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“Headline Rodeos” and the Ever-Changing Face of the Newsroom

Man Reading News On Digital Tablet Social media shares. Impressions. Likes. We all know that the media is under pressure to produce web-friendly content and reporters’ success is often determined by whether or not their stories go viral.

The demand for digital news was recently underscored by changes at my hometown paper, The Dallas Morning News. An article from Poynter details the “revolution” the paper is undergoing; after a 2015 buyout offer that dozens of workers accepted, the remaining employees have been tasked with rebooting the paper and creating a compelling digital experience for their audience.

According to a statement from the paper, “Our entire approach to telling, presenting and promoting our stories has to change to serve our increasingly digital audience. Every job in the newsroom must change. We must set different priorities … the future is digital. In fact, the present is digital – and we’re missing out.”

After the buyout offers were completed, employees who stayed had to apply for new jobs at the paper – but it wasn’t as simple as reapplying for their current job because many of the positions were being phased out. Reporters also had to develop “obsessions” instead of beats. The rationale is that obsessions are relatively short-lived, and reporters need to adapt their focus as the news and trends change. Overall, the paper’s new mission is to report on exciting news that will get clicks — not on stale business news no one reads.

Perhaps most interestingly, The Morning News staff’s daily meetings now involve “headline rodeos.” While editors used to pitch news specifically for the paper, now they pitch headlines they think will live well on the web. Team members have to vote — or “click” — on the headlines they think will resonate with their audience most. The headlines with the most clicks wind up becoming the news.

Founded in 1885, The Dallas Morning News is one of the country’s longest-standing daily newspapers. As it leans into the digital realm with a laser focus on social sharing and making sure its articles are seen on Facebook’s Instant Articles, how does this affect “news” as we know it? Are we destined to become a society that craves info-tainment only? Will potentially-significant news be left on the cutting room floor?

We welcome you to share your thoughts on the NST Facebook page.

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