What can be done, on the media side, to address this growing and historically high level of distrust? One answer: Invest in community and engagement editors. Mick Côté makes the case on this episode. He’s the engagement editor at the Montreal Gazette, Canada’s longest running daily newspaper, founded in 1778. Plus:
- How reading the comments makes better editors
- Why community can be a competitive advantage in an increasingly packed media landscape
- Bringing urgency to community management
“[Because they read the comments, our] editors are a lot more aware of what topics are really pertinent to our community. That helps us set out the assignment process. Because then we know that these people really care about this topic. … Knowing this, the editors are able to go in the story meetings and say, ‘Hey, all these people are talking about this one topic or this off-shoot of something that we wrote about, we should look into it.’ And so the whole commenting platform, for us, has been a huge blessing.” -@MickCote
“We’ve got reporters [and columnists] who have been with us for decades. They are adopting this social media and engagement thing on their own. … These people also go home and keep answering questions afterwards. But that’s because they truly care about the work. I am super lucky to be working with people who are adopting this type of engagement and this type of community management because I think, ultimately, it’s good for them but it’s also good for the state of journalism because it helps with credibility, with delivery – there’s just so much positive to it.” -@MickCote
“When people ask questions or send a message through our Facebook page, I want them to get a reply, even if it’s not something that I deal with. There’s people who send me a thing about ‘Oh, I didn’t receive my newspaper this morning.’ A lot of people would just say, ‘That’s not my job. I’m an editor, I don’t know your address, I don’t have access to all this stuff.’ But you’re also part of that whole system. You have to make it work, and you have to make it a place that people want to engage with. So, yeah, I’ll forward that message to the subscriptions department and make sure that they handle it. There’s a bit of customer service that goes with it. I think putting the reader first is hugely beneficial.” -@MickCote
“I have a problem with this traditional journalism view of we are providing the information to you and then our doors are largely locked, or you can’t speak to us unless you file a letter to the editor. It’s not about that anymore. It’s wide open. There’s all sorts of publications on the web now. How can we become or remain one of the most trusted? … The way to do it is not by telling your audience to just eat this and then go share it for me and click on my website, please. The way is to engage and to be a person. People aren’t stupid, they know that there are people behind these accounts, they know we’re not robots, they know we read the comments. So, why not just be a part of the conversation?” -@MickCote
“There’s a huge part of engagement editing, in community management, that is traditional customer service. I used to work at Gap, and I feel like sometimes I’m still working at Gap.” -@MickCote
About Mick Côté
Mick Côté is a journalist with a passion for storytelling and a digital strategist with an obsession for engagement and audience growth. He has been managing communities since graduating from the masters of journalism program at the University of King’s College, with a focus in digital publishing and entrepreneurial journalism. He is currently the deputy executive producer for web at the Montreal Gazette.
- Mick on Twitter
- Montreal Gazette, where Mick is the deputy executive producer for web
- Montreal Gazette Facebook video about walking on icy sidewalks
- Montreal Gazette Facebook live video about the icy weather in Montreal, featuring Mick
- How CNN and The New York Times Moderate Comments by Patrick, an article that later became a South by Southwest conference panel, which is how Mick and Patrick first connected
- Twitter conversation, between Mick and Patrick, about newsrooms and liability for comments, that spawned because of that panel
- U.S. Community Managers: Get to Know the Communications Decency and SPEECH Acts by Patrick
- Postmedia Network, a Canadian media company that owns the Montreal Gazette
- Community Signal podcast with Sarah Lightowler of CBC
- CBC’s primer on Crown corporations
- Jake Tapper of CNN on Twitter
- Dan Rather on Facebook
- Mick’s tweet about volume quotas related to engagement
- Scaled Back: Why Publishers Are Rethinking Their Pursuit of Huge Numbers by Max Willens, tweeted by Mick
- Mick’s website
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using #CommunitySignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
0:21 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and welcome to Community Signal. This week our guest is Mick Côté, deputy executive producer for the Montreal Gazette’s website. We’ll be discussing how engagement can help solve the media’s trust issues, why community is making better editors and bringing urgency to community management. Mick is a journalist with a passion for story telling and a digital strategist with an obsession for engagement and audience growth. He has been managing community since graduating from the Masters of Journalism program at the University of King’s College with a focus in digital publishing and entrepreneurial journalism. Mick, welcome to the program.
0:52 Mick Côté: Thanks for having me.
