Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hyperlocals: Use Outsourcing to Cover Breaking News Better (and Cheaper)

Sound crazy? It's not – because outsourcing can afford you the ability to give your readers real-time “team coverage” where now you might be hard-pressed to field more than one or two reporters.

Bottom line: For hyperlocal websites and for weekly newspapers, these techniques result in robust, accurate, competitive breaking news coverage your publication might otherwise have little chance to produce. Here's how it works.

(This scenario assumes you have a trained offshore team in place and it's properly managed and controlled – which is what we do at Journtent. It also assumes you've rehearsed this plan, have procedures in place, and that all staff members carry smartphones with company-approved video and audio apps... also tools in Journtent's kit....).

There are two essential cornerstones to covering a breaking news story using our system: First, that you get an editor online to control the coverage, and second, that you get a local staffer on the scene.

The moment the editor assumes control of the story online, the process takes on a “live radio” and “television live remote” feel.

The editor's first job is to get the closest available staff member to the scene of the news event. For a small hyperlocal publication, this could be an intern, a stringer, a photog  – even an advertising salesperson. (Sacrilegious I know, but if your staff is small and the breaking news is big, why not leverage every staff asset?)

As the closest staffer is en route and the offshore team is alerted to stand by, the editor is already publishing what information is available over company channels (website, Twitter, email alerts, etc.).

In a very few moments, the editor must begin to deal with the emerging facts and assign offshore team members to gather research on key stakeholders in the story, on the location of the story, and on citizen reports of the story.

The real value of the offshore team is that it can work quickly and in parallel to: monitor local police and emergency radio traffic; scan Twitter, Instagram and YouTube for citizen reports, photos and videos;  research the story's key stakeholders and begin to build background on the players (including examination of their Facebook and Twitter accounts); monitor other local media for developing facts and angles;  transcribe witness and official statements quickly for complete accuracy; prepare maps and other graphics to illustrate the story as developments emerge.

The offshore team can do this quickly and inexpensively – it allows you to focus a number of people who can perform a larger number of breaking story-related functions quickly than you otherwise would have at your disposal.

As the offshore team starts to amass information, the editor is placing calls to story stakeholders to gather more information and the first staff member is arriving on scene.

Quickly it becomes obvious why we at Journtent advocate that publications (no matter how small) provide staff members with a Bluetooth-headset-equipped company smartphone to carry in addition to their own personal mobiles.  One phone just isn't enough.

Of paramount importance: The on-scene staff member must immediately establish a live video stream feed from the scene. The moment that feed pops up live, the editor and the offshore team can see and hear the action from the scene and begin to prepare much more detailed reports. The on-scene staffer uses verbal commentary to describe the totality of the event (like a TV reporter).

Next the on-scene staffer must shoot a small number of photographs with their personal mobile phone and send them back to the newsdesk – these will provide the resolution needed for both breaking web reports and later the print stories.

Then, the staffer must call the editor and maintain an open phone line with the editor to begin to feed information to the newsdesk and to receive instructions from the editor.

The two-way communication dynamic is vital because the editor is by now sitting in a commanding position; receiving information from a number of sources via the offshore team, the editor probably knows more than the on scene staffer and direct the staffer's actions.

When conducting an on-scene interview, the staffer must live video stream the interview so that transcriptionists and offshore team writers can watch in real time to gather quotes and information.

Via phone earpiece, the editor can direct the questioning of a stakeholder to ensure that what is needed for the story is obtained. (You can understand why this must be so if your first on-scene staff member is an intern or an ad sales rep!)  Furthermore, the editor may now possesses information not known on scene which can be leveraged in the live interviews.

It is also very important for the on scene staffer to get panned shots of the entire scene. Using the live video streaming smartphone, the staffer must be instructed to slowly pan a 360 degree view of the entire scene. Often, an editor can identify a person among the crowd or among the emergency workers who can be interviewed live or called later.

As the story is developed, the editor can provide updated coverage to readership by any one of a number means:  the live video feed is one possibility, and of course website updates as well as Twitter.

Writers working on the offshore team now can begin to assemble a longer, more detailed story that pulls together all the accumulated facts, interviews and research as the editor  focuses on managing the information-gathering and frequent updates.

There is nothing described in this process that is technologically extreme or even difficult, in the least. With Skype, Ustream, YouTube, and smartphones, the bulk of the technology is very inexpensive and omnipresent. Outsourcing is the factor that levels the playing field and enables smaller staffs to accomplish much more, even on nanobudgets.

With proper management and experience, these techniques empower small hyperlocals and weekly newspapers to compete face-to-face with larger metro dailies to cover high-value local breaking news.

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