PAMELA: Can you guys see back there? It’s a tough room. If you want to be closer, feel free.
PAM: Let’s start. So people will probably be still tricing in because we’re first. So thank you, guys, for joining us. Come on in. There’s a lot of really cool stuff happening, like, right now. So thank you for being here. We’re excited to be here. This has been an awesome conference. And we’re here to talk about breaking down the wall. An audience and editorial work together in six steps, my name is Pamela Johnston, I work at the front line—come on in.
SARAH: The poles are kind of hard to see, so there’s lots of chairs over here.
PAM: Yeah, come close. Come on.
SARAH: We don’t have a ton of slides. We have a few.
PAM: And then we’re going to have a conversation.
PAM: So we want to get us together.
SARAH: So I’m Sarah Moughty, and I run our digital team at front line, and you guys are here, it’s early, and there’s a lot of great stuff going on. So I’m excited you came to see us. This is one of the sessions that’s being transcribed, if you want to go off the record, that’s no problem, just say off the record, and remember you want to say on the record when you’re done. And our goal here today is to have a conversation about development and what it means in your newsrooms, and we want to hear what you do. We’ll talk about what we do at front li, and hopefully you feel empowered to make small changes in your newsroom.
SARAH: So now that you know who we are, I want to know who you guys are.
PAM: So anyone in the team on the audience team? Hello, my people. I also do audience. Welcome. Come on in. Come on in. So a couple of audien Thanks for coming.
SARAH: And how many of you guys work on a editorial or kind of reporting team? That’s awesome.
PAM: That’s great.
SARAH: Ask anybody who’s not one of those things –
PAM: Product? Tech?
SARAH: Okay. Cool.
SARAH: If you guys want to come up, there’s plenty of chairs up here. It’s weird to see in this room.
PAM: Come join. Because we do want to have a conversation about the audience.
SARAH: So here’s the thing about this question.
PAM: So actually this was a trick question.
SARAH: A trick question.
PAM: You guys are all on team audience. So congratulations, welcome to my team. Raise your hand proudly. Welcome to the audience team. We’re going to tell you why that’s true. And hopefully you’ll leave feeling empowered by that.
SARAH: So I don’t know how many of you guys are stam with frontline, but we started a long time ago on a video like this, we are a documentary series that’s on PBS.
PAM: 35 years. And really for most of our history, this is how people found us, and this might be what you think of when you think of front line. But in the last four to five years, there’s been a lot of change at front line and hopefully now we look something like this. We’re going to show you a quick video just because that’s what we do.
PAM: So I don’t know if you saw at the end, FRONTLINE experience your way. That’s a huge change for FRONTLINE. For 30 years, we were on PBS, we expected people to come t. So that’s a monumental change. Such a change that we baked it into our brand trailer. So that mattered in a big, big way. Getting our culture to change getting multimedia. Over the last years has been a huge change but actually it’s been successful as well.
SARAH: Yeah, I mean how many of you guys watch appointment television on a actual television? Anyone?
PAM: Anyone? Does anyone have a TV? How many people still have a TV?
But, yeah, the world has changed dramatically in the last few years and –
SARAH: Yeah, so –
PAM: We had to think about where people were and what kind of content they wanted and transform ourselves and we’ll get into that shortly. But, like, that really mattered to us when we started on a audience development four years ago, our idea was to grow our audience everywhere. So we’ve been able to do—this is just the last year and a half. But we really care about meeting people where they are, that’s mostly on social where our Web visits are up, doing all kinds of new content, VR, podcast, streaming, and our broadcast viewership is actually super healthy as well, and that continues to matter to us. So the transition has been pretty successful for us. But the big question we’re really here to talk to you guys about and have a conversation to see what’s happening in your newsroom, it’s, like, how do you go from that to that? Whether it be in four years or less?
SARAH: So the answer is actually that we made a conscious choice to disrupt ourselves from the inside out. And I know that sounds like, like, really super –
PAM: Really big.
SARAH: And we were lucky because we do have an executive producer who cares about this and who actually tasked us of doing this and hired our first audience development director, which used to be our publicity department, so that was a big change. But we saw what was happening. Like, we’re no dopes. We saw what was happening on newspaper and YouTube everything was disrupting our traditional model, so we had to figure out how to disrupt ourselves.
PAM: And also, guys, you know, I felt some of this yesterday, and we continue to feel it in journalism and in media. You were really scared. It’s scary. And we were worried about dying. So when it comes to, like, live or die, like, you’ve got to change. So that’s where the disruption came from. Like, yes, absolutely we watch what was happening to our newspaper. But we didn’t want to die.
SARAH: So really at the heart of our disruption, we changed entirely about our audience.
PAM: The truth is FRONTLINE, again, I said before because we were low on the tile, we’ve been around for so long, it’s PBS, and it’s trusted, and people came to us in droves. FRONTLINE never really thought about audience. We thought about journalism. And it was traditional publicity and reaching media critics, which don’t exist in the world really anymore. And getting our—a write-up in The New York Times, that really mattered. But audience wasn’t even discussed. So, again, from our executive producer from the top, let’s talk about audience, let’s find out more about where they are, where they live, and what they’re watching and who we want our future audience to be. Brand-new conversation at FRONTLINE. Just four years ago.
SARAH: Yeah, and that’s what Pam started doing, doing an assessment of who our current audience was. Where did they live? What did they do? And thinking about our future audience, what they do. And why they might like us.
So the thing that we’re really lucky is that we are public media. So actually our audience is our bottom line. You know, we have a very different business model than a lot of the for profit media organizations. We wanted to acknowledge that because it is—it makes our challenges different.
