Why you should cover homecomings and proms

The cover of our Sept. 27 edition of So Salem, our hyperlocal publication for Salem, Virginia.

The cover of our Sept. 27 edition of So Salem, our hyperlocal publication for Salem, Virginia.

One of the signature things we do with our community publications in Roanoke is cover high school homecomings and proms.

Our target audience isn’t the kids; it’s their moms. Our community publications focus very tightly on women with kids in the home — i.e., soccer moms. That means lots of schools coverage, lots of coverage of youth sports, from high schools down to rec leagues, and yes, it means we send photographers to high school homecomings and proms.

We have a “paparazzi” photo crew — a freelance operation — that shows up with an actual red carpet, and a backdrop with our logo. Over the years, these have become so popular that now, the schools often call us to schedule us before we get around to contacting them.

Better yet, these are some of our biggest traffic-drivers of the year online.

Here’s some examples of that coverage.

Here's the Sept. 27 cover of SWoCo, our hyperlocal publication for Southwest Roanoke County, Virginia.

Here’s the Sept. 27 cover of SWoCo, our hyperlocal publication for Southwest Roanoke County, Virginia.

 Here's what the inside looks like. Prom coverage looks just the same, only with fancier dresses.

Here’s what the inside looks like. Prom coverage looks just the same, only with fancier dresses.

Yes, we always do at least four pages worth of coverage. More if we can. With still more online.

Yes, we always do at least four pages worth of coverage. More if we can. With still more online.

Video: What I learned from our daily newsroom webcast

This was the logo for our daily webcast, the TimesCast.

This was the logo for our daily webcast, the TimesCast.

When I came up in the business, print and broadcast were two very different things, and naturally we print people looked down on the broadcast folks as superficial pretty boys.

So when Mike Riley, the editor of The Roanoke Times, proposed that we get into video back in the mid-aughts — and do so by launching a daily news webcast — you can imagine the reaction in some quarters of the newsroom.

But we did it.

From 2005 to 2007, we produced a daily webcast we called the TimesCast — this was look before the New York Times appropriated that same name for its own. (We offered this advice to the Times here.)

Photographer-turned-multimedia journalist Seth Gitner was the technical genius (he’s now a professor at Syracuse University, by the way.) I wrote the scripts and used my theatrical background to recruit and direct an in-house crew of presenters.

We weren’t the first newspaper in the country to do a webcast but we were certainly one of the first. When the TimesCast started, it was the only video we were doing and got decent traffic. Later, when we started other video projects, the numbers declined. Keep in mind, the TimesCast was launched as an experiment; it was never a business with a business model behind it. By definition, an experiment is a success if you learn something from it. By that measure, the TimesCast was a great success for it.

Here are several things we learned, usually the hard way:

* Video is a skill-set that doesn’t always come naturally to a newspaper. Because it involves visuals, photographers seem to take to it more naturally — although some reporters turned out to be very adept at the story-telling aspect of it.

* Video is also very time-consuming, and ultimately proved to be an expenditure of time we couldn’t justify on a daily basis. The problem with a daily webcast is that it expired with that day’s news — (although you can still find many of our old webcasts online.) Breaking news video always produced more traffic, and other video projects usually had longer shelf lives that produced more “long tail” traffic over time. We produced a sports spin-off — a weekly Sports TimesCast featuring our beat writers for Virginia Tech and UVA football. That did better, because of its longer shelf life and I always thought that had more economic potential. Eventually, we shut that down, too.

* Marketing is key. I don’t think viewers expect a newspaper site to have video. That may be changing, but if you really want to promote video, well, you have to promote it. I still think our sports webcast could have been a business success if we had invested in promotion. On the flip side, that would have also required more discipline on the content side — keeping the length tight, for instance, and the conversation more newsworthy.

We did win an award for the TimesCast; it took third place in the online category in the Virginia Press Association’s convergence category in 2006.

Here’s our April 4, 2006 edition:

Here’s some advice we gave the New York Times on the matter.

Search “Roanoke Times TimesCast” on YouTube and you can find some others.

What is Yancey Media?

Dwayne Yancey

Dwayne Yancey

I have created this Yancey Media site to serve as a vehicle to share my insights and experiences from the front lines of the media revolution.

First, a little bit about me: I started out as a very conventional print journalist, first as a reporter and then as an editor for The Roanoke Times, the daily newspaper in Roanoke, Virginia. Along the way, I won my fair share of awards — I was UPI Young Journalist of the Year back in1984 when I was still young, I was part of a reporting team that was a finalist for the Pulitizer Prize for our coverage of the United Mine Workers strike against Pittson Coal in the late 1980s, a strike that foreshadowed the coming battles over health care., I authored the first book about Doug Wilder, the first African-American elected governor of any state, an election that preceded Barack Obama by nearly two decades.

My Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion came in 2008, when I was placed in charge of new ventures. Specifically, I was directed to take a money-losing community news publication and turn it into a money-maker — which I’ve done. (Not that I’ve done it single-handedly, of course.) In the five years since, I’ve been immersed in the evolving economics of newspapers and digital media, and the opportunities and challenges of what some call “hyperlocal” content . I believe here in Roanoke we have evolved an entirely new species of community news product, one that has engaged an audience of women with children in the home that is traditionally beyond the reach of a daily newspaper. Our products may seem like traditional community news publications, and in many ways they are. But they are also on the cutting edge of the industry, I believe. Our community journalists were working out of coffee shops before that became the vogue. Our community publications are web-first, and use the web to reach out to engage readers and solicit content, with our print publications being a kind of “best of” online. However, instead of online killing print, we’ve found just the opposite has happened — our web-first approach makes our print publications even more popular. I believe this is a model that can be successfully exported to other markets.

I have also come to believe that journalists, instead of disdaining the business side of the operation, should embrace it. Profit should not be a dirty word in our lexicon. On the contrary; journalists should be the ones leading the charge to figure out new revenue opportunities; that is the only we will stay in business. Just as it is said that war is too important to be left in the hands of the generals, the media business is too important to be left in the hands of the bean-counters.

Those ideas, and more to come, are the ones I’m here to share and discuss. I’m not looking for theory, but practical ideas that can be put to use that can save journalism.