Tom Horgen has grown up at the Star Tribune, arriving in 2005 right out of the University of Minnesota. Over the years he has covered the bar and nightclub scene, been a culture columnist, a features editor and now is an editor on our digital team.
Your current title is digital editor, content strategy. What does that mean exactly?
It’s a pretty vague title, isn’t it? The way readers consume their news has changed dramatically over the past decade, thanks to social media and those tiny computers we put in our pockets. So, the ways we produce our content has changed. Basically, we’ve had to become faster and faster, and rethink how we distribute our stories on all the platforms readers use. I help the newsroom rethink how it packages and promotes stories to this growing digital audience.
Many reporters end up on the features side later in their career, but you started yours there. What about features journalism appealed to you at such a young age?
Basically, when I was a kid I wanted to be Roger Ebert. Then in college I wanted to be a music critic. I was all over the place in terms of my interests. As I started to actually focus on what I really wanted to do in journalism, it became clear that I just loved artists in general, and really dug the idea of helping to tell their stories. I especially liked the idea of shining a light on artists who weren’t always being covered by mainstream media.
You launched the Floored newsletter and were critical to ramping up our coverage of homes for sale. Why do you think readers are so taken with these stories and photo galleries?
My extremely scientific answer: Who doesn’t love to look inside other peoples’ homes! In all seriousness though, once I started analyzing the readership traffic on our homes stories, it was clear the Star Tribune audience had a larger appetite for homes stories than previously thought. The Floored newsletter is a fun way to help that large audience get a weekly dose of these stories and photos. I’ll admit we’ve gotten some criticism for routinely featuring multimillion dollars homes in the newsletter, because a lot of us don’t live like that obviously. But it turns out a lot of us loooove looking at those homes.
You have spent the past year working with the business department on digital strategy. What are the challenges to making business news stand out online?
I love our business coverage, especially for what it means to a metro area filled with Fortune 500 companies. I wouldn’t say there are challenges, actually. It’s more about getting the stories and special projects in front of the right audience. I’ll give you an example. We already know that readers love stories about grocery stores. Because we all buy food, right? What we’ve learned through analytics is that readers want both the deep dive story on food-buying trends, and they also want to know when the 27th Lunds/Byerlys opens in an outer-ring suburb.
You have also begun analyzing our online content in recent months. What lessons have you learned?
So much! But let me just say this: When people like me start talking about stories in vague terms like “content” and “analysis,” I think there is a danger of misconstruing this as a numbers game. And it’s not. For me, this is about listening to our readers, and really allowing the audience to tell us what it wants to read. And I think that’s being reflected in our coverage.
Digital marketing of news, through newsletters and social media is a key growth area for news organizations around the country. What trends are you seeing? What works and doesn’t?
For me, at the core of digital news promotion is the question, “Where are readers reading their news, and are we servicing them on those platforms?” That’s how I try to approach my job. I love the idea of meeting readers where they’re at. So if the majority of young people are consuming their news on Instagram or YouTube, what is the traditional news media doing to service those readers there? These days, it’s all about choice. Digital readers are choosing to open a newsletter, they’re choosing to click on a story on Twitter. We have to do everything we can to meet their needs in those arenas.