0:53 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure. So let’s get some kind of basic stats and figures out of the way. What’s the volume that you’re seeing as far as engagement both on the Montreal Gazette website and elsewhere. And what is the team that takes care of that, that touches those channels. What do they look like?
1:06 Mick Côté: So Montreal Gazette, first and foremost, is a news sites. So, we are the only remaining daily English newspaper in Montreal.
1:12 Patrick O’Keefe: Interesting.
1:13 Mick Côté: Which is mostly a French place, pretty bilingual but we’re the only English paper. The volume kind of varies. Now, for the most part I can’t necessarily share how many unique visitors we get to the site but we’re definitely in hundreds of thousands of people who come to the site daily and weekly, depending on the breadth of the or the importance of the news, I suppose. We manage various communities and what we try to do is we try to play with every social network as it’s own platform. So, although we have our website with it’s own commenting platform, we always treat, let’s say, our Facebook account or Facebook page as its own separate platform even though the content is similar, the voice will be different than the community management style walls so be altered for that space. So on Facebook right now, we have- I think we’re up to 120,000 likes and the reach can vary anywhere between 200k to, today for example, we’re at five million because we really had a big hit on a video. So that kind of stuff varies. That’s for the reach, the engagements also varies kinda up and down but that’s the way news goes usually.
2:14 Patrick O’Keefe: What was the video?
2:15 Mick Côté: It was last Tuesday. We had a terrible freezing rain instance in the morning. So all of the sidewalks were covered in ice and we had a brilliant reporter who went out and just stood on the corner and shot, basically, just the sidewalk and people walking, basically hips down.
2:30 Patrick O’Keefe: I saw that one. The different walking styles?
2:32 Mick Côté: That’s it.
2:33 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. I was just doing my research. Of course, I follow the Montreal Gazette every single day, certainly, but just in doing my research, I saw that video. I also saw you posted some live video, walking that day, right?
2:44 Mick Côté: That’s correct. We try to do two different things to see what got the most engagement and what got the most reach. That’s something that we try to do once in a while especially depending on what feature Facebook let’s us do or different platforms like if we do an Instagram live story or if we just share it as a straight story, we try to take one event and see what sticks best with different audiences. In this case, even though the live, I think, was good, it was also commuting time so people weren’t necessarily looking at a live feed on Facebook but the video had, once it started getting a lot of reach and a lot of impact, it just went crazy it was like setting fire to something. It just like kept spreading.
3:19 Patrick O’Keefe: So you mentioned you know you’re active on upon various social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. – you also have onsite comments. Who’s responsible for that? How does that work as far as who handles the UGC coming in when people are on YouTube or when people send you something on Facebook or Twitter or the comments onsite. Is it, you know sometimes it’s just one person? I’m sure you have other people there, it’s not just you. So, how does that work?
3:40 Mick Côté: We do. So, I’m the main engagement editor for the Gazette, so I’m the one who generally kind of takes care of the UGC and that kind of stuff. Obviously, I’m not here 24/7, but there’s a wonderful team of online editors. So they’re the ones who usually handle the editing of stories, the grammar, the set-up, the pages, that kind of stuff. And they’re also trained to keep track of comments. Now, for the most part, we have the editorial board so like the masthead. That will also decide if we’re doing some kind of UGC project or if we have to shut comments down on certain stories. So, those decisions come from myself and a group of senior editors. But the bulk of the editors who work online are trained to recognize comments and to check them out as well in case there is people pointing out mistakes or in case people can further the story along or get in touch with us. It’s a good way.
4:27 Patrick O’Keefe: So, those editors, I mean, I don’t know how long they’ve been there, but certainly editors have existed on the web for quite a while. So those people just got a new task, right? At the end of the day, they just got a new thing piled on there. How do you feel about that? Is that a good thing? In an ideal world, would that be the case? What are your thoughts?
4:42 Mick Côté: You know, I think it’s funny to see how people work and are able to alter and change and learn for their positions. So, I mean obviously, you’re right by saying that these editors have been around for a long time. Most of them started off in print because the Montreal Gazette, first and foremost, was a newspaper, to see how they’ve adopted to learn new tricks and to really figure out this whole common thing and this whole engagement thing works, has been tremendous. We’re still learning, we’re still trying stuff out, but I think we’ve used all managed to get to a certain level where everyone is very comfortable with, the basics of web publishing and we can grow from there. So, like you said the team’s been around for a while and they’re all handling comments really well, people know to keep an eye on them. There’s certain rules in Quebec that forbid us from moderating comments, meaning that if we start moderating, if we don’t do it 24/7, we are then liable for any kind of defamation or libel. So, the publication wouldn’t be protected because it’s essentially a published item on your publication. So, we do have to be careful on the ways we keep track of comments and keep track of conversations. So rather than moderate ourselves, we open it up to a community moderation type. Even though we don’t have up votes or down votes, we are building this community by conversing with them and making sure that people are like policing themselves and each other.
