USA Today Turns to First-Person Videos To Better Engage Audience

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Photo Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

USA Today sports reporters are turning to selfie videos to update readers on rumors and breaking news.

The publisher’s newest video franchise, “What I’m Hearing,” features hundreds of USA Today network reporters covering sports across the country filing short-form video hits to quickly and accessibly fill in readers on what’s happening behind the scenes.

“At its core, it’s all about the daily news and rumor mill, built on our network of sports reporters,” said Robert Padavick, USA Today director of video franchises and special projects. “It’s primed for mobile and social, where we know our audiences increasingly are, and we want to continue to grow.”

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“What I’m Hearing” launched a week prior to the Super Bowl as an extension of “Sports Pulse,” a voice-driven, hosted franchise which brings on reporters as guests. “What I’m Hearing” focuses strictly on the sort of content that would be found in a reporter’s notebook, such as transaction talk and breaking news, and packages them in 60- to 90-second chunks which are shot vertically to best optimize for Twitter. Reporters send in footage from the field, which are then touched up by USA Today’s video team, which pilots several other franchises across editorial verticals. Within 90 minutes, the video is live on the network. Ultimately, three to five videos are released each day on USA Today’s mobile and desktop programs as well as social channels.

Already, the videos have encountered success at a rate that “is a little surprising to us,” according to Padavick. February’s videos drew solid viewership, and the franchise is on pace to double in its second month. According to Padavick, social numbers are even higher.

“We’re seeing 20 to 50 percent growth month over month, and it’s the second-most engaged video franchise in our network,” he said. “We’re really excited in the middle of March Madness seeing strong participation by our reporters in the field.”

According to Russ Torres, USA Today vice president of video strategy, the sports department is something of a testing ground reporter-driven video content. Once the format is polished and fine-tuned, he expects it to possibly be rolled out to other editorial teams.

“Sports is driven by readers and viewers who are enthusiasts that care about specific players, teams, leagues and even cities,” Torres said. “We see the potential to scale to an event like the 2020 election, with upwards of a dozen candidates and reporters spread across the country. This is a great way to file their reports and add video.”

Gannett, USA Today’s parent company, is currently investing heavily in video and moving the company through a digital transformation. Along with changing consumer habits, Padavick said video helps push engagement and increase followers on social channels based on their respective algorithms. In the case of “What I’m Hearing,” it can also compensate for not having live sports rights or highlights packages by offering behind-the-scenes expert reporting to add depth to the plays and moments of the day.

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“We have this really great arsenal of reporters that can provide access to everything off the field and around the court,” Padavick said. “That gives us a great leg up as we can give context to the play.”

Padavick said “What I’m Hearing” has the green light to increase its brand through environmental activations and podcasts. That starts with more in-house contributors. Early on, a core of 10 to 20 reporters who were already active on video drove the franchise, but Padavick said more are buying in each day. Now that they are, the goal is to continue growing in waves over the next few months.

“We’re just scratching the surface,” he said.