David Arkin is the Senior Vice President of Content & Product Development at GateHouse Media. News Media Alliance caught up with Arkin for an update on GateHouse Media’s digital transformation, the video technology he is excited about, and more.
What drew you to working in news media?
When I was a really young kid, about 6 or 7-years-old, I used to watch sports and pretend to be an announcer and actually recorded my performances. I just loved telling stories, even if that was through broadcast, at a really young age. As I got older, I found a love for telling stories not through my voice but through words and became the sports editor and eventually the editor of my high school newspaper. It was there where I broke a story surrounding inconsistencies with substance abuse policies for athletes, which actually made the front page of the daily newspaper in town after we broke it. That showed me the impact that journalism could have on people and policies. I was all in after that.
What is the most exciting thing going on at GateHouse Media?
Our company’s growth is clearly very exciting. We have grown considerably over the last two years and have added some incredible newspapers to our company. But I would say the most exciting thing happening right now on the newsroom side of things has to be what’s happening around our efforts to digitally transform our newsrooms. In the last year, we put a real-time analytics tool in place that is helping newsrooms use data to inform what they cover. Knowing what moves the needle and how to get the most out of our content is incredibly beneficial.
As part of that move, we have restructured many of our larger newsrooms to ensure that the editors, who are in charge of managing reporters and are ultimately responsible for driving what reporters cover, have heavy digital DNA and are using the data we are providing them to guide our coverage. And we are obsessing over the right kind of budget meetings, the ones that don’t focus on 1A but rather on coverage throughout the day.
Providing newsrooms with more digital tools has been a real focus this year and will continue to be so going forward. We put in place live video and blogging tools this year, as well as a database tool that helps display data effectively. And next year we will redesign all of our websites and mobile websites through the great work Garcia Media has done for us. So, a lot of exciting things are happening in the digital space at our company right now.
What is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned while working on GateHouse Media’s push notification strategy initiative for all newspapers?
While there is a real balance between overwhelming users, we’re seeing that there is a real appetite for push notifications and not just getting them for huge breaking news, but consistently. So, that has been an interesting thing to see, that the desire is for a wide range of content, as long as the content is relevant to now. Breaking police and fire news is the obvious big driver of push, but we are finding success with other content, such as flagging out a live scores page for Friday night football. Again, analytics will be key in refining the strategy.
What technology in the media are you most excited about?
Video technology is incredibly exciting, especially technology that is allowing our newsrooms to extend that coverage through their phones. We have been using Tout for a little more than a year at more than 50 of our newsrooms and are planning a wider rollout next year. It’s a great tool for allowing reporters to capture what they are experiencing. It has really put some muscle behind the number of videos our reporters are producing and has led to a really nice increase in video plays across our sites.
In addition, I see huge opportunities going forward with live-streaming video. We’re focused right now on getting video more integrated into our reporting teams and making the creation of video a really consistent thing. I can see how we would build on the work our reporters are doing with one-minute videos to become more of a true live experience. We’re seeing experimentation with things like Periscope and Scribble Live with live blogging. The next step would logically be to create a good streaming experience around content that makes sense to stream.
How do you see the future of the news industry?
There are challenges but I think it’s still a very optimistic future. The tools to grow and understand our audience are here for us like never before. We have a platform with mobile that readers are flocking to like crazy. It’s a platform we can grow and build upon. That’s exciting.
What does the future look like? It clearly will become more digital, more mobile and more social. That means we have to put in strategy and tools that align with that growth, like people in the newsrooms who are planning, writing and measuring for mobile. Staff who are working with reporters to help understand what data around their stories means and how to react to it. Managers who can work with reporters on steps they can take to be more engaging on social media and build bigger audiences. In addition, news organizations that take steps to create deep, valuable experiences in print, with big storytelling and beautiful design, will be rewarded with happy readers.
It will be a future that will put much more control in a user’s hand. They will be able to get content through personalization that aligns with their interests and they will be able to tell readers more of what they want through technology that will allow immediate feedback. It will be a future of fast and new technologies, and the organizations that test, try, fail and succeed and do it all over again, will be the ones that thrive. It will be a future that will reward trying stuff.
Members of the News/Media Alliance staff have contributed to this post.