6:02 Patrick O’Keefe: So, it’s funny you brought that up cause I wanted to talk about that because we first came in contact through a panel that I developed for South by Southwest, How CNN and The New York Times Moderate Comments. In March of 2015, we had a brief conversation on Twitter about newsrooms that opted to forego comment moderation because it made them responsible for libel and defamation. And I said at that time, and this is still true, at least until Donald Trump follows through on his vow to “open our libel laws.” But in the US, we are fortunate to have Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which to be brief, makes it so that the author of the words – online comment, forum post, tweet, whatever it is – is the one legally responsible for it. And as long as you don’t edit those comments and add meaning to them of your own and become a party to the speech, we’re empowered to moderate our communities without consequence but that’s the US. And, as you just kind of alluded to, not Canada. And during our Twitter conversation, you said that “Canadian media lawyers seem to believe in staying away from comments because of the lack of precedent.” So, you kind of touched on it, but legal climate for UGC and community in Canada, how would you describe it?
7:03 Mick Côté: You know it’s changing now, because we’re obviously seeing the same kind of political climate that you have in the United States. The discourse is changing and the way people talk to each other is changing, the way publications are also handling themselves is changing, we’re seeing a lot more, I wouldn’t say journalism, but partisan publishing websites that are taking sides. And the comment sections being wide open. The thing is, with a traditional newspaper like ourselves, we do our best to remain unbiased as much as we can. And so we can’t let the comment section become a place that could be potentially problematic for us. Because we cherish it as a part of the conversation, it’s like a forum for the community. And especially the Montreal Gazette being the English newspaper, the representative of the English community in Montreal, we feel it’s important to have that space and to let people voice their opinions. What’s really great about what’s happening is, we still see the trolls, we still see the arguments kind of happening in the comment section, but for the most part, I think, from the point that the editors started paying more attention and just giving slight warnings to people fostering a positive kind of atmosphere for conversation and for growth, for community growth and to treat it to what the comment section was about in the first place, when we started seeing them online, as forums of discussion and not just mud-slinging. And so I think we have the opportunity and the chance of having, I mean, it’s both a blessing and not, but having a smaller community and a focused local community makes it easier for us to manage and foster that kind of relationship with the audience. Obviously some people are out of line and those people have to be moderated out because some of the stuff we see online, as one would expect, is just not acceptable. But, for the most part, I think we’ve been able to circumvent those limitations in the law and our audience seems to be handling it so properly.
8:55 Patrick O’Keefe: So, just speaking tactically for a second, so you mentioned how you’re limited and how you can moderate because you don’t wanna be held responsible but you also mentioned moderating people out, you mentioned self-policing and you mentioned warnings. So, what is that look like? Do you have to wait for a report to come in, what’s your philosophy? Or do you have a set of guidelines your moderating against, what is it about the law in Canada that is limiting you in moderation and how does someone get moderated out?
9:20 Mick Côté: Yeah. So, basically the way we moderate out is if anything goes against the basic human rights call for what we deal for in Canada, so any kind of comments or attack on race, religion, any kind of sexual minorities, for example, that kind of stuff. That gets moderated out because this is kind of the baseline for what is unacceptable. We won’t let that kind of bullying be a thing and I think that’s a stance the editorial board took a while back and that most publications, anyway the ones that we deal with in our network, in the Postmedia Network, are kind of based on. The problem is that, not being able to moderate because of potential libel and defamation laws, obviously, kind of limits the way we can manage our community. Because in a way, that’s not enough staff and not enough resources in the newsroom to moderate 24/7. And nor do we have the resources to outsource through a third party to do that same kind of moderation. So, what we decided to do as a network in the first place, is team up with Facebook for the commenting platform. So, we do have Facebook commenting on our website and therefore, the comments go through Facebook’s own spam filters, in the first place, and we were able to set parameters of words that we don’t want to see appear on the site or on our Facebook page. Those kind of filtered out automatically. And then we can go from a pretty clean conversation and start there.
10:41 Patrick O’Keefe: Interesting. But when you mentioned the human rights call, are you aligning with the law of Canada, is that what you’re saying there and using that as sort of a fallback and say “yes, we can remove this because it’s aligning with the law” or what were you saying there?
