Conference sheds light on trends

Executive EditorApril 8, 2012 

To someone wandering through the conference, it may have been hard to tell it was for newspaper editors.

Conversations at the American Society of News Editors conference I attended last week in Washington, D.C., were almost as much about iPads, video and revenue models as they were about great storytelling and watchdog journalism.

At one session, we learned the results of a national survey showing that a quarter of respondents owned a tablet computer and another quarter planned to buy one in the next six months. Half of those surveyed said consuming news on their device was more satisfying than doing so in print, on the radio or on TV.

Many tablet owners are willing to pay for a news app. Some apps have live news feeds like a website. Others are replicas of the daily print newspaper with pages that turn. The News Tribune will have one of each in the next few months.

Video appears to be back in vogue. Several years ago, newspapers spent a lot of money and time producing elaborate videos that didn’t prove popular with readers. The new trend is to have photographers – and reporters – shoot short news clips with their smart phones that readers are devouring on their tablets and phones.

TNT sports reporter Ryan Divish, who covers the University of Washington, regularly shoots video of coaches, players and practices for his blog. We’ll be pushing for more videos in other coverage areas.

Getting readers to pay for content online also is a growing trend.

The Associated Press reported last week that about 300 of the nation’s 1,350 daily newspapers now charge people to view their websites. They typically allow readers to view 10 to 20 stories for free before requiring a digital subscription. Subscribers to the print paper get a free online pass or pay a lesser rate.

The McClatchy Company, which owns The News Tribune, is testing a pay model at The Modesto Bee in California.

Thankfully, the conference also included sessions that inspired us as journalists.

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both spoke, setting up what promises to be an interesting election year. Correspondents for the AP and New York Times told us about the dangers of covering foreign conflicts, in some cases watching their colleagues die. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein recalled their own war stories as the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post.

Editor A.M. Sheehan, who has only two reporters at her weekly paper in Norway, Maine, inspired as much as any.

She told us how they discovered the abysmal living conditions in local subsidized housing when one of the buildings burned down. Apartments had holes in the ceilings, lacked electricity and had waste bubbling up in the sinks.

Her paper won a prestigious national George Polk Award for the story, and more importantly prompted officials to begin cleaning up the mess.

Technology and trends aside, Sheehan reminded us of our central mission as editors. She encouraged us to listen to the people in our communities.

“The community knows the stories,” she said. “Ask them what they know, not what they think. Readers are reading the paper and asking if we know what they know.”

STILL WAITING FOR ARMY DATA

It’s been three weeks since we requested data from the Army about the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the Joint Base Lewis-McChord unit deployed to southern Afghanistan.

We received some deployment figures a week ago, but not the data about cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury and how they were handled. We’re not asking about individual soldiers, but for overall numbers to get a sense of how prevalent these conditions are.

A week ago, we got support for our request from Sen. Patty Murray’s office.

On Monday, I Corps public affairs officers told us our request was passed up the medical chain to the Western Regional Medical Command. That unit’s public affairs officer, Sharon Ayala, told us Monday the data would be released Tuesday. On Tuesday, she said Wednesday. On Wednesday she said she needed I Corps approval to release the data, and she’d call us on Thursday. When she didn’t, we emailed her.

Ayala called back Friday and said, “We’ve gathered the statistics you requested. We’re just waiting for the commander of the installation to give his permission.”

That means we’re waiting, too.

Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434
karen.peterson@thenewstribune.com
Twitter: @TNTkpeterson

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