Last week I went for the third time to MagNet, the annual magazine conference held here in Toronto. I have always enjoyed going to media conferences of various types, from community newspapers conventions in the 1990’s to magazine and new media ones in the 2000’s. The days years ago when the word “modem” was bandied about like a four letter word from heck are not that far in the past with these types of shows. Now people complain about the wi-fi sucking.
This year MagNet 2012 took place June 5th to 8th at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel. The tweets covering all aspects of the event were provided by the wonderful writer @kattancock, whom after a year of corresponding online with I finally met in person. Unfortunately, I missed bumping into @amandabeetee, who makes her circ dept proud every day. But I did have the good timing upon arrival to meet up with old friend Alan, he of Salon magazine fame. Then met up before departure with another old friend and financial writer @seanbpasternak, he of something something business something. After all these years, I still don’t fully understand what he does. Previous MagNet’s have also given me the occasion to meet some wonderful people (Hi Jen!).
Between these two eventful meetings, my wanderings led me Family Circus style through the Marketplace, the Magazine Stands, and the Advertising Displays (loved the twitter one). Picked up various pamphlets along my travels, before finally settling in for lunch and a twitter check to catch up all the other seminars. The Coast to Coast Lounge was the perfect place for this, filled with very comfy chairs and very blissful air conditioning.
From 2:15 to 3:45 the seminar The New Normal: Writing Strategies for a Converged Media World was my new home. Moderated by the aforementioned @kattancock, it featured Chris Boutet (Deputy Editor, Digital Operations, The Globe and Mail), Kim Fox (Senior Producer, Editorial & Community, CBC Digital Music), and Phillip Smith (Digital Publishing Consultant).
Starting off, Fox stated something many people seem to forget, in my humble opinion. “Digital is just another way to tell that story.” This thought should be a calming influence on publishers everywhere. But I doubt it.
What followed after that was a series of tales involving writing for, use of, and management of New Media. Boutet talked about how in the past when he used to run the National Post site, updates would go live only once a day. It took a change in the organizational structure of how the reporters were utilized to change the frequency and timeliness of the feeds. This led to Smith’s recounting of a British publication that simply refused to adapt to New Media. Now they are piling red onto their ledger. “When you have the position to innovate,” just do it, said Smith.
In order to drive this innovation, stats are a very important weapon. And these same stats can be used to excuse what you have already done. Smith brings these analytics up first in editorial meetings, while Fox stated that “Every writer and editor has access to stats” at CBC Digital Music. Boutet said the analytics of the Globe’s twitter feed led them to increase the usage of links, which resulted in an 130% increase in click throughs. An ebook called The Big Book of Key Performance Indicators, which is available for $9.99, was mentioned as being important.
Armed with these numbers, it is easier to be bold and take risks. Fox explained the philosophy instituted at CBC Digital, where “Creating a culture where it is okay to fail,” became the norm. The brilliant people of the net would also help out the neophytes. Boutet talked about the concept when he was at the National Post of just “Doing things without telling anybody.”
Fox expanded on the risk taking aspect. At CBC, she talked her bosses into creating a live blog for covering the G20. It became so popular, other media outlets were following it. “Try to look for alternative storytelling methods,” Fox said. Later Smith echoed this sentiment, saying “the ideas is the easy part of innovation.”
Various items were suggested by the panelists throughout. Google Analytics, which Smith said can be learned in a weekend, is considered invaluable. Fox recommended following @acarvin from NPR, who is great at using sources.
To end out the seminar, @kattancock asked the panelists to name what they were into currently. Smith said to try The Verge and Livefyre sites. Fox suggested looking into alternative revenue streams coming into newsrooms by digital. Boutet liked Buzzfeed (for political coverage), Gawker (for their screens filled with stats in their office), and Chartbeat.
At this point we all disbursed and planned to make analytics our new buzzword. And my time in the wonderful world of magazines continues on. Next years seminar is already being planned. As is my attendance.