10:52 Mick Côté: We are. Yeah. I think the best way to put it is that we are aligning with the general basis of human rights and so any kind of discrimination against minorities, whether racial or religious, sexual minorities and anything that kind of engenders that is a fair right for us. That kind of commentary is wiped out if it’s in terms of negative comments. Everything is looked at and most of these things get reported to us, anyway, like a commentor will say “Hey, this comment by this person, to me, is potentially libelous or is not right or is racist,” just something like that and then we’ll take a look at it. And if it’s a blatant racist remark, for example, that in our opinion has no place on our website or on our publications. So that gets, usually, hidden because we deal with the same kind of moderation style as Facebook offers, like the features that they offer. So, we’ll hide the comment. But if that person’s a repeat offender or clearly just trolling the site for no good reason and being harmful to that conversation, then those people can’t get banned from the page.
11:47 Patrick O’Keefe: You know, I mentioned Section 230. The point of that is that the platform is not liable. But it sounds like what you’re saying the platform in the Canada can be held liable.
11:53 Mick Côté: That’s correct. Yes.
11:55 Patrick O’Keefe: If I can simplify the whole argument for people. In Canada, if you put it online, if you didn’t write it, you can be held liable. In the US, we’re usually pretty good there as long as we’re not participating in the speech ourselves. So, I think that’s frustrating. I mean, do you find it frustrating in Canada?
12:11 Mick Côté: I do find it frustrating and I have to be clear, though. I think and I would have to double check this, I think this is a Quebec specific. So like our provincial law. I don’t know if that’s the case all around Canada. I know some of our other sister publications within the Postmedia umbrella might not have to deal with this kind of thing but the lawyers based in Quebec, who are our legal advisers, have told us that “this is the law and that the publication is held liable.”
12:35 Patrick O’Keefe: You’re getting into a whole depth of Canadian law and now we’re getting provincial. So, I wanna go back to those editors because — do you think that handling the UGC comments makes them better editors at all? Like, if they had a comment about how a story was formatted or how a fact was presented, do you think they’re picking up anything from that? Is that helping them be better at their main job?
12:55 Mick Côté: A hundred percent. I don’t think it’s a secret that traditional newsrooms are depleting, our resources are cut pretty drastically. We’re looking for new ways to do things and new ways to bring in money. And so, having said that, our team is much smaller than it used to be and so sometimes things do fall through the cracks and it’s unfortunate, but it’s something that happens. We’re still handling the same amount of content, we’re still focusing on the same stories but the teams are just trying as big as they used to be. And so, having that kind of extra voice, either it’s the voice of reason or just saying “Hey, this doc is misrepresented” or “Did you see this happened as well?” or “You have a typo in the name of this person.” We do get these kinds of comments and this kind of feedback and it does help the editors. You know some stories just get, I wouldn’t say re-written, because generally if the story is published it’s been thoroughly gone, it’s been thoroughly revised, but if the name is misspelled and someone lets us know then yeah that goes through. I think the editors are a lot more aware as well of what topics are really pertinent to our community and that helps us set out the assignment process as well. Because then we know that “Okay, these people really care about this topic.” So, obviously, they look to us to cover a certain thing. So, knowing this, the editors are able to go in the story meetings and say “Hey, all these people are talking about this one topic or this off-shoot of something that we wrote about, we should look into it.” And so the whole commenting platform for us has been a huge blessing.
14:22 Patrick O’Keefe: A few weeks ago, I had Sarah Lightowler from CBC on the show and I guess we’re having a Canadian media month here on Community Signal. But the CBC is a Crown corporation, you know it’s state-owned. And according to the CBC’s own primer of the topic, for those unfamiliar, “a Crown corporation is accountable to Parliament to the minister responsible for that particular corporation and that minister, with approval of the federal cabinet, appoints the corporation’s board of directors, and the cabinet, technically the governor in council, appoints the CEO and determines the rate of pay for all directors and the CEO.” And I asked Sarah how that might impact her work as opposed to her counterparts at most other large media outlets who are independently owned at least from the state or the government. And she’s currently at CBC and represents that perspective. Now I know you spent a year, about, at CBC working as a web journalist and now you’ve been at the Montreal gazette for more than three years. Now I was curious, what’s your take on that question? Do you think it’s all the same work? Do you think being a Crown corporation impacts an audience engagement editor or community person in a different way from being at an independent organization?
15:22 Mick Côté: It does and it doesn’t. I know that’s the answer you really want.
