ONA Philly September: NewsWorks from WHYY one year after launching [VIDEO]

Photo by Dan Victor

Nearly a year after launching, the team behind the NewsWorks community-driven online news effort from WHYY, the Philadelphia public media organization, shared its lessons. It was the third event from a revived local chapter of the Online News Association.

After an hour of beer donated by Boxcar Brewing, sandwiches from the Trolleycar Diner and pretzels from the Center City Soft Pretzel Co., I kicked off the night and introduced WHYY editorial chief Chris Satullo.

Satullo and Don Henry, two of the many leading faces behind the NewsWorks initiative, shared five tasks they got right and five tasks they got wrong. Text of them all and video of the first few below.

Me kicking off the night. Photo by Dan Victor.

What NewsWorks says it got right

  1. Made ads behave themselves , focused on straightforward design — No obtrusive ads, Henry said.
  2. Hyperlocal pages — The team was proud of their work in the northwest
  3. Partnership network broadened our mix.
  4. Changed the culture of the newsroom, provided ample in-house training.
  5. Got the damn web site launched — Henry said there was no IA or strategy or staff in May 2010 and still launched in mid-November, “not so bad,” he said.

What NewsWorks says it got wrong

  1. Missed change to fully leverage WHYY’s rich audio content — No early in-roads in podcasting, though movement has been made
  2. Failed to dislodge perceptoion that site was principally ‘citizen journalism’ and hyperlocal
  3. Membership strategy still needs work — Needing to fund and sustain bigger work
  4. Social media were not the leading edge of our participation strategy
  5. Got the damn web site launched — It was surely lacking a lot of what the staff hoped it could be, but it was a start.

Other takeaways from Q&A session:

  • Having strong content partnerships early on is a big priority to recommend to others, said Satullo
  • “In the time it takes to make the website you really want, it will no longer be what you want,” said Satullo.
  • Just 13 percent of traffic to NewsWorks comes from visitors using the URL, much more from search and social, suggesting the site isn’t as widely known as it is useful, Satullo said.
  • July and August saw 30 percent increase in readership, helped by “an earthquake, Irene and Arlene.”
  • “People want something that tastes, looks and feels like NPR but is local,” Satullo said. “But if you really listen, NPR hogs up a lot of the average hour. We just have a few minutes at the top and a little at the close. It’s hard to blow the wheels off City Hall in less than 10 minutes.” Adding the daily NewsWorks Tonight show is WHYY trying to “make a bigger canvas to do that.”
  • NewsWorks, which has a hyperlocal effort in northwest Philly, won’t be expanding until “this thing is sustained,” which involves growing membership around it, said Satullo.
  • The site is tablet ready because it doesn’t use Flash, but the team is seeking a new mobile template to more friendly to smartphone users, said Henry.


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