Tech We’re Using: Lifting Journalism by Knowing What Readers Are Looking For Express News
How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? Claudio E. Cabrera, a deputy off-platform director tasked with driving quality traffic from search engines to The Times, discussed the tech he’s using.
What are the contours of your job, exactly?
I work on S.E.O., which stands for search engine optimization. On a daily basis, my job is not just focused on helping to optimize our stories for greater visibility and increased traffic from search engines such as Google. It’s much more.
We have a large newsroom, and we are constantly educating editors, reporters and more on the best practices when it comes to search — whether it has to do with headlines, URLs, timing or story forms. Additionally, we are teaching them how to spot how well their story is doing on search.
I usually start my day around 6 or 7 a.m. and track everything that happened overnight to get an idea of what to focus on in the morning hours. After that, I start making my rounds on competitive websites and using our trends tools to find potential ideas I can pitch to desks or optimize something correctly that we’ve already published. I then start jumping into conversations with desk editors about what they have coming for the day that they want me to keep an eye on. I’m big on getting ahead of things, as it gives much more free time to work on strategic initiatives throughout the day.
Outside of the daily news grind, we focus on our coverage for yearly events like the Super Bowl, the State of the Union address and the Oscars; plans for covering other major news events we know are coming; and ways to improve our website on a technological level and expand our reach internationally.
My day usually ends around 5 or 6 p.m. (though I do pop up on our work messaging system at weird hours to make sure we are performing well on the stories we are covering).
How do you keep track of search trends?
A lot of it really starts with taking a dive into the journalism your website is producing. I’m big on looking at our Times Wire tool when I wake up and the stories we’ve published overnight. I pick and choose what to read based on headlines and jot down anything that stands out. There are always stories within the story, and when we may not catch that story ourselves, another brand will and aggregate it, and it then becomes a trend. That becomes a missed opportunity for us.
On a tools front, I use Google Trends, Kaleida, NewsWhip, Reddit and CrowdTangle. I like these tools because they incorporate search, social and the conversations around them.
Outside of that, it’s important to look at whom we consider to be our competitors and what they are doing daily around general news and trending items. It allows me to see what stories we may be missing and what angles we may not be exploring.
Should search trends determine what journalists write about?
I definitely believe search is important and something they should have a solid understanding of — but it’s also not everything.
Digital tools that reporters regularly use to find news, like Dataminr and Google Trends, can’t replace the beat reporting and other traditional methods that provide stories that can become trending topics or traffic drivers on both search and social.
But S.E.O. can inform us about what people care about most on a specific beat, both in the short term and the long term. So if there’s a breaking news story, you can immediately find out what people are searching for in relation to it and how you want to add it to your coverage. And the statistics that we can extract from tools like Google AdWords and SEMrush can help journalists decide what areas would be best to drill down on further.
In the end, search should be part of a reporter’s process, but it shouldn’t drive everything.
What tech tools do you use at work?
I have a typical setup in terms of hardware, with a laptop and two screens. One is mostly dedicated to search trends and tracking, while the other is focused on long-term strategy and projects that I can focus on periodically throughout the day.
As far as tools, I am a big Chartbeat user and use it to track performance of how well stories resonate with readers. I also use Slack and have alerts to certain key terms so I can assist in S.E.O.-related conversations outside of being contacted for guidance. (People like to claim I never get off Slack or sleep, but I actually do.)
Google Docs is also my best friend when it comes to keeping track of stories we’re watching, working with desks on editorial plans and more. Google Webmaster Tools is important for viewing the overall health of our website. I also use Trisolute, which alerts us when our stories are ranking in search and when they have lost positioning. And I look at SimilarWeb for competitive analysis and SEMrush for keyword analysis. News apps from competing websites keep me in the know about their top stories and general alerts.
Outside of that, I have a portable battery I carry around everywhere to keep my phone charged. I don’t want to miss out on anything happening.
What tech do you and your family love to use outside work?
I’ve never been Mr. Tech and am always made fun of by friends for downloading certain apps late in the game. Recently, I’ve changed my ways.
I downloaded the Forest app (a friend’s recommendation), which helps you defeat phone addiction and use your time in a more efficient way targeted toward your goals. I’m big on reading feature stories over the weekend, so I use Pocket, an app to save long reads. I also use apps like Scribd for books, ClassPass to book workout classes, Sleep Cycle for rest and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s app for getting around the city.
Like most families from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Latin America, we communicate a lot through WhatsApp. It’s extremely popular in those regions. I have a lot of older relatives who are joining social media for the first time on apps like Instagram and Facebook, so I communicate with them through those tools as well.