May 31, 2018

A sit-down with The Boston Globe's Deputy Managing Editor, Larry Edelman

Long the dominant news outlet for New England, The Boston Globe is also a national leader among metropolitan newspapers in moving to the online/digital world. The Globe has one of the highest subscription rates in the industry—about 95,000 paying digital subscribers—which is a tribute to the quality and impact of the publication’s investigative journalism, sports, photography, opinion, cultural, and feature coverage. The Globe still prints and distributes more than 100,000 newspapers a day—and more than 200,000 on Sundays—but for the most part, has moved to a “digital first” approach to its reporting, including an entire “Express Desk” designed to keep a steady flow of new material popping on day and night.

How has this change affected what the Globe chooses to cover and emphasize?

Our CEO, Geri Denterlein, was very grateful to get some time recently with Larry Edelman, The Globe’s Deputy Managing Editor for Content Coordination, who works with all the departments in the newsroom to make sure there is a steady flow of stories for the website. Larry was the Globe’s Business Editor for five years in the ‘90s, and again from May 2015 to May 2017 before becoming Deputy Managing Editor. In between his Globe years, Larry was a Senior Editor at the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.

An edited version of Larry’s conversation with Geri follows:

Geri Denterlein– Brian McGrory first announced in April 2017 plans for the Express Desk (XD), along with an enhanced projects team, a print team, and a new “super department” encompassing news, business, and living/arts beat writers. How have the functions and responsibilities of the Express Desk evolved since then?

Larry Edelman – The creation of the Express Desk marked an expansion and centralization of real-time reporting efforts that had been underway for several years around the newsroom. The team includes reporters, columnists, story and photo editors, multiplatform editors who copy edit and post stories, home page producers, and social media specialists.

Their mission since the start has been to generate and curate content that drives traffic to throughout the day. They handle traditional local breaking news—crime, traffic, weather, and more—with their own reporters and in collaboration with the news department (formerly known as the Super Department). They identify stories that are capturing the imagination of the internet and do their own takes on them. They conceive their own enterprise stories. And they curate the wires for the biggest or most compelling national and world news.

A new component of the XD is the social media team. They are focused on engaging our subscribers and delivering our journalism to readers who may not otherwise see it. The group plans email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram campaigns for breaking news, features, and Globe projects (Spotlight and other investigations). They seek to improve search traffic through SEO, and they moderate story comments and The Globe subscriber Facebook group.

GD – If you can, tell us about a typical day in the life of the Express Desk. How many pieces of content are you producing? How many times a day is The Globe’s home page being reworked and refreshed?

LE – The Express Desk is a 24-hour breaking news operation. Police scanners are monitored, as is social media from law enforcement from all over the state, television, radio, and other websites. Shifts start in waves with an emphasis on the morning, i.e. 6 am, 8 am, 10 am, and 4 pm. Reporters are dispatched to the scene or work the phones and email. We produce anywhere from 20 to 40 pieces of content a day, including some stories that are updated numerous times throughout the day. The Globe's home page is being constantly refreshed.

GD – What can you tell us about the Globe’s second-by-second capabilities for monitoring what readers are clicking on and engaging with? How much do these affect editorial decisions?

LE – The Globe primarily uses two products to track and analyze readership. Chartbeat gives us a real-time look at click-through data for stories on the home page or any landing page. We can see how many clicks per minute a story is getting, and where that ranks for the position on the page. It also shows engagement time—how long a reader spends with a story—which is an important metric. We want readers spending a lot of time on the site. Chartbeat also shows us how many people are on the site, which stories have the most readers, and the source of the traffic (internal, social, email links, etc).

A second product, called Omniture, allows us to collect and analyze traffic for a day, week, month, etc. We can aggregate data on visitors, page views, most read stories, and sources. Taken together, Chartbeat and Omniture provide us with a deeper understanding of reader preferences and behaviors than we ever had with the print paper.

GD – How much do you have to balance the tension between wanting to present important journalism (i.e., giving readers material they’re interested in) and just maximizing clicks and time on site period?

LE – We don’t chase clicks. As a subscription-driven site, our priority is to deliver stories we know our paying readers want. Some of those stories are serious, some are fun, and hopefully are all interesting. The true challenge is to calibrate the paywall so its porous enough to allow in a healthy stream of nonsubscribers but not too porous that they can just read free stories. This is an ongoing process that is a mix of art and science.

GD – How would you describe the top 5 interests of online Globe readers? What kinds of stories perform best? Pets? Blizzard forecasts? Problems with the T? Drama with the Patriots?

LE – Sports, politics, local news, and investigations/long-reads reign supreme at The Globe. We also see strong interest in topics like weather, transportation, data reporting, and viral moments.

GD – How much “beat reporting” does the Express Desk do? For example, do you have police and fire departments you regularly check in on Twitter or their websites? Do you still have lists of news sources whom you have “cub reporters” call every day on the phone?

LE – The Express Desk interprets beats in a different way. We have a breaking local news corps that produces dozens of stories a week around things like fire, crime, search & rescue, etc. We also have writers who, while not traditional beat reporters, have specialties—trending local stories, underserved communities, data reporting, political analysis, science and medicine, etc. The topics may change day to day, but these reporters often stick to the themes they know best, as a good beat reporter would.

GD – How much value do you find in reader online comments? Have they ever led you to follow-up stories, or to add new angles to stories that have already been published?

LE – Reader comments are helpful mostly at the margins. We will sometimes discover an idea for a story, but mostly we review comments to see what kinds of reactions our stories elicit.