A great conversation with Mashable’s Jim Roberts on digital journalism

Very enjoyable Q&A with Jim Roberts, executive editor of Mashable, at a Canadian Journalism Foundation event Monday night.

If you’ve been in digital media for awhile,  you’ve heard the points he makes.  But you can’t hear them enough.  There is so much re-learning that has to happen in this industry, it’s important to immerse yourself into this conversation.

That’s why I’m disappointed that the archive video of the conversation doesn’t appear to have audio alongside it.  There were audio problems at the beginning of the live stream but they were able to fix it.  Hope they have a complete video available at some point.

As I had the conversation on in the background, I didn’t get a chance to hear the whole thing.  But through the use of Twitter, we can look back at some of Jim’s most interesting points.

Mashable is big

First, about Mashable itself.  It’s a powerhouse.  Only a staff of 55 yet they generate 40 million uniques a month.  That’s awesome.  They know how to bring readers to their site.  And Roberts revealed that Facebook refers about 25-30% of their traffic monthly.  Impressive.

We all are seeing increases in social media.  But when nearly one-third of your readers might come from one referring source, that tells you that it’s working.

Roberts understands that people don’t go to home pages anymore.  They don’t.  People don’t like to hear it.  They think they have a captive audience like the newspaper audience.  But metrics show that the homepage is getting weaker and weaker.  And you don’t have that captive audience anymore.

So, you gotta fish where the fish are.  And Roberts said that tonight.  You have to participate where the readers are.  Don’t wait for them to come to you.  Because they aren’t.  You have to be out there in the conversation.  Sounds like they are doing very well with that.


He mentioned that Mashable’s advantage was they had the freedom to be a boutique.  They don’t need to be a department store of news.

Yet, they have over 40 million uniques.  That’s huge.  So, they take their relatively small staff and point them in one direction and their audience gives them feedback.  And they listen to it.  It’s a two-way affair.  No longer is it “we’re going to tell you the news.”  It’s “are you reading us?  And if not, we need to change things up.”

What’s the takeaway?  Easy.  Find your niche and be better than anyone else at it.  Even if you are more of a department store of news, you can still trim down your focus to what’s essential.  And then kill at it.  And then build the reputation for that niche.  If you spread yourself too thin, you won’t grow because there will always be smaller niche sites that are more focused — that just do that one thing really, really well.

It really is about defining what you do.  And then focus, focus, focus.  Build the reputation for that coverage.

Content creators

He doesn’t call reporters “reporters,” by the way.  And he purposely mentioned that he doesn’t.  Instead he calls them ‘content creators.’  He said he doesn’t necessarily like the phrase but it encapsulates what a digital journalist really does.

“I view their role as much more than a reporter.  It’s more than just gathering information.  It’s about presenting it, ” he said.  Many journalists would get offended at this.  But I don’t know if too many digital journalists would.  They’re too busy thinking about all the different ways to present their news story.  “Content creator” is ok.

Have some dessert

On the lighter side of news.  He said he was proud of all the content on his site.  And that includes the lighter fare.

There was a story about a pit bull puppy who is afraid of doorways so he enters backside first.  Hard news?  No.  Entertaining?  Yes.

“I’m not embarrassed that content was on our site,” he said.

He then asked the moderator, “Did you enjoy it?  Nothing wrong with entertainment.”

He said both of these elements have always been in newspapers.  The oft-used example of comic strips came up.

“We must entertain as well as inform.  These are not opposing poles.  Nothing wrong with entertaining an audience.”

Could not agree more.  There can be plenty of spinach.  And spinach is good.  But dessert is good too.  It’s a balance.

As Jim said, they want to do serious journalism but also want to entertain people.  That’s a tough balance to strike.

But, they pull it off.  Look at Mashable now.  Top story is about the Uber VP who wanted to dig up dirt on journalists.  Right under that story if the pit bull puppy.  Hard news story and fun entertaining story right next to each other.  They pull it off.

Digital video

When discussing video, he mentioned that, of course, advertising in video is much more lucrative than most other forms of advertising on the web.

But the key is how you do it.  TV on the web doesn’t work.  It’s gotta be different.

“We have to use video to relate to people more.  Quickly digested.  A little on the entertainment side,” he said.

Then he mentioned that the mobile experience is the screen we should concentrate on.

When discussing the iPhone 6 launch, he said they didn’t need to make a news video.  People already knew the news.  It has to be more personal.  Too many news organizations just create TV on the Internet and that doesn’t work.  That goes back to doing radio on TV. Different mediums.  Different ways of approaching.


Couple other things.  About money.  When asked if Mashable was profitable, he replied, “Oh, it’s very profitable.”

How do they make money?  He brought up branded content.

That’s interesting.  It can work.  It’s gotta be good though and fit with the brand.


When he spoke about navigating the site, he said, he felt like the navigation was used generally more by journalists than by the audience.

I couldn’t agree more with this.  The problem is that we think our audience pays as much attention to the site as we do.  And they don’t.  They come in (through whatever means) get their story and leave.  If we can get them to stick around, great.  But they don’t read the site like we do.

But that’s a big fallacy.  We project our personal experiences on our visitors.  This is why metrics are so important.  They tell us exactly what readers are doing.  Exactly how far readers are reading the article.  When they peel off.

It’s the whole ‘section-front conversation.”  Most readers don’t go to a section front.  But sometimes people treat them like they do.  Again, this is the importance of metrics.

Really, good design is just getting yourself out of the way.  Just making it simple for readers to read.  Simplicity is key.  An overly designed site will kill you.  Make it simple.  Make it responsive.  And get out of the way.


I love how up front Mashable is with how much their content is shared.  As Craig Saila recounted Roberts saying, “Journalists are sometimes painfully aware of how their stories are performing thanks to the share bar counts.”

This is great.  People should know if their stories were read and if their stories were shared.  Because we can take a look at the ones that went viral and learn something from on it.  Then we can look at the ones that didn’t take off and do an autopsy.  Figure out why it didn’t work.

And then use these positive techniques down the road to get more and more content read.


He’s great on Twitter as most people know.  He’s got a huge following.  More than 150k followers.

How to do it?  He tweets a lot.  He was bit of advice?  Make sure your tweets don’t read like headlines.

Good enough.  Hope they have a version of the video with sound.  It’s worth the watch (and listen).

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A reader-focused redesign: 10 good questions with the LA Times’ Jimmy Orr

[This article appeared on the American Press Institute site on May 9, 2014]

The Los Angeles Times just redesigned their site with a focus on mobile and a goal of increasing reader engagement through pre-written tweets or “sharelines,” infinite scrolling, and a handful of other design specs.

We talked with Jimmy Orr, managing editor of digital, to discuss what problems the Times was trying to solve with the redesign, why their topic-specific blogs do well, and which metrics matter.

Where did you spend most of your attention with the redesign? What “problems” were you trying to solve with this design?

JIMMY ORR: Easy. We wanted to decrease the bounce rate. Increase Time Spent on Site. Increase pageviews per Visit. Increase video views. Increase shares. Increase loyalty. Overall, it’s about engagement. We want our readers to spend more time here. We knew that our previous design was prohibitive.

We had to think about our mobile readers. They had to be in the forefront — not an add-on. We had to think mobile-first. Very soon (in the next few months), more than half our traffic will be on mobile. We’re almost there and it’s not going back. So we had to think of these very important readers.

Responsive, of course, made sense. So whatever device you’re on — you get a great experience.

We also had to give the article page the attention it deserved. Most of our readers go to the article page first. So how are we going to design the article page to serve as a ‘homepage’ as well?

And we wanted seamless. What could we do to make the reader experience seamless? As little work as possible? Once they’re interested in a story, how can design help the reader consume more — not only of that story but of our other content?

So when we began interviewing vendors, we liked Code & Theory’s approach. They didn’t talk to us necessarily about creating a beautiful looking site. They talked to us about solving problems. And they explained how their innovative designs could solve our problems. They asked the right questions. They got to know our journalism. They embedded themselves in our newsroom. They were a partner throughout.

Readers were our partner too. The designs were user-tested. Extensively. There wasn’t a gut-approach here. It was user-tested. Math. Analytics are our friend. Let the readers tell us how they like to navigate. What their patterns are. We listened to readers.

 I’d love to hear some of the thinking and big ideas behind the re-design. Can you talk about the “sharelines” and the article pages in particular?

ORR: We liked the idea of sharelines for two reasons. Oftentimes readers share before reading the article. It’s just a fact. We may want them to read the whole article, ponder it, analyze it, and then post it on Facebook or Twitter. But many don’t. So, let’s make it easy for them. Pre-written tweets will make it easier for the reader to share.