15:25 Patrick O’Keefe: I just want the honest answer.
15:27 Mick Côté: Yeah. It does and it doesn’t. I think ultimately — at the end of the day, we’re all doing the same work. The work is to inform the public. And this is for the public good and to help shape opinions. And, I think no matter what, as long as organization do their jobs, their journalistic job and follow the proper ethics and the proper rules, then people are properly informed. The place where differs is that being part of a larger, we’re part of the larger umbrella, a big network of community newspapers or newspapers whereas the CBC, like you said, is the Crown corporation, is that we don’t necessarily always have the same resources, our revenue doesn’t come from the same place. I know CBC has had some hard times as well, especially in the past few years. There are a lot of cuts from the government. So, I don’t think anyone is safe from these cuts that we’re seeing in journalism and we’re all finding new ways to provide information to our readers or to our viewers. But, ultimately, the biggest the difference – I guess I will have to say it from the time that I worked at CBC for that brief period and though I wasn’t privy to the big management conversations – is that they do have access to their television, their radio, their digital and so having access to these various formats is a huge opening to them. You know it’s a step above what a lot of people can do because, for the most part, our photographers on our end have had to re-learn their trade to become videogaphers to satisfy the need for video online and for video on social. So, I guess the ways work are different and we’re all impacted by these cuts but ultimately the endline – the work, the product – should be all the same.
17:01 Patrick O’Keefe: Before the show I asked you about community related challenges that you are facing and you said the following, “Engaging with communities that are growing increasingly weary of news sources or information and maintaining good engagement practices can be tough, especially when many media organizations are focused on the delivery aspects of news but tend to shy away from engagement, as an effort with little return on investment. I try to bring a human aspect to news sharing and a certain immediacy and urgency to community management.” “Increasingly weary” is even a kind description. In the United Stated, at least, because I can’t speak for Canada, I can’t remember a time when the media in the general was so poorly regarded by so many people. Do you think that audience engagement and community is part of the answer of making that better?
17:48 Mick Côté: Absolutely, 100%. I think there is a need to have editors, I would even say to have the reporters comment on their stories or at least be a part of the moderation or the conversation post publishing. Because it (a.) brings human behind it. It also brings — sometimes there’s facts or there’s figures that don’t make it into a story and people are questioning certain things and that person would be able to step in. I think it’s a huge, huge, huge aspect. My big issue, however, is that a lot of publishers are not necessarily looking at social networks, I’m thinking mostly Facebook in this case, in terms of delivery measures, are not necessarily looking at Facebook as a way to build loyal communities and the loyal following. But more so as a distribution, because they’re losing traffic to their websites. Therefore, losing in revenue, because there’s fewer ads being seen and that kind of stuff. The problem with treating Facebook as solely a delivery method, is that if you’re delivering all your content through it or publishing your content and hoping that Facebook delivers it to the audience and then you get traffic in return, that’s all fine and well. But if you’re not managing that community, if you’re not a part of it, if you don’t know what’s being said about you, you lose touch with (a.) the reader and what they want. But you also lose touch with your brand and, I think, your mission statement as a newspaper, which is to inform. But the thing now is that we’re not just the people informing, the communities are also informing us of things that happen because they are so in touch with everything. So, yeah, to get back to a simpler answer, I absolutely think that community engagement and social media management is a huge benefit to the journalism industry.
19:28 Patrick O’Keefe: Hey, I like it. I mean we like detailed answers on Community Signal. So, you don’t have to be simple. So, your answer was the approachability of journalists, right? Being connected to people who read their stories, answering questions and comments, being someone that’s more than just sort of, I don’t know, monolithic figure, right? And, the way that news used to be delivered at least, from my perspective – I’m not that old we’re about of the same age – but you would report the stories and you’d receive them, right? I remember a time when there wasn’t an internet in my life, really. So, we’re kinda last generation of that or close to it. And you would receive it and that was it. Now, it’s almost like, if that’s your approach, from what you’re saying and from what, sure, I’ve seen as well, is that if you’re not actively engaging with people, there’s almost a more likely level of distrust. Where if you’re not willing to answer questions, if you’re not willing to talk to people as compared to the people who are out there engaging with people – in the comments or even on social networks like reporters and journalists and writers and authors who have Twitter accounts and answer questions like, for instance, I follow CNN’s Jake Tapper, I like Jake Tapper a lot, I’m a big fan of him. I see him just respond to random people all of the time. He’s like, “No, that’s not correct” or “Yes, this was this.” And I guess just being accessible is one way to answer, I guess, what is a growing credibility issue with the media.
