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Deseret Rewrites Newsgathering Rules

Reporters at Deseret Media collect raw material—video, audio and text—then send it back to a rewrite desk that tailors it for the Web, radio TV, and print, in that order. Owned by the Mormon Church, the media concern that operates Salt Lake City's KSL-TV, KSL-AM, the Deseret News and two websites, is "building a workflow system that is platform agnostic," says Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media (left).

Like other news organizations, Salt Lake City’s Deseret Media readily dispatches reporters to breaking stories. But the similarities between the way Deseret gathers and distributes news pretty much end right there.

That’s because Deseret, which owns KSL-TV, KSL-AM, the Deseret News and two immensely successful websites in the No. 31 DMA no longer expects its reporters to produce full-blown stories.

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Rather, reporters are expected to collect as much raw material — video, audio and text — as possible, which is then sent back to a rewrite desk, staffed by individuals trained to tailor that content for the Web, radio, TV and print, in that order.

“We are building a workflow system that is platform agnostic,” says Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media, who developed the new process and formally inaugurated it on Aug. 31.

The idea, he says, is to make sure content is ready to go for all of Deseret’s properties as quickly as they can handle them — and to cut costs by integrating staff and eliminating duplication.

Whatever gain the reorganization produces is not coming without some pain. Deseret laid off 85 Deseret News editorial staffers — about 40% of the workforce — in the move to the multi-platform newsroom.

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The layoffs were similar to those occurring at newspapers around the country, according to Gilbert. "That really just reflects the changing economics of print media," he says. "Most newspapers are cutting costs."

Offsetting the newspaper losses to some extent is that the non-editorial digital staff has grown to 75 people over the years.

“The net take away from this is that we can have the largest newsroom in the market with greater reach and more stories at a lower cost,” Gilbert says. "The people we have in our newsroom have become increasingly both print- and digital-savvy, and they have to be," he says.

Gilbert expects the recent changes to further the extraordinary success KSL-TV has had in navigating new media.

By most measures, its is the No. 1 local TV station or newspaper site in the country with 3.8 million unique visits per month. That number also puts fourth among all TV-based news sites, behind CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.

“ just blows everyone else away,” says Gordon Borrell, a researcher who tracks local online media.

And the site is not just news. Its classified section tops newspaper-killer in its market, Gilbert says.

In 2009, about 60% of adults in the Salt Lake City market visited, according to Media Audit.

The Deseret ranked second in the market, drawing about 26% of adults, outperforming the Salt Lake City Tribune’s website, even though the print version of the Tribune has more readers.

Websites run by Salt Lake City’s other TV stations —, and — trailed, garnering views from about 18%, 15% and 12% of adults, respectively, which is more typical of TV stations’ draws, the Media Audit report showed.

Though the Deseret News has suffered the loss in revenue that spurred the recent layoffs, its readership is actually up, Gilbert says. Deseret News readership grew by 20% last year, making it the fastest growing newspaper in the country, Gilbert says.

Deseret Media declined to give financial figures that show its properties’ revenues. Deseret did, however, release percentages that show’s growth over the last two years. In 2009, had 22% more revenue, 31% more page views and 63% more unique visitors than in 2008, the company says.

This year, revenue is expected to grow by 46%, page views by 14% and unique visitors by 16%.

While committed to the “platform-agnostic” workflow, Deseret still maintains separate TV and newspaper investigative teams and culls content that fits its properties' distinct brands, Gilbert says.

KSL and its website, for example, highlight breaking news, whereas the print and digital versions of the Deseret News focus on in-depth reports, he says. About 50% of stories wind up on all platforms, with the rest distributed through the one deemed most appropriate, he says. “It is still key that you have brand differentiation and brand identification,” he says.

As it has built out its digital platforms, Deseret has built up sales teams for them, Gilbert says, citing studies showing that companies with sales forces dedicated to Internet sales outperform those without them.

Deseret also now has a separate sales force that targets small and medium-size advertisers that would not likely advertise on TV or in print "and that's grown a whole new category of advertisers," he says.

The company also has created national and telesales teams and has brought in sales specialists to help train existing sales reps.

The websites include self-service ad sales for merchants who want them. Those efforts are paying off, Gilbert says.

In addition to conservative estimates that revenue will grow 46% this year (it already is on track to do better), the digital properties are becoming increasingly important for Deseret's overall financial well-being, he says.

Comments (2) -

GrecianFormula Nickname posted over 8 years ago
"building a workflow system that is platform agnostic," ... I'll stick with platform atheism.
Alan Mendelson posted over 8 years ago
I have a question about the editorial process: how involved are the on-site reporters in the writing and rewriting for other platforms? I would hope that the on-site reporters have considerable input into the final product on each platform. Simply turning over raw video, text, etc. without input from the field could lead to errors.
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