By far my favorite session of the day was "Grow Your Online Audience With Hyper Local Content," part of the NABEF Career Development Program. The presenter was Rob Curley, vice president of product development for the Washington Post Newsweek Interactive. Some of the work he and his team are doing is inspiring and helped open my eyes to what could possibly be great options for stations online.
One of his big points was to stop thinking about how the industry has always presented the news and start thinking about how people want their news. Do they want it as Web videos, on their iPhones, as an audio podcast or the streaming HD version? Think beyond traditional video coverage. Online can allow you to incorporate video, text-based articles, photo galleries and audio interviews, depending on what helps best tell the story.
One of his projects was On Being, which was a series of interviews of regular people. The idea is to connect with real people. Finding out about your neighbors is interesting, Curley says.
The pieces are about two minutes long, cut down from about two hours of footage. Interviewees include a lactose intolerant cheese maker and a Puerto Rican gay Jew. The twist is that in these interviews, you don't find out these key details until the end. It's the inverted pyramid turned on its head.
Once the video is over the viewer is taken to a screen with a blog post from the reporter giving details about the interview.
One of the stations owned by the Washington Post took this idea and sold it for a good chunk of change to a bank.
Facebook is the most local site on the Internet, according to Curley, because it lets you know exactly what your friends are up to. He created two applications for Facebook.
One is The Compass, which gauges your political leanings and compares it with your friends'. The other is the washingtonpost.com newsTracker, which is basically what the name says with some cool search features built into it.
By creating a hyper local site for the affluent suburb of Loudon, Curley has created a hub for the community. The site contains a complete calendar of events, including school activities, charity events and even bible studies. His team called and interviewed every restaurant in Loudon to create an informative guide that can be accessed from the Web and downloaded to a media player. They did the same with churches (though these they interviewed in person rather than over the phone). And they also did it for the area schools, tracking acts of violence, offering state assessment scores, etc.
For LoudonExtra.com they also produce video spots covering local sports (produced by interns), feature blogs and offer live chats with prominent people in the community each week.
The evolving newsroom
Curley is pushing the industry to expand what it means to cover a story. How do you webify a story? What about making related clips easy to find? Or live chat? Or scanning in letters or other documents of interest? Or photo galleries or 360 degree photos? And you don't necessarily have to take the photos yourself. Ask the organization if they have footage or pictures you can use. (His example was of a high school prom.)
"Be positive and embrace change," he says.