20:46 Mick Côté: Absolutely! And I would never ask reporter’s editors to be on 24/7. You don’t have to be tied to your Twitter account.
20:53 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. Actually, again, we’re adding tasks, right? They used to just be journalists, “Oh well, here’s this new thing.”
20:58 Mick Côté: Yeah. And we have to be weary, we have to be weary of the mental health of our people as well, right? We need to keep our workhorses strong. But I think these people, our reporters or editors, the people working newsrooms are the experts in these topics and the things that they cover. They know it sometimes better than the people giving them the information, because they have that kind of historical knowledge or they have all the documents and they’ve gone through them with a fine tooth comb over and over and over. Or it’s easy for them to relay information as is provided. And I don’t understand why someone would prefer a robotic masthead or brand telling them “This is the news and this is all I’m giving you.” If you have questions, we’re in this age of social media of like super rapid connection. Why wouldn’t you want to build your own audience, as a journalist as part of a bigger brand? I think, ultimately, there’s no newspaper or publication without the people who work for it. Journalism is the reporters, it’s not the thing that it’s printed or published on.
22:01 Patrick O’Keefe: And I know he’s not as active a journalist as he once was but Dan Rather’s killing it on Facebook right now. I see his post and it’s not so much engagement, I guess. I think it’s a form of engagement but I mean his post are – I don’t like the word viral – but they’re viral. Like everything he writes get shared and liked and passed along. And there might not be a greater example of a traditional journalist alive, than Dan Rather.
22:23 Mick Côté: Exactly. And we have people here, too. We’ve got reporters who have been – or columnists as well – who have been with us for decades. And they are adopting this social media and engagement thing on their own. Without it necessarily – it’s not company policy – we don’t ask our reporters or editors to keep track of comments- comments, yes, on the stories just because it’s there and more eyes on it, the better. But the people who go directly to them, and you know, it’s up to them if they want to reply on Twitter or not or how they wanna manage their social media presence, for the most part. There’s certain baselines, there’s certain guidelines that we expect our reporters to have. But most of them go above and beyond the call of duty. Not only do they – we send them out in the warning to cover a certain thing – but they have to file by a certain time, it has to be edited, it has to re-filed, they have updates to file, they have photos and videos to shoot or edit. But these people also go home sometimes and keep answering questions afterwards. But that’s because they truly care about the work. I am super lucky to be working with people who are adopting this type of engagement and this type of community management because I think ultimately it’s good for them but it’s also good for the state of journalism because it helps with credibility, with delivery, there’s just so much positive to it.
23:40 Patrick O’Keefe: When you say that you try to bring a certain urgency to community management, what does that mean?
23:45 Mick Côté: I step into the story meeting every morning, we have a story meeting at 10 during weekdays, my role in that meeting – well, it’s kind of two-fold or three, I should say I guess. That –
23:55 Patrick O’Keefe: Just keep adding folds. You don’t need to count. Just start talking.
23:59 Mick Côté: For the most part, my role is to step into that meeting and say “Okay, here are the stories that all the sections, whether news, business, sports, arts, life, health have coming. How are we, on the web, going to present these to our audience, knowing that the audiences are so vastly different on different platforms. Our Facebook audience is different from our website audience is different from our smartphone audience, how are we going to present these stories? Do they need to be written a certain way? Do they need to be formatted a certain way?” So that’s kind of number one, in terms of like how do we set up so that people truly engage with these stories that we know are important to them, but we need to make them accessible. So, story accessibility is number one and then after that, does anyone care? Is the story truly something that people will care about? Usually the section editors have a good sense of what people care about. Obviously, they’ve been here for very long time, covering the Montreal community and the Montreal market. And then lastly, the other part of it, the urgency aspect is that kind of, I want immediacy, I want my community to know, if there’s breaking news. they know it now but it’s not always about being first, it’s about being right. And knowing that we can be a source of trusted information, that kind of immediacy, for me, is really important. When people ask questions or send a message through our Facebook page, I want them to get a reply, even if it’s not something that I deal with. There’s people who send me a thing about “Oh, I didn’t receive my newspaper this morning.” A lot of people would just say, “Well, that’s not my job. I’m an editorial editor, I don’t know your address, I don’t have access to all this stuff.” But you’re also part of that whole system. You have to make it work, and you have to make it a place that people want to engage with. So, yeah, I’ll forward that message to the subscriptions department and make sure that they handle the stuff. There’s a bit of customer service, I guess, that goes with it. And I think putting the reader first is hugely beneficial.
