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Spotlight on Local News: How The Oregonian Produces Video for Facebook

By Josh Mabry and Rebecca Rosenblat, News Partnerships

Advance Local, a media company that owns and operates local digital properties and newspapers across the United States, including NJ.com, AL.com, Syracuse.com, The Plain Dealer, The Oregonian and more, shares best practices across their organization through a weekly newsletter. A recent issue of theirs that caught our eye featured multiple members of The Oregonian sharing their strategy for social video.

We wanted to share more widely some of their best practices and learnings about creating great social video that other local publishers can apply in their own newsrooms.

How to Ramp Up in a Newsroom and Why it Matters

Social video sits at the intersection between two powerful trends: the growing importance of social media in reaching our audience, and the growing popularity of video among that audience. The Oregonian has changed its newsroom this year to emphasize social video. Simply put, they do it faster, better and much more often.

Digital/visual director Michelle Nicolosi describes how they revamped their newsroom. Then, producer Heidi Williams and reporter Teresa Mahoney offer their top tips for creating social videos.

Here are some examples of their work:

A Q+A With Michelle Nicolosi, Digital/Visual Director of The Oregonian

Why is social video important?
It became clear in 2016 that the best way to engage people on social is with video. We realized that we needed to make many, many more social videos – and it quickly became obvious we didn’t have enough people. We started converting our digital and social teams into a social video team.

Who typically initiates a video?
Everyone! There are many ways a video can get started:

Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
I think the key is that we don’t ask, “What video could we do with this story?” Instead we ask, “What video would do great on social?” because social is where people watch video. We pay attention to our Facebook metrics, keep making stuff that resonates and stop making stuff that doesn’t. We iterate constantly. We experiment, but try to learn quickly from our mistakes. For example, our viewers love the outdoors. They don’t like videos of people talking about food, but they do like a “first look” at a new restaurant. Those preferences will differ from market to market. We’ve also learned that if you do Like campaigns against content that isn’t very popular, you can grow readership for that topic. We did that with gardening, for example. Sometimes we’ll do a video on a hunch and it will do surprisingly well – we’ll file that away and look for opportunities to do more in that area.

Any tips about organizing a staff for social video?
Create a workflow that keeps the quality high, and helps people learn and grow. We ask people making videos to run their script by the video team for suggestions, and then to run their produced video by the team before publishing. The video folks are great at getting back quickly with suggestions for improving the script and video, and we all get better over time.

Tell us about any course corrections or mistakes you’ve learned from.
The team. This is my No. 1 tip: A very small video team isn’t enough. Try to expand it by giving other staffers one day per week to make video. Giving seven people in our newsroom time to develop video skills and time to create video every week has really been the secret sauce here. You can do it with people on your DigOps or social team, with breaking/trending reporters or life and culture reporters.

Training. We learned a lot about how to train. The first attempt was a 10-week series of trainings; that had no real results because people weren’t leaving the class and making videos right away. This time, we created video shifts first so people learned while doing. Basically, people attended one Premiere Basics class, then got to work. We followed up the next week with a second Premiere Basics class. That was it for formal training.

We all sit next to each other and coach each other constantly. Every week, we learn new things about working in Premiere. The learning is so constant and organic, we now have “what I learned” sessions every other week so everyone can benefit. And here’s a tip from Teresa Mahoney: Set up a video work station available to the newsroom with all the necessary software, ideally near a video-savvy person who can help as needed.

Software. We thought using Adobe Premiere was maybe a little scary. For example, one of our producers was afraid she wouldn’t be good at it. Now, she’s able to create and post breaking news videos in 10 minutes, and thinks it’s fun! By the way, we use Premiere when we don’t need photo and video assets, and Wochit when we do – mostly for breaking news.

If a newsroom wants to ramp up social video, where would you begin?
Create weekly video shifts for a few people. Give one class. Start making videos. Learn as you go. If you don’t have someone in your newsroom who can give that first class, let me know and we’ll do a Skype class for you.

What goes into great social videos?

Producer Heidi Williams looks for at least 2-3 of these in every video:

1. Excellent visuals. Video mixed in is better, but even quality photos work. History posts with good visuals are a good bet. Stuff that makes you do a double take or say “Awww” or “Wow!”

2. Major news. Breaking stories like the Eagle Creek fire.

3. Useful information. Information people need, like about Oregon’s new distracted driving law is really important for social videos. Some of our outdoors stuff that’s not quite as visual also works because it’s really useful to our audience.

4. Timely posts. These can go beyond breaking news. For example, when we get our first snow of the season, we’ll do a snow video for Facebook and Instagram and get it up immediately. The timing is crucial for this kind of post.

5. Emotional or feel-good stories (including humor). Recent examples from us included Wrangler the hospital dog (111,000 views) and our tribute to the Las Vegas shooting victims, not to mention zoo animals playing in the snow, as well as moving immigration stories like this one (164,000 views). If a video has an emotional impact, it can work even if the visuals are limited.

6. A sense of place. Videos that showcase or have fun with our city, state or region can make excellent social video, like 15 places to see fall colors in Oregon (76,000 views).

And video reporter Teresa Mahoney shares these tips:

Sourced video. Sourced footage is key to breaking news. Find the most compelling visual out there (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook), get permission and share it ASAP. Think about government agencies that might have footage you can use: dashcam, bodycam, surveillance, NASA, White House, Fish and Wildlife, etc. And don’t forget sourced video for lighter news. Maybe someone shot cool drone footage of a sunset, or the zoo released cute animal video. Get permission, upload raw and write a good caption.

Raw footage. When it comes to breaking news, it’s less about telling a complete story and more about showing readers the latest visuals. Raw footage works fine – maybe trimmed down a little or with a little text for context. For example, a compilation of scenes across the region during a storm. The story might be changing too fast to produce a full report but, in the meantime, people will want to see visuals.

Moments. You don’t need to tell a full story. If you shoot an interview or event, for example, pull an excerpt that you think will resonate with people the most. Talking heads don’t generally make for great social videos, but it was a hit when Blazer Damian Lillard talked about going vegan (69,000 views).

Parse.ly. If a story’s exploding on Parse.ly, it’s a good sign it will do well on social too. Figure out a way to turn it into a video.

Re-sharing. When you can, try to be evergreen and re-share to increase the chance that your audience will see it.

Captions. Include captions when people are talking. A lot of people watch without sound, so having captions can be crucial to someone watching the video.

Tight script. Create a template for captions so your newsroom has a consistent style. Keep your script concise – 10 words or fewer per line, 10-12 lines total.