed the ordinance.” They’re saying “Wow, I can’t believe that guy opposed it!” or “Good for him, that ordinance was a crappy idea.” Or they ask “What did you think of that guy opposing the ordinance?”

    In all cases, it’s a lot more interesting than just the headline. In many of these instances, people are giving their opinion of the news, sure. Many news orgs would be uncomfortable with that. But there is a whole lot of room between giving an opinion and giving nothing more than the headline. A LOT.

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