25:45 Patrick O’Keefe: If you’ve got someone paying for the newspaper, you want to hang onto that person.
25:50 Mick Côté: Yeah, that’s it! And plus I have this problem with this traditional journalism view of, you know, we are providing the information to you and then our doors are largely locked or you can’t speak to us unless you file a letter to the editor. It’s not about that anymore, it’s wide open. There’s all sorts of publications on the web now. So, how can we become or remain one of the most trusted or remain that entity that is, I think, hugely important and a huge player in the journalism industry. That goes not just for the Gazette, but for all sorts of traditional media or companies that do journalism. The way to do it is not by telling your audience to just eat this and then go share it for me and click on my website, please. The way’s to engage and to be a person. People aren’t stupid, they know that there’s people behind these accounts, they know we’re not robots, they know we read the comments. So, why not just be a part of the conversation? We have access now but whereas, we never use that access to them.
26:49 Patrick O’Keefe: You know, people have a lot of choice for news. I mean, I guess that’s what you’re going at. Like people have so much choice for news and information. Some good, some bad, right? But why should they stick with you? If they have that relationship with you, if they can get an answer on Facebook, maybe they didn’t ask the right person, but if that person’s nice, then they’re gonna stick around.
27:09 Mick Côté: Yeah, and even if they ask us something that we can’t answer, looking for the answer usually doesn’t take that much time. The role, I think, of a community manager or an engagement editor, in the concept of news, is just that – it’s to engage. It’s like the very basic part of the job, like it says it in the job title. You are the engagement editor, therefore, you have to engage with your audience. You’re not just there to devise new ways to get your content seen and heard or read, you’re there to be that kind of ambassador for the newspaper and to talk to the readers.
27:42 Patrick O’Keefe: And it’s a good example of the fact that, in community, this has always been true and it’s just as true for engagement editors, from what you’re saying is, you know, a lot of community – like I don’t like when people say, “We need the community manager, we need the hire a rockstar.” It’s like, eh, a lot of community work is done quietly, it’s done behind the scenes, it’s done one to one. Once in a while, there’s a big public win, right? Once in a while there’s this big great public community project but for the most part, on a day to day basis, you’re kind of dealing with hearts and minds and people on a one to one or one to two or one to three basis that maybe everyone else won’t know about. But, for those individuals and those people, you’re building that really, really strong connection.
28:24 Mick Côté: Absolutely. And it’s not easy. You know, it’s not. And it’s not say that my job, “Oh, it’s so difficult,” but arguably news is never really tremendously happy. And so a lot of the comments that we read often are people who are dismayed or disappointed. We’re seeing it all over the place right now, post election, as well. The thing is, is that that’s a part of it, too. And as an editor, you have remain unbiased, you have to understand that you have a position, obviously, but your job is to not have one at this moment, during your 9 to 5, let’s say. But the thing is, these people are sharing their opinions and their views, and why don’t you value that? Whether it’s what you believe in or not. These people are taking the time to share, and I think that’s tremendous. They’re sharing and, to them, it’s like why wouldn’t I give them the courtesy, at least, of letting them know that they’re being heard or that we’re taking things into consideration? They’re taking the time to be a part of what we’re putting out there. Like I said before, there’s a huge part of engagement editing in community management that is kind of traditional customer service. I used to work at Gap and I feel like sometimes I’m still working at Gap.
29:29 Patrick O’Keefe: It gave you a good basis.
29:30 Mick Côté: Yeah. And trying to make sure that these people are satisfied. The news isn’t always what satisfies them, but I think there’s a huge benefit in, like I said, in just listening to these people. More often than not, sometimes there’s beautiful stories that can come out that kind of UGC that we get back, in the comment section or via a Tweet or Instagram story.
29:48 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s funny you mention Gap because I’ve definitely heard that before – people working in retail and customer service. In my family, I’m the only one who hasn’t worked in the hospital industry. My dad, that’s his business, he’s been in the hospital industry for my entire life. My mom is a hospitality trainer, my brother has been a server, bartender, my other brother’s a busser. I’m the only one that…
30:06 Mick Côté: That’s crazy.