The sharelines also serve as bullet points for the story. This helps the reader decide if they want to read the article or if the bullet points are enough. Again, we’re thinking about the reader.

If the sharelines are written correctly, we’ll see an increase in social media traffic — whether the reader read the whole article or not. So, we’ll pay very close attention to writing these. Our social media team will be deeply involved and offering feedback on how to best put these together.

As for the article page, it was important that we increase the white space for readability, we lock in the navigation on the left so readers have that ‘persistent navigation’ wherever they are, we break up the longer stories with videos and photos to make it easier to read, and, of course, the endless scroll. This is a great feature because it’s more seamless for the reader.

Once you are done with one article, we’re going to tempt you with another. But there’s a twist, you can also jump to a variety of sections as you scroll down. We’re finding people are taking advantage of this.

I’m sure the re-design isn’t just cosmetic. Can you tell me a bit about the backend? How do you think this redesign will help in measuring and increasing reader engagement?

ORR: That’s a great point about the redesign being so much more than cosmetic. Remember, we wanted to solve problems first. Give us that structure. Worry about cosmetics later. We want increased engagement so let that be the goal. And if you can make it look visually attractive too, then that’s a great bonus. And we have both with this site.

And yes, we’re measuring everything. Will people read more of our articles as a result of the design? Are we seeing an increase in video views? Are we finding that people are reading our neighborhoods coverage and are they coming back for it? Do we see an increase in loyalty? Are more people signing up for membership? What conversion patterns are becoming evident? Are we seeing a big increase in pageviews per visit? Are we seeing an increase in uniques? Are visits up?

We have to measure. And measure extensively. We create a ton of content here. The challenge in the past has been showing people the breadth and depth of our coverage. As a result of this relaunch are we finding that more people are finding what we have? What patterns do we see here? How can we continue to improve? Reader testing will never stop.

Speaking of measuring, you released an end of year report last year with a lot of measurements. One of the things that caught my eye was that your topic-specific blogs (LA Now, Daily Dish, Movies Now and Science) have seen a lot of growth. Why do you think these have been so successful?

ORR: For a variety of reasons, but it all goes back to the people. The people who own the blogs and that write for the blog — they’re experts in their fields. For example, we have the best entertainment staff in the country — it’s not even close. We have the only Pulitzer prize winning food critic, Jonathan Gold. So these people, they know their beats, they know their audience and they understand how to write for a digital audience.

LA Now, Movies Now, and Daily Dish, they’re strong local blogs. There’s a national interest too, of course, because we’re LA. But we have to be good in these areas — we have to be because it’s our backyard. It’s what we do.

We have dedicated reporters on these blogs. They write with authority, have veteran insights, very strong sources and so they are the preeminent people. When the story is lighter, they write with creativity, wit, voice, but with that comes authority too. It all comes back to the very strong staff that we have and also, their ability to write for a digital audience.

What do you think are some applicable lessons for other news orgs when it comes to running these topic-specific blogs?

ORR: We want to build a destination. We want people to — when they think of certain topics — we want them to come here. And so, people will come to your site if they know that it’s updated frequently, and so it’s important to keep it fresh. And it’s important to have the information that the reader wants and, so it has to be lively. And the writers have to have that authority. The reader has to trust who they’re reading.

So it’s got to be lively, it’s got to be fresh, it’s got to be authoritative, and when we mix those three together, there’s a winning result. But you can tell by reading these posts that there’s a lot of gravitas in them. There’s a lot of authority. These people are really strong journalists and that’s key.

You have to have that relationship with your audience. If you think about it, whatever interest that you have, when you log onto your laptop in the morning or if you’re on your tablet or whatever, you can search for that information and search is important and we continue to be good at it, but what we’re trying to build are these destination sections, sites or blogs, where people will come to us, and of course, all the other places where we show up, in social media or search or wherever, are all very important because it exposes new people to us, but we want to be destination.

These numbers show a lot of what worked. What hasn’t worked so well and what have you learned from that?

ORR: That’s easy and I thought about this. It’s something that we’ve talked about a lot. Bad headlines don’t work. If we’re not thinking about the headlines and what works digitally, it’s not going to be read. If you use the same print headline online, you’re dooming the story. It’s not going to be read. We’ve learned that.

We’ve made a lot of progress in thinking about the headline. Of course we’ve all talked about this for a long time but that headline has got to stand alone. Whether readers see it on your site, or sees it on Facebook or search or whatever, that headline is absolutely key. So bad headlines don’t work. By not paying attention to headlines, you’re dooming the story.

And if you’re not acting as your own publisher, that doesn’t work.

MT: What do you mean by that?

ORR: Well, what are you doing to promote your own story? That’s the key. What are you doing on social media to promote it? There are a variety of different ways to get your story out there. But how are you promoting your story? So if you don’t think about that, you stand a much greater chance of the article not being read, which is too bad but it’s important, you have to think about how am I going to get this story out?

It can’t just be I wrote a great story, put it on the homepage. If we have 200 stories a day, 200 pieces of content a day, not all of them can go up on the homepage. So we have to think — the individual writer and editor have to also think how am I going to get this story out there? How am I going to get it read?

And, not being present and active. An “I wrote my story approach and that’s good enough” isn’t enough digitally. You gotta stay on top of it. You have to see what readers are saying about it. You have to give them more if the story warrants. You’ve got to follow. You’ve got to keep active. Offer that extra that readers can’t get anywhere else. Where is the story progressing? Add to it. Build on it. Give the readers more. Follow. Follow. Follow. Engage. Explain. Communicate. The writers who build a strong reader base are active and are engaging with the readers.

What headlines have worked? Have you found that clear, concise headlines work?

ORR: Very direct. Very direct headlines.

MT: So no curiosity gap, Upworthy-type headlines?

ORR: I think it’s gimmicky. The “you’ll never believe…” — I think that, to use a cliche that we should not use, but that’s jumped the shark. I really think so. Just tell me. I don’t want to be teased. Just be direct. Direct works. It doesn’t mean it can’t have fun. But just tell me what this story’s about.

You have to think how’s it going to work on a different social media platform and also how’s it going to work when people are searching for a story. We can’t write off SEO. People are proclaiming SEO is dead. SEO is not dead, SEO is important. If you properly SEO a story, it’ll bring new readers to your site, which is important and so direct is best. And think about how readers would look for this topic. And we do pretty well. We’ve progressed quite well on that.

Have there been any major surprises?

ORR: I have to give that some thought. I would say, what it does it’s just eye-opening. It really communicates the importance of thinking of your story as more than just the written piece. It also makes you think about what you’re linking to, what your other content is, your related content, the linking to — I know we’ve been talking about this for a long time, but effectively linking is just so key because you can really drive people deeper and the metrics will show that.

MT: What is effective linking?

ORR: It’s when you can augment your story with useful links. For example, when you’re citing examples in a story, when you have links to those, hopefully on your site, people respond to that, and by studying the analytics, you can see what people will respond to and where to link.

The other thing that’s good too is having a relationship with other outside bloggers Not in your organization, but outside. You want your work to be read by other writers off-site, much like you read other writers and you develop those relationships. Then you can share audience. One site sends a lot of audience to this blogger, one blogger sends some over there. It’s just really important for that community.

What also helps, is that you develop these relationships with writers off-site then you start communicating over Twitter and you start communicating on different social media platforms, and that’s how you build community. And you see it with a number of writers from different organizations who are friends — that’s really important.

The “By the numbers” memo naturally consisted of a lot of numbers about pageviews, etc, — a lot of the general stats we expect to see. There’s been a lot of conversation about pageviews, likes, and shares and what engagement really means, and how they aren’t perfect proxies for reader engagement. Tony Haile, the CEO of Chartbeat, wrote this article in Time, not too long ago, about why what we think about web metrics isn’t really true. Clicks don’t really mean engagement. Shares don’t really mean engagement. It’s all about attention — which is obviously really hard to measure. Others such as Upworthy have suggested “attention minutes” and Medium uses “time spent.” What’s your take on which metrics matter?

ORR: First of all, I will say I read Tony Haile’s article completely, all the way through. I gave him more than 15 seconds. I read the whole thing. I thought it was outstanding.

It’s important. You do want people staying on your site and reading your article and that’s the nice thing about chartbeat — it tells you that they’re doing that. So I agree. There’s a lot of metrics that I’m very interested in. Of course we’re very interested in unique visitors, we’re interested in visitors, we’re interested in pageviews per visit, we love time spent on site.