PAM: So disrupt your news organization. Change everything. Work together with—like you can do this. You’re, like, I’m sure, like, I was too, like, I can’t do this alone, like, I’m just one person. Yes, I would like to get my content out in the world—yeah, that all sounds great. Disrupting your newsroom sounds great. You had a boss that wanted that. What am I supposed to do? And what we’re here to tell you is that each and every one of you can do th change, can be an audience development person if you start small. And follow six really simple steps. We promise you can do this.
SARAH: Yeah, we did it. We’re proof.
PAM: So here we go. These are the six steps for your information.
SARAH: First one. Find your ally. That’s my ally.
PAM: Here we are.
SARAH: We actually sat next to each other, we were back-to-back and when Pam started, we started talking because we were next together and talked about what we were working on and what our goals were and what our thoughts were and everything, and we really liked each other, which was a bonus. But as we started to understand what each other was trying to do, we realized we would be better if we aligned our goal.
PAM: We’re better together. I joined FRONTLINE as a audience development director, audience development didn’t exist, I never heard the before, we didn’t really know what it meant, so we were, like, okay. Grow new audience. How do we do that? And we did have traditional publicity department. That meant—it was church and state. And here’s my friend and my colleague, and she’s doing really cool stuff in the audience. I really don’t know about it until it’s ready to go out in the world unless I listen to her conversations on the telephone, which I did. And so we started, like, talking about stuff early. Like, this really happened organically despite being interested in each other’s stuff. So we just started talking to each other. And I was really excited about what she was doing. And she was really excited about having her stuff reach more people. It gets—it really kind of—it worked in the beginning, trust each other.
PARTICIPANT: No, ma’am. Nutshell, can you tell us what was your role at the time and your background?
PAM: Good question.
SARAH: So I ended up—I oversaw all of our editorial recording everything that began in a space I oversaw designers, develop. So we make stuff online, it can be anything from a short film to longer film to whatever we dream up.
PAM: And I spent 15 years in local TV news as a producer, an executive producer, and news director. And then my television station went out of business because I worked for one of those Tribune stations, and I found myself loving social media, and I worked in social media for a couple years with big institutions. And I fell into this new job at FRONTLINE and it was having a new institution, a new life, and it worked. I have no marketing or PR background at all. I only have a journalism and social media background. So they took a big risk on me too. But I should say one thing, and you were probably just going to say this is that our boss and our leadership really believes that everyone who works at FRONTLINE in capacity should be a journalist. So my audience team is filled with journalists.
SARAH: And I’ve been at FRONTLINE for my whole career, but welders this a few years in is that I started on the promotion side.
PAM: Any other questions? That was a good one.
SARAH: And don’t hesitate to jump in if you have any.
So the next step is pick a great project. And what this really means is pick a winner. Like, if you’re going to try something, like, place your bet –
PAM: And you all know what the winners are. Like, you guys who are creators, who are, like, cooking up something cool. You know that they’re, like, the great projects that you have a potential to reach a lot of people and make a change. And there are, like, smaller projects that go along. We’re saying if you’re going to do this, and you find an ally, you pick a project that you know is great and that people will care about or that you really believe in something passionate that I wouldn’t wait and try to settle small projects. Go for a great, big, awesome—go big or go home. Go for an awesome project because you know what that is, and that has your best chance for impact.
SARAH: Yeah, set yourself up for success basically.
SARAH: So we’ve got kind of lucky because we had this film that came shortly after—I guess.
PAM: A year.
SARAH: We knew it was coming. It was called league of denial and it was about the NFL and how they possibly miss handled –
PAM: What they do and how they do it. When it comes to head injuries and brain injuries and football players.
SARAH: We do films on Yemen, a lot of films on Yemen. So for us we were, like, whoa this has a massive appeal that’s unusual.
PAM: Yeah, this is the NFL. You cannot go bigger. It could not be more important to, like, more people. We never get this opportunity at FRONTLINE to go this big and to reach this many people, and we had a partner in ESPN, and we had booked, and we had a lot of people who cared about this topic. So we were, like, let’s do league of denial. Let’s try this whole new method of league of denial. It was the big—in the four years I’ve been at FRONTLINE, still remains one of the biggest projects we’ve tackled.
So then the next thing we do is we think about our goals and we don’t necessarily broadcast throughout the news o, we just set them with each other. Like, who do we want to reach with each project? From my perspective because I run editorial, it doesn’t mean—people get very uncomfortable about this line between, you know, editorial and marketing or promotion or audience or whatever you want to call it. For me, this doesn’t change the stories we’re going to tell. Like, those we’re journalists and still going to tell stories and FRONTLINE isn’t Kardashian central. changes—it might change the way we decide to tell stories to the world. So we start talking early on about it okay. These are the stories we want to tell.
PAM: These are the—so I think it’s really—this is a really important line. The editorial side decides what stories we tell. The audience side does not. We launch these stories into the world, we figure the audiences we want to reach, we set goals around them, we do not decide what stories we want to tell to reach the biggest audience. We get the journalism from the journalists, and we launch it together. So that’s our really important goal because we see in a lot of companies, a lot of media companies. You know, go to other direction. Like, how do I reach the most people? Back in my day, that’s not the direction we’re going in. We’re creating the best journalism, the best stories we possibly can, and then we’re finding creative ways to reach audiences to care about the stories.
