Thursday May 19, the day after South Africa’s recent local government elections and News24 has had their biggest day in history. Online the site was up by 100% while on mobile the increase in traffic was a phenomenal 150%.
We chatted to Jannie Momberg, news editor of News24, to see what it takes to keep an online newsroom on top of its game.
Your coverage of the local government election results has given News24 their biggest day so far. Why do you think the response has been so strong?
People have a vested interest in what goes on around them, and what will affect their daily lives. And the more informed they are, the more likely people are to speak up.
You had some really interactive and innovative ways of reporting the results. What was your strategy when it came to covering this event?
Our focus for this year’s local government election was focused in three areas. General news, results and social media. The interactive election results map was probably the most talked about feature of our coverage, but the general news and social media areas both played important roles informing our audience.
When big news stories are unfolding, timing and speed is crucial. Is this a key difference between an online newsroom and a print newsroom?
Yes. The first thing to remember is that print newsrooms work towards specific deadlines dictated by the printing presses. In the online sphere there are no deadlines. When dealing with breaking news stories, we are able to update as quickly as possible and on an ongoing basis. The way you source information, at what speed and how you publish content are all informed by the medium we work in.
When an important story breaks how long does it take for the news to hit News24?
Big news stories reach us almost immediately. As most “online only” news teams, we have very few staff out in the field, or on the ground so to speak. But information reaches us very quickly. We use a variety of sources like news wires, social media, user-feedback and TV.
What are the key/crucial logistics & tools involved in keeping an online newsroom current and able to publish quickly?
Editorially you only need a decent Internet connection and a CMS or content management system to publish to the various digital platforms. Our technical teams do a tremendous amount of work to ensure the design, development and operational requirements are in place at all times. When big news happens – like the election results – the pressure is not only on our editorial team, but also on our operations team. They have to ensure the content the editorial teams publish is available to our audience. In other words, they have to keep the website functioning when user demand is at its peak.
How does this amazing response to the election results compare to the recent big international stories like Osama’s death and the earthquake in Japan?
It is similar, but users are always more interested and engaged in local stories.
What is your strategy for retaining these users?
Obviously one always tries to attract new and varied users, and using social media is a very effective way to do so. Having said that, we will keep doing our best to get the news out as quickly and accurately as possible. It is a formula that keeps bringing users back.
What have your learnings been around this important milestone?
Digital platforms allow for information to be presented in a unique way that also involves our audience. The whole news experience is interactive, ongoing and almost represents a continuous flow of information. To stay ahead in this game is challenging, but also rewarding.