Training key to helping journalists become comfortable with Web 2.0

Mike Noe is the editor of the Rocky Mountain News’ website.

When Denver hosted the Democratic National Convention in the summer of 1908, American Indians were still referred to as “wild” by famed Rocky Mountain News journalist Damon Runyon. Delegates were entertained by snow hauled in from the nearby mountains. And the Rocky chronicled the convention in a broadsheet format. It would be three more decades before Colorado’s first newspaper would take a chance on publishing in the tabloid format that its readers still embrace today.

To say the least, 2008 was a far cry from that 1908 DNC. A staff of 150 field journalists covered this year’s convention 24 hours a day for five straight days, posting vignettes, photos and video to So much content poured into the site at once that we used two scrolling windows on the home page to channel the flow of information. A nurse at a local hospital told me she was glued to the site throughout the week, checking back whenever she could to see the latest updates on protests, celebrities and the delegates.

Planning for the convention started well before January. We purchased LG VX9900 for several reporters so they would be able to shoot photos and video for the Web site. Early in the year, we contacted other newspapers within the Scripps chain about using reporters, photographers and videographers for the event. And the editor made it clear that the Web was the newsroom’s first priority.

Judging from the 2004 conventions, we knew protests and demonstrations could play a significant role in our coverage. Editors began planning to station journalists and photographers throughout downtown Denver to cover any disruptions and immediately post the information on the site.

We knew we couldn’t use our traditional workflow of channeling content through our print system. Even e-mail would be clunky with most of our team limited to tapping out messages on their mobile phones. We decided on Twitter. It had gained recent fame in Sichuan earthquake as a news gathering tool. And it integrated nicely with our new online content management system.

In late Spring, reporters began practicing with filing short, headline-formatted new items to Training sessions took about an hour and most picked up the new format quickly. By the time the convention rolled around, everyone in the newsroom – including editors and the copy desk – had been trained. We combined each person’s RSS feed into three main RSS feeds that fed the following categories – official events, parties and celebrites, and protests. Users were then able to follow the updates through scrolling windows on, or on their own mobile phones using their personal Twitter accounts.

For more substantive news accounts, we trained our staff to file directly into the Ellington system using laptops with air cards. Once the reports were on the site, a team of copy editors in the newsroom cleaned up any typos or problems.

We applied the same concept to photos and video with Flickr. Reporters and photographers sent images and video into accounts specifically set up for the DNC. Then a team of editors would review the images or video and place them with the appropriate story. The concept worked well when police surrounded several hundred protestors outside the Rocky’s downtown office. Within five minutes, reporters, Web producers and copy editors had posted several photos of the confrontation.

We also set up a page where users could submit DNC-related photos or video of protests, celebrities or themselves directly onto the site. A warning noted that the feeds were unedited.

You can see examples of what we did on the following pages:

Twitter archives:

Live coverage:

Flickr photos:


Special wrap-up video produced by the Rocky and Media Storm:

Some key things we learned from our convention coverage:

  • Keep it simple: With the Web taking center focus, the temptation for some editors was to create Web categories for every topic we covered. The problem is that you can create a maze of content silos that a user will ignore. Most of our users visited the home page, multimedia page and individual story pages.
  • Train, practice and train again: Our first attempts at Twitter were rough. One example was when we sent a reporter to a campaign fund raiser with the instructions “Tell us what is going on.” That was about the extent of her instructions. She wasn’t allowed into the actual event so she was stuck in a hotel lobby. In addition to the candidates and political players coming in and out of the building, we received reports on a custodian cleaning floors, what delivery people were bringing in, etc. Our follow-up instructions included cheat sheets with examples of what we were looking for – details they would report in the paper, nice, tight sentences, constant updates.
  • Also make sure your staff is comfortable with the technology you’re using. We picked events leading up to the convention to get them used to the phones, cameras or laptops they would be using. You want technology to be second-nature when the big event begins.
  • About Mike Noe

    Mike Noe is the editor of He has been with the Rocky since 1999.

    Since moving the Rocky


    1. Great piece and very useful information.

      After reading your article I went straight to look for the LG VX9900 online, but unfortunately, the technology doesn’t work in my country, but it was good to know and then I headed off and registered on twitter.

      I hope to use these tools to enhance my online publishing skills.

      Thanks so much, Mike, for sharing.

    2. says:

      So hold on, you’re justifying using Twitter, a plaything of children and narcisists, to cover a major political story.

      And they said the media was dumbing down.

    3. Great piece, Mike. Although I disagree with you slightly.

      IMHO, the main key to getting journalists comfortable with Web 2.0 (or whatever buzzword you equate to using current online media) is experience — and especially, experience on their own, not for work purposes, to explore and experiment without the pressure of being on assignment.

      For instance, sending someone out to live-tweet an event who has never used Twitter much before and doesn’t really know how to interact with people there is probably not going to produce anything good.

      I know that many journalists seem to think that in order to learn online or social media skills they need to get some kind of packaged and hopefully employer-funded official training. And I understand that desire — it’s human nature to want to compartmentalize and contain anything new that threatens to overwhelm.

      But online and social media have gotten so popular precisely because they invite exploration, and because they’re generally simple enough that you can learn them on your own if you first open your mind to the possibility that this can be fun (or at least interesting).

      That means allowing time and space to play with them, and to recognize that play as an important kind of learning. That means getting enough experience in this realm that you start to get a feel for what and whom you wish to emulate.

      Once journos make this mental shift (I think of it as “upgrading the wetware”) I’ve found that more skills-specific, focused training works much better and has much greater effect. So yes, training is important — but only after the wetware upgrade.

      – Amy Gahran

    4. Hey, anonymous, tools can be used for anything.

      Why dismiss a tool just ’cause some people use it for less-than-interesting things? That’s what I call dumbed-down thinking.

    5. Anonymous–

      There’s a value to being innovative without having to reinvent the wheel. Leveraging existing tools for new purposes is not only practical, in this case it also brings RMN to the social media table (read: new readers). RMN isn’t the first to use Twitter to deliver gems of info to audiences (many social media experts already do it), but I applaud them for being so adaptable when so many newsrooms have not been.

    6. says:

      Please, guys, pah leeeze, don’t use a grey background for your site. It’s completely unreadable. You are supposed to be the future of
      online media. We have to be thinking about presentation as well as content. The new Wall Street Journal online, not to mention the online NY Times, provide some online examples worth reviewing…

    7. Hi Amy,

      I don’t think we really disagree about encouraging journalists to experiment with new tools outside of their regular reporting duties. I probably wasn’t clear enough in the example I used. We actually had put our reporters through Twitter training prior to the assignment I mentioned. At the end of every session we encouraged everyone to experiment. We even had a test environment set up so they could see how their work would appear on the site.

      My point was that our instructions about the coverage should have been more explicit. And — I think to your point — we probably should have required more experimentation with the application.

      I think the bigger challenge in any newsroom is convincing veteran reporters that there is value in experimenting with these tools. I understand how Twitter or any other tool can be seen as just one more thing sucking time away from their “real jobs.”

      I think that’s why we need to keep circling back. Re-train. Point out examples of how the tool is working. Show them how it can make them better at their jobs.

      Right now, I’m pushing Tweet Deck as a great tool for tracking breaking news and for seeing what people are saying about our organization’s coverage. I have a few converts but not as many as I would like. Until the program actually tips us to a breaking news story, I don’t think we’re going to see wide acceptance. But I do think it will happen eventually.