Creating passionate users in the newsroom

Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users is on the mic right now talking about how to engage users and make them passionate about your web app.

While Sierra’s talking about software development, I can’t help but think that much of what she says also applies to print newsroom staff who are trying to embrace the online medium.

Sierra talks about a “suck threshold”, the point at which a person is unskilled with a particular tool, and a passion threshold, where a user really begins to understand how to use a tool and can really begin loving it.

In newsrooms, folks often experience lots of initial excitement about a particular web technology — usually things like  Flash, Soundslides, recording audio and video, working in the content-management system, Twittering or any other number of things. But what happens when they start getting into the nitty-gritty of Flash and realize how freakin’ hard it really is? Or they start using Twitter, don’t get followers and kinda wade in the dark on how to use it?

That “suck threshold”, as Kathy says, is the time a user is most likely to give up on any skill. It’s at that time that your Web staff and power users need to step in and really guide the print folks in becoming comfortable with a technology.

Oftentimes, we think selling them on using a tool is the biggest battle. It’s important, but it’s not the end of the war. Your staff must overcome that often-difficult learning curve before the battle is won.


-Once a technology is identified, have regularly scheduled training for it.  Do a monthly training with the tool or colaborate regularly with a mentor at another publication. The biggest sin I see is editors sending a staffer to this-or-that intensive two-day workshop to learn Flash. The staffer returns, starts playing with the tool, produces one quick project, and then eventually gives up when they don’t get practice and can’t advance their skills to the next level.

-Focus on creating a project, not on learning a tool. How many of you sit there and say “This is SO awesome; I’m going to spend my whole day learning how to use this power saw!” Using a saw is boring. Using a saw to create a custom cabinet for your house is awesome. Focus on the end result, and you’ll learn the skills along the way.

-Have patience. The first projects a new user creates are going to be pretty lousy (I know mine are!). Let your staffers know you expect them to fail sometimes, and that it’s OK; they’re learning. If you provide regular training and encouragement, you’ll reap the dividends.

Author: Danny Sanchez

Danny Sanchez is the Audience Development Manager at Tribune's and Danny has been with Tribune since 2005 in a variety of editorial, digital and product development roles in Hartford, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. He has also previously worked in the newsrooms of the Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald.