Perhaps more than anyone else, other than my own family of course, I enjoy being around writers and editors.
On Monday, I wrote about listening to our readers. Today I want to share what I’ve heard from writers and editors, whom I’ve been meeting with and convening at the Crosscut offices. If I am to accomplish the two goals I’ve outlined for myself as publisher, I will need continuously to improve on our product. To do that, I need to ask readers what they want to read and writers and editors what they want to produce. The goals I’ve set for myself are:
- Achieve the financial position to resume growth of our readership and our ability to inform and shape solutions to the most pressing issues in our region, and;
- Attain the financial stability and sustainability that will position Crosscut as a leader in nonprofit journalism both regionally and nationally.
A compelling editorial product, a smart financial plan that emphasizes revenue growth, web savviness, and a creative, strategic marketing effort will be necessary to succeed.
Two of my first days on the job were focused on our editorial product. I asked the editors what are the hallmarks of a great Crosscut story. We talked about Crosscut as a place for in-depth writing and reporting of overlooked but important stories as well as ideas for how to move our region forward. The best Crosscut stories reflect a writer’s passion and bring forth diverse voices. Our stories are read by an influential and engaged audience and can help to shape the community’s dialogue. I heard phrases like we “explain to the explainer” and even “persuade the persuaders.”
There was talk of more people stories, of serious topics done in an entertaining way, and more forward-looking perspectives.
I raised the point that I often discover important stories about our region by reading publications written in New York rather than Seattle.
There was the admonition that Crosscut will need to devote greater resources to reporting if we are to uncover those stories. “We need less spouting off and more reporting.”
Writers and editors alike agreed we need to use the Web's ability to present and archive lots of data (campaign contributions, public salaries, school performance scores, etc.) to produce more visual ways of telling stories online.
A writer reminded me that in journalism there is a phrase, “total community coverage.” It meant that we must cover the whole community. Ours is a richly diverse community and we can’t afford to overlook race and socio-economic status.
We should produce more live conversations or events that readers and sources attend together so that a story informs real dialogue.
Crosscut needs to offer more reasons for readers to come back throughout the week and each day. We discussed ideas for how to accomplish that, including more daily news scans, adding more "sticky" features to the site, and integrating our growing social media.
I don’t want to give away too much of our planning at this stage, but there was a lot of talk about areas of focus. What are the topics readers want and how can we distinguish ourselves by leading the coverage in some areas, as has been the case this past year with the Bellingham coalport stories? There was also talk about not focusing but rather remaining open to any and all issues — delighting the reader with a diverse and eclectic collection of stories and perspectives.
Regarding focus, there was general agreement that technology, international trade, media criticism, Olympia, and food-related stories merit greater attention, both due to reader interest and diminished coverage by mainstream media.
Both writers and editors told me they need help with integrating audio, video, and social media into their reporting.
I was advised that to broaden our readership we would need to attract younger readers. To attract younger readers we need to find those voices and topics that are relevant and engaging for Gen X, Gen Y, and younger Boomers (Generation Jones) who have emerged as leaders.
Writers, buffeted about by the turbulent winds in journalism, were also quick to advise us to focus as much on marketing, sales, and promotion as on journalism itself. “Good journalism is not enough anymore,” a seasoned writer told me.
In my next report I’ll share what I heard when we got marketers and donors together to discuss future directions and initiatives for Crosscut.
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