This is a series on Better News to a) showcase innovative/experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative and b) to share replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole. This “win” comes from Stephanie Pedersen, executive editor at The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Question: What problem were you trying to solve, and why was solving the problem strategically important for your organization?
Answer: Myrtle Beach obviously is a tourism destination, but we also have a growing local population. We also have a young staff. So, I had two problems: 1. People don’t know us well enough to share their stories and 2. My staff needs to be comfortable sharing their own stories and interacting with readers.
Q: How is this approach related to Table Stakes (e.g. one of the 7 Table Stakes and/or an outgrowth of the Knight-Lenfest initiative, etc.)?
A: This is something I’ve always wanted to do because we don’t do a good job telling our own stories. It could relate to a number of Table Stakes, but we’re focused on Table Stake #4 (“funnel occasional users into habitual and paying loyalists”). In order for us to turn drive-by readers into loyal and engaged subscribers, they need to know who we are and trust that our reporting is accurate and fair.
Q: How did you go about solving the problem?
A: We live here. We play here. We’re raising our families here. Local newspapers aren’t the big box “media.” We’re your neighbors. This project is about introducing the staff as members of their community. We posted the videos on Facebook and Twitter and plan to use them when reporters write columns. It gives readers a chance to better understand the staff and, we hope, build better and more meaningful relationships.
We launched the first one in July, with our Myrtle Beach city reporter, and have posted several others since then, including ones with our true crime reporter, our county and development reporter and our breaking news reporter. The reporters share a bit about their background and interests, and each video ends with several different forms of contact information for the reporter.
Q: What worked?
A: The videos on social media have between 2,000 and 6,000 views and numerous shares. More importantly, it’s created real dialogue between reporters and readers, and we’ve seen an uptick in submitted news tips and phone calls to reporters.
Q: What happened that you didn’t expect?
A: My young staff was pretty timid at first, but in the end they really enjoyed the process and sharing the videos. Not insignificant but also probably not directly related to our challenge was the family factor on Facebook. Parents and grandparents loved sharing their family members’ video, and we picked up more followers from our extended families who were “so proud” of their son, granddaughter, nephew or cousin.
Q: What would you do differently now? What did you learn?
A: I would have them all done before we launched the project because breaking news happens and can derail your progress. Hurricane Florence hit near the end of our series, and we still need to produce two to three more videos. I would encourage others who try this to have fun with it and let your staff members show their personalities. Journalists are quirky people who are relatable and fun. Let loose a little bit.