Pageviews is fine too. But it’s an easy to digest metric. That’s all it is. There are a variety of metrics that are really important. We look at all of them. We, like everyone, certainly look forward to the day where we can all determine that this metric is the most important one and see it as such, but we’re not there yet. There’s a lot of them out there and we’re all trying to figure it out.

What are some overall lessons over this past year?

ORR: I think what’s most heartening to learn is that there is a big, big market for high quality journalism. And we’re proving that. If we look at the success of some of our signature stories and how well they’ve performed online, that’s awesome, that’s great. And when we look at how we can augment our stories with what the data desk does — the graphics, the maps, the databases, the analyses, it’s just outstanding what the digital platform allows us to do — it really is. It all works together.

I’m very optimistic about what we’ve been able to do here and that is providing the highest level of journalism and there’s a real market and there’s a real appetite for it.

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By the Numbers: 2013 a year of solid growth for latimes.com

A note to the staff from Jimmy Orr, managing editor/digital

January 31, 2014, 8:00 a.m.

This is our annual look at the last year through the lens of metrics that we call “By the Numbers.” It’s intended to serve as a complementary note to Davan’s review of the year’s great journalism. Happily, they overlap.

And the news is good. Our journalism is being read more than ever before. In every category.

We continued to expand our audience in real-time, enterprise and investigative coverage. We grew our social media presence by record numbers. Mobile readership is up. Interactivity is up. Video views are up. We’ve grown significantly.

Let’s first look at a couple of goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year. We wanted to increase the extent of digital reporting across the newsroom. More participation. The total number of blog posts grew by more than 5%, increasing from 58,412 posts to 61,430.

Next, we wanted to improve our social media participation by having 100% of our bylined journalists on Twitter and Google+. Done and done. Congratulations. Everyone is signed up. Most are participating. The journalism website Muckrack identified the L.A. Times as having the second-highest growth among newsrooms on Twitter for the year.


Page Views


In terms of readership, page views were up 7% to nearly 2.4 billion page views. This is an impressive gain in spite of a Google algorithm change in August that had a big, but temporary, impact. Also, non-subscribers had free access to fewer of our articles in 2013. A 7% gain is solid.

Monthly Uniques


Monthly uniques continue to grow. More and more people are coming to read our journalism. This number grew by 12% in 2013, with more than 490 million uniques.

Real-Rime Coverage (Blogs)


Our real-time coverage was stronger than ever in 2013. The Christopher Dorner manhunt, the LAX shooting and our entertainment awards coverage were just a few of the big events last year that brought a record number of people to the Los Angeles Times.

Overall blog traffic increased by an impressive 28% from 742 million page views to 950 million page views.

Our local blog, L.A. Now, continues to gain readership, growing by 23% to nearly 160 million page views, while Movies Now grew 221% to 79 million in 2013. Nearly every blog saw growth: Food blog Daily Dish increased the most (418%), and Science Now grew 349%.

Column Ones (Great Reads)


We reinvented how Column One is presented online in an effort to bring more readers to our signature, standout daily story. We re-branded them “Great Reads” and added a custom template, making for a greatly improved reader experience.

The result: Almost triple the traffic to some of our best journalism within six months [2.9 million page views compared with 1.1 million in the six months before the alterations]. Since we changed things up, more than 5.3 million readers have read our Column Ones.

Big Projects

In 2013, some of our other time- and labor-intensive projects also benefited from the custom templates as well as the work of our social media team.

Our five-part series on the Christopher Dorner manhunt by Christopher Goffard, Joel Rubin, Kurt Streeter, Louis Sahagun and Phil Willon and illustrated by Doug Stevens generated nearly one million page views. Other major projects were each read more than 100,000 times:

This is our best journalism and deserved even more attention, which is why we will continue to make a concerted effort to fine-tune the presentation and distribution of these stories – headlines, social media and more – to expand the audience.


From Print to Digital


In 2013, several of our longtime print journalists moved further into the digital space. The idea was to have these respected voices participating in the digital conversation and bringing their insights, experience and writing skills to real-time journalism. Michael Hiltzik and Robin Abcarian stood out. Blogs were created for each and quickly found an audience. Although the blogs were started late in the year, each were read more than 3.5 million times.


Social Media Referrals


Great effort in the newsroom. With 100% adoption of Twitter and Google+ by all bylined journalists, we continue to meet readers where they are.

Overall social media referrals were up 15.7% from 2012. Twitter led that charge with a 73% increase in page views and 84% increase in visitors.

Followers on our main @LAtimes Twitter account grew by 75% from 420k followers to 732K followers. Individual journalist accounts increased by 46% to 3.3 million followers.

Facebook likes skyrocketed by 82% in 2013. And total social media connections (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Tumblr, LinkedIn and other accounts) grew by 48% year-over-year to 6.4 million.

No More Robots


In 2013, we demonstrated the importance of eliminating robots from our Twitter accounts. As soon as we switched the L.A. Now account from automatic RSS tweets to L.A. Now staff, followers grew by 25%. For the year, L.A. Now increased its followers to more than 82,000 — an annual growth rate of 64%. We’ll be doing this sitewide in 2014.



Mobile exploded by 71% in 2013 from 433 million page views to 741 million. Not surprisingly, breaking news coverage performs really well on mobile phones and other devices. L.A. Now continues to see rapid growth on mobile; many days, the blog pulls in more readers on mobile than on desktop. Case in point: our coverage of the death of film star Paul Walker. The incident occurred over the weekend, and there was significantly more readership on mobile. A social media roundup of celebrity reaction to his death received 4.8 million page views on mobile compared with 2.7 million page views on desktop. As people on the go looked for the latest news, we were there.

Video Views


Video continues to grow — by 30% in 2013 with 21 million video views. Engagement also rose 50%. This is an area we expect to grow dramatically in the year ahead.

Data Desk


In 2013, the Data Desk contributed to a wide range of graphics, maps and databases that enhanced our coverage of awards season, the mayoral campaign, crime, our test kitchen and the manhunt for Christopher Dorner. The team’s analysis and Web development powered numerous investigations and enterprise stories, including the earthquakes, badge and LAFD packages.

Conventional stories aside, the Data Desk developed pages that generated more than 23 million page views. The 10 most-viewed pages were:

  1. The Homicide Report
  2. Mapping L.A.
  3. California Cookbook
  4. Document: L.A. 2013
  5. L.A. mayoral maps and results
  6. Jonathan Gold’s 101 best restaurants
  7. The Manhunt for Christopher Dorner
  8. Document: Manhunt manifesto
  9. Timeline: The Christopher Dorner manhunt
  10. Timeline: Gay marriage chronology




We continued to ramp up our interactive efforts in 2013 primarily with live blogging, live interactive video chats and live textual chats.


Live Video Chats


Breaking news and entertainment performed particularly well for us in live video, with the following video conversations receiving the highest viewership.

  1. Search for Christopher Dorner
  2. Manhunt in Boston
  3. Part-timers hurt by healthcare law
  4. Boston manhunt: the role of media
  5. Tatiana Maslany of “Orphan Black”
  6. Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad”
  7. Post-mortem on “Breaking Bad”
  8. Jackie Chan on his film “Chinese Zodiac”
  9. Samsung Galaxy Gear
  10. Jessica Lange of “American Horror Story”


Live Text Chats


The newsroom also hosted 258 live text chats in 2013, on topics including breaking local news, restaurant tips and arts and entertainment. These text conversations generated more than 2 million page views: The following are the top five text chats:

  1. Charles McNulty on the Tonys
  2. Lunchtime with Jonathan Gold (November 13)
  3. L.A. Now Live: Bell corruption trial
  4. L.A. Now Live: Mayor Garcetti appointments
  5. Lunchtime with Jonathan Gold (October 16)


Live Blogging


This was the year that our live blogging really took off. We scheduled live blogging on dozens of events including the Emmys, the final episode of “Breaking Bad,” the government shutdown, and the YouTube Music Awards. Our most successful live blog – on the LAX shooting – had more than 700,000 unique visitors who spent an average of 25 minutes on the page. We will increase our efforts here.




Framework, our visuals department blog, continues to produce strong numbers (58.8 million page views) thanks to our audience’s appetite for great photography and video.

The list of galleries below produced the largest numbers of views, while the addition of several features such as reFramed” which explores traditional and nontraditional genres of photography, and Outtakes, featuring details and moments from our photography staff that didn’t make the original cut, has helped build upon Framework’s already broad audience.

