//Kevin Anderson /september 18 / 2012
Public radio station finds recipe for digital news success
Like all transitions, the transition of media from print and broadcast to digital isn’t always a smooth one, but over time, digital journalists have built up experience that can help guide your digital development efforts.
Here we highlight a brief case study from KPLU, a public radio station in Seattle in the United States, which underwent not just a technology transition but also an evolution of their on-air and online editorial strategy. As we noted with digital media product development, the number of choices both during development and after launch can seem overwhelming, but the lessons from KPLU apply to any market and provide you with a sense of where to start.
KPLU carried out a “ground-up overhaul” of its digital platforms and learned some hard lessons, according to the station’s assistant general manager and director of public media Jennifer Strachan. Not only did they learn which digital services weren’t working, they also learned not to underestimate the complexity and cost of such an overhaul, which cost them not only money but also time.
When choosing a technological solution, it is important to think first what you’re trying to achieve editorially. Good technical staff will help you make technology choices based on your editorial goals, and when you’re evaluating developers, whether on staff or an external contractor, one criterion should be how well they help you make these choices.
Staffing and organisation
KPLU doesn’t have a large news staff – only four full-time reporters, a part-time reporter, four news hosts and a news director. They added a full-time multimedia manager, a digital intern and an online managing editor to help them achieve their digital goals. That is still not a huge news staff, so using them effectively and efficiently was a key strategic challenge.
A few years ago, full integration of digital and existing editorial teams was embraced by many, but many news organisations that moved towards full integration now realise that running an effective multi-platform news outlet isn’t as simple as that; to create strong content for digital and existing platforms, whether they be broadcast or print, some specialisation is necessary. For KPLU, they decided not to fully integrate the staffs but instead have both staffs focus on a common goal – they found this to be a much better use of limited resources:
The news and digital teams remained separate but worked collaboratively toward a common goal: competitiveness in the region’s online market for news. Digital relevance would require both our radio and online staffs to acknowledge the strengths of both media.
A checklist for digital success
Once they had the technology and staffing in place, they found that “webbifying” their radio stories, converting radio scripts to text with only a light adaptation for the web - wasn’t successful in attracting readers. “(M)ost of the web stories were buried, almost unread,” Strachan said, adding:
We had to be much smarter about our content so that users would not only find us but also choose to read our post over the other 10 stories reporting on the same subject that day. Our news was important, but posting it was not so important if no one saw it.
To understand why their digital news content wasn’t attracting the audiences they had hoped for, they turned to their web analytics services. They found that readers weren’t coming to their stories by the station’s homepage but rather via search and social media. They then turned to their real-time, social media analytics service, Chartbeat, to analyse comments and how readers were sharing stories on social media.
They started to see patterns including themes, ideas and characteristics of the stories that online audiences responded to. Sadly, the stories that found success were a small part of the content they were initially producing.
They noted these commonalities and created what they called a “web rockstar checklist”, which they posted in every reporter’s cubicle. Here are the criteria they found helped determine whether a story would perform well and be relevant to their online audiences:
• Is it timely? (Are we ahead of others?)
• Are you adding something NEW to a known story?
• Does it have a unique angle or perspective?
• Does it ask users to take action or express an opinion?
• Is it shareable? (Would YOU share it?)
• Does it celebrate an idea, person or place?
They continue to evolve the strategy, and they now have a checklist to help them decide whether to add extra digital features to their radio packages. They have also developed a checklist for when and how to enhance their radio content online, so be sure to read the original article. The results are impressive with visits are up 101 percent, page views are up 63 percent and unique visitors are up 149 percent.
What is your strategy for using your precious editorial resources? How do you decide whether or not to create additional digital features? If you don’t have a strategy for the digital content you produce or how to digitally add to existing content, you’ll want to follow KPLU’s lead and dive deep into your analytics first to help you write your own “web rockstar checklist”.
Article by Kevin Anderson