Seven Questions for Andrew Donohue

By Rebecca Coates Nee

Andrew DonohueAndrew Donohue is the editor of voiceofsandiego.org, a pioneering nonprofit news outlet focusing on local, in-depth, and investigative reporting. He has fostered the organization’s growth from a tiny startup to an established and expanding model that’s being emulated around the country. Upfront talks with Donohue to discuss digital technologies and social media.

How does voiceofsandiego.org incorporate digital and social media into the news-gathering and reporting process?

Our journalists are constantly using social media to communicate with their sources and audiences, from asking questions to holding people accountable. Often, it’s not that social media is part of the reporting process; it is the reporting product in the end. We’ll cover a school board meeting or hound a politician on Twitter and no true traditional news story will come out of it. Database work, mapping, and graphic storytelling are also becoming a more and more important part of what we do every day.

You hired an engagement editor last year. What does that job entail and why is it important?

The job is simple: to get more people to find, understand, and discuss our content. We cannot simply publish our stories, send out a few emails and post links in social media. We have to intelligently target the proper audiences for our content, make sure they have the context to understand it, and then get them involved in the discussion about this topic. This can mean something as low-tech as making a PDF copy of a project, printing it off, and delivering it to people who either don’t have or don’t use the Internet. It’s important because our entire model is built around engaging the community. Our mission isn’t just to provide info, but to provide it to people so that they are more educated participants in their local decisions. Our financial model isn’t just to get advertisers; it’s to get people so involved in our content that they are inspired to give us their hard-earned money. We can only do that if people are fully connected with what we’re doing and engaged in it and their community.

How can digital technologies help media professionals in a range of industries connect with the community?

It’s nearly endless. But successful online endeavors build communities around them, from open source software projects to restaurants to beat reporters. They built loyalty and a sense of caring in their members. Through digital technologies, you can start by gaining the data to know who your community is or should be, and take it all the way through the process to the end, where you are using them to organize and activate your communities.

Which trends are you seeing emerge among media professionals and the way they are using digital technologies?

The people who are using it successfully are doing it naturally and doing it because they want to – not because they’re forced to. Those that are either forced to or aren’t studying how the best do it ultimately don’t have success.

Which digital skills would be the most important for media professionals to learn?

I don’t think it’s a skill. I think it’s a mindset. You have to be open minded and willing to experiment. Then, you have to decide what you can be the best at. There are a million things you can try to do and you can probably do them all OK if you tried hard enough. But the way to stand out is to be really good at something.