Journalist Q&A: Jimmy Orr, Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles Times relaunched its website on Tuesday. Last year, editor Jimmy Orr talked about the newspaper's new digital initiatives and redesign plans.

Jimmy Orr, managing editor of digital at the Los Angeles Times, talks to Brittaney Kiefer about paywalls, how the brand integrates social media with news stories, and its redesign plans.

Name
Jimmy Orr

Title
Managing editor, digital

Outlet
Los Angeles Times

Preferred contact
jimmy.orr@latimes.com

Website
www.latimes.com

How is your audience getting news now? 
It's a mix. There are people who start on our homepage – people who signed up under our membership program, which started in March 2012. They're paying to read our journalism, which we love.

That's not the majority of our readers, so we will continue to produce content that will make people want to pay.

Many readers come in through the side door, such as from social media, word of mouth, or search engines. Both are incredibly important. So far we have grown with our paywall intact.

What's your view on the pay-wall model? Does it work in 2013? 
It's a healthy debate right now. Our thought is that no one can cover Los Angeles and Southern California better than we can. That's our niche. Our journalism is strong enough, and quality sells.

The important thing we do is participate [in the debate] and see if the business model works. Too often, people get caught up in the fact that the business model in this industry has not yet been fully realized. That's true, but that is also okay, because it will be.

But if you don't participate, you're not going to learn.

What do you think is the future of print media? 
Our print product's circulation is strong. That will continue. The business model is changing, certainly, but it is a profitable model and it works well for many of our readers.

At the same time, we see the landscape changing and we have to evolve with that. We have got to keep our core going and, for us, it is the quality of our journalism. 

There is a lot of doom and gloom out there, but there shouldn't be. Like everything else, the industry is evolving. What we're faced with right now is disruption. 

The industry will figure itself out if we embrace it and we don't just look to the past. Know your niche and what you stand for. Don't be afraid of change.

How do you train journalists to use social and digital media?
You find the most willing and that's where you start. You show them the benefits of being their own publisher and interacting with readers. Then you take that person, and they help to train other people. 

You have to study the industry and look at how it's evolving. When you look at that, you realize you need to get a new set of tools – whether it's social media, taking a photo, video, or blogs – to find the best way to tell that story.

It's just a different tool set, but it's really quite fun.

Orr says quality journalism is why the newspaper's circulation remains strong.

How should journalists use social media?
It is fine to break a story using social media. It is optimal however to have a blog post up as quickly as you can on that breaking news.

For example, during the manhunt and standoff surrounding Christopher Dorner [a former police officer accused of murder in California], we had a Twitter box on the homepage. Our reporter would break stories on Twitter and a blog post and news alert would follow. Our goal was just to get the news out as soon as possible. The quicker we can get the news out to our readers, the better. 

You hear about people becoming their own brand, and that's inevitable. In terms of how far a reporter can opine [on social media], that's a gray area, too.

The thought is to not go overboard, but still to have a personality. You've got to be careful. For example, looking at reporters covering the Oscars was fun because they had opinions and thoughts, and it wasn't just a formal headline. We had 26 staffers tweeting on and from the Oscars, which led to a 38% increase in page views
on our desktop site from Twitter and Facebook. 

Our overall Web traffic numbers resulted in 34.6 million page views, which was the highest trafficked two-day stretch in latimes.com history.

What's coming up from the Los Angeles Times on the digital side?
We are undergoing a massive redesign to be launched in the third or fourth quarter of this year and the staff are very excited about it. 

We gave the organization we hired the following instructions as regards the site and what we wanted: Fix problems. Do not focus on making us beautiful. How can we keep people on our site longer? How can we encourage them to read more of our content? How can we showcase more of our enterprise journalism? 

Our current site is not very good at that. What is important is how the user engages with us.

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