Tech Tips” and “From the Archives” remain two of our viewer’s favorite categories.


Most-Viewed Galleries


  1. Being a girl every day
  2. Best of Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival 2013
  3. State of emergency declared in wildfire near Yosemite
  4. 124th Tournament of Roses Parade


More on Blogs

Top 10 Most-Read Blogs                                    Page Views                            Growth Rate

Top Increase in # of Blog Posts


Top Increase in Blog Traffic


More on Social Media

Most influential journalists on Twitter (as measured by Total Engagement: retweets, replies, mentions and favorites)

Individual Twitter Accounts That Grew the Most


Top Core Account Growth





Most-Read Bylines


Most Referrals From Twitter


Most-Read Stories in 2013


OP-ED: How not to say the wrong thing

By Susan Silk and Barry Goldman

(2,187,520 page views)
Live: LAX shooting: ‘Multiple victims’ hit; at least 7 hurt

By Richard Winton, Brian Bennett, Joel Rubin, Joseph Serna, Ari Bloomkatz, Samantha Schaefer, Kate Mather, Matt Stevens and Laura J. Nelson

(1,230,789 page views)
Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance: Media react in shock

By Patrick Kevin Day

(1,096,986 page views)
Paul Walker death: Video shows fire moments after fatal crash

By Los Angeles Times Staff

(958,852 page views)
Christopher Dorner manhunt

Christopher Goffard, Joel Rubin, Kurt Streeter, Louis Sahagun and Phil Willon and illustrated by Doug Stevens

(957,261 page views)
Paul Walker crash: Detectives probe how fast Porsche was going

By James Barragan, Samantha Schaefer and Adolfo Flores

(886,821 page views)
Fast and Furious’ star Paul Walker dies in car crash

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October digital note

To: The Staff
From: Jimmy Orr, Managing Editor, Digital

Starting this month, we are renewing our efforts to highlight digital achievements throughout the newsroom.

Why are we doing this?  It’s important to show what’s connecting with our readers, where the readership is coming from, and to provide another way for departments to learn from one another.

First, a congrats to the team who created our population project “Beyond 7 Billion” — Ken Weiss, Rick Loomis, Armand Emamdjomeh, Stephanie Ferrell, Tom Lauder, Ken Schwencke, Julie Marquis, Mary Cooney and Liz Baylen. The project was honored for best explanatory reporting at the 2013 Online News Assn. awards in Atlanta.

The Los Angeles Times also was a finalist in three other categories: innovative investigative journalism for “Life on the Line: 911 Breakdowns at LAFD”; watchdog journalism, “Dying for Relief”; and topical reporting for “L.A.’s Political Calculus: The 2013 Race for Mayor.

New blog

We started a new blog in October, Michael Hiltzik’s the Economy Hub. In it, our Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist discusses money, investing, stocks, the economy, and politics.

In the first month, Michael became one of the top 10 most-read bylines on our site. His story “Another Obamacare horror story debunked” had the most Facebook referrals and the third-most Twitter referrals on our site. Michael did great on Reddit too, receiving the second-most referrals from the site for his post  “CEO-to-worker pay gap is obscene: Want to know how obscene?

Michael was second in Twitter engagement among the staff (non-sports) and fourth in Twitter growth (non-sports). As for sheer number of posts, he was No. 3 with 94 posts. The Economy Hub is informative, entertaining and getting a lot of recognition on social media.

Under new ownership

We’re in the process of retooling the Politics Now blog.  Cathleen Decker and Mark Z. Barabak are the primary contributors and have more than doubled the amount of monthly content with smart, real-time reporting and analysis.  As a result, Politics Now became one of the top 10 most-read blogs on the site in October.


October included two innovative online presentations. The first was on the risk of collapse of hundreds of concrete buildings in L.A. in a major earthquake. The investigative piece, by Ron Lin, Rosanna Xia, Doug Smith and Scott Gold, included a fantastic interactive graphic – a case study of neighborhoods examined by The Times and produced by Raoul Ranoa and Armand Emamdjomeh.

We also created a responsive template to host video, archival photos and an aerial tour of the Los Angeles aqueduct, which turned 100 this year. The story was written by Louis Sahagun with photos from Brian van der Brug.  Armand Emamdjomeh produced the series for online, and Stephanie Ferrell was the digital design director.


Metro continued its programming push, moving resources into the late afternoon and evening to pursue more of the lean-back audience. They are producing new posts in the night as well as promoting older posts and stories over social media.

They continue to live tweet throughout the day. We’ve seen great results when breaking news occurs — especially on weekends. We experimented with live blogging on the shooting at LAX.

Some of the biggest stories were not based on topics actively in the news but found an audience thanks to strong reporting, social media and solid headlines. Those included coverage of the Craigslist murder and the Sriracha controversy.

L.A. Now and PolitiCal also did well with the Jackson verdict and Sacramento coverage. As for long-form journalism in Metro, there were many highly read stories including: the earthquake project, inside Harvard-Westlake, the Griffith Park cougar, Pico-Union trash woes, and LAX ghost town.


The Business team continues to experiment on the most effective ways to live blog an event.  We were pleased with the coverage of Apple’s iPad announcement.  The real-time reporting and analysis resulted in a record day of traffic, the highest of any of our live-blogging efforts so far.

Our new Obamacare section is performing well.  Healthcare reporter Chad Terhune wrote the second-most-read story on the site with “Some health insurance gets pricier as Obamacare rolls out.” But the commitment to real-time reporting from the whole team resulted in engaging with many new readers.

Chad’s informative Q&A Twitter chats are growing in popularity; two that did well were his chats on the differences among the bronze, silver, and platinum plans and this one on pricing questions.

Tech reporter Sal Rodriguez’s videos continue to be highly watched.  His two videos on the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch were among the top five most-viewed videos on our YouTube channel for the month.


Entertainment had a great October on the digital front. It continued to be the most-read section on the site with four blogs (Ministry of Gossip, ShowTracker, Hero Complex and Movies Now) among the top 10 most-read blogs on the site.

The entertainment group continues to break news, scoop the competition, live blog and lead live video conversations. ShowTracker, for example, built on its highest-ever-read month in September by employing all forms of media to continue to connect with its readers.

ShowTracker’s coverage of the “Breaking Bad” finale included live blogging on Twitter and ScribbleLive, reports from the “Breaking Bad” party at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, extensive analysis and follow-up posts, and a live video chat the next day.

Some of the most entertaining live video chats last month were Scott Sandell’s conversation with Jackie Chan, Yvonne Villarreal chatting with the “voice of Siri” and the launch of television critic Mary McNamara’s new online video show “Talking TV.”

The Envelope Screening Series, one of The Times’ signature awards-season events, launched with a panel discussion with the director and cast of “12 Years a Slave” moderated by John Horn, and was followed by a panel about “Nebraska” moderated by Mark Olsen. Readers can watch streams of the entire panel as well as highlights posted after the sessions. Look for panels on “Gravity” and more this month.


On the Sports front, Bill Dwyre took on the NFL in the wake of revelations about the league’s systematic refusal to acknowledge the long-term effects of concussions and its foot-dragging in implementing long-overdue safety measures. His column “NFL is a despicable league that we should say goodbye to, but won’t”was the single most-read sports story on the site in October.

Post-season coverage of Don Mattingly’s coaching situation with the Dodgers was a hot topic on the site – with stories and blog posts from Dylan Hernandez, Bill Shaikin and Steve Dilbeck and a steady stream of tweets from all three that helped keep us at the forefront of the discussion until Mattingly finally acknowledged that he was honoring his contract.

Mixed martial arts and high-profile boxing events remain a staple for live coverage. Round-by-round live reports on the Timothy Bradley-Juan Manuel Marquez and Cain Velasquez-John Dos Santos fights were read hundreds of thousands of times, thanks to Lance Pugmire.


In Foreign, Barbara Demick was fast – and best – on the story of a car running over visitors at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. She filed a quick post just before midnight Sunday, followed it up in the morning with a new post that added details. With car traffic blocked, she got on a public bus and surreptitiously shot video through the window that showed the path that the car took. Her final version of the day provided yet another post and the print version for the next morning’s paper.

Within hours of the incident, she was following up on the possibility that the occupants of the car were ethnic Uighurs. She continued to follow the story throughout the week.

Our World Now blog continues to be a destination. Carol Williams was the most-read World writer in the month of October as a result of her many topical and insightful posts on the now-growing international blog.


The National news desk continues to break news and produce long-form journalism, bringing more and more readers to our site.  The national news team was responsible for five of the top 10 most-read stories on the site, led by Evan Halper’s “A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue,” which was the most-read story for the month of October.

Matt Pearce and Michael Muskal continue to lead the way for breaking news coverage on the Nation Now blog, which was the fourth-most-read blog on the site.


Since Len DeGroot started as director of data visualization, he’s been working to change how graphics are produced for print and digital products. So far, about 30% of the work coming out of the graphics department is made for digital first. Look for that number to increase as many charts and graphs will soon be interactive templates that can be converted for use in print. Graphics are being reformatted and rewritten to be more shareable and engaging, especially those that are produced for print first.

He was joined last month by graphics and data editor Javier Zarracina, who will help us refine our motion graphics.

Here are three cool digital graphics they worked on. Two are interactive graphics that were produced for digital projects, and one was repurposed from a business graphic. This is just a taste of what we’ll see in the future:





As Home continues to focus on great, shareable information, its story on West Elm pulling knockoff products earned thousands of Facebook shares. That social strategy extends to reaching influencers across the Web. To that end, Home is getting nice referral traffic from outside resources.

Image launched a beautiful, immersive presentation for Fashion Week. Jason La and crew put together a highly scrollable, photo-heavy page that allowed users to easily see the best of each designer’s work.

Food also focused on shareable content and foods the local audience were telling us they were interested in. Coverage of the Sriracha festival and possible plant closure did very well. Jenn Harris continued to hit right offbeat notes, gathering steady traffic for Daily Dish.

Travel debuted a panoramic photo display that takes readers from one unique photo experience to another, which makes so much sense for these images.


Long-form stories performed very well for us in October, continuing a trend that began a few months ago when we redesigned the layout for our signature pieces.

Among the top 10 most-read stories this month were two Column Ones (known as Great Reads on our website): Anh Do and John Glionna’s “Two worlds meet in Wyoming’s smallest town” and Barbara Demick’s “Cockroach farms multiplying in China.”

Demick’s cockroach farm story also received the second-highest number of referrals from Facebook for the month, and John Glionna’s “He’s tough enough to be a Sissy in Wyoming” was the third-most-read story from Facebook.


As users continue to consume our news on devices in growing numbers, we saw significant increases in engagement. In October, our device agnostic site saw a 28% growth of unique users and a 15% increase in visits since the beginning of the year. These are important metrics in measuring engagement and loyalty.

Social Media

The social media team has spent the last two weeks working with the different sections in Entertainment. They are continuing there through mid-November and will then move to Features.

Now the tale of the tape….

Most-read stories

A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue by Evan Halper

Some health insurance gets pricier as Obamacare rolls out by Chad Terhune

Two worlds meet in Wyoming’s smallest town by Anh Do and John Glionna

Suzanne Somers is having sex - and a lot of it by Christie D’Zurilla

White House OKd spying on allies by Ken Dilanian and Janet Stobart

Supreme Court may steer to right in new term by David Savage

Amid split, Kris Jenner says she regrets… by Nardine Saad

Horrific flesh-rotting disease may be… by Matt Pearce

Brooke Shields scores point against ex-husband by Christie D’Zurilla

Cockroach farms multiplying in China by Barbara Demick

Most-read stories (mobile)

A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue by Evan Halper

Some health insurance gets pricier as Obamacare rolls out by Chad Terhune

Kim Kardashian’s sexy selfie has her strolling down by Christy Khoshaba

Timothy Bradley vs. Juan Manuel Marquez by John Cherwa

Supreme Court may steer to right in new term by David Savage

18-foot-long oarfish discovered. Now what do they do with it? by Ari Bloomekatz

White House OKd spying on allies by Ken Dilanian and Janet Stobart

Government shutdown Q & A: How long? by David Lauter

UFC 166: Cain Velasquez defeats Junior Dos Santos by Todd Martin

CEO-to-worker pay gap is obscene… by Michael Hiltzik

Most-read stories referred by Facebook

Another Obamacare horror story debunked by Michael Hiltzik

Cockroach farms multiplying in China by Barbara Demick

He’s tough enough to be a sissy in Wyoming by John Glionna

Ellen DeGeneres gives $10,000 to waitress … by Jessica Gelt

A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue by Evan Halper

Most-read stories referred by Twitter

Magic Johnson out as ESPN analyst by Scott Collins

Some health insurance gets pricier as Obamacare rolls out by Chad Terhune

White House OKd spying on allies by Ken Dilanian and Janet Stobart

Another Obamacare Horror Story Debunked by Michael Hiltzik

An alien world dripping with water? by Deborah Netburn

Most-read stories referred by Reddit

Missouri rape: Mother says sheriff and prosecutor lied by Matt Pearce

CEO-to-worker pay gap is obscene… by Michael Hiltzik

A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue by Evan Halper

Ed Lauter, character actor… dies at 74 by Claire Noland

Tea party Republicans blame Obama for shutdown they planned by David Horsey

Top Twitter engagement

(Engagement = total number of retweets, mentions and favorites)

Sports dominated, although Mike Memoli and Michael Hiltzik also did well.











Most-read blogs

L.A. Now

Ministry of Gossip


Nation Now

Hero Complex

Sports Now

Daily Dish

Politics Now

Movies Now

Science Now

Most-viewed Framework photo galleries

125 years of still magic

Pictures in the news, October 4, 2013

The Hollywood sign: A photographic history

L.A. Aqueduct: Coursing through history and California wilderness

Capturing history as it was made: Los Angeles Times celebrates 130th

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Iron Maiden Kills it in San Bernardino

Here’s a post I wrote for the Los Angeles Times on Iron Maiden’s appearance in San Bernardino on September 13, 2013.

Tens of thousands of fans gathered in San Bernardino on Friday to chant a verse from the Book of Revelations foretelling our imminent doom.

A religious revival? Of sorts. Many of the attendees would equate it as such.

The event was a one-day heavy metal festival dubbed “The Battle of San Bernardino,” and the band was Iron Maiden, which had brought its 18-month worldwide Maiden England tour to Southern California for a second time.


Although Iron Maiden has been together for nearly 40 years, band members’ energy on and off the stage was electric (and enviable). They played to hard-core fans who knew not only the familiar Revelations verse-turned-lyric on “The Number of the Beast” but could also sing lines from the rarely played “The Prisoner.”

Singer Bruce Dickinson’s powerful vocals were as strong as ever — and this is the guy Circus magazine dubbed the “human air raid siren” more than 30 years ago. The show — based on 1988’s “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” album — featured songs from such albums as “Powerslave,” “The Number of the Beast,” “Seventh Son” and the band’s debut, “Iron Maiden.”

An early gem, “The Prisoner” began with Nicko McBrain’s pounding drums laying the foundation and shaking the crowd. Founding member Steve Harris’ trademark bassline was next and set the stage for a roller-coaster of mountainous riffs that crescendoed into the familiar yet epic triple  guitar frenzy from Adrian Smith, Dave Murray and Janick Gers.

Seeing the trio handle the lesser-known (but warmly welcomed) “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” and the classic “Phantom of the Opera” was just fun. And these guys genuinely appeared to be enjoying it.

Maiden fraternity

But Maiden fans have seen this camaraderie for years in the many DVDs of concert footage.

DVDs can be a double-edged sword for some bands, however, as the live sound can be doctored in the studio.  That’s not a bad thing when you want to enjoy music in your home theater. But it can provide false expectations for fans who then see a show live.

Not so for Maiden. What you hear on “Flight 666” or “Iron Maiden En Vivo!” is what you get live. Actually, the live performance sounds better. The music Friday was tight, precise and flawless.


At San Manuel, the drums and bassline felt like punches. It was Mayweather versus Alvarez when Harris and McBrain teamed up on “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.” And, unlike “Canelo” Alvarez, the fans refused to tire. No one at an Iron Maiden concert sits down. Certainly not for “Fear of the Dark.” A crowd favorite for more than two decades, it starts off eerie, as Dickinson channels a Vincent Price laugh, and the lighters come out like a Skynyrd concert from ’75.

And then the tempo exploded, McBrain turned into an octopus, Dickinson became a conductor, and the crowd jumped up and down like a bunch of 4-year-olds in the bounce room at McDonald’s.

A highlight? Perhaps “The Number of the Beast.” Dickinson still nailed the high notes. Harris’ bassline sounded like fireworks. The guitar solos were not only note-for-note perfect but also slammed you into the ground. I woke up with the song still ringing in my head at 4:30 a.m.


