Innovator of the Year

9 A.M: Innovator of the Year Award

by Mary Poletti

The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City’s daily newspaper, won the third Innovator of the Year Award on the final day of this year’s APME conference for their integration of video into all aspects of their coverage and the duties of all of their reporters. Kelly Fry, the Oklahoman’s vice president of news and information, called the development a “culture change.”

“It’s been a lot of hard work to change the culture at the Oklahoman,” Fry said as she accepted the award. But, she said, “We owe it to the public.”

The APME Innovator of the Year Award goes out to the paper with the best print, digital, online, or other innovation of the year. Participants voted for the winner with paper ballots after watching a brief video about each paper’s innovation and taking part in a brief question-and-answer session with a representative from that paper.

This year, the Oklahoman won by instituting what they call a “total approach to video” into their Web site, NewsOK.com, that senior staff claim puts them on the same level as TV. All reporters are equipped with small video cameras and are trained to search for a possible video component in every story. The Oklahoman uses a tiered system of training for the creation of video; all reporters are trained to generate what’s called Tier 1 video. Autoplay videos are embedded in every story online where video has been shot, and many beats feature recurring video segments set up as talk shows with reporters.

“Any way we can tell stories effectively and immediately is what we’re doing now,” said sports reporter Darnell Mayberry, who covers the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, in the Oklahoman’s video. He cited not only video as part of this effort, but also blogs and social networking.

The Oklahoman also uses video and social networking to flesh out their breaking news coverage. For coverage of a crippling ice storm, NewsOK.com ran live streaming video of the highways throughout the day alongside a reader-staff chat forum through CoverItLive.

In conversation with moderator Bob Heisse after their video, Fry said the Oklahoman’s initial video investment had been about $1 million. In return, the paper is on track to best 10 million video views in 2009 – up from 1 million in 2008.

Fry said three key reasons the Oklahoman transitioned to video as such an integral part of their news operation were to extend their journalism (“If you have a tool, why not use it?”), to spend more time being intentional about their Web site, and to generate revenue. Among other revenue sources that have stemmed from their use of video, outside businesses use the Oklahoman’s studio for their own video needs.

Three newspapers competed for the Innovator of the Year Award. Heisse said the competition was the closest it had ever been.

“No seconds or thirds. These are all winners,” Heisse told the audience.

The News-Press of Fort Myers, Fla., was nominated for a focus on “journalism shaped by community.” The newspaper orchestrated several community information and improvement efforts, using its status as a community leader to go above and beyond simply presenting information to actively better the community.

The News-Press’s “Dear Mr. President” project collected the opinions of readers to present to President Obama in print and online multimedia form. “Summer of Hunger” brought together local services to feed area residents who would otherwise have gone hungry during the summer months and to connect them with social services for a lasting effect on their quality of life. More than 20,000 people were served, and 6,000 families were connected with social services. And a macroeconomic project brought together business and community leaders to distribute information on job-seeking, cost-cutting, and other means of coping with the economic crisis, which hit the construction- and real estate-based Fort Myers economy particularly hard.

Senior managing editor Cindy McCurry-Ross told Heisse the projects and similar work “let the readers really come in as the foundation of our journalism and help us forge solutions for our community.”

“Knowing from our journalism that there was going to be a problem…we needed to use our ability as community leaders to get [people] at the table and facilitate the conversation,” McCurry-Ross said. “We wanted to play a leadership role, but we also wanted to cede some of that leadership back to the community and say, ‘We’ve got to fix this together.’”

At the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal, the paper built on its strong tradition of environmental reporting to launch the Web site AllGreentoMe.com, a portal for information about the environment. Aggregating the best of environmental content on the Web through automated search functions, the site also includes community contributions from area environmental scientists and university professors. The site connected with citizens to advance the idea of “a green economy” while fulfilling a watchdog function to keep the agriculturally rich area aware of and safe from threats like rising rivers.

“We’re trying to use technology to tell stories in a really deep and sophisticated way,” said vice president of news and executive editor David Ledford.

The integration of science-oriented community content helped, too, Ledford said: “That gives it credibility. That kind of science really brings it a level up.”

Both the News-Press and the News Journal spoke to the need for solid management skills to launch new innovations in a changing newspaper environment.

McCurry-Ross said the paper’s four principles in looking at new endeavors could be summed up in the acronym POTS, which stands for planning, ownership, teamwork, sustainability.

The News Journal’s video said the paper, which has experienced downsizing, relied on multitasking to ensure the success of AllGreentoMe.com. Many newsroom staff members took on site-related responsibilities in addition to their full-time duties at the paper.

The APME began the Innovator of the Year competition in 2007. The News-Press won that year for their series of integrated efforts to solicit reader news tips.

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