A Newsie’s Journey from the Obits to the Cutting Edge

Posted on July 10, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

A hearty cyber-welcome to guest blogger Susan Manning! As a 15-year veteran of the news industry, Susan has had a front row seat for the major changes brought about by emerging media. Read on for her insider’s perspective—and leave a comment for her!

Susan ManningI’ve been a newsie for as long as I can remember. Nary a week went by in my house without the Boston Globe daily, the Sudbury Town Crier on Thursdays and the nightly 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. News keeps my blood flowing.

Though I had many internships, I started in the field professionally the year I graduated college and worked my way up the ladder to management—a traditional journalist’s journey. I still remember the day I told my mother I landed a job at the local daily. She was thrilled, that is, until I told her I’d be writing obits and that it would be a second job. I assured her it would lead to bigger and better things. And it did. Just being part of the newsroom fabric made me smile and I worked harder to ensure promotion.

But aspiring journalists today will experience a different journey than I did.

Today’s journalism is a dynamic field—ever-changing and cutting edge. Today we have to win over our readers in 10 seconds—if they even choose to give us a chance. When I was last an editor of a local print newspaper, my penetration rate was 82 percent. The penetration rate of that same paper now, 4 years later, is down to 47 percent. Why?

Fewer people read papers. And those who do, skim. They don’t want a 25-inch story on Town Meeting. They want you to tell them 5 things they missed at that meeting. Readers are working more hours now and many who used to have a stay-at-home mom can’t afford that anymore. With less free time, they want more information digested for them. And with the advent of social media and the Internet, they are able to find the news the need in the form they need it.

But fear not—our job as journalists is not to retire the printing press and go home. It is to ride this wave of new and social media as it emerges and changes to fit the needs of its users. My company, Patch, is a hyperlocal (read: We get as granular as the news in your individual neighborhoods) news and community website. We have no printed product. In fact, even our offices are virtual. We stand on our own, with our own platform and we do very well. Still, much of our traffic and engagement comes from and happens in other arenas: twitter, Facebook, Huffington Post. And we are OK with that.

Patch logo

Our goal—my goal—is to engage communities and get them to be as excited about news as I am and to have informed residents who can participate in an educated way in their own towns. If I have to be dynamic and willing to change my methods on a dime to accomplish this, so be it. When the engagement falters, I will worry. But until then, I—and Patch—will use social media to its fullest and will be excited when the next avenue for news dissemination emerges.

-Susan Manning

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17 Responses to “A Newsie’s Journey from the Obits to the Cutting Edge”

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Joyce and Susan,

Thanks for the great post. I got out of newspapers 11 years ago, after 15 years of writing school board stories, covering crime, and sitting through really, really long city council meetings. So, I missed nearly all of these significant new media changes.

You’re absolutely right about winning readers over. Unfortunately, our local paper, which is where I worked, hasn’t figured that out yet. I’m too busy, and so is everyone else, to muddle through a 30-inch school board or court story. Plus, I know that I will be able to get the information faster by reading the local radio station’s blog or seeing the local headlines on the radio’s Facebook page. As a former newspaper woman, it almost hurts me to say that, but, as you mentioned, we all need to adapt and embrace this changing environment.

Pat

Pat: So true! Those meetings are a time suck for reporters and editors who have fewer staff and less time. Also, we assumed those were a must-read piece every time they pubished, but chances are, only the 10 people at the meeting read the stories to make sure you quoted them enough and accurately. And yes, I hate to say it, but I, too, am one of those “give me the essentials” readers now. I love online news sites which give me 5 things to know about the changes to tax filing this year! Sad, but true! Thanks for commenting, though!

I wouldn’t buy the paper, because there is just too much there, I don’t need all that information. Also the paper gets lost, torn apart, or tossed before I ever read it. I like to know whats happening in my neighborhood and what activities and events are going on around me. I heard about Westford Patch and loved it because I get an email with the highlights and then I can click on an article that interests me, at my leisure. Thanks Susan for what your work is bringing to busy moms!

Yay! Thanks Becky for your reply! I hate to say you’re like so many others! I really do LOVE papers, but the world is evolving and I have to as well…and it’s fun to be on the cutting edge of new media!

