Nick Eaton '03

Digital Audience Editor, The Seattle Times

As digital audience editor and head of the digital audience department at The Seattle Times, Nick Eaton’s work centers on helping the newsroom make the transition to a new digital world. He oversees the team of four producers and another editor who curate the Times home page, write engaging social media posts and headlines, make sure the newsroom is staying on top of the latest trends for platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and he plans and strategizes digital direction for the whole news organization.

“It’s an art to fine-tune how we write the news in order to reach readers as best we can,” says Nick, who graduated cum laude from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University (WSU), one of the top communication programs in the country. “Here at the Times, we think of our main product as journalism—that may mean print, or digital, or mobile apps. We just want to meet our readers where they are.”

Like most news organizations, The Seattle Times is emerging from a rough decade. The advent of social media platforms plus mobile apps, free/cheap online advertising (such as Craigslist), and the reluctance of readers to pay for news online has all but gutted the way news organizations traditionally deliver the news. Many print papers have disappeared and journalists have lost their jobs. In 2008, Nick was working for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane as a sports multimedia producer when he and a quarter of the newsroom staff were laid off.

Nick returned to Seattle and landed a job with seattlepi.com. Barely two weeks after that, Seattle P-I print shut down. He covered Microsoft and technology for seattlepi.com, and then moved to being sports editor. (He traveled to two Super Bowls, covering the Seahawks, and the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.) After six years at seattlepi.com, he caught the eye of The Seattle Times editor Don Shelton and, in 2015, was hired by the Times for digital sports production, then local news production, and then he landed a promotion to digital audience editor.

In college, Nick did not quite know what he wanted to do with communications, until he started writing for WSU’s college newspaper, The Daily Evergreen, and fell in love with it. Blogs were new and Twitter didn’t exist, but he still could see that change was coming. “I ran for editor-in-chief of the paper on a ‘Web First’ platform,” he says.

Now, in addition to having a thorough knowledge of Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, Nick is utilizing sophisticated digital analytical tools. He advocates using analytics to help guide editors and reporters in seeing what their readers are most interested in reading.

“I’m not saying I want that to be the only approach, but it is a strong tool in the news reporting process,” he says. “Numbers are not the only thing we are paying attention to, but if you don’t do that, you will shrink.”

A new metric Nick is paying attention to is “subscription influence.” Basically, it enables him and his team to see what triggers someone to buy a digital subscription to the paper.

“When a person subscribes via our website to any of our offerings, we can look back on the last thirty days and see which stories they read and we can give each story an influence point,” explains Nick. “It’s a kind of in-house thing we’ve created.”

According to Nick, the beauty of this metric is that it has shown that people do not necessarily value “cheap journalism” like listicles. They want the hard-hitting impactful journalism on which the Times prides itself—the watchdog investigation stories and deep features.
“The waters are still pretty rough for news media but I think we’ve turned a corner where people value hard impactful journalism,” he says.

Though Nick is no longer doing the beat reporting he first fell in love with, he says he thoroughly enjoys his work in the digital universe. “Now I’m coaching and teaching and overseeing and improving, helping the organization make this transition,” says Nick. “And I’m constantly learning myself about the digital future.”

This profile originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of The Northwest School Magazine.