‘We are constantly seeking points where we can improve’: Q&A with Zero Hora’s Marta Gleich

“As is common for technology companies, the ‘beta’ concept has permeated our work initiatives,” says Marta Gleich, Executive Editor of Zero Hora and seven other RBS Group newspapers in southern Brazil.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | March 31, 2015

(This article is also available in both Spanish and Portuguese)

“This means,” she adds, “that since 2014, the ZH newsroom began to understand that its processes, its products, and even its structure are in a state of ‘permanent beta.’ In other words, we know we will never reach an ideal. Quite the opposite. We are constantly seeking points where we can improve,” continues Gleich.

With a newsroom of 209 journalists and a verified print-plus-digital circulation of 197,010 (print alone is approximately 162,000, and digital counts only those users with a login), Zero Hora is today growing rapidly on mobile as well.

In this edited e-mail interview, which formed the basis of our March/April 2015 cover story, Gleich, who will also be speaking at our World News Media Congress in Washington, D.C., (1-3 June), told us about the changes Zero Hora has made to its newsroom in the past year as well as the “beta” concept that now informs and drives its outlook.

WAN-IFRA: What are some of your main plans and goals for Zero Hora’s newsroom this year?

Gleich: The main plans and goals of Zero Hora for this year can be divided into three topics. The first and most important for 2015, and always, is to produce quality journalism. During these troubling times for the communications industry, it is important to remember our purpose and our value to society. In this sense, we reorganised the newsroom so that we had more in-house content production, which is how we are different from other outlets.

Also, we expanded the organisation and planning of special and investigative reports, providing the journalist the necessary amount of time to produce this content, which provides relevance and credibility to the Zero Hora brand. We created a rigid process to monitor the progress of special or investigative reports.

We have a dedicated team for investigative journalism, which has the task of thinking, planning, and executing the reports with a high degree of impact among the readers.

This team encourages debate about infiltration techniques, databases, and the use of the Freedom of Information Act for the entire newsroom. It is worth noting that, for 2015, we planned investigative reports that will be done in collaboration with Brazilian newspapers with large circulations in other state capitals, and also with the participation of local university journalism students.

The second major objective includes the entire digital area, with emphasis on mobile and video. The newsroom is making an effort to discover formats and content that generate an excellent mobile experience, even if there are limitations in relation to the publication platform.

We worked with the Product Development department to improve our website, mobile site, and apps, to ensure that the growing mobile public will be well served. To produce more and better videos, we restructured the image team (photographers and video editors), ensuring more importance for video production.

Our objective is to produce 50 percent more video content than last year.

We defined four basic formats that guide reporters and photographers in defining the daily and special productions: candid videos from reporters and readers, produced on the street with a mobile phone, sent by readers, without editing; opinion videos and columnist commentaries, recorded in the newsroom environment, with simple editing; videos of daily reporting, that require a bit more elaborate editing and production; and finally, special videos with a digital documentary style that require special language.

Our digital audience grew 19 percent in 2014, and for 2015 our objective is to grow 40 percent in relation to 2014. We also are working to get the audience to remain for a longer period of time, read more material per visit and, of course, share our content on social networks.

The third objective of the year is geared toward productivity. With lean teams and the need to produce new formats such as video and content for various platforms, the newspapers need to be concerned about doing more with less.

We are measuring some things in the newsroom, such as the number of pages edited per editor, the number of texts published per reporter, and the number of videos produces per day.

The objective is not to make things bureaucratic or to create useless reports, but to ensure that we are producing the maximum amount of quality in-house content with the team we have.

How are you promoting innovation within your newsroom?

As is common for technology companies, the ‘beta’ concept has permeated our work initiatives. This means that, since 2014, the ZH newsroom began to understand that its processes, its products, and even its structure are in a state of ‘permanent beta.’

In other words, we know we will never reach an ideal. Quite the opposite. We are constantly seeking points where we can improve.

This value was incorporated into the culture, with an important change in our way of thinking. Since the team understands that a new product can be launched and then be improved based on any feedback or, if necessary, even discontinued, the environment become freer for those who want to create new projects.

There is a greater tolerance for error (not when it comes to journalistic information, of course!). Besides the cultivation of this spirit, the newsroom works closely with the other departments in the company, such as Commercial and Digital Product Development, with constant conversations about projects that benefit from the input of professionals with diverse perspectives.

It is worth noting that in 2015 we trained and restructured the team that is responsible for the production of digital special projects.

This group works with different reporters and editors for each project. Its mission is to search for innovative formats where design, programming, and content can be explored as much as possible, to ensure amazing products for the readers. The group participates in each step of the process: from the initial idea and then monitoring the results of each special project.

How does Zero Hora help give readers a larger voice in your paper (both print and online)?

Since 2013, with the unification of the editing offices responsible for the reader’s page in the print version, and through the interaction with readers on the social networks, we began to have a broader view of reader participation in our products.

In 2014, we changed the comment policy for our material in digital environments: they are now published without previous moderation. We really believe that reader participation is fundamental to make a better product: comments frequently generate new topics, for example.

Our team not only has to share our content on social media, but they have to read the comments and interact constantly with those who follow us through these platforms. We encourage all of the reporters to do the same, because interacting with the readers is not a role that should be restricted to a single group of people. Thus, we instruct the reporters to also answer the comments in their material and to interact with readers.

We also planned many activities where the content is formed exclusively from the opinion and participation of the readers, especially in the digital realm. This participation is reflected on paper, where this content is also often published.

What are some of the key issues facing Latam news publishers today?

Speaking in terms of freedom of the press in Latin America, you can only say there has been a sharp setback in the freedom of the press situation in some countries, especially Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina.

In greater or lesser intensity, mostly using authoritarian legislation and regulation approved in the last few years, the governments have tried to weaken the professional communication system in order to affect its independence. Even in Brazil, where freedom of expression rules, the government plans to begin discussing new media regulation, encouraged primarily by leftist sectors and politicians.

Another major challenge – and this is not only a problem in Latin America – is to find sustainable business models, with new sources of revenue and expenses that are under control, with high productivity levels.

But despite the challenges, there are great opportunities, from the growth of news consumption, the growth of the middle class in Brazil – an enormous group of people hungry for information and services – and a large contingent with smartphone access. Publishers that know how to create interesting digital products and new sources of revenue have a great opportunity.

Marta Gleich will be speaking at the World Editors Forum on Tuesday, 2 June, during a session titled: “The multi-platform newsroom,” as part of the 67th World News Media Congress, 22nd World Editors Forum and 25th World Advertising Forum in Washington, D.C. For full programme details and to register, click here. 

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