So for this one, the NFL was the first and only time, maybe—there’s a couple—to say everyone. But particularly what I wanted—yeah, we wanted to reach everybody who cares about football. But then we want a little bit more narrow because that’s not just a measurable goal, and we went for moms. Moms with kids who are potentially playing football. Or thinking about playing football who are worried about head injurie because where the moms go and the kids go when they play football is the future of the NFL. And also not really an audience that regularly tunes into FRONTLINE, not our core audience, moms. So it was a new opportunity to expose our wrapped and journalism to a brand-new audience, a really cool, memorable story.
SARAH: So the next step is develop a plan. We came up with this detailed timeline, like, where we were going to launch, when we were going to launch, this was a part that became very uncomfortable because we were talking about taking some of the moments from our film—we do this a lot now. But this is one of the first times we did it. You know, we picked the best moments, the ones that when we watch the film together we were, like, oh, my god. Like, we thought the moments whatever. Find those moments, and then we put them out into the world. And we put them out in the world sometimes on other platforms before we own platforms. And at first we were, like, hold up. I want that traffic. I want it to be on our website. I want us to own it. What are we doing? And—but we had goals. And our goals were to reach –
PAM: New audiences.
SARAH: And we wanted to reach everyone and specifically moms. And, unfortunately, everyone and moms are not necessarily looking at the FRONTLINE website every single day. So it was, you know—and going back to find your ally, you want to find somebody that you can kind of bring into this discomfort with because it is uncomfortable sometimes, and we can have really honest conversations and angry at each other about, like, what about my needs? We can talk about that.
PAM: I think that this is uncomfortable if you’re—this is really uncomfortable. And there was a healthy tension about, like, trying to—letting go and trying new stuff and breaking the mold. This—this is where we changed our culture. Because as we started to, like, push into each other, you ? Others got to see that too. So, like, all of this is going to lead into, like, a bigger impact. But it’s okay to have those—especially if you find your ally—to have those really difficult conversations about, like, I don’t want to do it this way. And, like, convince me otherwise.
So this was not easy. This was difficult. We had a lot of heart to heart. So we tried things along the way, some that worked and some that didn’t. But –
SARAH: We knew what the goals were together. We set those goals together. So as long as we went back whoever could make the best case that met our goals, that’s –
PAM: That’s actually how we ended up working. As Sarah think said, our goal was to bring people to our website. How do we do that?
PARTICIPANT: Who was involved in all of these conversations? Was it just your departments?
PAM: We each had small teams.
PAM: So it started with us, we did bring our teams into the mix. But it was pretty much happening here. And then our teams were executing on it in new ways, and we brought cohesive excitement to this new way of doing things and model that we were doing it together. But it was at this point mostly us and our small teams who helped us execute it, and got excited about it too.
SARAH: We’re at the point now where, like, everybody on our teams is like this. So you can see two random people, a developer and, you know, an audience person kind of hooking up an idea together or figuring out how to tell a story.
PARTICIPANT: For the reporters on the project, how much did they know or interact with this whole system?
SARAH: That’s a great question. This was kind of a unique project. So at FRONTLINE our films are made by outside producers. So we had kind of independent filmmakers part of our internal audience. And—internal audience development is also important. We’ll get to that. And then we also have reporters that actually work on the digital team that do their own independent stories that are related to the film but, you know, they’re reporting it out on their own.
In this case we had a filmmaker—the filmmaker come to us a year ahead of time on the project because they were keeping an internal spreadsheet of every concussion they saw that year and they’re, like, we have this, do you want to do something with it? So we made a website called concussion watch, and we’ve done it for four years now, and we tracked every concussion in the NFL, and we can tell you, like, wide receivers are the ones getting the most concussions, we can tell you which teams are reporting the most or the least. We have this whole dataset that had never been public information before.
Did that answer your question?
PARTICIPANT: Well –
PAM: Like, the reporters and how they felt about it? We’re, like, we’re going to take your best moment and put it on GMA?
SARAH: On GMA.
PAM: Right there’s—there continues to be some healthy discomfort around, like, this process from producers and reporters. What I will tell you is in the next step what we’re going to talk about is shout out your goals. When you do something successful, and you create an impact, and you get more people to watch this reporter’s journalism, they know—they un that. So it’s hard to get the buy in early. But now once you have a track record of success, and they’ve seen how it works, all of a sudden what happened is, like, I want whatever you did with league of denial, I want that. Do that to my show.
SARAH: I think that comes back to picking a great project and kind of part of that is, you know, if you’re lucky to get something like league of denial but also thinking about who we’re going to be working with and who is the person that might be the most forward leaning in terms of thinking digital at this stage. Because you want it to be as loud as possible. Sometimes we worked with filmmakers and digital things that we had to drag them kicking and screaming along because they just did not know what to do, and then they were super psyched at the end when they saw the results.
So I always like to use the kind of strategy or tactic of being, like, oh, did you like that? We can do that. If you find somebody that you can work with that’s excited about it, other people are, like, wait a minute. How do you do that?
PAM: Did that answer your question?
PARTICIPANT: For those of us who are not an audience –
SARAH: You are.
PARTICIPANT: Develop a plan super vague; right?
PARTICIPANT: So maybe you can be a little bit more concrete of what was this plan?
PAM: For sure.
PARTICIPANT: How did you hold yourself accountable? What form did it take? How did you do the research to know that it was the right plan that you cou execute –
PAM: Yeah. Absolutely. So there’s something that I like to talk about and it started with this prong, which is, like, we produce our buzz now at FRONTLINE. We think of what the content is, what the goals are and be W be and this plan how we’re going to produce our buzz so that as many people as possible are talking about our project and want to watch it on Tuesday nights at 10:00. Like, that’s still a hard thing that we have to accomplish. Or stream it on our website.
