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TODD SMITH — USA Today network building foundation on power of video



The USA Today Network – the nation’s biggest newspaper publisher – is jumping on the video train.

The sprawling empire is shifting into high gear of transforming its more than 100 local media organizations into a single, cohesive whole – and video is a central part of that strategy.

Late last year, it hired Joanne Lipman, the founding editor in chief of Condé Nast Portfolio, to serve as chief content officer for the company’s newly-rebranded network. Chris Davis, an investigative editor formerly of the Tampa Bay Times who’s shepherded Pulitzer Prize-winning projects to completion, joined this summer to coordinate deep dives across the country.

And last week, the network tapped Russ Torres, the former head of Yahoo Studios, to lead its video efforts. It’s part of a plan to encourage the company’s corps of nearly 4,000 journalists to meet the ever-increasing industry-wide demand for video.

In doing so, USA Today Network will grapple with the same challenge that every news organization with legacy roots has to reckon with, according to the Poynter Institute. Here’s what the USA Today Network is doing:

Transforming what have long been text-first newsrooms into dynamos for online video that can be sold to advertisers at higher rates. Many newspaper companies, including Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing) McClatchy and Digital First Media have also sought to instill a video-first culture across their properties, but they face stiff competition from video-savvy outlets including BuzzFeed, Vox Media and CNN.

Torres will begin his tenure with a 90-day analysis of USA Today Network’s video capabilities. But he and Lipman already have a few ideas about how the company can double down on its commitment to video.

Don’t let up

USA Today Network isn’t new to the video game. On average, the company produces 4,000 videos across its owned and operated channels each month. Last year, it garnered 866 million video views across the network, and it’s projecting a 38 percent increase this year.

A fair amount of the video production happens in an Atlanta-based video production center staffed by some 15 employees. But there’s also collaboration across the company’s various properties – a recent video from the Clarion-Ledger that unspooled an investigation into an accused murderer was published on USA Today’s main site. That kind of sharing across multiple properties will be increasingly central to USA Today Network’s strategy going forward, Lipman told the Poynter Institute.

Change the culture

One key to increasing video throughout USA Today properties will be making traditional print reporters more comfortable with the medium,

Figure out a social strategy

By now, many publishers are grappling with a huge dilemma: whether to publish content on their own websites (which have traditionally been easier to make money from) or post their content directly to social media networks like Facebook, where much of their audiences are. Torres has yet to formulate a video strategy, but he cautioned against publishing on social media to the exclusion of the company’s own properties.

At the same time, journalists have to be on platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat to find new viewers.

USA Today for Netflix?

As more and more video consumption goes to on-demand platforms like Netflix, Roku, Hulu and Amazon, it’s impossible to ignore those platforms, Lipman said. Stories like “Gone,” which are deeply reported and emotionally resonant, could be fodder for these so-called “over-the-top” platforms.

Don’t rehash TV news

At the same time, the USA Today Network won’t be trying to copy TV news when it tries to develop stories for the web. They’re different mediums with different opportunities and different expectations from viewers, Lipman said.

“Our digital video is not television,” Lipmann said. “I think that’s the biggest mistake we’ve seen from old media. I think a lot of media properties across the industry started out by trying to make television-style video for a different audience. And it’s a totally separate product and you have to approach it in its own way.”

Get in lock step

One of the first steps Torres will take is making sure video content from across the USA Today Network feels of a piece, with uniform branding and comparable quality, he said.

“I think it’s important to make sure that when people see it, they know it’s from USA Today,” he said. “So consistency of offer, consistency of look and feel and best in breed across all of our platforms.”

Go live for the right reasons

Live video is all the rage right now, in part because monolithic social networks like Facebook emphasize it in their News Feeds. But USA Today — and publishers in general — shouldn’t invest in frivolous live content just to meet the growing demand, Torres said. Instead, they’ll use live where it makes sense, for topics like breaking news and sports.

ABC News teams w/Facebook to livestream Presidential debates

ABC News and Facebook are again teaming up to bring live coverage of the U.S. 2016 presidential election to the social network, with live video of the general election debates. In addition, the network’s Facebook page will feature live streams throughout the day from the host cities, as well as pre-debate programming via its original series “Straight Talk” airing at 7 p.m. EST on Facebook Live.

Anchored coverage of the debate will then continue, with “Nightline” co-anchor Dan Harris, digital host Amna Nawaz and ABC News contributor LZ Granderson.

The further expansion of the relationship between the two organizations follows a previous deal that saw ABC News providing live coverage of the DNC and RNC on Facebook. That went well, it seems – ABC News reports that it saw more than 28 million video views across its Facebook pages as a result of those streams.

With the debate coverage, ABC News isn’t simply broadcasting live video out to the social network, it’s also using the platform to interact with the audience. The network says it will incorporate viewers’ comments, questions and conversations in the Facebook Live coverage of the debates. The feeds also won’t include advertising.

The 90-minute Presidential debates begin last Monday in Hempstead, N.Y., and will be followed by an Oct. 9 event in St. Louis, and an Oct. 19 debate in Las Vegas. The vice-presidential debate will be held on Oct. 4 in Farmville, Va.

Golden Mic | Arnold Palmer elevated the sport of golf

Arnold Palmer – like no other golfer in the modern era – gave flight to the game in a time that brought TV to the masses and golf into the living room of families across the globe.

Palmer, “The King” of golf, who died on. Sept. 26 at age 87, was the first of the made for TV golfers and was largely responsible for crowning the game a spectator sport for the masses. Palmer’s go-for-broke playing style and everyman demeanor broadened the game’s appeal beyond the country-club crowd that had long been its primary audience.

Palmer charged across the golf course with a go-for-broke style that everyone connected with. At ease with presidents and the public, he was on a first-name basis with both. Through his remarkable life, he never lost that personal touch.

Palmer ranked among the most important figures in golf history, and it went well beyond his seven major championships and 62 PGA Tour wins. His looks, devilish grin and hard-charging style of play made the sport appealing to one and all.

He built brands on and off the course. He was equally successful with golf course design, a wine collection, and apparel that included his famous umbrella logo. He bought the Bay Hill Club & Lodge upon making his winter home in Orlando, Fla., and in 2007 the PGA Tour changed the name of the tournament to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

And another lasting legacy just as sweet – late in life, he came up with the brilliant concoction of iced tea and lemonade known across the globe as  “Arnold Palmer.” To this day, it’s one of the Spin Cycle’s favorites, and will forevermore be even sweeter. I’m going to make one now, and lift it Heavenward, where I know the old pro is rounding the back nine on the sunny side of the pearly gates.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


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