With a Bay Area news media career spanning nearly 35 years, Lisa Wrenn has had a front row seat in the late 90’s newspaper “glory days,” the 2000’s rise of digital media and consolidation of print publications, and today’s competitive multichannel news industry.
The Bay Area News Group (BANG) is a model of digital transformation, whether it’s expanding digital advertising, producing videos, or building responsive mobile sites. And the group’s consolidation of several Bay Area daily papers over the years is a direct response to declining revenues now that the Internet has changed the business model. At the same time BANG is trying to meet readers’ demands for more focused regional news. As Lisa explains, “Our challenge now is how to cover our large circulation area most effectively with our limited resources.”
I sat down with Lisa to learn how the transition from print to digital has affected her role as editor and the nature of local news today.
How has your role as an editor changed in the last 10 years?
My role as a manager is more important than ever. I’m managing change, and I’m required to do more things with fewer people. I have to identify people’s strengths and weaknesses, and fine tune the job to get their best work. My biggest challenge may be keeping up morale for people who haven’t had a raise in years!
Personally, my strongest skill set was working with writers on long narrative stories, but today we’re writing shorter and faster. I miss the luxury of working one-on-one with a writer to make a story even stronger. Still, we care a lot about integrity, so we work hard to get it right and get it first.
How has the transition from paper to digital affected the stories you publish?
The biggest difference is that now we have to drive traffic to our sites, and that drives how we make news decisions. What we think readers should know and what will drive traffic are sometimes in conflict. We like to take on big local issues, and we have a reporter who covers city hall, but even with local news we often are looking for a headline that is search engine friendly.
“Eat, Drink, Play” is one section that happily came about because we had to do something differently. We decided to make our former Food and Travel sections more Northern-California-specific to make it more valuable to regional readership. In print, our Thursday Eye for Mercury News readers and www.mercurynews.com/entertainment and TO Weekend (same URL) sections also are somewhat zoned and we focus on local arts. At the same time, if people want to Google a pop star we want the search to lead to us, so I have to be on top of pop culture news too.
What is the best way for PR pros to work with BANG reporters?
Take time to get to know what we’re looking for and who to reach out to. I get pitches all the time from people who don’t even know where our paper is located! It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure if you’re the right person” and send me a pitch as long you’re aiming in the right direction. I get tons of business pitches, and if one is good I will forward it to the right reporter or editor.
Email is still the best way to go, and a follow-up phone call doesn’t hurt. I get hundreds of emails a day so I have to triage, but I will listen to a thoughtful call and reply. And another tip: Include a color photo with an event pitch. In Features, at least, we are very art driven and if we get a good image that gives us more options we’ll use it in a best bet capacity.