Global perspectives

October 3, 2009 | By | Category: Conference Track: Front End, ONA09 Highlights

By Isabel Esterman

ONA Conference workshops have focused almost exclusively on North American issues and trends.  But one session, “The State of Global Innovation,” brought an international perspective. Editors from Spain, Germany, Mexico and Brazil converged to discuss how they are keeping their publications fresh and relevant.  “Unique conditions in each of these countries produce unique responses,” said moderator James Brinier, director of Universidad de Guadalajara’s center for digital journalism.  Here’s a sample of what they had to offer:

From Brazil: Going mobile

There are only 180 million mobile subscribers in Brazil, said O Globo Executive Editor Raquel Almeida, but she believes the technology is about to take off.  “Something huge is coming,” she said, and O Globo is trying to stay ahead of the curve by offering news on every available platform and keeping up communication with its readers.

For O Globo, this has meant building a mobile Web site that allows readers to vote and comment and creating a mobile app that lets readers submit stories and photos directly to the newsroom.  “We gave this to our readers, then suddenly people were sending reports from all over the city,” said Almeida.  “We had eyes and ears all over the place.”

Spain: Innovating Social Content

Newsrooms across America are scrambling to integrate Twitter into reporting, but Madrid-based news site is heading in the opposite direction.  Twitter can be a great source of information, said soitu Director Borja Echevarria. “But we believe it shouldn’t be the only one.”

Twitter crashes, it doesn’t allow users to post photos in a stream, and it can’t be used to post an interview anyone can follow, Echevarria said.  So instead of building a Twitter application, soitu built its own social network, utoi, and devoted the top right column of its homepage to displaying utoi content.   The feed has text, links and photos contributed by both community members and soitu reporters.  Controlling its own social network has allowed soitu to benefit from user engagement but still allows editorial staff to filter and prioritize what makes it onto the site. Utoi launched just 15 days ago, Echevarria said, and they’re working to develop utoi widgets and other tools to keep the network spreading. “It’s very important for us to experiment, to innovate.”

Germany: Staying Sticky

The vast majority of traffic to Spiegel Online’s German and English sites is direct, reports Spiegel International Editor Daryl Lindsey.  Many users keep Spiegel Online as their homepage–especially the German edition, for which only 10 percent of the traffic comes from search engines.  To keep repeat visitors, the site needs a constant supply of fresh, unique content.  “We’re a shovelware-free zone,” Lindsey said.

Spiegel International does experiment with community-generated content, but professionally produced text-and-photo journalism is still the core of the site, says Lindsey.  What makes this possible is a staff of 100 journalists in a Web-only newsroom.  Other German publications cut staff after the crash, but Spiegel online held staffing steady and has since been increasing.  “In five years we might have the same crisis that’s happening here with the San Francisco Chronicle,” concedes Lindsey. But for now, Spiegel online is going strong–the Web-only newsroom has been turning a profit since 2007.

Isabel Esterman is a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. She is working in the student newsroom at ONA’09.

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