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How the Boston Globe is Transitioning to Digital Kathleen Kingsbury discusses the Globe reinventing itself

The Boston Globe is reinventing itself.

After its nearly 150-year history of print-centric reporting, the Globe is making major changes toward a more digital future.  In a 4,000-word memo released by Globe Editor Brian McGrory last week, the news titan revealed how it will be shedding old print habits and becoming more digital. In the statement, McGrory outlined how the Globe is seeking to become

more nimble, more innovative, and more inclined to take worthwhile risk; to get our best journalism in front of readers when and where they want to read it, throughout the day and across all our platforms; to be relentlessly interesting, jettisoning any sense of obligation in our report; to once and for all break the stubborn rhythms of a print operation, allowing us to unabashedly pursue digital subscriptions even while honoring the many loyal readers who subscribe to the physical paper.

In the wake of this release, we heard from Kathleen Kingbury, Managing Editor for Digital at the Boston Globe. Kingbury said the plan actually “isn’t that interesting” because news organizations across the world are taking the same steps. But she did mention three main ways the Globe seeks to make the digital transition.

Data Driven

Kingsbury said the Boston Globe is seeking ways to integrate data into story assigning. For example, last year Globe reporter Eric Moskowitz wrote a story The tragedy that Boston forgot, remembering a horrific trolley crash in Boston in 1916 which took the lives of 46 people. Globe reporters called it a “home run piece” because it garnered many page views and included social video, searchable data, and some audio elements. “It was gorgeous; every part of it was beautiful,” said Kingsbury.

However, they didn’t get any real, hard user data from the story. Though engagement time was over 10 minutes, Kingsbury said they had no idea how many people subscribed because of the article. They had a good sense of page views, but didn’t know how long people listened, or how users interacted with each page.

Today, the Globe is seeking to collect as much data as possible. Since Kingsbury began working as the Managing Editor for Digital, she said they’ve worked on almost 30 interactive projects. “We just needed to be faster, we needed more swings of the bat, we needed to get our things out there and learn from them and find out what works.”

Agile and Adaptive

According to Kingsbury, the Globe realized it had been behind its peers in terms of audience engagement. So lately, her team has been experimenting with lean startup principles to interact with readers. For example, the Globe killed its mobile app a few years ago, leaving them without an alert system. Instead of rebuilding it, her team has been experimenting with Facebook Messenger bots, discovering the click-through rates are actually six times more effective than a Facebook post and 20 times better than tweet.

Kingsbury’s team has also created a Facebook group for subscribers. With about 3,000 members, this group is filled with the Globe’s most loyal readers. “They are always offering their opinion and they love to interact with reporters and editors,” said Kingsbury. But the best group ambassadors are actually the Globe reporters themselves. “Our audience loves being able to recognize the staff,” said Kingsbury.

In May, the Globe will be streaming live for the first time on Facebook Live, asking their sub

Front-And-Center Storytelling

Finally, the Globe is seeking ways to separate its storytelling from their different platforms. “Now that we have so many stories, we really want to make sure we’re picking the best way to do it in every case,” said Kingsbury. One example of this came from the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. Instead of making a simple editorial, the Globe wanted to “go bigger” by creating a print and digital immersive experience. “We really wanted to create something that allowed for an actionable and empathetic response on the part of our audience,” said Kingsbury.

The three-day project resulted in a traditional editorial in their newspaper, as well as a digital and social product. Part of the story also involved the Globe tweeting out the names, ages and locations of every person who died in a mass shooting since the last assault weapons ban had been lifted in 2004.

Kingsbury said over six million people interacted with the tweets. The Globe also did something controversial by giving readers a call to action: creating pre-written tweets and emails that could be sent to six Senators who had the ability to change the law and make gun control happen in the United States. With examples like this, Kingsbury said she and her team is “always being unafraid to put our readers front-and-center.”

Jon Zmikly

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