Illustraction by Piick/DepositPhotos
TechNewsTT enters its fifth year today and this the eight hundredth story posted to the site. It seemed appropriate to have a look at what’s happened with the website since it was started in April 2014.
That year we racked up a respectable first-year total of 11,988 visitors and 19,076 views. What I discovered soon after starting the website is that a local technology focused website had used the same domain name in 2012 and 2013, enjoying success with at least one link that got picked up by Reddit.
I was surprised to find the domain available when I began searching for names that fit my criteria of being both short and easily spelled for readers who heard the name but didn’t see it written down.
The former domain owner contacted me later on and generously offered me the Facebook and Twitter identities he had created for the website, and I did merge his Facebook Business page for his version of the site with my own and I stuck with the Twitter identity I’d been nurturing it for that first year.
Those starting numbers rather encouragingly doubled in 2015, offering up 36,078 views for 24,551 visitors and rose again in 2016 to 59,494 views and 42,159 visitors.
Absolute numbers don’t matter as much to me as stickiness for a website like this one. TechNewsTT is not a general interest website.
Indeed, it occupies a very specific niche within a niche interest group, seeking to authoritatively cover technology news that’s relevant to Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean region as well as news of developments, startups and projects originating from our small twin-island state.
In terms of numbers, that’s probably a smaller niche that a website dedicated to advising on Carnival footwear styles and comfort considerations, but there are exceptions.
When technology issues drift into the mainstream, site numbers surge rather robustly and I start getting resource alerts from my service provider.
A report on the Government’s decision to reintroduce import taxes on books and computers in January 2016 drifted close to 10,000 views on its own within a few days. I’ve also learned not to loiter with news and to design my own newsgathering process to drive information out quickly when it merits that type of treatment.
I filed the first report on TSTT’s announcement that it would buy Massy Communications, a two sentence notice with links to the full press releases added later in the day. That post went live before the head table making the announcement stood up to end the press conference.
I’ve shed the idea of a laptop and a DSLR as a reporting mainstay and now report using a smartphone, Bluetooth keyboard and prosumer P&S camera. I’m constantly looking at what’s available to make that on-the-spot reporting capability lighter and faster.
I’m no web turk. I’ve put in 42 years in the field of journalism, and the first tech skill I acquired was fluency with typing, because no subeditor wanted to decipher my handwriting.
Today, there is no clearer guideline to guide journalists on what they need to be doing that’s better than the responses of their audiences and I constantly study the analytics for the website to figure out what’s working, what readers respond to and how I need to recraft work for wider interest.
This remains very much a work in progress. Nothing surprised me more than the realisation that a curated press release section on the website wasn’t going to be a a sop offered to potential advertisers and sponsors (yes, I plan to start those discussions soon), it also represented a subject specific resource that I’ve often referenced in stories and which has drawn significant audience share when the information in the release matched the reader need for information.
I posted a notice from the Telecommunications Authority about illegally broadcast CableTV content in August 2015 and it attracted only the most cursory of attention. In January 2016, when TATT carried out its promise, the press release began to surge.
Apparently, it wasn’t available anywhere on the web but on TechNewsTT. Even TATT hadn’t posted it to their website. When those interests don’t coincide, I can’t tempt readers to read the stories at all.
I’ve run campaigns on Facebook for stories I considered important and learned that people won’t read stuff that they’re not ready to read, no matter what you do.
This note is titled “Thank you” for a good reason. Analytics also tell me that I have a lot of return visitors, people who check in with the site regularly or respond to links on social media frequently and that you are the core of the readership.
I know that I could drive more readers to the website by dealing with subject matter in ways that are more in alignment with modern styles of presenting information on the web. Believe me, I’ve considered doing some “Ten things that” or “Fifteen reasons why” stories, but it’s hard to see how the audience that would attract would appreciate to the rest of the site.
I often consider the strategy that Lenny Grant, the former Editor in Chief at the Guardian who brought me to the paper in November 1998, articulated for the style of journalism he believed in.
“Line and length,” he’d say, referencing a bowler’s strategy in cricket that faced down a difficult batsman by methodically mapping his stroke play through his response to different bowling tactics and finding a weak spot that would take his wicket.
I am generally sports numb, but that’s always resonated with me. The idea that challenges can be dismantled through patience, planning, effective strategy and methodically applied tactics.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t get it wrong at all. The site’s stats report both successes and failures faithfully and in the pursuit of a quality product, one is more likely to get it wrong than right.
But failure, as one popular green hand puppet explained, “is the best teacher.”
I’m in school here, and it’s great having you along for the process. Let’s connect more in 2018.