Digital First | Newspaper to Put All Reporters Through Social Media Boot Camp
One of the country’s oldest remaining big city newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle, is set to announce a radical plan to arrest circulation decline and remain relevant in the digital age, Mashable has learned.
Audrey Cooper, the first female managing editor in the paper’s 148-year history, will require all staff to enter what is being described as a startup-style incubator. In a plush off-site office procured from the paper’s Food and Wine section, journalists will undergo two months of rigorous training — in effect, a digital and social media boot camp.
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“The approach is novel for newspapers,” says Cooper. “It physically removes reporters from the traditional newsroom and gives them new digital metrics, such as engagement time, to judge whether their stories have reached our core audience. We also plan to use real-time monitoring of the clicks we get from social media and other referral sites, including LinkedIn, Pinterest and Reddit.”
While it sits in the heart of San Francisco’s startup community in the SOMA district, the Chronicle has lagged in its coverage of technology and social media. Its circulation plummeted by 50% between 2009 and 2012. The paper, owned by the Hearst Corporation, now has an average circulation of less than 300,000 readers.
During the Great Recession, the Chronicle was widely reported to be losing as much as $50 million a year. That may have been somewhat offset recently by Yahoo, which is to start leasing space in the Chronicle’s office building. (Hearst is a private corporation that doesn’t reveal its finances; for what it’s worth, the Chronicle’s PR team claims the paper is “solidly profitable.”)
The Chronicle’s website, SFGate, is steadily gaining readers, but not at a pace that makes up for the paper’s decline. Cooper, 36, hopes to change all of that. She intends to rename the paper’s business section — to a yet-to-be-determined title — and hopes the incubator will encourage reporters to take risks and think “digital first.” The Chronicle’s journalists, from its 95-year-old science editor on down, will be required to learn how to use analytics dashboards to track their stories.
Though the paper has gone through several rounds of layoffs, Cooper wouldn’t say whether reporters’ jobs would be at risk if they failed the boot camp, which starts next month. “We’re focusing on retraining our journalists, not threatening them,” she told Mashable. But she was adamant that the plan would succeed.
“Failure only means we all lose our jobs — and the Bay Area loses its number one news source,” Cooper added. “Failure to reach our goals — both individual and team — is simply not something we can tolerate, and we won’t.”