A couple of months ago, bizjournals.com rolled out a feature that lets readers comment on stories. Since then I’ve posted comments from time to time (example 1, example 2, example 3). I wondered about overall use of the online edition’s comments feature and other neat interactive elements I’ve seen rolling out.
I asked Ron Trujillo, editor of the Sacramento Business Journal, for an interview. He obliged. Here are the highlights.
Discussion with a B2B news decider
Rebekah E. Donaldson ("Red"): I love your succinct audio updates archived at Cap Radio's site. If you stopped recording them or they stopped posting them, I might get out of date re Sacramento business news highlights. Are other Biz Journal readers/Cap Radio members accessing those?
Ron Trujillo: We get a decent response from listeners and readers, especially those who miss the daily reports, which air in the late afternoon and early morning. I'm uncertain how many listeners/readers access those reports, but it's great marketing for the newspaper and gets some of our best - at least those easy enough to digest in 45 seconds - stories some air time, hopefully reaching potential subscribers.
Red: You came from the world of daily newspapers. Who do you see as the core audience of this paper? What do you see as the key differences in the kinds of stories the Business Journal wants and how they are reported? Any difference now vs a couple of years ago?
Ron: I’ve been at the Business Journal for about 30 months, after almost 20 years in daily journalism — and about half of that time as an editor. So, I have limited experience with business journals, except from what I have learned on-the-fly during the past couple of years.
The Business Journal’s readers are definitely the decision-makers in the business community, from the chief executive officers to the small-business owners. Our demographics are quite impressive, especially when it comes to annual income, net worth and positions held. So, our business stories are a bit more sophisticated compared to daily newspapers, which often tend to educate readers to some rather common business terms.
However, that said, I’ve made an attempt to also expand the knowledge of our readers. Our subscribers may be comfortable when it comes to banking and finance, but could need to learn some new terms when they come across a health care or high-tech story.
We always ask ourselves if the average reader –- in our case, the business person — knows of these phrases and terms. We also do not want to be the newspaper just for the chief executives or business owners. There are many middle managers and sales managers who do — and would — benefit from reading the newspaper. The more stories that attract a diverse audience, the better. But we have to make sure that the business basics are followed.
Before I arrived, I came across a few stories with hard-to-define terms in the newspaper, and I’ve made a great effort to eliminate jargon and some phrases. For example, we always clarify Medi-Cal, which seems like a rather simple idea, but that’s far from the case. It’s a never-ending balancing act, between what our readers already know and what we may need to address, without talking down to them.
Business reporting continues the same, hard on facts and figures whenever appropriate and possible. Again, we want to create a clear report on the numbers, but we also must include some real people and add more meat to our stories.
Daily newspapers do a good job giving you the basics, especially about big companies; our goal is to take those numbers and go the next level — tell our readers why the company across town has succeeded.
The best compliment is an e-mail from a company who has found a way to make money by connecting with another firm in the region. It’s certainly not our mission, that is to educate business leaders, but if they can find a way to connect dollars to the stories, then that is just a bonus and we hope those folks see the value of the newspaper.
“The practice of PR has changed more in the last five years than it did in the previous fifty… Prospects and stakeholders no longer want to be an audience for corporate news, they want to be participants. And through various forms of social media—blogs, video, wikis, forums, podcasts, social bookmarking and networking sites—they have made themselves participants. PR practitioners can no longer practice “microphone PR,” which, as the term implies, is about one-way, one-to-many communication controlled by the PR person. Social media has shifted the practice to interactive PR , or, if you prefer, social PR or conversational PR. The role of PR is now to start the conversation, which is two-way or many-to-many, then monitor and participate in that conversation…”
Red: What do you think about Pick’s view?
Ron: I think it’s dead-on, and something few newspapers — heck, just about everyone — do very well.
Blogs, regardless of your outlook, are becoming a much bigger competitor for newspapers, and an outlet for marketing and publications firms. The Business Journal, and its parent company American City Business Journals, has launched a comment service with stories, RSS feeds and even podcasts in some markets. So far, we have received mixed results. But it’s definitely a beginning.
The best thing journalists — and newspapers, daily or business journals — can do is educate readers and get the conversation moving forward. Sometimes it can be as simple as a three-paragraph report on the Web, other times it’s a much-longer report on why the delayed state budget affects California’s credit rating — and every resident in the state.
If nothing else, we educate and report. In a perfect world, blogs would compliment our reporting, and vice versa.
I still believe that readers rely on newspapers for the facts and the unbiased story (though that can be debatable, given some one-sided stories I have read in other publications), and then turn to blogs for some of the behind-the-scenes info. Newspapers have to find a way to become even more of a must-read with the latest, developing stories and some compelling reports. It’s definitely a daunting task.