I’ve been thinking a lot about how to build viewership for news projects for one of the classes I am teaching and the students I am advising. And then I received a comment on a post I wrote for Carnival of Journalism last month.
Here’s the comment:
I was reading with interest your response to Carnival of Journalism’s, Future of Video post. You surprised me when you said you’d like to see more long-form documentary enterprise features from newspapers.
As deputy director of photo and video at the Detroit Free Press, I’ve been heavily involved in all of our long-form (and short) video stories. I am a firm believer that video is the future of newspapers, but there seems to be a resistance across newspapers for the in-depth video story. We’ve been fortunate to resist that resistance and do good work – see our most recent doc at http://www.freep.com/livingwithmurder. However, I fear that the return on investment is not yet there and newspaper’s impatience may kill this type of storytelling before it gets a chance to be realized – Washington Post’s layoffs a few years back of some of their documentary folks as evidence.
Is your desire to see this type of video based on personal preference or are you seeing a demand for it in any of your research – anecdotal or hard facts?
Thanks for your time.
Here is my response:
Thanks for reading and commenting, Kathy!
Alas, although my research has shown that people SAY they would watch a long-form video, they rarely do. They told our interviewers that even though they “want” to watch them, they have to “justify” that time (even as they also admit they spend hours watching sitcoms, hanging out on Facebook, or playing euchre on Yahoo). I think the key for news organizations is to evolve their thinking about such projects. The days of a news organizations producing something like this, promoting it on the site, and hoping people will view it are gone. One needs to discover the audience for these kinds of projects. News organizations need to cultivate genres of audience segments and market those long-form projects to opinion leaders whose demographic indicate an interest in similar kinds of content (such as Frontline or NPR) via Facebook, Twitter, targeted ads etc. Another idea would be to produce such a longer project in partnership with another organization that has such an audience. Finally, such projects are often considered evergreen content, and thus, could be great fodder for attaining a continual stream of viewers from search engines (the idea being that the longer your content stays relevant, the more search engines will find it, the more authority that link gains, the more viewers you attract, the greater possibility it will drive traffic to other parts of your site etc etc). And if it’s issue-based (as many of them are), the project could serve as an anchor for a page that becomes the go-to place for people looking for information on, say, crime or poverty or gas prices or whatever with archived stories, links to reports and data, etc etc. )
I do have some findings that might be helpful to you: that people will devour everything they can about topics they are interested in, that they want to be able to research even more (“dig deeper”), right from the content, and that they want to be able to engage with the material — and the reporter — beyond the product itself. I’d love to see more reporters thinking of their projects in a much more dynamic way.
Here are just a couple ideas to create a buzz and generate that special audience: crowd-sourcing the reporting for it, having give-and-takes about the issue during the reporter with key sources and potential audiences right on Twitter, build up a special Twitter project hashtag, promote the project and relay relevant and credible information about the topic via established discussion threads already on Twitter, side-writing on the issue on their blogs, setting up Q/As with prominent sources and experts on the issue, generating questions and engaging with readers in online forums about the content, using Facebook to generate dialogue and not just as a story-link resting place, cross-promoting the material on highly read blogs and other kinds of content (by other people/journalists/experts) about the project.
The project has to be sold to newsroom leaders in these ways — as something that can live and grow for the site — I think, and not as just a finite product that is good journalism and important for society.
Now the problem is finding the time to do all of this. And there’s the rub, right?
Would love to hear your thoughts on all of this! (And you should check out that Free Press project “Living with Murder;” It’s awesome and there’s always time for “awesome.”
Last weekend I attended the Online News Association’s conference in Boston. This is my quick-hit version of what I learned about branding yourself as an information producer today. The majority of material in this comes from several online-media experts on panels from the September 2011. Panelists included the following: Mark Coatney of Tumblr, Benet Wilson of Aviation Weekly, Anthony Derosa of Reuters, Will Tacy of Front Page News at Yahoo, P. Kim Bui at KPCC, and Meghan Peters of Mashable.
Please forgive the informal nature of it:
–Focus. Figure out who you are and then work it. Keep your professional side professional and create separate spaces for your different personas and brands.
— Use Twitter lists for specific topics and people to keep up with what’s happening without all the noise.
— “What you do online is your audition.” You know it is really that person (and not just a story that has been edited by someone else), and you are seeing their raw stuff. When you get called by a reporter who wants to work with you, you Google them. You want to see if the person seems thoughtful and good in their online presence. (Mark Coatney, paraphrased)
— Link to everything you do in all of your platforms. Cross-promote everything.
— Consider LinkedIn as a marketing tool.
— Keep your own data!! Save it yourself. Screen shots of all your published material. Download stories and features to your own server.
— Do not discount your blog as a marketing tool for yourself: “Blogs are the most popular things on our website” (Benet Wilson). People are looking for the content and not necessarily where it is housed. In other words, social media can be the new journalism.
— Consider having a Facebook fan book page or group page for your work. Don’t forget to promote your promotion vehicle by interacting on that platform (such as using that account to like relevant links or make comments in other spaces)
— Treat social media and your blog as a conversation and not as a publication. In other words, rather than saying ‘my new thing is out,’ follow a bunch of people and retweet and add commentary. Add your value into it.
— Consider the network effect: The retweet is an endorsement of what someone has said. When they see you retweeting them, they start following you, and then that is the “network effect.” It doesn’t happen overnight. It does take a bit of time. You must build up your audience through sharing. The value of Twitter is in the retweets!
— Don’t put anything out there you would not want to see on the front page of the New York Times! Assume everything will go viral.
— Make your Twitter account your 401k that you can take anywhere you go. Make sure you can always take your content and brand with you when you leave the organization.
— It’s not about selling out. It’s about authenticity. You can have integrity and a brand.
— We are no longer in charge. Our users are in charge. It is no longer about you. Get over it.
— One needs to try to be a mind reader and to predict what followers will do before they do it. That’s hard but necessary.
— Create collaboration with users. Use your competition to build your own brand through retweets and blog entries. Engage in the conversation, even if you did not initiate it.
— A tool like Storify tells a story with social media, allowing you to retweet a lot of other people and taking charge of a part of that conversation. In this way you can make audiences part of your process.
— Pay attention to your long-term and short-term goals. For example, increasing numbers of people who are followers might be a long-term goal whereas a short-term goal might be to monitor what is happening that surprises you
— Chartbeat.com is your friend: You can track minute by minute what people are doing, what is popular in social media in the moment
— Track: fans, followers, frequency of posts, engagement stats such as likes or retweets
— Use: Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, Woopra, hoot suite analytics, bit.ly, page lever (deeper than Facebook insights; just launched), peoplebrowsr (data mining company), klout (measures influencers score)
— Questions work well, especially lots of “where” and “when” but not “how.” Simple questions.
— Don’t use all the characters you have available in a tweet. The best tweets have no more than 80 characters. That also gives room for commentary upon retweets.
— Social media is like headline writing but you also want people to respond to it. Social media is not just a community; social media is a conglomeration of many small cities. Know who your audiences are.
— Keywords, keywords, keywords. Tags, tags, tags. Each keyword should be a logical term most people would use to find your blog (and not, for example, something vague or obscure).
— As you pitch stories, consider carefully the publication. For example, on spot.us (a four-year-old site that allows you to pitch a story and see if it has a market for funding) the worst stories are descriptive, psychological pieces (such as the political process behind the decision, or the great profile of so and so). Very hard to get those funded. Instead think about usefulness of stories. Data-driven stories. FOIA-driven stories. Unique investigative pieces do really well.