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.”