I’ve been in the news business for almost 8 full years — yes, that’s a considerable amount of time these days feels like — and there’s only one constant I’ve seen: change.
The Internet side of news is an ever-evolving beast that can never be tamed, but you can learn to stay on it for more than 8 seconds.
I have one word of advice for any new reporter entering news and even some of you older, wily reporters: take care of your web folks.
Now, there are many things you can do to get in the good graces of your web department, but I’ll keep with the basics.
1. Be ready to write: There is no excuse these days for reporters who do not produce their own copy. The days of “I don’t have time for that” are dead and buried. If you’re pitching a story at 9:30 a.m., that story better be fairly fleshed out and ready to turn into 200+ words for the web folks — breaking news aside, of course.
Web is largely a traffic-driven business. It’s not a dirty secret. By producing your story a little bit early, you’re likely going to help your web folks generate a couple hundred extra page views before noon than you are waiting until after your story airs after 6 p.m.
If you have a fairly lengthy sweeps piece that you worked extensively on, be prepared to write that for the web department as well. The web department is not going to know as much about that story than you. Of course, that saves your bacon legally speaking as well. You wouldn’t want someone working on your story that could open yourself and your station up to litigation.
2. Extra stuff helps a WHOLE BUNCH: Extra stuff means just about anything that you may having laying around that helped you produce your story — pictures, extra video, PDFs, data, etc. All of it can be used to garner extra traffic for your web department.
Let me share with you a story — I had a reporter working on a story about how the state dealt with meth labs. She went inside a meth home as state investigators first discovered there was meth being mad there. It was a great story about what goes on behind the scenes of investigating meth in the state.
Two days before air, she’s putting the finishing touches on the story and I finally sit down with her to see what kind of extra stuff she might have for us to publish with her story.
“Well,” she said, “I have a spreadsheet of all the meth labs the State Law Enforcement Division has investigated with addresses and other information.”
My eyes lit up. I knew exactly what we could do with that data: turn it into an interactive map. A day and a half of furiously working with the data, we turned the data into a map
showing meth lab busts in the state from 2011 to 2014.
The story went to air at 11 p.m., but we decided to publish the map an hour before the story aired. Believe it or not, that map received more traffic than the story alone. At last count, it received over 20,000 page views.
I also had another reporter — who actually is in this group and knows exactly who he is — who was constantly giving us extra items for his stories. It was a large source of pride for him whenever he saw his stories generate gobs of traffic for us.
For example, he was working on a story about the mayor of Columbia and his involvement with a former university board member under federal indictment. Our reporter cornered the mayor on camera to ask him a few questions, but the mayor wasn’t having it.
“Grow up,” he told our reporter. He got the whole exchange on camera.
Our reporter returned with the video and immediately shot it over to us knowing exactly what he had. We published the video on our website hours before it aired and it gave us several thousand video views over the course of several days.
So, to sum up, don’t be afraid to ask your web folks if they want any extra items because they could create valuable traffic that you didn’t even think about.
3. Be active on social media: Here’s a big one these days. If you’re not active on social — be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, Friendster (boy that joke is an antique) — then you’re doing it wrong.
Now, what constitutes “active” on social media? One post a day does not mean active, by the way. I’m talking multiple posts through the day. Social media is all day, everyday.
I’ll explain the big two that we use the most in local news: Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter is best used for breaking news and small updates. There’s not a faster way to deliver breaking news than Twitter. Use it whenever something big breaks locally or nationally and don’t forget to use hashtags.
Locally speaking, Twitter is going to be the fastest way to get information to your followers and the folks back in the news room.
If you’re out on a scene — let’s just say it’s a shooting — expect to use Twitter to tweet out updates from the scene. That means pictures, video, small updates, and so on and so forth.
Facebook is a completely different animal than Twitter. It also generates more traffic than anything else I’ve seen.
Video thrives better on Facebook. It is also weighed more heavily in the Facebook algorthm, meaning your Facebook fans are more likely to see videos from your page in their news feed than anything else. Confused? TIME Magazine has a good primer
on the algorhtm.
If you have some very compelling video — say a tornado or something highly visual — posting it to your own Facebook page would not be a bad idea. However, the key here is to include a link back to your station’s main website in order get folks back to the site.
That’s really the key to social media — getting folks back to the website. Outside of direct traffic to the website, social media has become the best way to generate traffic and create new viewers.
To conclude, let me just say I think working the web is the best, most experimental portion of our business today. I am biased, of course, but I’ve seen even the most harden TV reporters turn into true believers when their stuff goes viral and winds up on the front page of Facebook, Drudge Report, Fark, Reddit, etc.
We can do so much more on web outside of the 1:30 PKG or 30-second VOSOT and we’re not even close to realizing its potential.