Recap: Edmonton Journal Connect

Last night I attended an event called Edmonton Journal Connect, held at the Winspear Centre downtown. It was an opportunity to meet John Connolly and Lucinda Chodan, the Journal’s new publisher and editor-in-chief, respectively. It was also about the future of the newspaper:

Paula Simons was our host for the evening. She kept things rolling along and introduced John and Lucinda to the large crowd. She also used the opportunity to plug her Facebook page! It’s about the future, right? Actually she made a bet she could get to 500 likes by the end of the week. She’s close, at 446 right now.

John spoke first, and introduced the Edmonton Journal’s new executive team:

  • Joseph Wuest, VP Advertising and Marketing
  • Joseph Celino, VP Reader Sales and VP Production
  • Gail Matheson, VP Finance, Planning and Human Resources
  • Sandra Marocco, Director of Strategic Partnerships

He used the bulk of his speech to focus on the transformation that is being led by that team. Citing Taste Alberta, partnerships with the YMCA and the Edmonton Eskimos, John proclaimed that the Journal is “looking to partner and collaborate with you”.

Edmonton Journal Connect

He also touched on the success the Journal has enjoyed recently:

“There are pundits who predict the end of news media as we know it, but we at The Journal are excited as we embrace the possibilities that technology has opened to us. The fact is, we’ve never reached as many people as we do now every week. We’ve never been able to connect and engage and interact with our readers to anything close to what we do now. We have unprecedented opportunities to provide depth and breadth of coverage, expanded community news, community input, conversation and interaction and hugely improved relevance to many communities of interests.”

Every week more than 513,000 people read the Journal, whether it is online or in print. The website records more than 465,000 unique visitors each month. You can read more about the stats here.

Next up was Lucinda Chodan. She started off by talking about the shift in the way the Journal interacts with its readers. I love that Lucinda put it so bluntly:

“The old way of practising journalism was pretty ‘top down.’ We decided. You consumed. Now, readers influence much of what we do, from the stories we pursue to the prominence those stories receive in print and online.”

She cited the use of Chartbeat, a real-time web analytics tool, as one of the ways the Journal is able to monitor and react to reader interest. She also mentioned the goosecam, back by popular demand for the fourth year in a row. Last year there were 220,000 page views on the goosecam page. And of course she gave props to the live-blogging that has been done recently for the arena and Twitchell stories.

Edmonton Journal Connect

Lucinda also made a couple of exciting announcements. First, she said the Journal is introducing a “community newsroom”:

“In this community newsroom, we’ll be inviting local bloggers and interested readers to work with us to assign and cover the news – and to use the Journal online as a place to meet and interact with like-minded individuals.”

Details were sparse, but it sounds like there will be two key ways to get involved. One is the creation of a “community advisory committee”. Starting next week the call for volunteers for that initiative will go out. The second way to get involved was the other big announcement:

“I am happy to announce that we will be offering two community newsroom internships to students at local post-secondary institutions.”

That’s a great way to connect with future journalists and to “pass the journalistic torch” as Lucinda put it.

She closed very confidently:

“As John said, there are pundits out there predicting the death of newspapers. As the editor of a major daily newspaper, I can tell you that pundits are occasionally wrong. And I can assure you that in this case, they have completely missed the boat.”

Before Paula officially ended the program, she mentioned a couple of other exciting things they’re working on, including an improved platform for the Journal’s bloggers, and the aggregation of other bloggers in the community on the Journal’s website. Further details on that should be coming soon.

In addition to the speeches, the evening was a great opportunity to connect with the Journal’s journalists and columnists, as well as others in the larger community. There seemed to be a good range of representation, including local politicians, business leaders, and others. Throughout the evening there were screens up showing a live stream of the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #meetEJ. And two lucky winners walked away with brand new iPad 2s!

Edmonton Journal ConnectEdmonton Journal Connect

Edmonton Journal ConnectEdmonton Journal Connect

It was a good night of conversation. I’m excited to learn more about the community newsroom and the community advisory committee, and of course the blog aggregation. Stay tuned for details!

You can see more photos of the evening here.