SARAH: So I think the early stage would be we know kind of what the film is. The first thing we’ll learn about is what the topic of our film is. At some point we’ll see a rough cut. It’s actually more close to broadcast than you probably think. Sometimes it’s only, like, a week or two out. You know, and then we’ll see the fine cut. But usually at the rough cut stage is when our digital team starts talking about, like, okay. What projects do we want to do around this film?
So then we’ll know okay. We’ll add these, this series of four or five and tell the stories that we’re reporting on online. You know, it doesn’t—nowadays it’s not—or back in the denial days, we weren’t doing as much kind of distributed content. But we are now. So at this point we’ll talk about, like, is there a Facebook moment in here? Is there a kind of –
PAM: A share graphic.
SARAH: A share graphic. An engagement campaign around this film. So once we have the general lay of land that we want to do, we time them out and think about okay. If we’re going to do an engagement campaign, do we want to lead into this story? Do we want to launch it with this story to then kind of see the campaign before we get to the broadcast? Do we do it after the broadcast? We start really thinking strategically about timing and then we get into the nitty-gritty of what Pam was talking about produc the.
So we think about okay. Where is the first place we want to launch this? So if it’s a Yemen film, it’s going to be a blog about Yemen, if it’s league of denial, we’re going to go to Good Morning America and Yahoo.
So we think tacklely where is the audience that love this story or love this project actually live.
PAM: And what are our assets; right? Like, what can produce our buzz that others would share? And more and more we’re owning our buzz ourselves and distributing on our Facebook page or YouTube channel. But we also create promotional partnerships with media outlets. And that was part of the stuff, like, why are we giving Good Morning America our best moment in the film to talk about, like, this concussion. It’s—well, because it’s great content for GMA. It turns out that they really want it. Like, no one ever picked up the phone and tried this before. And it drives people to watch us.
So what are your assets? What are those moments? And get—create a partnership, call Yahoo. Call up—people that you’re meeting here at SRCCON and creating relationships and see if you want to see some sort of content share. And all we ask—and we give content away to partners now all the time. And all we ask in the very first sentence is you can talk about when FRONTLINE is on and have a link.
And we didn’t ever do that before. But that, like, really helps. And that’s actually more standard procedure for a lot of journalists. We’re all becoming a lot more collaborative, et cetera, from sport journalism. But we’re all finding that shared audience is better for all of us.
So, like, finding out what our assets are, figuring out when the thing’s on the air, what the goal was. So if we have an opportunity, look at what time that happens. What day that happens. What content they get. How they’ll talk about us and what we hope to achieve on broadcast day.
PARTICIPANT: And did you have a working—do you just have an existing knowledge of, like, who uses what platforms and.
PAM: So we’ve done some research on that.
PAM: And we have a general idea.
SARAH: We also have reporters in these conversations too.
SARAH: So whoever is doing the deep dive into Yemen, we’re, like, oh, you want to talk to this person and this person and and this person. And, you know, maybe—we spent a lot of time on Twitter actually. We do a viewing party for every film that we do, and we invite influential people to live tweet along with us. And they hadn’t seen the film. So it—you know, they could not like it. And that’s the risk that we take.
But, again, influential means within the audience that we’re trying to reach. So I always pick on poor Yemen. But, like, you know, there are Yemen tweeters out there and those are the ones that—again, we love to get, like, Lady Gaga tweet about it. But we focus our efforts on the Yemen people.
PAMFinding influencers on Twitter is actually part of this. And there’s actually a research element for all audience to find—if you’re going to reach an audience, like, how do you do that? You have to—the audience person specialty is. So that’s where the relationship is super important. And the roll out plan for us, like, to be very specific talks about asset, date, time, desired goal.
And this plan for league of denial started I think actually on the Friday before the Tuesday it So Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday is a hugely important day for us after the walk, everybody from the store website, so what are we going to do there? And how are we going to keep people engaged? And how are we going to get them to share so that more people know about it? So that actually is a timing thing, it’s a partner thing, it’s an asset thing.
SARAH: And also the day where we can kind of capture the buzz and turn it into buzz. So we’ve done things where we’ve done, like, this was the skeeb everybody was talking about last night. And we put it out. So try to create a little bit of –
PARTICIPANT: Are people asking questions about—like within an organization, asking questions about if someone’s clicking on that link that’s, like, you can watch it at FRONTLINE here? Is there a goal –
PAM: Referring traffic?
PAM: We report on that.
PAM: We absolutely report on that. And that’s part of what we going to talk about in the next two steps. But, yea. You have to –
SARAH: The other thing too is we’re broadcast as well as digital, so you can watch us on air, you can watch us online. So there’s that, like, do we know if people saw it on GMA, do they watch it on the broadcast? We can’t actually track that. But we can look at the numbers and be, like, well, that was better than normal.
PAM: And you can from the website.
PAM: You can see if they have something on their website, what the referring traffic looked like, how that worked, or who’s a good partner really.
PARTICIPANT: So I work with Lena at reveal and one of the challenges we have is on a partner level, definitely content partners, there’s buy in to coordinate social, promo on the editorial side, you know, what’s the roll out, what’s running on your site, what’s running ours? Our business challenge, we have an audience with local stations that carry us, and we offer them assets, we offer them phone calls, all kinds of outreach, but they don’t have the bandwidth to distribute and promo or even coordinate, hop on the phone.
So I was just curious if you guys have run up against that and maybe what are some, like, successful solutions that you found.