Not too long ago, we as journalists graduated from college, cut our teeth as cub reporters, learned about municipal governments and tried to perfect our ledes and AP style. Now, as journalists, we must constantly learn new skills whether it’s social media, video editing or engaging readers. This is an exciting time in journalism and there are great opportunities to those who are open to change and willing to learn new skills. I’m happy to be on this exciting journalism journey with Susan Manning, one of the best journalists I know!

Aww Les, thanks! Seriously, though, you and I have made this journey together to the next level of cutting edge media and news dissemination. I love that we are both as excited about it as a move toward the future instead of a move against journalism!

Susan,

This post sums up exactly what Patch is all about. Sometimes people think Patch is competing against papers or trying to “drive them out of business.” It’s not true – we’re just another option, condensed and easily accessible for people on the go to find out what’s going on in their neighborhood and sometimes, even on their street!

In a world where people talk to their friends more often over facebook and e-mail than in person due to jobs, family, etc., Patch can serve as an online neighborhood.

I too came from print journalism and am now with Patch. I’m so thrilled to be part of Patch and this new wave of journalism. It’s exciting to see what’s coming next!

Yes, Katie! We are so trained as journalists to worry about being “scooped” when really, we should worry about our readers getting the news period. If we can inform just a handful of readers a day, we’ve done our job.

Indeed. I’m right with Susan on this one. Social media and hyperlocal news is where it’s at. Like Susan, I spent years covering just about every subject in print, and I am still adapting to the reality that people don’t digest more than a paragraph or two, if that, on a subject. As a writer, it can be frustrating – sad, even – but also presents a challenge. News travels rapidly, and we often get the breaking stuff via Facebook or Twitter. There is no sense in fighting in, and really, the shift is exciting.

It forces veteran journalists, like me, to accept and adapt – to learn the not-always-easy art of concise writing. And we don’t always break the news, but rather provide a platform to deliver it, linking to other sources and posting local writers’ pieces.

That last sentence was probably too long. You’re probably done listening to me, so I’ll move on to another post. But you read this one, and I hope you’ll read the next. That’s the trick.

Go Patch!

Charlene: Yes, when we fight the emerging media, it is us who lose out. We lose out on being part of that media and lose our sense of excitement that I know I still get when I’m able to inform someone of news.

Great post, Susan. The revolution continues at Patch!

Rob: Yours is the site I start my day with–my hometown Patch! Love it and I no longer have to wait until Thursday to get my local news!

Too kind, Susan … too kind.

A few years ago, if a college kid had asked me about his prospects for a career in journalism after graduation, I probably would have laughed and steered him in another direction. It wouldn’t be because this isn’t one of the most rewarding professions on earth (though truthfully, I have nothing to compare it to as there’s nothing else I’ve ever done or that I plan to do). It’d be because I honestly felt, a few years ago, that there was no future in it. Newspapers, where I started 8 years ago, are getting leaner and leaner, and even my generation (I’m almost 30) was never really into them.

I was ready to make the transition from newspapers to teaching (English, of course) when a friend told me about Patch. What?? A company INVESTING in journalism? An opportunity to continue in the profession I loved? A way to deliver news and information to people when they wanted it (not a day later?)

When I got a job with Patch, I’d describe it to others as an online newspaper. I’ve eliminated that title from my vocabulary, as it misleadingly implies that we give you what a newspaper would, but online. We’re so much more than that. I’ve learned to be a photographer, a videographer, a community liaison. I’ve learned to tell stories in different ways…ways that don’t involve 20 inches of ink. The job is constantly evolving and I love the challenge. If something isn’t working, we don’t take years and 20 board meetings to change it.

So, when a friend texted me the other day saying he met a recent BU journalism grad looking for work, I told him to pass along my email. The opportunities are there, and this profession, for me, is more alive and rewarding than ever.

Danielle: Thanks for commenting! I agree that one of the best parts of working in emerging media is we are all figuring it out together so when something doesn’t work, we change it! It is also difficult to get complacent and in a routine when things change constantly, so it keeps us on our toes.

Susan – thank you for being my guest blogger and for sharing your perspective and valuable insights. It truly is an exciting time to be in communications of any kind.

Thank you and welcome to all those who visited this blog for the first time to read Susan’s piece!

I also remember my first job writing obits – calling each funeral home to speak with the director – and using a typewriter. It was a part-time job at the news desk of our local paper and led to my writing articles while I finished college. I’m forever grateful for that initial opportunity, and while my career took some detours, I’m now freelancing and amazed at how quickly the field keeps evolving.


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