What about the seventh member of Iron Maiden?  Eddie.  You know, the giant lobotomized,  zombie-like monster that appears on every album cover and frequents the stage.

He appeared as a 12-foot George Custer in “Run to the Hills,” where he played on McBrain’s drum kit and towered above Gers before holding a sword up to his throat.

And later in the show, his head, sans body, made an appearance during the song “Iron Maiden.”  What made this a Hallmark moment were the flames shooting out of his freshly cut head along with red laser eyes (pulsating, of course).

These guys are showmen. They have fun. They love their fans. No wonder they’re one of the bands that can still sell out stadiums — worldwide.

As Maiden fans say, “Up the Irons, mate!”



“Can I Play With Madness”

“The Prisoner”

“2 Minutes to Midnight”

“Afraid to Shoot Strangers”

“The Trooper”

“The Number of the Beast”

“Phantom of the Opera”

“Run to the Hills”

“Wasted Years”

“Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”

“The Clairvoyant”

“Fear of the Dark”

“Iron Maiden”

“Aces High”

“The Evil That Men Do”

“Running Free”

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February, 2013 biggest traffic month ever for Los Angeles Times

Here’s the memo I wrote discussing our record traffic month in February:

Breaking news, Oscars drive record traffic to latimes.com

What a month. Great journalism and smart strategies for digital coverage continued in February, resulting in the biggest audience to latimes.com in the history of the site.

We also recorded a 125% increase in video viewership, and L.A. Now and Entertainment set all-time records.

Breaking News

Nobody does breaking news better than the Los Angeles Times, and this was never more apparent than in our coverage of the manhunt for Christopher Dorner and his standoff with police.

The 24-7 approach, led by Shelby Grad, Kimi Yoshino, and Amanda Covarrubias  made the Los Angeles Times the go-to site through aggressive digital storytelling and exclusive reporting that our competitors chased for days. The L.A. Now team blogged like crazy, but it was the original reporting that really stood out. Our crime reporters tapped their sources with extraordinary results, getting the insider accounts and frequent updates that pushed our coverage far ahead of the competition.

That combined with live streaming video, rapid-fire homepage Twitter updates and frequent live chats made it unmistakable to readers — new visitors as well as loyal readers — that we owned the story.

And the traffic bears that out:

– L.A. Now recorded its highest monthly traffic with more than 19.7 million pages read, beating the previous record by more than 5 million.

– L.A. Now recorded its best traffic day ever with 3.8 million pages read, besting its previous highest total by 1.4 million.

Yes, it was a big story that generated a lot of interest online. But we never would have drawn such a large audience to the L.A. Times website — or kept people reading once they arrived — without the assertive digital strategy used to cover the event. The frequent posts maintained the L.A. Times presence on the Web, making our hard work visible to the huge number of people searching for Dorner news. The blog averaged more than 50 posts per day, peaking at 62 at the height of the event.

We also made strides in audience engagement. Our live interactive videos brought reporters closer to the readers, with dozens of video chats. One live video discussion with Andrew Blankstein, Kate Mather and Michelle Maltais was viewed more than 400,000 times.


The Entertainment team followed a similar digital strategy in covering the Grammys and the Oscars, resulting in the highest monthly traffic total — by far — in the history of the Entertainment section.

We knew going in that we wanted to provide a “second-screen” experience of real value. And we did it by providing great live content for visitors to read, interact with and watch during the broadcast.

Readers responded.

More than 52 million pages were read in Entertainment in February. Powered by the live, breaking coverage of the awards shows, Movies Now, Pop & Hiss and Ministry of Gossip all recorded record months. The Image blog All the Rage also hit an all-time high.

Traffic during the two-day stretch of Grammys coverage (the night of the awards and the day after) increased by more than 95% over 2012 with more than 8 million pages read.

Our audience during the two-day stretch of Oscars coverage increased by nearly 200% over 2012 with about 18.5 million pages read.


How’d they do it? Expertise coupled with surgical planning. They carefully plotted what they would post and when and the best content with which to augment the stories — including behind-the-scenes photo galleries, exclusive video and insiders’ views that no one else had.

As with L.A. Now’s successful push, the blogging was superb, and the original reporting pulled in a big number of readers.

The hard work done by the music, movies and digital production groups leading up to these marquee award shows paid off. And our strategy of collecting that work on curated hub pages and Oscar Watch made a significant difference. This year, we had a tremendous presence on Google search — when readers typed into their browsers “Oscars 2013,” the L.A. Times ranked high in search results — on the first page and, at times, as the very top choice. That visibility fed our viewership. And once readers entered our site, they stayed far longer than is typical, finding more to read on every post.

The efforts in search were supported by a social media push (26 staffers tweeted about — and from — the Oscar ceremony, for example, leading to a 38% increase in pages read from Twitter and Facebook over 2012). Amy Kaufman gets a shout-out for tweeting 97 times during the event and including 38 Instagram photos in the tweets.

Our real-time ballot tracker reported the news of who won before the winners even made it to the stage. And the live video commentary from film critic Kenny Turan and staff reporter Robin Abcarian provided levity and insight during the commercial breaks.

Simply put: We owned the awards.


Finally, we have an experimental team assisting on our Hero Complex blog. First month out of the gate, they set all kinds of records, including:

1.  66% growth rate in Twitter followers.
2.  Most-visited month in the history of the site (double the previous high).
3.  Monthly uniques were more than four times the average.
4.  Monthly page views were more than three times the average.
5.  Most-visited day in the history of the site (more than twice the previous high).
6.  Tripled the average posting per month (154).
7.  79% growth in Facebook followers.

Now, the tale of the tape…

Top 10 most-read blogs

  1. L.A. Now
  2. Movies Now
  3. Ministry of Gossip
  4. All the Rage
  5. Pop & Hiss
  6. Hero Complex
  7. Framework
  8. Nation Now
  9. Show Tracker
  10. Sports Now

Top 10 most-read stories

  1. Christopher Dorner in gun battle with authorities, source says 959k
  2. Women delivering newspapers in Torrance shot in manhunt for ex-cop 793k
  3. Nicolaus Copernicus’ 540th birthday: a man who questioned the rules 495k
  4. Dorner manhunt: Charred human remains found in burned cabin 464k
  5. Dorner may have been hiding in plain sight near command center 440k
  6. PS4: 10 things you should know about Sony’s new console 436k
  7. Oakland rapper ‘Kenny Clutch’ killed in Las Vegas Strip shooting 425k
  8. Christopher Dorner held couple hostage in cabin, source says 351k
  9. PlayStation 4: Sony promises ‘personalized gaming’ with new console 350k
  10. Police seeking Dorner opened fire in second case of mistaken identity 350k

Top 5 most-viewed interactive videos

  1. Latest on the Dorner manhunt 402k
  2. Search for Christopher Dorner 172k
  3. Christopher Dorner’s body identified 60k
  4. Wearable technology 54k
  5. Grammys recap 33k
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R.I.P., Barney: How ‘Barney Cam’ made George W. Bush’s dog a Web star

This is an article I wrote for the Los Angeles Times published on February 6, 2013

“Mr. Orr, this is the White House operator.”

As a White House spokesman, I received phone calls like this all the time. But this was the first time the president’s secretary had ordered me to report to the Oval Office immediately. Before 7 a.m. on a Saturday.

It was December 2003. Iraq was all over the news. We were closing in on the capture of Saddam Hussein. But — and the nation should be thankful — this wasn’t my domain.

President George W. Bush had another reason for calling for me now.

Barney Cam.

How it happened

Whenever I’m asked to speak about my tenure in the White House, the conversation always shifts to Barney, the Scottish terrier whom the president regarded as the son he never had.

After Barney died Friday at age 12, I found myself thinking about how he became an Internet sensation.

In 2002, the White House was still closed to the public after the attacks of Sept. 11. I ran the White House website, and we wanted to use the Internet to better connect with citizens.

Our first attempt to bring people in to the White House — virtually — was a big hit. Millions of viewers went to our site to see President Bush give a personal video tour of the Oval Office.

During a brainstorming session, my deputy, Jane Cook, mentioned that the theme for the White House Christmas was “All Creatures Great and Small” — a tribute to presidential pets.

People liked our videos. People loved Barney. Why not strap a video camera to the first dog’s head, chase him through the White House so viewers can see the Christmas decorations from his vantage point, and stream it over the Internet?

I decided to pitch the idea at the morning communications meeting in the West Wing, where a couple of dozen communication staffers gather to plan the day.

When Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, asked me what was on my agenda, I swallowed hard and then said, “As you know, Dan, White House tours are still closed due to terrorist concerns. And the theme for this year’s Christmas at the White House is ‘All Creatures Great and Small.’

“So it’s only logical that we have a Barney Cam, Dan, which is where we strap a video camera on Barney’s head and have him run through the White House looking at decorations while Christmas music is playing in the background.”

I smiled.

Dan looked at me as though I’d grown another head.

After about 10 seconds of dead silence, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer chimed in: “That. Is. Awesome.”

His validation was all it took.


“Good thinking.”

“Great idea.”

There was one problem. I had fully expected to be turned down. What I had was an idea, not a plan.

My friend Noelia Rodriguez, who was First Lady Laura Bush‘s press secretary, called me 30 minutes later.

“Mrs. Bush loves Barney Cam,” she said. “She’s going to show the video at the children’s hospital instead of reading a Christmas book for the kids.”

“Whoa, Noelia!” I said, beginning to feel panicky. “This is just a theory!”

She told me to turn on CNN — now.

The first lady was there. Live. Talking about the holiday decorations at the White House. Then she mentioned that she would be introducing a cute video starring her dog Barney at the hospital in two weeks.

“Get it together,” Noelia said.

The plan

We scrambled.

We were able to secure a lipstick-size camera to attach to Barney’s collar. But Barney didn’t wear a dog collar. He didn’t need to. Some dogs have microchips. Barney had the Secret Service.

When we put a collar on Barney, he protested by lying down. Then he started howling, loudly.

This would make a pretty lousy holiday video.

A colleague reassured me: “Don’t worry about it. Barney will get used to it. He’ll tire after a while, and then we’ll start shooting.”

Dale Haney — the White House groundskeeper and caretaker of presidential pets since King Timahoe, President Nixon‘s Irish setter — stopped by a little later and offered a warning.

“The president loves Barney like a son,” Haney said. “He hears Barney howling like that, he’s gonna think you’re torturing him.”

The last thing I needed was for the leader of the free world to think I was torturing his dog. We removed the collar.

Instead, we just had a couple of people chase Barney around the White House on their knees with a video camera to get the right perspective. That included going out in the snow. Numerous times. I would have done it, of course, but I was the director.

‘I can’t believe we’re airing this’

The video was just Barney running through the White House chasing a big red ornament and stopping in all the major rooms to look up at the decorations. The soundtrack was Christmas music.

Laura Bush unveiled the video at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. All three major news networks carried the entire 4½-minute video live.

At about the four-minute mark on CNN, the newscaster said, “I can’t believe we’re airing this.” I had to nod in agreement.

We put the video on the White House website, and the traffic was so huge it brought the site down briefly. That week, the video was downloaded 600,000 times. This was in 2002. Pre-YouTube. And pre-mass broadband. If you wanted to watch the video, you had to have patience.

The sequel

In fall 2003, White House colleagues began coming to me, asking what we would do for a Barney Cam encore. We knew we had to do a sequel and had already named it. “Barney Cam II: Barney Reloaded.”

One problem. We had no plot. But just as in Hollywood, that was inconsequential.

Eventually my friend Bob DeServi (another White House communications staffer) and I came up with one. The New York Times noted: “The plot of the video is more complex than last year’s video, which had no plot.” It was a cliffhanger, actually. Barney was ordered by Chief of Staff Andrew Card to put up the holiday decorations, but Barney preferred to play with his ball.

This year, everyone wanted a part. After the previous success of Barney Cam, as well as the White House video tours, there was great demand to appear in the video. I remember talking to Bartlett, telling him that, to make the sequel complete, we really needed the president.

“The president has a lot on his plate,” Bartlett said. “Iraq, Saddam Hussein, the economy. I’m not going to ask him.”

Mr. President

Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m., I was awakened by the phone call.

“Whatever I did, I’m sorry,” I said.

Ashley Estes, the president’s secretary, said: “No, it’s fine. The president needs you to come in right away.”

I said, “Why?”

The president wants to film “Barney Cam II.”

I was rushed to the South Lawn upon my arrival at the White House. Barney was in position. The president and his personal assistant, Blake Gottesman, were walking out to the South Lawn.

Blake came up to me and said, “Jimmy, would you like to brief the president?”

I had always thought that if this were to happen, the topic would be a little more glamorous. Maybe like national security. But I’d take this.

“Mr. President, as you know, today we are filming ‘Barney Cam II: Barney Reloaded.’ Mr. President, here’s your motivation.

“Barney has been ordered by the White House chief of staff to put up the holiday decorations, but he’d rather play with his ball. If you could lecture Barney about the importance of hard work, that would be great, sir.”

The president nodded and said, “Yeah, I can do that.”

We put a lavalier microphone on the president and began recording. On his way out, he was getting into his role, saying, “Oh yeah, I can do this.”

The president gave a performance that can only be described as masterful.

Pointing to his office, he said: “Barney, this here’s the Oval Office. This is where I do my job, Barney. And when the chief of staff gives you a job to do, you do the job, Barney.”

He was out there for 20 minutes lecturing Barney. I was having an out-of-body experience.

Blake told me during the filming that the president needed this. “It was a welcome break,” he said.

One week later, the president would announce that Saddam Hussein had been captured.

Show time

The first lady unveiled the video at the children’s hospital. There was tremendous news coverage of this event, with news networks breaking into their regular coverage to air it live. One network even had a banner that read: “Breaking: ‘Barney Cam 2′ released.”

Visitors swarmed the White House website. It was the most-viewed video of President Bush’s entire first term. Emails came in by the thousands. More Barney videos followed.

Now President Obama‘s dog, Bo, has his own Christmas videos.

But Barney was the first. He let Americans, and the president, forget their problems, if only for a little while.


Orr is The Times’ managing editor, digital.

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HuffPost Live is a winner

Screenshot of a political discussion on the Huffington Post’s HuffPost Live.

Some people you watch more closely than others.  If they do something, based on their track record, you really pay attention.  They know something.  They’ve demonstrated an expertise.  They know something.

We all know that video is booming in the digital space.  That ain’t new.  The BBC Olympic numbers only validate the boom.  Wow.

But we knew this before.  It was just a matter of time before the technology and the opportunity married up.  Even a decade ago, if you had the right video people would watch it — no matter how slow their connection.

When we offered up video tours of the White House back in 2002, for example, the video plays exploded.  Of course it didn’t hurt that we had President Bush give a tour of the Oval Office, Karl Rove act as a tour guide for the Roosevelt Room, and Vice President Cheney show off the vice president’s ceremonial office and many more.

The video was strong enough that people went to it.

HuffPost Live

Now we see a true innovator — the Huffington Post — offer 12 hours of live video programming per day in what they’re calling HuffPost Live.

They’ve proven their chops.  They know what their doing.  That doesn’t mean they’re always right.  The short-lived paid magazine, for example, might be an example of ‘fail fast.’  That’s great either way.  They’re learning from it.


We know that video works.  We’ve seen it at latimes.com.  When we provide the video that people are interested in, they’ll watch it.  And they’re voting yes on our Google Hangouts.

The fact that the Huffington Post is going balls-out on this tells us something.  The audience is out there.  12 hours worth?  Maybe.  But hand it to them for being the canary in the coal mine.

It’s not that risky.  This canary isn’t going to die.  Might the canary get a haircut?  Maybe.  They might not continue doing all 12 hours.  That’s a lot of programming to fill.  But they’re learning really fast here.

Speaking of ‘fast,’ Fast Company had one of their writers watch the first 12 hours of the live programming and kept a diary of her thoughts.  It’s good.  She likes it.

Some quotes of note:

Coincidentally, I get an email from The New York Times. “Get more out of your subscription with free access to Times videos!” Videos are a growing source of ad revenue online, and Huffington Post is clearly spending a ton of money on both equipment and experienced staff. They’re not just putting a camera on the newsroom for no reason, or forcing shy writers to ad-lib on screen (two personal pet peeves). HPL looks like an honest-to-goodness television network.

It looks like TV, but doesn’t sound like TV. It’s more like talk radio on video. It’s a streaming video version of whatever is “trending” on the Huffington Post site at that moment, with a bunch of opinions from bloggers, experts, and readers. And on HuffPo, as we know, whatever gets clicks gets space on the page–whether Syria or sideboob.