PAM: Yeah, I feel your pain. I do. And, you know, we work with the station systems as well and they’re with the one of our greatest assets and distributors, you know, on paper. But they’re completely strapped and, you know, underresoed and underfunded in many cases and don’t of each have someone that can put this thing on their website. We do make toolkits with stations where we come up with video, suggested language. Like, we make it as easy as possible, and we send it along. We make sure it’s the right person. We assure they actually got it and then what we do after that after making it as easy as possible is something that they use but we can’t control. And some stations are great at it. And we’ll work with them even more closely.
And others it’s just a frustrating part of the system that we’re working in.
PARTICIPANT: Yeah. We just see them as, lik an up tapped bridge to the audience of digital hopefully.
PARTICIPANT: But it’s not happening at that level.
SARAH: Maybe we can talk more at this session because this is very public in the room. But we just had a really revealing meeting with the station person recently talking about how overwhelmed they were—we were, like, you want our direct contact? And they were, like, no. We get so many e-mails, like, we actually come here and have stations relations.
PARTICIPANT: We give them stuff that they can just copy and paste.
SARAH: Yeah, we do too I am not we’ll talk more about that. We have ideas.
PAM: Number five is so important for some of us. And this is where change happens. This is where your culture changes. When you finish this, and you’ve gotten great buzz or audience something amazing happened that you created in this plan, you need to tell your bosses. You need to tell the world. And this makes us all very super comfortable. If you want to do this where your ally can come in. Your bosses need to know that you did something really cool and really different. And you grew your—like they want you to be successful too. They need to know about these successes. We’re not good at sharing our successes.
SARAH: You’re producing your buzz really.
PAM: Yeah, produce your own buzz. You need this so that your next reporter wants to work with and your colleagues are seeing something cool is happening, and you’re doing something different, and it’s actually having a really cool result. This is where it built for Sarah and I move beyond, like, this little thing we were cooking up ourselves really across our teams and got baked into our culture. This is where we completely change because we talked about our successes. And that this was really changing us, and we were reaching new people. And, like, we were going, like, mainstream in some cases around FRONTLINE that had, like, never happened. I think we were an entertainment weekly.
This never happens. Like, that’s a huge win for us. So we needed the world to know that. Our boss was so psyched to tell her bosses.
SARAH: Yeah, this is really internal propaganda. That’s what we’re talking about and, you know, if you haven’t shared your goals, this is the point that you share them because.
PARTICIPANT: Yes, we did plan, and we did execute flawlessly.
PARTICIPANT: I’m just curious what else was a success for you? Specifically entertainment weekly.
PAM: In this particular case? So, like, GMA, we were never on GMA. We got DMA, we got Yahoo, morning edition I think two hits. We had dead spin, we had all the sports sites I can’t name right now.
PAM: We had one of the biggest days ever on our website. Our audience broadcast, we broke records. We grew our social media audience. All the indicators, the particulars, the time on-site, all of them were record-breaking. We trended nationally. We trended nationally on Twitter with our hashtag. Everything worked.
SARAH: And we had stories kind of coming out the rest of the week from other media would say, like, I think this happened with the patriots that some local sports reporter asked, you know, Tom Brady about this. So every time something like that happened and, you know, they cited our film, we would write it up and actually put a story and show that we were having some impact here.
PAM: And we had a whole story on our website of five current playing members of the NFL were quoted talking about “League of Denial” in the days afterwards. So we created a story out of that. That just never happens. So the story didn’t end when the broadcast—or stream. Like, we kept—we’re still telling the story today.
SARAH: Yeah, last fall we broke a story about the new number of people that had bee CTE and, like, it was the first time that I sat in our newsroom and then I looked over at the TV and, like, something we published on our website was on CNN. And I was, like, whoa we built a real credibility on the subject. We had people willing to talk on our digital reporters who were, like, explayers and things that are, like, I don’t really want to talk about this, but I’ll talk to you guys because I trust that.
So there are all sorts of levels of wins here from the very strategic promotional level to a cultual level to a reporting level. Yeah?
PARTICIPANT: What sort of extras are you providing around your content to give an interview with the person behind the film or side content. Because for a broadcast schedule, you could expand beyond that and drive more targeted content to those people.
SARAH: Yeah, absolutely we do a written reported stories, we do a concussion watch that has now happened for four years. With “League of Deni,” we do—just like any newspaper would kind of keep on a story, we, you know, keep checking with the researchers, what have you found that’s new? All sorts of things.
For the broadcast, we did push a lot of news people that interviewed for the film, and we actually published video interviews, so you could watch them. Probably, like, you know, 30 to 40 minutes long on average, which is—pretty unusual. Concussion watch has been a big –
PAM: Also in this case we worked with two reporters at ESPN who were on OTL and we’re pretty close with the OTL team, and we had content, and we had that to cross produce and help raise the visibility of this project. Like, there was a lot of stuff that was happening on the journalism side that we could use to kind of, like, flow to our documentary.
PARTICIPANT: And with those collaborations, there might be rights issues. So did you work out the rights issues ahead of time?
PARTICIPANT: And when you’re stepping out of the conversation especially to be able to broadcast in social media.
PAM: Yeah, this is something we’ve learned the hard time a couple of times with the rights issues and the licensing and the partnerships. I don’t know, like, what ended up happening at the very end, like, two weeks before we were going on air with this particular “League of Denial” is ESPN backed out. They saw our trailer and they were, like, what? What are you saying? They’re in bed with the NFL, literally they’re a business partner. They bailed on us, which was quite something. And that had to do with our—it actually I thought was amazing for us. It was, like, gave us a whole new realm from our audience from my executive producer didn’t think it was so great but I was, like, this is awesome.
Everybody was talking about it. A real media story. But that was because we weren’t all buttoned up with our contract and our licensing and everybody wasn’t on the same page, we were moving too fast, and it was new for us. So it technically blew up but in my world it was awesome; right?
