EIC of The Daily, Axios talk future of journalism ahead of Smarter Faster Revolution

Sunday, December 10, 2017 - 9:28pm

Emma Kinery, editor in chief, The Michigan Daily

Journalism is changing tremendously — which, in some ways, makes being the editor of a college paper more difficult than it has ever been — but it’s also pretty exciting. The Michigan Daily operates editorially and financially independent of the University of Michigan; coming into the role of editor in chief, I didn’t realize there would be such an emphasis on the business side of things and on monetizing content, but that’s a necessary shift. When I first began at The Daily, we were discussing whether to prioritize print or digital, and we had just launched our new website. Now, there isn’t a discussion about whether to put digital first — it’s a given. It’s about creating compelling content, as well as thinking about how students and the community interact with The Daily. Newsrooms all over the country that have much greater resources and experience than we do are tackling these same issues, but the benefit of being a student-run paper is that there is greater leeway to take risks and make mistakes.

The Daily is unique in that we serve as the only five-day circulation paper in all of Washtenaw County. This means our audience is split between Ann Arborites and U-M students. With the data from a several-year readership survey and our new analytics team, we are seeking to engage our audience in more ways than ever before. We found community members are more likely to pick up a physical copy of the paper than students, who read our stories on the mobile site or social media pages; this affects what we decide to put on the front page. The physical paper tends to have stories on 1A that pertain to administration or the city, whereas the homepage of the website will often feature stories related to student life.

We are very interested in how readers engage with Daily content. The Daily recently launched the second beta version of our content app and will have it up on the App Store in coming weeks. This semester we also launched two new podcasts. We’re focused on increasing engagement on social media by looking at our post analytics and making headlines SEO- and social media-optimized, as well as putting a greater focus on bolstering our video team.

Our greatest successes, though, have been in evergreen content such as the campus map and LSA Grade Guide. In the making of the grade guide, we submitted FOIAs for class grade distributions so students registering can see the ranges of grades for classes. Despite being published over a year ago, the grade guideis consistently one of our most-read pieces. Currently, we are working on increasing the data and making grade guides for other colleges within the University of Michigan.

As media is changing, we are working to be a resource for students and are thinking critically about how to distribute our content and engage with our audience in new ways. It’s been a challenge rife with trial and error, but it’s a welcome one.

Mike Allen, co-founder and executive editor, Axios

Thank you to Emma and her colleagues at The Michigan Daily for welcoming Axios to campus for our Smarter Faster Revolution event this Wednesday at Ross School of Business, from 1 to 2 p.m. (sharp – we know you finals to study for). RSVP here.

I’ll lead a trio of rapid-fire conversations with three top CEOs: Postmates’ Bastian Lehmann on “The Era of the Entrepreneur,” Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co. on “Defining the Future of Work” and TaskRabbit’s Stacy Brown-Philpot on “Tech-Tonic Changes at Work.”

Why it matters: We’re building Axios to make people smarter, faster with news and information they can trust on the topics that will shape the world that Emma and her fellow Wolverines will run.

Axios is Greek for “worthy,” and the Smarter Faster Revolution is aimed at helping college students – our future bosses! – share worthy information on business, tech, media trends, politics, the future of work, the world, science and more. 

My favorite word in Emma’s article is “data.” I love that you’re trying to understand your readers, which will allow you to serve them better. When we wrote the Axios Manifesto, our first principle was: “Reader first!” We’re obsessed with reaching the most demanding news consumers with our efficient “smart brevity” format. We tell you “What’s new” and “Why it matters,” and skip all the white noise we’re so used to seeing in the media.

Another reason I loved your piece was your evident enthusiasm for serving the whole campus community. I had a blast on my college paper – The Ring-tum Phi, at Washington and Lee University in Virginia – and it gave me the bug for the fun life I have lived since then. Along with the honor of interviewing the world’s leaders and pioneers, I was scolded by a nun for opening my laptop in the Vatican, and was yelled at by my more senior colleagues when I got in the wrong van when babysitting a dinner run by President Bill Clinton. 

The findings by Emma and The Daily about the campus audience are very resonant with our theory of the case: The way for a news organization to win today is to be where the audience is, whether they want to watch, listen or read. The old days of getting automatic eyeballs – when people picked up the paper out of habit, or turned on the tube at a specific time – are gone. Now, we’re in minute-by-minute war for attention. 

RSVP here, good luck with finals and Go Blue!