Saturday, January 26, 2008

Newspapers Take a Lesson from Hollywood and MTV

During my time as a co-op in a high-tech PR agency last January, there was a lot of talk about new media and how PR professionals could use it to their advantage when pitching to the media.

Advice given by a well-known reporter from a well-known newspaper (both name and publication escape me--hey, it was about a year ago!) during a professional development session, included using videos as a new and innovative way to reach out to the media. Simply put, a video pitch. This reporter said he had yet to receive a video pitch from a PR professional but if he did, he would certainly notice.

Fast forward to January 2008 when I came across this article yesterday from the Online Journalism Review about newspapers taking their own advice of finding alternate ways to pitch to their customers.

Both the Dallas Morning News and the St. Petersburg Times have individually embraced viral videos as a way to pitch their stories in an attempt to gain new readers. Two to three minute videos act as movie trailers (or a music video in the case of the St. Petersburg Times) providing an effective way to lead people to read the newspaper.

Hollywood Meets the Press

DMN's videos are basically like movie trailers but for newspapers, advertising their investigative stories that will run in its print edition. They are dramatic and they are effective, using emotional testimonies from sources, intense music and powerful tag lines. If there was any way to sex-up investigative journalism with new media, this is a good way to go because it grabs the viewer's attention (a hard thing to do with our dwindling attention spans in this instant-gratification type of society) while also presenting the story in a serious, professional manner.

Currently the publication has only two videos but plans to use this type of marketing in the future.

"Unequal Justice"

"Texas Youth Commission"

While "Unequal Justice" investigates how 56 convicted murderers in Texas were sentenced to probation rather than jail, "Texas Youth Commission" examines the abuse scandal by the state's agency created to rehabilitate young offenders.

Anthony Moor, Dallas Morning News' Deputy Managing Editor/Interactive noted:
I’m not going to say that this is a breakout way to reach the audience, but we have to do things like this. It’s not like we don’t understand what YouTube is about. And because of the way that news and info is being distributed on the Web, we have to gain new job skills within our current titles. For example, a traffic acquisition manager – not the types of things that newspaper or website editors do. We thought this is a good way to experiment with that.

He has an extremely valid point. This willingness to be adaptive and flexible is going to be the only way that newspapers can plan on moving forward in a world engulfed by new media. This isn't to say that I see newspapers disappearing but I do see a need to accommodate innovative ways to keep up with technology.

MTV Meets Newspapers

The St. Petersburg Times took a different approach by creating a music video to promote Politifact, its collaborative effort with the Congressional Quarterly to fact-check statements made by the presidential candidates.

This may not have the dramatic effect that the DMN's videos have but that's because it's an entirely different ball game. Clearly trying to reach out to a younger audience, the SPT's video uses its staff in the video and is humorous and clever. As a young voter, I found myself interested in Politifact. As a journalism student, I wanted to be on their staff since they seemed like a fun bunch to work with.

Is This the Future?

A search through Google and YouTube didn't turn up any other publications that have tried this but perhaps it is an alternative route that newspapers will be willing to take. While online readers grew six percent in 2007 for newspapers, something like this has the potential to not only increase web traffic for newspapers but to also lead people to actually pick up a newspaper and follow through with reading the printed story that is being advertised in the trailer.

It's an interesting collaboration between journalism and new media that is encouraging to see.

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