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CMG member Michael MacDonald reports back from the 2013 CAJ Conference

Michael MacDonaldOn May 3-5, 2013 I attended the CAJ Conference in Ottawa, I learnt a great deal, met l and met with some media colleagues I have not seen in a while, and got a chance to hear interesting speakers on  topics of interest for journalists today.

On the future of news

I was interested by David Skok’s (digital director of Global News) explanation of “disruption theory”, the idea that market forces push providers to overshoot the needs of their customers, allowing for new entrants in the lower part of the market. For example, Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, online providers, are meeting the needs of consumers overwhelmed by the vast offerings of their traditional mainstream media outlets.

Skok pointed out that research had shown that very few people are coming directly to the Global website to get news; rather other search engines are grabbing the information for consumers. The Global website was revamped to make it easier to read on mobile devices. Skok added metrics from the Internet can be helpful but said it is important to simply watch what people do. The Global executive said online staff and traditional media staff are separate in his company and they do things differently, for instance the broadcast staff have usual story meetings at the beginning and end of the day, but the online staff have “hourly scrums” to reflect the quicker pace of online interactions.

Mike Mount (VP, Metroland News) talked about the faster pace of social media, recalling how traditional online media sources provided very little information where there had been a murder in his hometown of Strittsville, Ontario., while his younger daughter was quickly able to piece together a fairly accurate account of what had happened including names by turning to Facebook and Twitter.

On social media  

Digital Media First’s Mandy Jenkins said all media outlets need a social media strategy to improve marketing, distribute content, engage audiences and monetize our products.

Jenkins said it’s important to establish a brand and a tone online and suggested the following questions be considered: How conversational do you want to be? What tone do you want to take? Who is the audience? What is your voice?

According to Jenkins, a journalist’s Twitter feed shouldn’t simply be a way of promoting stories because Twitter users want a conversation, not a one-way feed – social media is “social”. She suggested it’s important to ask the question: What can I provide readers that they can’t get anywhere else?  Which is where personality comes in.   She stressed the conversation side of things is particularly effective for those covering local news. She said Twitter is great for asking and answering questions but it can also be a source of great criticism. Her advice: Expect that and always take the high road.

She suggested that linking your Twitter and Facebook feeds is a mistake because Twitter is fast-paced and chatty while Facebook is mainly for people you already know, and is not fast-paced. Facebook is more private and the place where you can offer longer format.

Computer-assisted journalism course 

I attended the two all-day data journalism seminars at Carleton University presented by journalists David McKie of CBC, Glen McGregor od the Ottawa Citizen and Fred Vallance-Jones of King’s College in Halifax.

We focused on finding sources of raw data, cleaning data and then using it to create various types of interactive maps.

We looked at several examples of how this technology can work, such as the interactive series produced by Global TV that looked at widespread problems with the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto, as well as the Kitchener Waterloo Record’s use of data from intersections using spotlight cameras, which showed that accident rates were actually higher in those locations.

The course was highly technical and my head hurt by the end of it. But it gave me some great ideas about how this technology can be used to better tell stories.

On employee engagement

Aon Hewitt, the company behind the Best Employers in Canada survey offered a workshop for driving employee engagement. Neil Crawford said the company has been at it for 15 years, collecting data from more than 300 companies that have at least 400 employees.  Here are some of the highlights from the media industry:

-Employee engagement is rated very low among Canada’s media companies, which included public relations and advertising.

-The big changes encountered by the mainstream media have contributed to lower rates of employee engagement, which “makes it harder for leaders to lead”.

-Managers in the media industry are particularly disengaged when compared with managers in other industries.

-Compensation levels are far less likely to influence engagement in the media than in other industries.

Michael MacDonald is a Reporter / Editor with the Canadian Press. He works out of the Halifax Bureau

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