A little more than a year ago, a team of 10 staff members in Correio's newsroom was the sole force driving the newspaper's digital presence. The title serves audiences in the north east of Brazil, and is the largest paper in Salvador.
The 90-strong newsroom has undergone a significant shift in strategy since, coming up with a structure and plan for a new, digital-first culture, which every employee could shape.
In January 2016 a position called innovation editor was created, and Juan Torres, previously local news editor, took on the task.
"The local news desk was the one that we shifted first, and even before we had this digital mindset, we experimented a lot on digital. The challenge was to try to promote innovation in the newsroom," he explained.
A month later, Torres led a WhatsApp experiment, using groups during football games to create communities around the event.
But change had to run much deeper. Torres outlined the 10 steps the organisation had to take to reach its current digital-first workflow.
Putting content and editorial at the centre of the new strategy, whether someone worked in the newsroom or on the sales team, is the key part of Correio's new vision.
But while planning started in January, a change in leadership at the top levels meant the new workflows were not implemented in the newsroom until September. The new strategy has been running in its entirety since the middle of December.
However, this gave Torres some time to experiment with new tools and learn more about the tasks that would prove crucial once the new strategy was implemented.
The organisation also had to rethink the duties of its journalists, and redeploy resources so everybody worked on projects and formats they were most comfortable and efficient with.
"We didn’t have any lay-offs, but we did change functions and duties. We identified people who were already familiar with digital.
The new generation is coming with that already in their bloodJuan Torres, Correio
"Most of the young people [in the newsroom] would leave college with digital as a mindset, and when they came in we had to teach them to make print. We were getting very good guys on digital and making them go backwards.
"This didn’t make sense. The new generation is coming with that already in their blood."
The newsroom restructure largely took place between September and December 2016, initially developed by the editor-in-chief, the digital editor and Torres, who then put their ideas in front of the other editors, incorporated their feedback, and then presented it to staff, who could also shape the changes.
"Finally when we implemented it, everyone was aware of it and they could see that their suggestions were considered. Everyone was heard in this process and this was the most important thing we did. They didn’t feel it was something from top to bottom."
The use of metrics
Previously, Correio relied heavily on page views to asses how its stories were being received by online audiences. But Torres, using Chartbeat, has overhauled the organisation's analytics strategy.
The most important metric for Correio at present is one calculated based on a formula that brings together three key figures: page views from loyal visitors (50 per cent of the score), engaged time (40 per cent), and general page views (10 per cent).
Journalists have easy access to this dashboard to be able to monitor how their own stories are doing. Torres sends an email each morning with data and commentary, inviting reporters to comment as well and share their thoughts on what has done well and what could have gone better. Journalists whose stories score 100 per cent also receive two tickets to the cinema.
"It’s a way to motivate them and to really look at what they are doing and how they can do it better. This translation of the results is really important, I have a data journalism background and that's why I like to look at those metrics but that doesn’t mean everyone does. I try to motivate people to talk about their analysis."
If people are not happy with this, they just won’t work. They are themselves redesigning their own rolesJuan Torres, Correio
Bringing different departments together
Shifting all the different departments within the organisation to digital-first was also an important part of the process, as a digital newsroom cannot be properly served by a sales department that still focuses on print. Not limiting the digital revenue streams to display advertising is also key.
"We are glad that we have a paper and we are going to keep the paper, it is still where the money comes from, but the sales team has to know how to sell digital."
The different departments in the organisation have been sitting down in a weekly meeting to work out how they can collaborate on projects for some time now, but these meetings have become more important.
In January, Correio also organised two hackathons to bring the newsroom together, with the help of Mariana Santos, who consulted on the website and mobile redesigns during the month.
Providing internal training
Correio organised a training day for its staff, where everyone who had a particular skill the others could use would lead short workshops to share their expertise with the rest of the newsroom.
Torres also now leads a meeting every two weeks where staff can learn about and discuss examples of innovation in newsrooms around the world, reported in news organisations covering the media industry.
Social media and video
In May 2016, two video editors joined the ranks, as well as four video interns who were in the newsroom for four months. This addition was designed to motivate reporters and photographers to contribute to the video output of Correio, where video content is now utilised across platforms – even referencing content from Facebook live streams in print.
A social media analyst also joined the organisation, and her role is focused on developing formats native to social media and assessing the bigger picture. For example, Correio used to be active on Snapchat until Instagram launched its Stories feature. The title is now more focused on Instagram as a storytelling platform.
More stories and in-depth dives
Not only has Correio been producing more in-depth content, but it has managed to increase its output for all types of articles since the new workflows have been in place. Torres explained this could be because they have identified the right people for the right roles.
"Now all the editors in every vertical are looking at digital and are responsible for their digital output."
The title's digital audience has responded well to the changes. The number of loyal visitors Correio recorded in January grew by 13 per cent compared to December, returning visitors by 35 per cent, and new visitor numbers were up by 102 per cent in the same period.
The topics the team has been covering in-depth range from a report on a drought in the region to stories of transgender identity. Correio has also been recognised with awards from INMA, WAN-IFRA and Vladimir Herzog Human Rights Awards for its special report on rape in Salvador called 'The silence of the innocents'.
Technology in the newsroom
Another step on the path to shaking up the mindset in the newsroom was to strengthen the journalists' relationship with the organisation's developers.
The developers who work with Correio are hired by another organisation and don't sit in the newsroom permanently, but efforts are being made to close the gap, such as inviting them to hackathons.
"Many people that we used to know by phone are now participating in the projects and giving ideas," explained Torres.
Identifying the key players
A large part of what has made Correio's rapid change a success has been deploying resources correctly and finding the right people for each task.
Creating the innovation editor role, which Torres holds, was the first step, and identifying journalists who were very comfortable working on digital and allowing them to do so without the constraints of working within a separate digital team has already made a significant difference.
But Torres is aware that change is not finite, and despite the large shift the newsroom has undergone since December, their journey is unlikely to end soon.
Flexibility is at the core of Correio's approach to change, and keeping staff happy is important to Torres.
"We were changing a lot of stuff in people’s lives, but the resistance we had was way below what we expected.
"It’s very important that we feel happy. and it’s not just a saying. If people are not happy with this, they just won’t work. They are themselves redesigning their own roles.
"We try not to leave the problems to come to a big problem. If something goes wrong in this first month, we don’t make a big deal. Everyone is learning on how to do this better, from the youngest reporter to the editor-in-chief."
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