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Digital Newsrooms: USA Today Talks Mobile & Social

In a world where people rely more and more on their mobile devices to get them through the day, newsrooms are reinventing themselves to keep readers informed. Multi-platform news and information company USA Today currently ranks first in combined print and digital circulation as a result of their ability to transform and redesign their newsroom and stay ahead of emerging trends.

Help A Reporter Out (HARO) recently hosted its very first media briefing with four major USA Today leaders in Washington, D.C. Social media strategist Nichole Kelly moderated the session, asking everything from how to get clients on journalists’ shortlist to which metrics USA Today uses to measure their success.

Jeff Dionise, Beryl Love, Patty Michalski and Susan Page provided attendees insightful pitching tips. Here’s what they had to say about the role of mobile and social in the newsroom and how it has changed the way they work.

Q: What’s the current role of mobile and social on newsrooms? How does that influence what you cover?

Managing editor of USA Today’s mobile and social efforts, Patty Michalski, starts by pointing out that 60-65 percent of USA Today’s readership is mobile! To date, the USA Today app has had more than 20 million downloads, and the website gets more than 5 million unique visitors, demonstrating that the mobile trajectory is rising fast.

As a result, Patty says, it’s important to make our content make sense wherever the reader is accessing it, so stories no longer appear in print alone.

“We have to be where people are,” she says. “We tell entire stories through visuals. Graphics and images stand out so much more on Twitter.”

Beryl Love, executive editor of the USA Today Network National News Desk, adds: “A year ago, we’d be designing at the big screen and cramming it onto mobile. Now, we’re starting on mobile because we’re always on our phones.”

Q: How do you see platforms like Twitter and Instagram affecting your work?

For starters, these platforms allow everyone to be their own publisher and get their own news out, says Patty. It increases the news cycle, which causes us to constantly run through stories. “The interactivity that social provides is invaluable,” she continues.

For Susan, it’s been a huge asset for building community and checking facts. “You get a bunch of feedback once a story publishes,” she says.

While Susan says she finds Twitter overwhelming at times, she tries to respond to everyone who reaches out to her via the social network and turns to the social media giant to field questions for video interviews with high-profile people.

“Usually I’ll send out a tweet a day or so in advance, and I always try to ask one of the questions I get,” she says. “Then, you can link the video to the person who originally asked the question.

“I was a skeptic when I first heard of it, and now I’m a huge advocate.”

Patty adds, “People are so surprised to get responses too. Their questions never would have been asked to these important people 20 years ago.”

Beryl says, journalists are now expected to be informed by their social channels. They have their own access and customized dashboards. They’re also expected to build their own brands on social.

Q: What happens when a subject falls between beats?

“One of the things happening is that newsrooms have to decide what to cover,” Beryl says. “We do real-time feedback on what works and what doesn’t.”

Beryl notes that the publication has changed perspective on what stories they should cover. They’ve become more audience-focused than ever before, he says.

“We used to expect journalists to be the jack of all trades—now it’s more niche-based,” Beryl says.

Q: When it comes to clicks and shares, what metric are you measured on?

According to Patty, the most important thing is how well USA Today engages with an audience or fan base. “How much time you’re spending with us and whether you stay with us…that is incredible, powerful information to have.”

For Beryl, it’s all about social referrals. Those are more important to his team than page views. “If the content isn’t being shared, we’re not getting anywhere. Everything else is supplemental,” Beryl says

Jeff Dionise, the USA Today’s vice president of design, looks at the long-term picture, where the experience is different every time you visit and made the audience laugh with a reference to a Kanye West photo and quote generator. “It’s still rising after months.”

Jeff asks two questions when it comes to successful design: “How can we make it about the audience specifically?” and “What are all the ways we can make the viewer the center?” Answering those questions will keep audiences both engaged and sharing.

Are you looking for more insights on top media trends and events? Click here for our State of the Media report now!

About Katie Gaab

Katie Gaab is a content marketing specialist for Cision. Previously the senior editor for Help A Reporter Out (HARO), she enjoys connecting audiences to exciting, new content. She's a dancer, avid concert-goer, foreign language nerd and book worm. Find her on Twitter @kathryngaab.

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