Chris Boutet, senior producer for digital media at the National Post, discusses the changing media landscape and working with a “digital-first” strategy. Boutet will be speaking about journalism at Digital Journal’s Future of Media event on April 6.
Originally from Edmonton, Boutet moved to Toronto where he was the night news editor at Dose magazine. In 2006, Boutet joined the National Post as a part-time sports copy editor after his hockey blog caught the attention of sports staff during the Edmonton Oilers’ Stanley Cup run.
When the National Post relaunched its website in 2007, Boutet joined the new online team as a blogger and homepage editor. He was named the Senior Editor of product and engagement in 2009 and became Senior Producer in 2010.
Boutet and his team have worked to change the way the National Post thinks about its digital presence by introducing innovative reporting and content delivery strategies that have shifted the focus toward serving the needs and interests of an online readership. He has led the charge in integrating the use of social media and real-time reporting techniques into the daily workflow of the newsroom.
Leading the National Post’s social media strategy, Chris’s team has cultivated thriving networks on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Tumblr that have helped the National Post reach vast new communities of readers. He has helped to establish a collaborative newsroom environment that encourages innovation, whether it’s creating new ways to engage with casual readers or turn a static online graphic into a runaway viral hit.
In a Q&A with Digital Journal, Boutet discussing the skills a modern-day journalist needs to have and what it’s like working with a publication with a digital-first mandate.
Digital Journal: To make it as a journalist today, what core skills do you need? What core skills will you need in the years ahead?
Chris Boutet: I’ve always felt the most important character trait for a successful journalist to have is fearlessness. Whether you’re walking up to the front door of the family of a murder victim to try get a quote, or walking up to your editor to sell your big story idea, it’s a job that requires remarkable courage and confidence.
Beyond that, though, it’s also vital to have a strong sense of curiosity, adaptability and a willingness to experiment. With so many new storytelling tools and platforms emerging every day, journalists need to be constantly evaluating how effectively we are using these tools to tell better stories and connect with our readers.
There’s so much discovery and evaluation happening right now in online media. We can’t be afraid to fail if we’re going to find new ways to succeed.
Digital Journal: You work for a company that says it wants to take a digital-first strategy. How does that play out in your day-to-day and what does that look like?
Chris Boutet: The “digital first’ mandate was a wake-up call to newsrooms that we needed to change the way we think about how our print and online properties work together.
In most newsrooms, the workflow has traditionally been built around the print product, with web, mobile and social media presences thought of as separate from, or supplementary to, that core.
At the National Post, this mandate helped to further shift our reporting and editing resources to towards creating a dynamic and robust online product first, then using those same resources to build out a print product that was both complementary and distinct.
Digital Journal: How has your printed newspaper been affected by digital media and what will it look like in years to come?
Chris Boutet: In print, the National Post is as great a read as it’s ever been. It’s a boldly designed paper with an insightful, cleverness and irreverent wit that makes it unlike any other newspaper in Canada.
If our increased focus on digital has changed print at all, it’s perhaps freed the newspaper up to focus less on the “breaking” and day-to-day news that online does better and more on analysis, features and commentary to create a more thoughtful, “long read” experience.
To me, the long read is one of print’s greatest strengths. The tactility and slower pace of consumption make the time spent feel luxurious and almost decadent, especially after a long week of chasing an endless stream of news developments online.
I think in the years to come we’ll see more news organizations start to cultivate an image of their print product as a luxury, boutique item that should be pored over and savoured.
Digital Journal: What kinds of editorial experiments have you tried in order to create audience? How do you measure success?
Chris Boutet: At the National Post, we are constantly exploring and evaluating new and better ways to reach our audience and improve their reading experience.
In the last two years especially, social media experimentation and expansion has been a major focus for our news organization. Gone are the days where you could create a great website and expect people to come to you.
Today, our online readership wants us to come to them, to be engaged and active in the same networks they use every day.
The National Post‘s reporters and editors use Twitter to deliver breaking news and create new contextual content streams that make the news easier to follow, understand and share. Our Facebook fan page has evolved into an online hub for lively debate, especially around our political coverage and commentary.
In the last year, we’ve also found unique new ways to deliver our content on Tumblr and Foursquare.
With social media, there are myriad ways to measure success. Follower counts and referral traffic back to the site are decent core metrics, but a good social presence goes beyond that. We keep a close eye on what content is being shared, how it is spreading and what people are saying about us.
Digital Journal: What should digital media outlets be doing that they’re not doing now?
Chris Boutet: Some of the best online news organizations are where they are today because they embraced a more agile, startup-like approach to their product development.
Experimentation and innovation is key as the industry forays deeper into the digital space and we learn better ways to reach and serve our readers. Top-down, boardroom-style direction can’t react quickly enough to the ever-changing landscape. Building a product system around small, independent teams of reporters, editors, designers and developers is an excellent way to encourage creative thinking and speed up the implementation/evaluation cycle.
Also, bring more developers into your newsroom. You really can’t have too many.
Digital Journal: What revenue channels beyond advertising do you think we’ll see become more prevalent in the digital media space?
Chris Boutet: It’s an interesting question. Online readership numbers are now outpacing print, and the pressure is on to build a stable revenue model around digital.
But a major reason that news organizations were able to build that online reader base in the first place was by making our content easy to find and free to read. So how do we make money without shutting out our readership and losing that scale and reach?
The key is not just to create something that has value to your readership, but also to have your audience agree with you on what that value is to them in real dollars.
I think we’ll be seeing a lot of experimentation with costing on mobile app products and paywall/content metering models.
The industry needs to get away from trying to tell our readership what they should be paying, and instead let them tell us what they will pay. Rather than throwing up another paywall, why not try a “pay-what-you-can wall” and see what the value of your product really is to your readers?
Digital Journal: Outside of Facebook and Twitter, what start-ups do you think are making a big difference or impact in the world of media? How so?
Chris Boutet: So many to mention, but a few of my favourites at the moment:
Toronto’s own ScribbleLive: Their real-time CMS is a powerful reporting and crowdsourcing tool that is getting better every day. They take user feedback very seriously and are always thinking about how to improve the product.
Foursquare as well has opened a lot of doors for the National Post and other forward-looking media organizations who are interested in exploring the value of geo-located news delivery.
Tumblr has been around for a while, but it’s just now building out the organizational framework that is making it a more meaningful and effective broadcast tool.
The National Post is also intrigued by Instagram as a content platform. NPR is doing some interesting work in that space and we’re seeing others like NBC and CNN get into the game as well.
I’ll also mention WordPress, as the National Post has been using it to power our blog network for almost a year now and it’s done so much to improve the agility and visibility of our online news product.