Oct 212009

Yesterday I had lunch with Roger Hughlett, assistant managing editor for the Washington Business Journal. It was past time we caught up. I first met Roger over a decade ago, when he was tech reporter for the Baltimore Biz Journal and I was with the startup that became Advertising.com.

I had been looking forward to lunch not only because Roger is a great guy and committed news pro, but also to get his take on social media. Being with the Bizjournals group for so long, I was interested to hear what a “traditional media” guy had to say about the seismic changes in how consumers get their news.

What I found was a fired up guy. Roger sounds like the point person inside WBJ working to make sure that social media tools support the Journal’s mission to serve readers. For one thing, every reporter has to be involved on Twitter, which is a great way to locate experts and solicit feedback. Surprisingly, some reporters need to be pushed a little, and some are slow to appreciate the feedback aspect of social media. I told him that sounds like some of my clients!

But the push at WBJ comes straight from the top – publisher Alex Orfinger has over 1,200 followers: http://twitter.com/AlexOrfinger

The WBJ uses a dashboard from Omniture to analyze traffic, and Twitter and Facebook are consistently in the top ten for referrer sites. Roger couldn’t give me hard numbers of course, but he did share that traffic to the site is up 40% August 2008 to August 2009.

Being a weekly, the WBJ never had the pressure to break stories like a daily newspaper, but in the past they still liked exclusives. Now, the focus is breaking news on the web site, and making sure that articles in the Friday print version add value to existing stories. Roger thinks that due to breadth of coverage the Journal has weathered the digital storm better than some publications, especially the technology trades.

Two more nuggets that might be useful for PR folks. Roger sees nothing wrong with direct tweets as a way to suggest a story or a source — but it better be a good one. And reporters at the WBJ aren’t judged primarily by how many clicks their stories get. I had heard this from some long-time tech reporters, and asked Roger how he evaluates online stories. He replied it’s subjective but he knows there are plenty of ways to fashion a story to get clicks, but that story might not be well researched or advance a reader’s understanding of an event or issue.

Any questions you would have asked? Let me know, and you can follow Roger on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rhughlett.

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