In my day: Thinking multi-platform

February 5, 2015 01:30

By Vincent Duffy, RTDNA At-Large Director
I’m writing this blog post a week after my 51st birthday, which means I’ve officially passed the half-century mark and can begin starting sentences with “In my day…”

When I was in high school, I actually did have to walk through the woods, then a meadow and up a big hill, often in the snow, always in the dark, to get to my bus stop. Now I can start that story with the appropriate phrase. In my professional life, I can also annoy young reporters and interns with some “In my day…” stories.

In my day…
  • We had to rewind and fast-forward cassettes to find our cuts.
  • We had to put all our sound bites on carts and stack them up for productions.
  • We had cuts on our fingers from editing too fast.
  • We had to rely on snail mail and immobile phones for communication
But the young reporters today will play this game better in the future, because when they are older, they will be able to say, “In my day, we had to multi-platform all of our stories!”

Yes, carts and razor blades were a pain (sometimes literally), but “in my day” when you were done with your story, it aired and you were finished. Today, finishing your story is just the beginning. After it’s produced you need to Tweet it, rewrite it for the web (including attaching a picture you remembered to take), reproduce it for mobile and podcasts, put it on the Facebook page.

Then, while you may have other stories to do, you also need to monitor the online discussions (which may or may not be thoughtful) taking place in the comment section of the website or on your Facebook page.

At my station, juggling all this still remains a work in progress, and I sometimes feel like an air traffic controller trying to keep track of where stories are in the process. But let me share with you how we do some things and feel free to steal anything you find useful.
Podcasts and mobile
Our audio features are not only heard on the air, we put them on our website, make them available as podcasts, and the sound files are also picked up and aired on NPR1. (NPR1 is a mobile app that combines local features with NPR features in a Pandora style format where listeners will get more of what they indicate they like.)
But when a feature is heard on air, the anchor reads an introduction that sets up the piece. The audio without the introduction can sometimes be confusing, so we have our reporters produce two versions of their stories. The first is a traditional version for use on air, but for the mobile and web versions, they start by introducing themselves and reading a rewritten introduction into the story. That way the entire sound file is a complete story, and listeners don’t feel like they’re dropping into the middle of something or wondering who is talking to them.

Every story we put on the air, big or small, also goes on our website. We use a blog style format so it’s important that we provide new stories regularly or the site will look stale.

All of our stories go through a rewrite for the website. Radio scripts just don’t translate well into print. Since bandwidth is practically infinite and radio stories are always edited for time, many of our reporters will put additional information in the online stories. While we are primarily a radio station, reading our web stories will actually keep you better informed. We don’t add audio files to our spot news stories. Our metrics indicate people just don’t listen to 30 second versions of a story when the text is right in front of them. We do post the audio for features, interviews, commentaries and really interesting sound. Again, they are all in podcast form described above.

Increasingly, we are producing a number of “web only” stories each week. Some stories just work better visually than on the radio. Examples include slide shows, stories explained with lots of graphics and illustration, and stories that are dense with numbers. Every web story also goes through a copy edit. We used to just let reporters rewrite their own stories and post them, but reader complaints about spelling and grammar were too frequent to ignore.

Thanks to the web, today’s radio news directors also need to be copy editors, photo editors, and diplomats with an audience that expects perfection.

Social media
The workflow for a standard headline news story is supposed to look like this:

Twitter > Website > On-Air > Facebook (linking back to website story)

Once we learn something or decide we will cover something, it should be sent out on our station twitter account. Developing the story for the website and for on-air often happens at the same time. For breaking news, the website will usually get a story up first, for non-breaking news the story may air first and get added to the web afterward.
Facebook is almost always last because we like to link back to the web story, and our Facebook page is more of a place to discuss the news rather than discover the news or promote stories.

A feature or series that doesn’t have the immediacy of a traditional news story will usually go on-air first, and then be sent out on the website and social media sites roughly at the same time.
Stations are experimenting with these multiple platforms in many ways. Often what we can do depends not on our abilities, but on our resources and staffing. How are you handling multiple platforms at your station? Feel free to add more suggestions in the comment section below.