PARTICIPANT: Otherwise you would be watching it on ESPN probably.
PAM: Well, all it did was took note –
SARAH: This was a FRONTLINE film.
PAM: This was a FRONTLINE film based on their reporters writing. They took their logo off of it. They didn’t do all the promotion that they were going to do around. That’s part of the big collaboration that’s going to help us reach other audiences. And so we didn’t get that ultimately because there’s so much talk about it.
SARAH: So the last step in this process is measure, rinse, repeat. And this is where you shouted out your wins, you’ve been successful, everybody knows it. But then you go back to your ally and you’re, like, okay. Let’s be honest here. Not that you weren’t honest before but, like, are there things that maybe weren’t so successful that we want to talk ab why? And whether we want to try again, whether we want to tweak it. Looking at our wins, were there things that we could have done to make it even better? This is really kind of—again, this is something that you have to make time for because usually we’re onto the next thing. But it’s time well spent.
PAM: And I think that this is where you look at the referring traffic and the data and the growth and you really are honest about, like, who was a good partner? GMA, that makes a lot of sense. They’re huge; right? Those people who watch TV, do they come to our website? Can we tell if we can’t measure, should we do it? All of those questions, we ask ourselves pretty quickly after it happened so that we can dash we can take the spikes and really lean into those spikes, and we kind of prune away the things that we’re just not sure about or wasn’t worth the effort. Created a lot of beautiful amazing shared graphics that weren’t shared. Like, don’t do that anymore.
SARAH: One of the things that Pam started when we started FRONTLINE was buzz report. So that comes out after every broadcast or after every big digital project, and it’s actually a physical record of our strategy, our tactics, how we executed it, how we did it, the metrics, and we do this whether it was successful or not. Like, it gives us an opportunity to document, you know, all of this. And I don’t know if any you guys—I know some of you work in nonprofits if you have to write reports or something. These things are invaluable.
PAM: So we create the buzz.
REPORTER: For distribution across FRONTLINE so that we have a real physical report on the reality of what we did and how we did it and how successful or unsuccessful we were. But also it’s just good practice for any of you if you’re creating content, if you’re a content creator to remember what you did and w worked. Because we all were doing so much so often that you forget the great tactics that you did six months ago. Sometimes six weeks ago. And this is kind of a really great document for you for your reviews if anybody has annual reviews. You’re, like, oh, my god do you remember that thing that I did? Just to document, the work that you did, the successes that you had, the audience that you grew. Your bosses want this data. And we forget it. So—document it.
SARAH: Your memory is a little bit hazy and you document it and you’re, like, oh, wow.
PAM: Until just four years ago, we were measuring our success at FRONTLINE based on who wrote about our documentaries in The New York Times, what our generating was, and what other kind of, like, media quotes we got. Our world is completely different now. Now we talk really about who’s talking about us on Twitter? What happened with our hashtag? How many people, like, came to our website? Did we grow across social? Did we get new subscribers to our e-mail? Like, all of those are indicators of success. So take a global look and teach your bosses, like, that’s important. That matters. That’s audience. That’s growth. That’s impact for your journalism.
PARTICIPANT: Do you make a plan and report your steps for every weekly show?
PAM: Well, I mean so the simple answer yes. But the real answer, I’m not going to go off the record. The real answer is the big “League of Denial” moments are—get everything. They get, like, the full-court press. And the smaller Yemen films get a smaller touch because there’s only—we only do have a small team, and we only have the ability to really go big a couple of times a year. So we go through this process for each and every project not just the digital projects, but every.
We’re just a team of three or four people. So we can’t do everything for everyone. So we measure that. But we do—everything gets a little bit of a touch for sure.
SARAH: So we just wanted to move into a line of questions now and talk about, you know, we would love to hear from you guys about how you do audience development, what challenges you’re facing, what successes you want to shout out. We just want to have it open.
PAM: I think Sarah and I were having a really interesting conversation at breakfast with some colleagues here at SRCCON, it’s a real lightning rod and a lot of newsrooms, specifically the more traditional newsrooms. And really what we’re here to say is that we all need—we all if you’re a journalist, and you want to reach audiences, you have to take a role in this too. It’s part of your job. Don’t hand it off. Find a partner and work with them.
So is that something that you think is actually doable where you were? Is that something that you guys think that you could achieve, or are you doing it and would love to hear about what you guys think.
Does anybody else in the audience development diffe? Does it work?
PARTICIPANT: I think we can benefit with more collaboration while the editorial was actually being created. Because right now it seems like there’s a little bit of audience development involvement at the very beginning when we’re putting together, say, an editorial calendar for the year; right? What our cover story is going to be. What are our topics? But then they don’t really get involved again until after, you know, you print after the HOA comes out and after it goes on the Web. And we get a report, hey, that story did well. And that’s useful; right? But it seems like the cycle is very long. Because by the time you get any feedback from the development, all we’re doing is then I guess planting the next year’s worth of stories.
So having that collaboration in the moment as they’re putting the stories together in, like, more granular way I think it would be really helpful. It would be a huge cultal change because our editors are not used to having to work with anybody else in the course of putting their stories together. But it would be really useful to have audience development there to say, like, okay. Well, these are the stories that you’re doing. Especially not just cover stories. But, you know, deeper down in the magazine or deeper down in digital features, you know, it’s, like, they can brainstorm who is that audience? How can we reach them? You know, and kind of provide more instant feedback on that. And maybe you could influence the way that the story is either written or presented or something in a way that they know, well, you know –
PAM: Yea. No,—that’s what we talked about. That’s what we’re talked about.
