So where did the Times Square idea come from?
Much was inspired by the work of James Janega and his Trib Nation blog at The Chicago Tribune, which I learned about through a helpful Poynter Institute journalism webinar on social media (find my top takeaways from Janega’s presentation here).
I spoke with Janega over the phone this week to ask him some questions about their blog’s approach and for some success stories we might steal. He was enthusiastic, outgoing and helpful — which shows why he’s a natural blog host and reader advocate. Here are some highlights from our lively conversation:
What’s the Trib Nation backstory?
The Tribune was perceived as an unresponsive monolith, Janega says — readers didn’t have an easy way to pitch a story or get customer complaints resolved. The blog was created a couple of years ago to get them closer to their audience. It’s also a place to explain the company’s decisions and “inside story.”
Some of our top goals for the upcoming roanoke.com redesign were exactly the same: How could we streamline the process for suggesting stories and sharing photos? How can we make our journalists more accessible? How could we make it easier for readers to engage with us through comments and social media? How can we “put the community out front,” as editor Carole Tarrant puts it. Our redesign’s aim is to provide a more user-friendly experience, and Times Square is the place for the ongoing conversations.
Growing beyond the digital: Should we host community lunches?
What impresses me most about Trib Nation is the hundreds of events the news company offers every year: Literary events, social media seminars, cooking classes, meetups at the ballpark, the list goes on. All of these events started after the success of the Tribune’s monthly community conversation lunches.
Janega urges us to hold these lunches at least once a quarter. What do they involve? Their team picks a subject area to focus on. Past examples include personal finance, fitness and education. The lunches are free and open to the public, but they invite critical community connectors and thought leaders: “People who can connect us to sources,” Janega say. Why does he think these are worthwhile? Because he’s always surprised by the story ideas that come out of them.
I love the idea of breaking out from behind the computer and meeting readers. Social media is wonderful way to connect, but nothing beats a handshake and a face-to-face conversation to really make that connection meaningful. I’ve mulled the idea of informal meetups and creating a real Roanoke “Times Square” after attending the CityWorks (X)po in October.
Perhaps we can make some of these ideas a reality. You can help by letting us know your thoughts: Do you find face-to-face events appealing?
Focus on your questions
While Times Square is a place to share Roanoke Times promotions and company information, Janega urges us to focus on what readers might be curious about: How do we choose a Page 1 photo, for example?
I’ll be on the lookout for opportunities to share some behind-the-scenes moments — and reach out of my newsroom comfort zone and get to know folks from across our company. To do some “bridge building,” as Janega puts it. So if you do have questions about our process or decisions, please share them in the comments. You can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.