The new news hub: Strategies for success

Doug Wilks | Managing Editor, News Division, Deseret News & KSL Broadcasting | @DWilksnews | November 2, 2015

Decide who you want to be.

Decide what you want to do.

Think bigger than you were thinking.

That is the message I delivered at the International Newsroom Summit, held in Hamburg, Germany Oct. 5, as journalism professionals gathered to focus on the state of the industry as 2015 nears an end. Years into disruption, the media industry continues to search for formulas to support journalism, when what is needed is focused attention on strategies that make each endeavor valuable, and perhaps unique. What can you deliver that others are not delivering? Can you turn conversations of cuts and “we can’t do as much” into conversations centered on “what can we do better than anyone else?”

It starts with an audacious goal, and in our case it was this: “To be trusted voices of light and truth reaching hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

That is the mission statement of Deseret Management Corporation (DMC), and it is the overarching message that informed the way we approach our information and newsgathering efforts. DMC manages several companies and media properties, notably the Deseret News, established as a newspaper in 1850; KSL Television and Radio, among other broadcast properties; and Deseret Digital Media, which runs the Internet properties associated with the Deseret News and KSL broadcasting (deseretnews.com and KSL.com) as well as unique brands associated with topic areas like “family.” All are separate companies with unique missions but work under one roof — indeed, all are represented in one newsroom — covering news and information.

Decide who you want to be

In 2010, the Deseret News cut its staff by 43 percent and combined its newsgathering operations with KSL broadcasting. Though a painful choice, the goal was to use the strength of the combined workforce to become something greater, not lesser. The total number of journalists and support staff in the combined, multi-platform newsroom ultimately made it the largest newsgathering operation in the market. But it made print and television competitors colleagues, it brought three distinctive journalism voices and operations into one newsgathering force, and offered a management challenge as employees struggled to understand who was in charge, who had decision-making rights over the news and each platform, and provided challenges in maintaining differentiation of the news brands.

This was not an easy task, and there were many missteps. But we learned it required two distinctive traits in managers: trust and cooperation. Those who chose not to work together in search of solutions soon left the company or senior managers made changes. We focused on workflow and understanding the roles in the room — legacy print reporters, legacy TV reporters, Web producers, TV and radio producers, editors for print and editors for TV and a host of other platform-specific functions.

We learned someone needs to drive the daily news report. That is the primary role of the managing editor. The News Division is led by the managing editor and includes four deputy managing editors focused on breaking news, TV and social media, visuals (both stills and video) and print/Web. Reporters from the legacy platforms of print, Web and broadcast are also part of the News Division.

Each platform eventually had its own news director, with direct responsibility for the platform. This was key for understanding workflow: The News Division and managing editors drive the news report and are responsible for the consistency of the report across platforms, working with reporters from all platforms and taking the lead on news decisions, such as when to name underage perpetrators or crime victims, for example. The news directors focus on making their platform — the paper or the broadcast — the best, with decision-making rights over what to put in that broadcast and in the newspaper.

Trust and cooperation are key as it enables the newsroom to draw on the expertise of everyone in the room without compromising news exclusives (on each platform), or the work of colleagues. We work together, but with specific news reporting tasks.

Decide what you want to do

Key to deciding "what you want to do" is developing a brand. The cost of entry into the news business is breaking news. And each platform tries to own breaking news in its brand-specific way (visuals, sound, the printed word). But brand means more than news coverage.

The Deseret News established areas of editorial emphasis and a brand statement to draw from: "When I am well-informed I feel more confident in living my beliefs so I can make a difference in my family and my community." That covers breaking news. We also established areas of editorial excellence, becoming expert in the core areas of the family, faith in the community, excellence in education, financial responsibility, caring for the poor, and values in the media. Each of those areas are specific beats, established with an enterprise team. The focus is also used in daily questioning by news reporters in daily coverage to provide deeper, richer stories. We want to be expert in issues related to faith and family and in the other areas of emphasis.

KSL TV's brand is to own breaking news and weather, but also the following: "KSL provides leadership that builds up, connects, informs and celebrates Utah's communities and families.” Our investigative and enterprise work reflects that message and helps us move beyond breaking news into a place of trust for the community. KSL radio owns breaking news, weather and traffic and is the area leader in news talk. Providing leadership is key to this brand.

The digital brands reflect the above values and brands but use metrics and the finest industry innovations to cross-promote and develop unique, Web-only content. The result has been phenomenal growth and reach.

Think much bigger than you were thinking

The Deseret News and KSL began as regional brands. To suggest this Salt Lake City-based organization could reach hundreds of millions of people was audacious and on the surface seemed unreachable. But it is being realized and it remains at the center of our efforts. It allows us to champion the best in journalism while searching for innovations in a time of change.

• Sixty-seven percent of adults in Utah encounter KSL.com in any given month, making it the most-visited local TV news website in the USA. Combined with the TV audience, KSL has an unduplicated reach of 77 percent.

• The Deseret News has grown to the largest Sunday circulation in its market, established a national print edition and a national website that continues to gain recognition within the industry.

• Global reach continues to impress. Collectively, Deseret Digital Media's brands reach more than 22 million monthly unique visitors, reach nearly 100 million global followers through social media channels and generate 850 million monthly ad impressions.

Business operations used to support the newsroom have brought their own innovations, both in print and in digital. The result is a focus allowing us to be a well-positioned, successful media company with a bright journalistic future.

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