PARTICIPANT: This is the point where one of the editors would look at me and how dare you insinuate change what we write about.
SARAH: Except you’re not.
PARTICIPANT: Your headline might be different or deck might be different and that could make the difference between 20,000 page reviews 100,000 page views.
SARAH: Exactly. We call this our mantra and actually we put some tips and tricks in the ether pad, some more tactical ideas.
PAM: It’s a perfect segue actually.
SARAH: Yeah, and what we talk about—and we consider ourselves one team. Like, audience Yeah, so it sounds like the audience people wherever you work work some place else.
PARTICIPANT: Yeah. They are. Corporate. So each magazine of ours does not have a audience development person. We have a corporate audience department that keeps an eye on everything.
PARTICIPANT: So implementing this change would be a shift.
PAM: Radical. .
SARAH: So we talk about on our team that everybody’s responsible for—our mantra is what stories do we want to tell? How do we want to tell them? And how are we going to put them out into the world? And everybody should be thinking about all three of those things.
PAM: We’re all responsible.
SARAH: Some people their job may be more compliment to put it up in the world. Or to develop, hey, this feels like we want to look at how a bunch of states are looking at solitary confinement because, you know, we have this focus on main system. And somebody addressed it, well, why not do it as a podcast, and I thought why would we do it as a pod Katz. And then we thought, yeah, that would be interesting. So part of the conversation so here’s how we’re going to distribute it and the audience we’re going to get it in front of. So we’re concoctioning it. And we have a daily stand-up that our teams go to that have grown. So from our internal propaganda the production team is there. Or somebody might pop by and be, like, hey, I have an idea, did you think about this? And we watch the films together, we have a rough cut stage and talk about the film together and talk about it afterwards. As human beings what resonated, what didn’t? What questions do we have? And that helps
with what we want to tell and how we want to tell them.
PAM: And it all these ensures these wow moments that you talk about, we’re lucky because you watch something in a group, just like going to a movie theater, and you hear it, you feel it, and the energy, and the work is done for us. Honestly that’s moment. That’s it. We certainly have conversations around how we want to launch that moment after viewing together. But that’s another kind of just simple thing that we started to do rather than everybody watching our rough cut individually with headphones on at the desk, we get together. We work as one team. We talk about stuff after. Those—all those steps led up to a really big change with how we see each other and how we work together. But, again, just for each of you just started with, like, this in one project.
SARAH: And it was four years ago. It takes a long time. We don’t want to be, like, it’s easy.
PAM: Right. It’s not easy. And it was—it was uncomfortable—it has been uncomfortable for everyone; right? So it was uncomfortable—Sarah talked about some of her discomfort, my boss had major questions. There’s actually, you know, times where we gave stuff away, and it didn’t do anything for us.
So it’s hard. And the world is changing so quickly and that platforms are changing, the audience is changing, like, what we’re creating—but when you have an ally, and you decided, like, we’re going to work together and my audience team isn’t going to a—like that’s hard. Like, if that’s just the format that your culture is in. I just don’t—you’ve got to find someone who cares about it that you care about I think in order to just start one little project.
PARTICIPANT: I think it’s a matter of communication.
PAM: Yeah, it really is.
PARTICIPANT: If you can find a way of talking to our edits that gets their gears turning without to think about what they do through that lens. As you were saying. Some of these ideas are going to be organic; right? Like, they’re going to be thinking about their audience. And as soon as you get them to do that, then, you know, they’re going to have ideas.
SARAH: So if you can find the one editor that you think you might have some wiggle room with, that’s where I would start with.
PARTICIPANT: Yeah, that’s a good point.
SARAH: Sophisticated digitally.
PARTICIPANT: Your talk is very inspiring especially to the boss report. I was wondering how often do you file that? Do you find it’s very tedious but also wait you talk about it, it sounds like it’s very important; right?
PARTICIPANT: I work with buzz feed—no, not buzz feed. Chart feed because we have the data. Who mentioned you, whether we’re trending on Facebook or Twitter. So I was wondering if it’s worthwhile for us to automate a report for future stories. No matter no for one minute documentaries, you know, for future stories on the New York Times. I was wonderin how much you want this.
PAM: So I—when –
SARAH: You want to make a buzz –
PAM: Yes, so the more I think the data we have, the smarter we are, the more effective we can be at achieving our goals.
PAM: Yeah, you can get—you can drowned in data. I think we’re starting from zero.
PAM: At FRONTLINE whereas a lot of the digitally native media outlets have a ton of built in data and very data he is centric. We’re not. We’re always looking for ways to tell a story around. Because there are stories that we can tell stories to our bosses that sometimes works. More data is better, “As long as I can understand it easily.
PAM: And communicate it effectively to. Which is a problem because right now I’m piece mailing everything together.
SARAH: And we would be willing to share.
PAM: Ye. Of course.
PARTICIPANT: How do you do that?
PAM: And it is tedious and make it on a PowerPoint.
PARTICIPANT: So this is a long and ranty question. I have a feeling that the reports—generally, like—so I think I worked with you a little bit I used to be at the investigating workshop. Your audience, you have potentially a national audience; right? And when a story catches fire, it’s really clear to you because there’s a lot more—a lot more users; right? But the other thing is you are nationally focused, like, publication. That’s a really different experience than a media outlet that has a local focus because, you know, all—like people who drive by users from other places going viral is valuable. Also not valuable in the same way of reaching the core audience; right?
