Build your own corporate newsroom

Alabama NewsCenter

The front page of Alabama NewsCenter, by Alabama Power

Walmart did it. So did Alabama Power.

Your company can, too.

A corporate newsroom can be so much more than an elevated PR platform. It can give a brand a distinct voice in the community. It can sniff out news stories that would otherwise go uncovered. It can put good journalists back to work.

And when media outlets fail to staff or to cover entire beats and cities, it can be the sole way to get the word out about developments at companies big and small.

(Some may balk at newsrooms run by corporations. Having worked at a few media organizations in my career, I can say with first-hand experience that they were corporations first and news-gathering organizations second or third.)

What does it take to build a corporate newsroom? Is it as simple as putting reporters and resources together in one place?

As someone who has worked in newsrooms and put one together from scratch, let me give some pointers to companies and brands aiming high in their outreach.

Define your mission. Many news orgs don’t have a mission. This leaves them and their people wandering aimlessly, as the world passes them by. Don’t make this same mistake with your newsroom.

It can be simple by design: Share the business and economic development stories transforming Alabama in the 21st century. Give insights into the medical industry from the frontlines.

Sure, the mission must align with corporate goals. But it also must attract people, both storytellers and audience, to have a chance at success.

Define your metrics. Let’s assume this corporate newsroom isn’t going to be printing copies or buying airtime on stations. What will show that the mission is working?

It may serve as a “loss leader” in the company’s overall plan for growth and marketing. The important numbers could include page views, unique visitors, brand awareness, the number of stories picked up by media outlets, referral traffic to the main corporate site, leads, social shares, comments, views on social media channels, PDF downloads, news tips, complaints, time spent on site and viewing time on videos.

Clicks are only the beginning.

Hire pros. Journalists have made the leap from newsrooms to PR departments for generations. Perhaps we can steer some of them into their natural habitat, the newsroom. Plenty of employed and out-of-work journalists have the chops to report stories in words, pictures, charts and videos. Go for the ones who have a flair for experimentation.

It may be the TV reporter working on Facebook Live broadcasts. Or the writer who interacts regularly in Twitter chats. Or the veteran unafraid of a clickable headline and a slideshow or listicle.

Innovation should be part of the mix, not a foreign trait grafted on.

Find the ones whose skepticism hasn’t curdled into cynicism, who can connect with people powerful and not who have interesting perspective and deep insights.

Dig, dig, dig. We have more sources of news than ever, at the lowest costs, and yet it’s a bounty of shallow, thinly sourced, poorly crafted reports. Call it the digital news paradox.

The opportunity for corporate newsrooms is grand. Want to tell nothing but longform stories requiring resources and skill? Do it. Want to churn out 60-second clips that show the pulse of an industry? Yes! Want to own the story completely, whether that story is a ZIP code, a corporation’s charitable wing or all the stories overlooked by established TV, radio, print and digital outlets? It’s there for the taking.

Tell a community’s hidden stories. Stand out by offering what no other place does. What makes me despondent about the state of media is missed opportunities, when I look at the table of contents and consider all the stories that should have been told instead.

I’m not looking to corporate newsrooms to save journalism any more than paywalls, apps, hyperlocal hubs or consolidation. But I do believe that this is an opportunity to put great journalists back to work and to add more interesting voices to news.

All it takes is a strong commitment to tell good stories.

More on corporate storytelling.

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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.

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