Monday, December 27, 2010

Oneida Daily Dispatch readers can look for big changes in 2011

After I became publisher of the Oneida Daily Dispatch in March, we had hoped to implement some big changes to improve the quality of our product. And while we made strides over the last nine months, a little thing called technology (or more accurately, the lack of it) got in the way.

Let me explain.

Before personal computers became commonplace and affordable in the late 1980s and early 1990s, journalists primarily wrote and edited copy and there was a separate team to compose the paper - in other words, to layout the copy and photos and ads for the press. But with the advent of PCs and computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Quark Xpress that easily allowed editors to paginate the paper, newsrooms everywhere took over production functions - compiling and designing the various elements that make up the newspaper. Fast forward to 2010 with a couple of downturns in the economy that shrunk newsrooms in between, and today upwards of half to two-thirds or more of the manpower in newsrooms can be spent on these pagination functions. This severely impacts the quantity of news produced - particularly at smaller newspapers such as the Dispatch.

So while it been my hope that we move quickly to outsourcing the news production of the Dispatch in 2010 so the journalists here could focus on writing stories, shooting videos for our Web site, etc., the going has been slower. Much of the issue has been technology - the incompatibility of some of our outdated computers/systems to interact correctly with a source outside the paper that might oversee the news production for us. We have taken steps to fix this - the entire newsroom will be equipped with new computers in the next couple weeks. The second phase is new software and finalizing plans to outsource the news pagination function.

However, technology aside, we did make a number of improvements in 2010:
- We gave all of our journalists flip cameras in March to shoot video. We now average over 40 videos posted to our Web site each month. (See some of our 465 videos posted including excerpts of local high school sports contests, community events such as fund drives and parades, and more.)
- We engaged our audience more using social media such as Facebook and Twitter. If you haven't already, please sign up to receive our Twitter feed and join the other 412 people who have "liked"' the Oneida Daily Dispatch page on Facebbook.
- We have also done a better job of posting stories to our Web site throughout the day in recent months as part of our corporate Digital First strategy.
- And we have opened up our Web site to community bloggers.
- On the print side, in the last few months we have localized the front page of our "Life and Times" section that appears each Saturday, and have added an Oneida Chamber of Commerce page on Saturdays as well.

Here is some of what is coming in 2011:
- A redesigned newspaper.
- More local news coverage (after we free up our newsroom from pagination functions in the second quarter).
- Smart phone and iPad applications.
- Establishment of a Community Media Lab to better integrate the community into our newsroom and vice-a-versa.

Many of these changes are part of an overall strategy our parent company Journal Register Co. has engaged in. I recommend those interested in the transformation at JRC, read my blog on the subject and also read our CEO John Paton's blog and see a video released last week on our progress in 2010.

In closing, I want to take this opportunity to wish all of our readers, advertisers and employees the merriest of holidays; we look forward to engaging our community even more in 2011.

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