30:06 Patrick O’Keefe: … that hasn’t worked that. But it does inform me and my perspective in how I approach community. So, I think that’s very true. Earlier this month, you tweeted “Newsroom engagement editors/social media types. Looking for intel on those who have experimented with setting volume quotas over engagement.” And then, later this month, you shared an article on Max Willens at Digiday, titled “Scaled back: why publishers are rethinking their pursuit of huge numbers,” about how some media outlets are focusing on publishing a small number of stories, that are more detailed and thoughtfully written and that some larger media organizations may cut down on the large number of stories they publish everyday. Clearly, volume is on your mind. Specifically, where do you think that could impact audience engagement?
30:47 Mick Côté: We have been doing several kind of different tests. We do have to use the use these platforms – I’m thinking Facebook, Twitter, etc, etc. – these delivery platforms, we have to experiment with them and see what works best. So we have done volume tests on Facebook, we’re currently doing one. And just trying to see how does it impact our website, how does it impact our engagement or in our community. We have to see what gives. The thing is though, is that, like I said before, newsrooms for the most part, are cutting resources or cutting people and that’s no secret. We’re seeing it everywhere. I think we have to rethink the opportunities we have with these platforms and the opportunities that we have to do our job well with the resources that we have. Obviously, the two pieces that you’ve mentioned, the two things that I said are kind of the opposite of one another because we are, as I said, we try the high volume thing.
31:37 Patrick O’Keefe: I thought they went pretty well together. One article was about shutting down the volume, another other was setting up volume quotas. I thought that’s pretty good. I wasn’t trying to…
31:43 Mick Côté: That’s true.
31:43 Patrick O’Keefe: … catch you in a contradiction.
31:45 Mick Côté: That’s true, I suppose. I think it’s because of the current situation where we are trying a high volume approach on social to see how it impacts.
31:51 Patrick O’Keefe: And just to be clear a volume test, high volume, you’re talking about just a number of posts you’re making, the number of stories you’re pushing out, etc?
31:57 Mick Côté: That’s correct. And because we don’t have the people to produce more stories, most of them are coming from wires and from our sister publications. Which is something that we do anyway – cross post media – sharing stories nationwide but publishing more of the national, the world stories, whereas we used to focus a lot more on the local content and our local community. So trying to see how does that impact it? And I think that the story that I read on Digiday, and that I shared, I think is hugely interesting to see, “Okay, these people who are seeing their resources cut are also opting to cut down on the number of things they publish to do a better job or at least that’s what the premise is, who knows if it’s actually gonna work or not. But, ultimately, let’s say you start treating the topics that people are really interested in, that your community is interested in as verticals, let’s say, or as your headline topics or the topics that your organization decides to cover and to focus it’s attention on. Why wouldn’t you, instead of publishing a story a day about it, publish one really freaking great, amazing analysis or like a big feature on it and devote more resources to this stuff that people really want to know about, why won’t you do that if you have smaller resources? I think, for a long time, and I think it’s still what we’re seeing. is that the digital publishing industry is so focused on – and that’s because of broken business model of revenue ads – but the clickthroughs, we’re not seeing the same amount of clickthroughs and people keep complaining that Facebook is eating our lunch because it’s only sharing so many stories to the audience and the algorithm is limiting to how many people we can reach and how many people see our stories. But if we publish also some content that is to satisfy like a daily envy, I don’t necessarily see the benefit to it, because I think if we were to use our resources properly, or at least that’s kind of the way I’m seeing it right now, if we are to use your resources properly, and to approach content and to provide quality content based on what we’re able to do, which means taking a longer to do it. When we get more engagement and more traffic from that, like when we have more of a chance to craft things that have higher impact. So I’m kind of a big fan right now of higher impact versus higher volume. I think higher impact is where we should be going, I think engagement in general is something we should be able to monitize eventually, if that’s what the digital industry is looking for. We’re obviously seeing huge issues with the current business models. So why not just spend our time in crafting proper content that is informing people.
34:26 Patrick O’Keefe: My hope for Community Signal is that we are high impact. And not just volume. It’s once a week. That seems like a good publishing iteration, a good schedule and we try to keep at high impact. Mick, thank you so much for joining the program, again. And hopefully helping us get there.
34:41 Mick Côté: Yeah. And thanks for having me. I tend to ramble sometimes. But it’s always nice to talk to people about this kind of crazy-weird job that we do, where we try to work with algorithms and people.
34:51 Patrick O’Keefe: My pleasure. It’s been great. We have been talking with Mick Côté, the deputy executive producer for web for the Montreal Gazette, montrealgazette.com. You can find Mick at mickcote.com and on Twitter @MickCote. That’s M I C K C O T E. For transcript from this episode, plus highlights and link that we mention, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. We’ll be back next week.
Thank you for listening to Community Signal.