Come to terms with digital-first: Hegarty winner

Come to terms with digital-first: Hegarty winnerGroup managing editor of Fairfax Tasmania and 2014 Hegarty winner Mark Baker

In an age of social media and smart phones, many newspapers proclaim to be “digital first”, but whether they are in practice is a different story, according to 2014 Hegarty winner Mark Baker.

The $10,000 Hegarty Scholarship enabled Mr Baker, 35, to travel across America, visit numerous newsrooms and interview editors, journalists, managers and HR professionals.

Mr Baker, the group managing editor of Fairfax Tasmania, observed the newsrooms of established American newspapers like the New York Times and the new, disruptive players like Huffington Post.

He will share his insights from the trip in a speech at the Future Forum at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel in September with the working title of ‘Legacy Media: The Good Guys, The Bad Guys and the Other Guys’.

Digital newspaper audiences maybe rising, but some newsrooms still structure their work around print deadlines and struggle to shift from the mindset of “what’s on page one tomorrow” to “what’s on the website in an hour”, Mr Baker said.

“Clearly newspapers are struggling but they’ve got such a fantastic brand,” he said.

“Those big mastheads that I visited like Boston Globe, Politico, they’re so well trusted and that’s part of their strength. So [the speech] is really just about how you make the most of those strengths in this modern world that has been disrupted so much by people who don’t have to print a paper every day.

“I thought I’d go over there and get the answer, find the solution but what it really confirmed is that it’s a work in progress and you have to make incremental steps to improve your paper. There’s no silver bullet.”

Mr Baker said the successful newsrooms he visited were ones designed to encourage collaboration, had ample access to technology, encouraged experimentation in digital storytelling and were genuinely “digitally first”, without forgetting the value of the printed product.

You ask people, ‘Well who are your competitors?’ and a lot of papers that didn’t quite get it would say, ‘The paper down the road’.”

“But I think the (successful newspaper) understands now that their competitors are Facebook and Twitter and Angry Birds and Fruit Ninjas and anything that’s on your smartphone drawing audiences’ attention away from your product.

“So you’re really fighting for eyeballs. That’s an important point that I took away from someone at the Boston Globe.”

Mr Baker has been working at The Examiner since 2003 and in numerous roles including court reporter, political reporter, chief of staff and editor. He recently began as the new Fairfax group managing editor in Tasmania where he oversees The Examiner and The Advocate.

“I think the main thing that we need to do which newspapers probably haven’t been good at traditionally is to innovate but more importantly iterate,” he said.

“What we probably need to get into the headspace of is that it’s okay to try, try something different. If it doesn’t work, that’s not the end of the world. You can iterate on it. You can make the next version better and you can build on it.

The Future Forum is an annual symposium for news media professionals that features masterclasses, the Newspaper of the Year Awards, as well as presentations from industry leaders that this year include WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell and News Corps’ Senior Vice President of Strategy Raju Narisetti.

The event will be held at the Sydney Hilton on Thursday, September 10, and Friday, September 11. Click here to register.

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