Cory Haik, executive producer for digital news at the Washington Post was the keynote speaker at the news:rewired conference last week. Here, she answers our questions and discusses digital innovation in the newsroom
What are the biggest questions mainstream media is being asked today? How is the Washington Post addressing those questions?
I am going to skip the obvious answers and give you what I think matters right now.
One of our main challenges is getting the newsroom to work through technology to tell stories in a way that engages users.
The actual process of production is very complicated at large news organisations, so getting ever-developing technology baked into the way newsrooms operate is a huge challenge, but is clearly where the future is. The Washington Post is making steps every day to bring technologists and journalists together.
You said in your talk that news organisations should be ‘always in beta’. What does that mean exactly? How do you apply it?
This gets at the first question. I said in my speech that “always in beta” means meeting users where they are, which is a dynamic target. Newsrooms have to be willing to release products and deliver content through a process that is nimble and developing.
Breaking news has always been about being out there as soon as you can. Updates to stories are iterations, if you will. We have to create products the exact same way. If your live-blogging platform is close to ready, do a public-facing test with a lower profile game. Ask users to report any bugs or request features. Go back and make changes without taking it offline. There is an official pipeline of development and those priorities must be considered against where the company needs to grow.
Then there are about a hundred other things talented combinations of journalists, developers, and designers can experiment with and see if it takes off. If so, great, you’ve proved it and it can be moved into that official pipeline and integrated into the infrastructure. If not, try something else.
What innovations have been most significant to the digital output of the Washington Post? What have been your greatest recent successes? And failures?
You are going to see some things coming out in mobile for the Post that are significant digital outputs. (Do pay attention to our Presidential conventions coverage on your phones.) I will say the same for social and for video.
Those are the three things newsrooms should be doubling down on: mobile, social, and video. Especially as it relates to combining them all.
As for failures, of course we have them, but the beta model is about making that failure into something else. We are always looking into ways to parlay things that haven’t had much traction into other products. In many cases we’ve seen tremendous success this way.
How will the Washington Post look to make money? Do you have any personal feelings on paywalls? Is the future user-pays or advertising-led?
Advertisers are important to us as clients in the same way that users are important to us as customers. It is imperative that we work with advertisers in innovative ways and apply the same philosophy we do with users to “meet them where they are.” By this I mean to engage with them in the places they gather online – Twitter, and other social spaces like Reddit. Then also to engage with them where they use us: commenting on stories, sharing articles, wanting to talk with reporters, and using us on mobile. Our goal is to create journalism around the ways users are engaging with it.
I anticipate that the Post will make money in ways we don’t even fully know yet. With every technological development comes an opportunity, which is why it is just as key for the business side of organisations to embrace some of the “beta model” philosophy that newsrooms are currently experimenting with.
See the slides from Haik’s keynote news:rewired presentation