Engagement and Innovation on Emerging Platforms

News providers are also using digital tools as a means to try to strengthen

The Seattle Times’ live chat with Mariner’s player Charlie Furbush.

relationships with audiences. Technology allows for both deeper engagement with content and new opportunities for direct engagement with local journalists.

Examples of innovations being explored in this space across the region include live video, augmented reality, and interactive content.

Early engagement experiments in this space include use of Google Hangouts by the Seattle Times and Reddit AMAs (Ask Me Anything) by Pacific Northwest outlets such as the Oregonian.

The Mainstreaming of Live Video

Launched initially for celebrities in August 2015 and then opened to everyone in April 2016, Facebook Live—as well as other live video streaming platforms—is just one way that local media outlets are trying to encourage new forms of engagement.

“Hangouts were never like a huge hit,” reflects the Seattle Times’ Sharon Chan.

On average, around 100 people would participate in these conversations. Part of the challenge with this platform, Chan suggests, is that “hangout technology was just not that popular with the general public.”

In contrast, she notes, “When we did live chats, like text live chats, we’d get hundreds

Screenshot of Seattlepi.com using Facebook Live

or, depending on the topic, up to 1,000 people.”

This suggests the importance of using mainstream platforms that your audience uses, not just those popular with journalists.

This principle may be one reason why Facebook Live has enjoyed some success for local media outlets. Users are more comfortable using Facebook than Google Hangouts, and take-up of Facebook Live may also have been aided by the wider usage of smartphones—and the continued popularity of Facebook—at the time the technology was released.

As Levi Pulkkinen, senior editor at Seattle P-I (Washington), suggests, this is all part of the continued need for news providers and journalists to engage with audiences where they are.

“We’ll go find readers wherever we can,” he says. “I mean, that’s the big change in the industry, right?

“It used to be you just print a newspaper. And whatever you had, you just kind of force it on your customers. And now what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to hang out what you’ve got and hope that you can lure them to you.”

In terms of live video, for some smaller publishers, such as the Vancouver Columbian (Washington), it’s too early to tell if this technology is a potential game changer. Emeritus Editor Brancaccio admits that, although the Columbian has used live video, “the numbers don’t look great.”

“But you know, it’s just an emerging concept,” he adds.

That’s a maxim many local publishers in the region are also using for emerging platforms such as AR as well.

Augmented Reality

Klamath Falls (population 43,000), the county seat for Klamath County (population 68,000), may not seem like an obvious place for experimentation with this emerging format. But according to Gerry O’Brien, managing editor of the Herald and News, “It’s a way to get people to kind of look at our paper in a different angle.”

These efforts began in 2015 when the town hosted the Babe Ruth Little League World

Google Play promotional image for the augmented reality app produced for the 2015 Babe Ruth World Series by KCC Digital Media. The app displays virtual baseball cards, with player stats and pictures.

Series, featuring baseball players aged 16–18 battling it out for the best team in that age group.

As O’Brien recalls, a partnership with the local college was integral to making this work.

“They came to us and said, ‘You know, we’re experimenting with this. How might it work for you guys?’ And so we jumped on board for that right away.”

The paper has followed their first AR initiative, which took place a year before the technology went mainstream in the form of 2016’s Pokémon Go craze, with an ongoing series of AR efforts.

“I think it’s a learning curve for the audience,” O’Brien admits. “It’s not like it gets a lot of attraction, but right now we’re trying to do an AR piece once a week in the paper, so people kind of get used to seeing it and experiment with it.”

Klamath Falls Herald and News Editor Gerry O’Brien explains how their first AR e ort worked:

“We took photos of the teams, and the augmented reality kids took that photo, and each individual player then, it was embedded in their photo. If you touched on it, it would pop up a baseball card, so you see all the stats that they had.”

Personalization and Interactive Content Focused on “The Big One”

In 2016, the New Yorker’s Kathryn Schulz won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing

Screenshot of the Oregonian’s earthquake map

for “The Really Big One,” a piece exploring the impact on the Paci c Northwest when (not if) there’s a major earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone.

“When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America,” she wrote.

Commenting on the win with a piece titled “The New Yorker Wins the Pulitzer for Scaring the Shit Out of Oregonians,” Willamette Week’s Lizzy Acker— who noted that the paper had written an in-depth article on this topic in 2010—wrote:

You know the story. It’s the one your mom forwarded to you, the precursor to the conversation about earthquake safety kits, the catalyst that finally got you to buy an
extra gallon of water, which is now collecting dust in your closet. It’s the tale of what’s going to happen to us when the Cascadia subduction zone finally goes berserk. Schulz’s article prompted much discussion among Pacific Northwesterners and considerable local media follow-up.

On the week of publication, the Oregonian hosted a “live chat” with Professor Chris Gold nger—an expert on this scenario based at Oregon State University—and two of his PhD students. The session was moderated by Richard Read, a senior writer for the Oregonian/OregonLive, who previously covered the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and the 2011 Japan tsunami.

Such was the level of interest, the paper noted, that the forum “attracted more clicks—5,000 and counting—than any live chat in OregonLive’s 18-year history.”

The discussions led the paper’s Mark Friesen to create an interactive, real-time (updated every 15 mins) earthquake map for the region.

OPB (Portland, Oregon) also produced a range of content on this topic. Its Unprepared series (which continues to include the latest news on this subject) o ers online audiences a range of multimedia content tagged around four key themes: The Science, The Aftermath, Survival Mode, and Prepare Now.

These online features have been accompanied by “OPB’s weekly TV news magazine exploring the ecological issues, natural wonders and outdoor recreation of the Northwest,” radio content and an hour-long TV special produced by Oregon Field Guide.

The Field Guide team “spent a year-and-a-half probing into the state of Oregon’s preparedness and found that, when it comes to bridges, schools, hospitals, building codes, and energy infrastructure, Oregon lags far behind many quake-prone regions of the country.”

Alongside these efforts, OPB’s “Aftershock” initiative—which began during a weekend Storytelling with Data build-a-thon hosted by Hack Oregon and the Agora Journalism Center at the University of Oregon—created an interactive proposition to help audiences understand what a 9.0 earthquake from the Cascadia Subduction Zone might mean for them.

By entering their Oregon zip code, web users can read a customized report that outlines the seismic risks for that location and o ers recommendations for preparing for such an eventuality.

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