journalism

Effective Engagement: Context, Conversation, and Booze

Who doesn’t love a good dinner party? Worldly discussions and cocktails! Similiar to sociable hosts, savvy journalists are conversation starters.

They pull relevant points from hour-long public speeches. They give background on municipal budgets worth $613 million. And they listen to the wants and woes of the community.

How have I engaged an audience in four months? By providing context, invoking conversations, and going where the people are.

For Olivia Pope the fixer, her end game is to make the public aware of a topic, gain interest, and ultimately change attitudes and behaviors. That’s the watered-down version of “audience engagement” as described in Philip Napoli‘s Audience Evolution. Some form of mental processing must happen before someone becomes engaged.

So how does a journalist grab one’s attention? By being provocative, news-breaking, or insightful. Provocation frequently incites argument and story-breaking is rare. However, informed commentary or detailed context can set a writer apart.

Geneva Overholser espouses that because of the proliferation of digital storytelling, wise journalists should spend time reporting extra details. No longer are writers limited by newsroom word-count limits. There’s no fuss over uploading a black and white versus a color photo. It’s even a cake-walk to cite other sources. (It’s elementary to hyperlink!)

Readers can gain more information from online mediums, therefore, it’s virtually our duty to add more insight, or context, to reporting. That’s what I’ve attempted by covering local events. Post-event quotes, venue descriptions, and historical details add oomph to scene blogging, (rather than posting aggrandizing announcements).

Yet, no matter how much data or detail one provides, social interests must be piqued. “If audiences are looking for a human dimension in the creation and distribution of news, they might as well be looking for themselves in that process,” said Doreen Marchionni in “Journalism-as-a-Conversation.”

Through Rising Stars, I found it salient to depict millennials through a casual lens. While notable city publications profile the careers of young do-gooders and their accompanying head-shots, they lack grit and grind. In real life, informality and humility win people over conversationally.

Thus, I took Marchionni’s advice and reflected what people saw in themselves. And it’s worked. Now, each Rising Star post has garnered at least 100 views and attracts new site visitors.

Lastly, one thing I’ve noticed that works in engaging my audience is…booze! How do I know? Because Mayer and Stern’s engagement tips mention the importance of metadata. Google “Memphis Patio Hopscotch,” and the first 13 results are all my doing.

I wasn’t Google-bombing; I simply added appropriate tags and strategically posted on public Facebook profiles. Further, I used the same tactic when reporting on local juke joints, and that entry clocked 1,551 views. Either the Internet has a drinking problem or Memphians are loyal to their barstools.

Okay, while beer and wine aren’t ubiquitous ingredients for engaging fans, they are apparently relevant to my audience. And that’s my parting point! Find what your readers want to know, and serve it up on a silver platter.

One of several Overholser's insights from her 2014 guest lecture at the University of Memphis. Click for a descriptive Storify.

One of several Overholser’s insights from her 2014 guest lecture at the University of Memphis. Click for a descriptive Storify.

YouTube Stardom Takes Work

So you think scores of people can become famous because of the Internet? Well, they can. Hollywood, network execs, and station owners no longer exclusively control what content is seen by audiences.

YouTube gives everyone the freedom to distribute compelling, informative, and silly videos. I tried my hand at it for a class project and learned that even a 3-minute campy short involves trial and error, hours of work, perseverance, and patience.

Memphis’ most recent ice storm was covered by thousands of local Memphians through social networks. Yet, Twitter housed a groundswell of comedic-laced posts via #MEMICE. Thus, I scavenged for content.

Next, I storyboarded the most descriptive tweets and carefully cast the roles to ensure that the personality of each tweet would come to life.  I must brag: My friends are AWESOME! They routinely expect me to drag them into projects and events, yet this was the first time some had ever acted. (I’m more than proud.)

The low-fidelity props and background cost $18 and served as a nice juxtaposition for this hashtag-inspired short. Give the actors their lines and winter-weather gear, and you’ll get two hysterical hours of filming take after take.

With limited seconds, the intro (and subsequently, the credits) needed to convey quite a bit of information in order to provide context to the viewer. I envisioned a movie-trailer theme and turned to Fiverr, a comprehensive market place that let’s you buy just about any creative service for $5. (Think personalized online singing telegrams.) I hired Jordan, a voiceover pro, and he turned around the job the next morning.

To complete the video, I filmed some campy B-roll of toy cars, a hand-drawn background, and paper punches to mimic the weather’s toll on the city. The tools? (Apple could have sponsored this project.) Filming was done on an iPhone 5 and editing was completed in iMovie using a MacBook Pro. (Mindy McAdams offers solid tips.)

Finally, it was time to upload to the MemphisMaverick channel and promote the video. Thankfully, the persons featured were flattered (and not offended). They graciously forwarded the video to their networks, and it spread to those that I do not personally know. Here’s a Storify outlining reactions to the video by key influencers.

In all, 20 hours (see graph below) were spent on a 3-minute movie. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Will I try it again? Definitely…but maybe this summer.