The Other Side of the Press

As a consumer of news, you may or may not have noticed the changes newsrooms have undergone in recent years. Traditionally, the newspaper survived on somewhere around 70 percent of their income from print advertisements and 30 percent on consumer subscriptions. Today, as fewer people subscribe to the print news, the newspapers are changing the way they do business. Figuring out how to serve the customer in an age where most people don’t want to pay for services can be challenging. We took a tour of the Des Moines Register and looked into how these changes have affected the process of news writing and distribution.

The Register is present on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with Instagram being the least regularly updated platform. Facebook and Twitter are where most of the Register’s stories show up, directing traffic to their own website, which is where their stories are most regularly published and updated. According to Brian Smith, engagement editor for the Register, social media isn’t yet required for reporters but it is strongly encouraged.

“We definitely expect reporters to be able to search for leads and information during breaking news situations,” Smith said.

Reporters and editors are encouraged to be active on their professional social media accounts, updating their audience on the stories they chase, write and follow up on. Reporters will bring stories and updates to their producer, who can then put them on the verified Des Moines Register account platforms. Smith said producers do 99 percent of the posts from the Register’s verified pages, with a few editors having an exceptionally broad access to Register accounts.

The Des Moines Register’s wall of Pulitzer Prize winning cartoons.

As news organizations adapt to having a bigger digital presence, one thing they’ve faced is the opportunity for audience engagement. The Register has a score of ways to measure audience activity among their social platforms but they are constantly thinking of new ways to get consumers to engage with them. One way to engage their viewers is to post an article or topic on Facebook and encourage people to react a certain way in order to collect votes.

When we sat sit in on the 9 a.m. news meeting with the editors, we got to see how each section’s editor contributed to the day’s paper and the next day’s paper and, well in advance, the Sunday paper. We also noticed a lot of the newsroom was still pretty empty at this time but as the editors spoke up on behalf of what their reporters were working on, we realized most of the reporters were already out in the field covering their day’s assignment. This is one of the biggest shifts in the digitally-focused age.

Reporters no longer have the luxury of writing up what they learned from the field, interviews and other events. They are now being called “multimedia journalists” because that’s a more accurate job title as they constantly taking pictures, gathering video coverage, recording interviews, tweeting updates and responding to the world around them all to cover their beat. Journalists are now using social media as a means to update their audience on breaking news, relevant beat updates, story updates and much more.


Multiple Platform AnalysisDMR.jpg

The story I wanted to cover was the story about all the young men from Central Iowa who have died from heroin overdoses because I kept seeing videos online of mothers pleading for change. However, I couldn’t find a print article about that story so I decided to use the opioid story that took up the bottom third of the front page on 01/30/18.

We’ve had prescription drug problems for years so I’m glad so many people are up in arms about it now. U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of Cleveland, is overseeing around 200 lawsuits against opioid makers. He sees no value in trials because he says people aren’t interested in the legal questions, they just want the crisis to cease. I will restrain myself from commenting on the content and the issue at stake as I observe how the different platforms of the Register published the story.

The print edition of the Des Moines Register has this story in the bottom third of the front page and continuing on to take up nearly half of page 2A. They clearly deemed this story important enough to not only remain in section A, but to take up the second page. The print article references seven different sources throughout. In the top right corner of page 2A, there is a small section that says, About the Series and refers readers to go online for the full series, so I did.

My search on for “opioid” turned up more results than I expected. There have been opioid-related articles written in the Register every month, if not more, for the last year in a variety of sections, including health, crime and courts, editorials, news, Iowa view and politics.

On their verified Facebook, there is an article from 01/30/18 at 12:45 p.m. asking what the solutions are to the opioid crisis, stating it’s a problem that American isn’t treating like one. Then there’s an article about paper prescriptions being barred in a new bill being proposed in Iowa that was posted this morning at 6 a.m. Lastly, there’s another story about opioids with a catchy personal story as copy. It reads, “A picture of a bottle of Percocet pills is enough to make the medical director for Substance Abuse Services for Tennessee’s mouth water and hands tremble. He’s been clean for 13 years. That’s how powerful opioid cravings are.” Then the link takes you to the article “The science of Addiction: how opioids- and environment- change the brain.”

I could not find the exact same article on Facebook. On Twitter, the Register tweeted a picture of the man they referred to in the Facebook post on Percocet with a link to that story and much less copy. After searching for a while, I couldn’t find the same exact story on Twitter either. I also did not receive push notifications from the Register concerning this story, like I have for so many other stories in the past 48 hours.


Featured photo courtesy of Andrea Biklen, my classmate;
Cartoon wall photo is original to the author
DSM Register photo courtesy of the Des Moines Register

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