The limitations of HPL’s format become clear during these Google Hangout roundtable segments, with four or five people dialing in at a time. Several people talk at once because they can’t hear each other, random computer noises bleed through, and we can’t hear anyone. The visuals consist of that half-ceiling, half-cubicle-wall view thing, and the audio has that familiar warbly quality that encourages mental tune-out. Sometimes the people in the Hangout are in HuffPo’s offices–why not come to the studio? These segments have the potential to devolve into chaos unless the host is very good at directing questions to each person in turn. This could be a problem.

You know what’s weird? Even though I don’t recommend watching HPL for so many hours in a row, you actually could. By which I mean, I haven’t seen a single story repeat all day. Watching HPL is just like reading the site–click, click, click.

By comparison, every time I’ve flipped over to Fox or MSNBC, they’ve been talking about either the “escalating negativity” of the presidential campaign, or Biden’s latest “gaffe.” Every single time. In the absence of breaking news, cable networks are garbage. It’s a repetitive, grating commentary machine, focusing on conflict and scandal. HPL has its share of the same, but it also has 10,000 other things, and it never stays on one long enough to get boring. And there’s a lot less yelling, because usually all of the guests agree with each other. True, HPL also doesn’t provide very much depth, but for that, there’s always the newsp–click, click, click.

What people might get caught up on, but shouldn’t is this quote:

No offense to HPL’s ebullient hosts, but I really can’t wait to turn this off. They’re not ready to let me go, though. The conversation doesn’t end now, they say. “You can already start tonight, commenting on the news we are going to be talking about tomorrow.”

Don’t miss the point

The mistake we may make is thinking that people will actually watch 12 hours of video.  No one will.  The idea is to have video when people are there.  So it’s predictable.  People will check it out when they land on the page.  It’s predictable.

I love this.  The conversations are good.  Not only do they augment their existing content but they’re providing a predictable experience on their site.  People will know when they land that they’re live.  It’s no longer a static site (and the Huffington Post was the least-static site out there).  But now it’s different.  Visitors see the people.  This is important.  People want to know someone is there.

Forbes’ Michael Humphrey is a fan too:

Just for comparison, I watched the CNN Live Stream for awhile yesterday, and it was clear why HuffPost Live could be successful. Suddenly, CNN looked elitist with its well-suited guests, its complete lack of real social integration, its long commercial breaks. I went back to watching HuffPost Live because I wanted to.

HuffPost might have started with a complicated list of ideas, but the main one — a new kind of TV news channel — is simply right.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr.com

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Goodbye, Blackberry

An ancient Blackberry (circa 2002).

It’s astonishing to me to see how quickly the Blackberry has become irrelevant.  Seriously irrelevant.  Like 1% of the market.

Just until a few years ago, it was the mobile device to have.  I wrestled with getting rid of mine.  I finally made the switch over to an iPhone in 2010.  It was a difficult choice mainly because of the keyboard as I could crank on it.

I was lampooned for keeping my Blackberry.  Laughed at.  Mocked.  Ridiculed.  But it was my companion for more than 8 years and I was loyal, dammit.

Early White House days

I remember when I got my first one at the White House in 2002.  I was amazed by it.  Astonished at the power.

This was one of the earliest models.  No phone.  Just email.  Just black text.  And an orange shift-key.  But it made work so much easier.  You could carry around your email.  It was crazy.

So I carried around my Blackberry.  My pager.  And my Motorola cell phone.  All the spokespeople at the White House had the same set-up.  You had to have all three to stay connected.

No home on the range

It was funny as at that time there was no data service for the Blackberry in Wyoming though.  So whenever I went home, I’d have to drive down to the Colorado border just to pick up my email (which was essential when I’d be the on-call spokesperson at the White House).

So when I traveled home for the holidays, I’d have to drive 3 or 4 times a day down across the border to have all my email downloaded so I knew what was going on.

I’d head down on I-25.  Go a couple miles past the border until there was an exit and park myself on a bluff and wait for a few dozen (or a few hundred) emails to download.  It could be a half-hour wait.

But it was a tremendous advance in technology.  I’d drive the 14 miles to get the text email messages on the little screen.  Wow.  This was so much better than the Palm Pilot I had two years prior (which had no connectivity) and really did very little (but was all the rage).

Blackberry holster

At Schwarzenegger’s office I ridiculously carried around three Blackberries.  All holstered on my belt.  One for the governor’s office, one for the campaign, and a personal one.  What buffoonery.

The security guys would laugh as I’d unload them and put them on the metal detector when entering the Capitol.  I thought nothing of it. What a dumbass.

I still have a couple of my old Blackberries.


I see that Blackberry is making another feeble attempt to come back.  They’re releasing a couple new phones in 2013.  Good luck.

As Led Zeppelin said, “There are two paths you can go by…”

I don’t see how Blackberry can avoid the Netscape one.  But we’ll see.

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Who wants to sit on the sidelines? It’s all about competition!

Exciting photo of the treadmill after logging three miles in under 24 minutes tonight.

Colin Cowherd hit the nail on the head this morning.  He was discussing people who talk about winning the lottery and what their responses tell you about them.

People who say they would retire and travel aren’t really living, Cowherd said.  They’re just watching life go by.  If he wins, he’s buying an MLS team and competing.

“Who wants to be on the sidelines?  Do you want to watch the game or be in the game?”

“Come on!  We’re guys!  We should want our at bats!  You think Jeter wants out of the game?  Jeter wants up at bat when he’s 50.  He wants to compete when he’s 80.

“Life is getting up at bat when you’re Jeter at 41.  Or you’re Kobe in five years getting paid the league minimum so he can hit another jumper.  That’s life.  You’re a guy.  Not a mama’s boy.  Compete.  Have fun.”


No kidding, man.

It’s about competition.  I love that.  Wherever I’ve gone that’s what motivates me.  Wanting to win.  To best either myself or whoever I’m competing against.

No Olympic-breaking time for me tonight.  But running three miles in under 24 minutes is a big improvement.  I couldn’t run a 10 minute mile three months ago.  I ran one mile in 7:19 last night.  My goal is under 6:30.  And three miles in under 21 minutes.  All achievable this year.

Traffic Alert

Same goes professionally.  How can we continue to achieve?  And beat the competition?

Like when we really cranked up traffic last year as the Nieman Journalism Lab reported:

In the last several months, latimes.com has seen record traffic numbers, outpacing its own internal numbers and marking pageview gains while other news organizations have seen slight decreases. In March the site had over 160 million pageviews; in May it was 189 million. And according to numbers supplied by Nielsen and comScore, latimes.com was one of the few top newspaper sites to see a year-over-year increase in uniques in June, up 5.4 percent compared to decreases of 9 percent for the Washington Post, 18.8 percent for The New York Times, and 20.5 percent for the Wall Street Journal.

That doesn’t mean the L.A. Times is going to lap The New York Times or the Huffington Post when it comes to reader counts. But the numbers are still impressive, and more so when you consider the secret sauce at the heart of it all: a full embrace of blogging that adds voice in some corners, emphasizes timeliness in others, and has opened new doors for reader engagement. On latimes.com, news is geting the blog treatment and blogs are getting the news treatment. “Most of our blogs are reported stories,” said Jimmy Orr, managing editor/online for the Times. “What we’re seeing is big increases in our blogs, and that’s where a lot of the breaking news is.”

That’s fun.  It was great.  Month after month after month.  Beating prior records and becoming the second most read major newspaper site in America.  It’s a blast.

Morale builder

It was the same thing that at the Christian Science Monitor or at the White House or at Schwarzenegger’s office or the other places I worked.  Always setting up tangible goals and beating them.

Goals are great.  They force focus.  And once you hit a goal, it has a widespread positive effect.  When we really started generating traffic at the Monitor, people got excited:

Several noted the greater traffic infused the newsroom with a new sense of relevance. “This revival has been a real morale booster for yours truly,” said one staffer who had been with the paper for more than 20 years. “For a long time, I felt like I was on a losing team. Not losing in the sense of — we had a strong product. But it didn’t have much reach.”


Same thing happened at other places too.  When we overhauled Gov. Schwarzenegger’s online efforts, it was universally praised.  And that had a big effect on the staff.

“The multipronged approach underscored how California’s governor appears to be reshaping the look and feel of political communications by offering “the best integrated use of live interactive (technology) that I know of in the country by any politician,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg School of Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.”

“The live interactivity is what’s innovative — and it’s happening in California first,” she says. “There are moments in which the technologies are ready and the politician finds the technology — and this is one of them.”

Goals are Key

The successes all started with goals.  Gotta have the goal first.  Success doesn’t just happen.  You have to make it happen.

Cowherd is right.  No living on the sidelines.  We should want our at bats.

Follow me on Twitter: @jimmyorr

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