In the heartland of America, traditional media organizations are becoming next-generation new media companies, reaching out to audiences through multiple platforms.
While national and international news sites such as Huffington Post and The Daily get the lion’s share of attention, there is a quieter revolution going on in hundreds of American cities, as older media organizations successfully adapt the tools and attitudes of new media, even while they struggle to replace diminishing revenue streams from a recession-fueled downturn in local advertising.
Legacy news providers are becoming more social, mobile and visual, following their original print and broadcast customers to the Internet, smartphones, iPads and whatever may be next.
In Wichita, Kansas, near the geographic center of the United States, this new media movement is dominated by Kansas.com, the digital arm of the Wichita Eagle, the state’s largest newspaper. Of the top 20 local Internet news sources, Kansas.com commands more traffic in monthly reporting periods – 50 to 55% – than the other 19 sites combined, according to Hitwise.com, which measures online market share.
Runners-up include the websites of the three network-affiliated television stations, KAKE.com, KWCH.com and KSN.com.
What’s striking in looking at the newspaper and broadcast-originated sites is how much their approach to news is beginning to resemble one another, with text, video and photos all playing a role:
* Social. All four sites have social media components, with Twitter and Facebook feeds from each and opportunities for readers to contribute comments, photos and videos. Kansas.com, for example, has more than 3,500 followers on both Facebook and Twitter and has published more than 15,000 tweets.
* Mobile: Each increasingly recognizes the shift underway from reading news on the computer to reading it on smartphones, sometimes through email or text daily subscriptions and breaking news updates. Weather alerts are big on all sites, not surprising in a state where the temperature recently swung 95 degrees in a few days.
* Visual: The newspaper-affiliated site is now heavily featuring video and photo galleries, while the broadcast sites offer a collection of video pieces tied to their newscasts, as well as opportunities for readers to provide their own. Kansas.com is posting 10 or more videos a week.
Three of the top Wichita Eagle – Kansas.com executives recently met with my students from the Wichita State University class called Media Transformation: Wichita, the Web and the World. I’m the retired president and publisher of The Eagle, but I’ve witnessed more change on Kansas.com in the three years I’ve been gone than in the five years I was there.
Editor Sherry Chisenhall said she’s now spending 75 percent of her time overseeing the online product. Publisher Skip Hidlay meets at least weekly with his online team. Chisenhall, her interactive deputy, John Boogert and interactive advertising manager Jason Schlitz spoke to students about the importance of metrics in the new media world.
They’re looking frequently, sometimes in real time, at traffic to Kasnsas.com news and advertising, continually fine-tuning their approach to increase audience. Chisenhall said, “Metrics should shape your strategy and tactics.”
She said as hers and other media organizations operate with reduced numbers of employees, it’s more important than ever to measure results to set priorities for how employees are used. She said her organization is focusing on areas of excellence, including the kind of local news and public service reporting users can’t get elsewhere.
Two recent enterprise packages that resonated with consumers, receiving thousands of online views:
* A package of stories, photos and video on Father Emil Kapaun, a Kansas priest and Korean War hero now being considered for sainthood by the Vatican.
* A heartbreaking and ultimately inspiring set of stories, photos and letters recounting the repeated sexual abuse and eventual rescue of 19-year-old twins. Based on the Wichita Eagle’s reporting, they were recently interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Chisenhall and Boogert recently completed six-month fellowships with the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. Chisenhall said they’ll use what they learned to train others in the newsroom to bring down any remaining organizational barriers between old and new media.
She said it’s important for media organizations to become “platform strategists,” by developing the understanding that consumers will use different platforms — newspaper, computer, smartphone, tablet — for different purposes in accessing news and information.
She sees her company and others becoming “community builders,” aggregating content from multiple sources as well as creating it.
And finally, she told the Wichita State students, she’s learned to be humble about new media, because change is so rapid. “Everything I tell you today may be wrong in a year.”