PARTICIPANT: And when you think about how much money has been spent electronically to reach minorities, to reach known people. I think it’s often really good. But the amount of information we have now like this particular story is reaching. The target demographic we want to reach in this story is not available and that’s not a thing that’s easy to find. I actually had dinner with—the performance CEO, and I couldn’t get him to come up with a way that I could get that information. I I’m pretty sure if I’m buying ads on paper, I have better demographic information than the people who are writing the stories. And it seems like this is also an opportunity, but I’m just wondering if you guys have—is there some tool out there. Some methodology that you have? Because what I really want to have is, hey, look, this story isn’t reaching just the usual suspects; right? This is bringing in people; right? Or these are people.
SARAH: I completely agree with your rant. We don’t have that very specific data. We do—for us, audience development is about connecting with audience, engaging with audience, and so –
PAM: And growing our audience.
SARAH: And growing our audience. So when we have those really kind of buzzy moments, we know they’re every couple of years. But if that means that, you know—talk about our buzz report we’ve got X new Facebook followers this week or X new subscriptions to our newsletters because these are the people that we can message over and over about what’s coming up on FRONTLINE, what we do. All of that good stuff and hopefully bring them closer to our community. So we can’t necessarily, like, track it in a way that you want to track it.
PARTICIPANT: In some ways, it’s great to know something, and have the experience of it. But also it’s ordinal.
SARAH: It’s all fuzzy. I mean—I mean data has never been good; right? Like, ratings are based on seven minutes of a quarter of an hour.
PAM: Ratings are the worst.
SARAH: So I feel like sometimes people get so mad about digital analytics and I’m, like, what analytics—in newspaper, yeah, they can dull Tull the demos, but but they can’t tell you if someone read your story.
PARTICIPANT: And the analytics need to sell ads, they want to optimize something.
PARTICIPANT: To respond a little bit, my answer is to not care about your data. You went to most of your leadership, they all know. They’ve been working on big margins for a long time and there’s a conversation I had this morning with some people and so in a way you kind of –
PAM: Yeah, I think that that’s actually. That’s a big piece of what we’re advocating is you’re ultimately doing it yourself. Figuring out what your own goals are. What audience you’re trying to reach, you’re doing it, you’re measuring yourself. There are no great tools out there, and there’s not a lot of really great metrics.
PARTICIPANT: I. I was just saying working with full-time development for years. You know, like, just buying data. The way if you were doing ad or tracking. That’s the thing that, like,—but, you know, you can do a lot of things. But specifically things about age and minorities; right? Which I think we’ve been getting from Facebook maybe. But there’s no unified way saying all right. Is this actually breaking through? I’m a user, I want to know. Are there people under 65 viewing this? Like, an LED comes on.
PARTICIPANT: It sounds like your guys’ report is muc more analytic.
PAM: Yeah, I don’t have to worry about a bottom line like that like ads. Again, our goals are—our—we have multifaceted goals but it’s really about impact, growth, and engagement. So we can create a report around those goals where it doesn’t have to be am I reaching the right audience because I’m monetizing it, and I want to continue to fill that funnel? I’m grateful for that piece of it. So many of us do in the media. It is a busy. So, yea. Ours is pretty organic.
PARTICIPANT: Some Facebook moments in the video, so can you share some examples according to the experience, what are those Facebook Cheryl moments?
PAM: We have had—I’m sure you guys too. We’ve had such an interesting ride with—we’re real lucky because we’re video; right? So Facebook video and playing with that and going through long, deep thought provoking journalism into two-minute moments that get you to watch more—without any audio, you kn? And lower thirds on there has been transformative for us. We’re finding surprisingly play a lot over the course of Facebook video. And our assumption where it would be very kind of, like, domestic and consumer friendly and about, you know, we have this amazing documentary last year where we really started to think about Facebook video and trends and these young kids who were transitioning puberty, and it was special. And then right after that, we tried our next project, and it did really well. And our next project was about ISIS and confronting –
SARAH: Escaping ISIS.
PAM: Escaping ISIS. And it was very intense. And about—I mean there was the cell phone video about men, ISIS members or soldiers, like, sex slaving women and very disturbing content. And we’re, like, I don’t know how this is going to go over in Facebook. But we’re going to try. But we’ve learned over the course of the year that our Facebook audience is hungry for really intense, thought provoking, international, important news content, which we couldn’t be more grateful for because that’s what we have. And our content around Yemen or ISIS in particular or Syria, Saudi Arabia, does phenomenally well. Because there’s actually a real hunger in the world today for great international role of recording. So people on Facebook and off want that and want to be informed and we’re actually finding that our Facebook video is the most important and wide reaching thing that we do to get people to watch. Referring traffic.
SARAH: So I think real tactically—we have a partnership with Facebook, so they tell us—we don’t just take a lift from a film and put it out, we make it specifically for that platform. So it has the text on screen, we don’t just use captions, we actually design it because we want—our video is our product, so we want it to look really good. We imagine the use cases of phone and you’re scrolling. So what’s going to stop you in your tracks? What’s going to make want you to watch? Everything we put out on Facebook, we want it to be shareable. So we actually—we test each other on that. Like, why would I share that?
PAM: And here’s a real practical tip. That’s our goal for Facebook video, that’s our goal for a standard on Facebook, and at the end of the video we added a big graphic that said share this video. And that really works. That really works. People don’t think to do it. Like, ask your audience to do whatever it is you want them to do to do. These obvious things. If you want them to subscribe. If you want them to like you, ask them to do it. They’re your fans, they want to do it. They’re bombarded too by all kinds of messages. So that really works, and I think we’re out of time.
SARAH: Yeah, we’re out of time. We’ll stick around.
PAM: Thank you so much for coming.