Since it’s so rare to find good journalism-related news these days, I thought I would report one of the positive things I learned from the College Media Advisers conference last week in New York City.
One of the keynote addresses at this conference, attended by journalism students and their professors/adivsors, was by Brian Storm of MediaStorm, who was also incidentally the speaker at my recent Mizzou PhD graduation. Storm is a funny, irreverent, and new media savvy guy, and his small multimedia production studio produces freelance work for the likes of The Washington Post and National Geographic.
If you’ve never checked out the MediaStorm Web site, I would strongly urge you to do so. Breathtaking photography and exquisite multimedia storytelling on the extremely important issues, such as the legacy of Rwandan genocide, that mainstream news orgs are increasingly short on budget to produce:
Their storytelling philosophy, Storm said, is to let the subjects speak in their own words. They use on-screen text to connect the dots and drive the narrative, but the audio is in their sources’ own words. They combine stills and video to great effect and always incorporate some kind of surprise for the audience.
Great and all, right? But there’s two exciting take home messages for other news organizations that had me frantically taking notes on my iPhone during the speech.
PEOPLE CARE. THEY WATCH. Get this. I’m not making this up: They have a 65 PERCENT completion rate for one of their 21 minute videos. Meaning that 65 percent of those that start watching stick with it to the end. Unbelievable.
I’m one of several folks who have wondered of late how much proverbial bang for the buck news organizations are getting when they produce beautiful, slick multimedia packages. I love those pieces, in theory, but in reality, I often see them and feel overwhelmed by the time commitment. I confess that I want to be able to skim text, not sit down and actually watch something or play around with various options and links. I feel guilty about this because I deeply appreciate good journalism in all its forms, but it’s true, and I wonder how many others have a similar issue.
Does Storm have an answer for this? How does MediaStorm succeed in getting and keeping those eyeballs?
1. Quality, quality, quality. They are selective about the work they do, and they invest time and money in doing it RIGHT. No denying that’s a part of their success. But it’s not hard to convince journalists of THAT. Most I know are dreaming of being told that is true. Check out number two.
2. AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS. If you plunk a big time-consuming multimedia project on a Web site where people have come to expect relatively short news and feature stories they can skim over fast on their coffee break at work, or where they come to find local breaking news in bite-size chunks, they will feel just as I do – appreciative of your effort but too overwhelmed to take the time to really explore what you have to offer. Instead, think about creating a separate site for your very best work, where you can cultivate a different set of expections.
3. Put your content in front of people in as many ways and on as many platforms as possible. Make it easy for them to share it – via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Get your techie folks to work hard on making sure the user experience is as seamless and non-frustrating as possible. For example, they include the code that allowed me to add that photo you see above in this post to this blog in a matter of seconds: Cut and paste. Once you’ve created that separate home for your high-quality stuff, push it out to the online world in as many ways as possible.
Yes, MediaStorm is a small organization, so I’m not arguing that what works for them would necessarily work to sustain a large newsroom. But the fact that they are doing well financially while doing serious, long form journalism is a reason for hope.
In Storm’s view, if you stick to your values, you’d be surprised by what just might happen. I couldn’t agree more. Embrace the future and all new media forms, but stick to your guns when it comes to the enduring journalism values of accuracy, quality, good reporting, and engaging storytelling — and I predict a positive long-term future.