July 15, 2015

Last summer, Keli Dailey read a lot about comedy news. As she prepared a pitch to launch her own news humor Web show, Dailey read about the impact shows such as “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show” had on people’s awareness of the news. They knew more about the news of the day. But it wasn’t just breaking news. They knew more about big topics, including Net Neutrality.

When she looked into the audience statistics for those shows, however, Dailey found a majority of those viewers were male.

“OK, so this is what’s going on,” she realized — those shows were being made for and by men. And so they resonated with men.

Dailey wanted to try and change that.

She applied for funding from First Look Media last July and with it created a six-month Web show aimed at women ages 24 to 35.

“We just wanted to see what is it that they’re not responding to in existing comedy news,” Dailey said. “Is it simply that it’s male faces and male voices?”

A lot of people go to film school to learn how to create a show. But for Dailey, it was a bit more like when the Muppets hastily threw together a production.

“It was exactly like that, actually,” she said, “and I was Kermit, always in a panic.”

Dailey’s start in communications came from a job with the development department at a Bay Area food bank. As part of that job, she interviewed people at soup kitchens and shelters and tried to convince people to donate. Dailey also wrote letters to the editor of area newspapers about the lack of supermarkets and banks in poorer neighborhoods.

“It was a really a good education for me in advocacy journalism,” she said.

She went on to work as a news assistant for the Los Angeles Times, then to grad school to study journalism. Eventually, Dailey got a gig as a food columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune. In 2013, she was selected as a John S. Knight fellow at Stanford, where she took courses on agriculture and nutrition. Through her project, “Public Table,” Dailey wanted to make stories about food more fun and accessible.

While she was at Stanford, Dailey also took classes in entrepreneurship, business and design thinking. At the time, John Temple, First Look Media’s president of audience and products, was a senior Knight fellow. And First Look had a project.

“We were exploring how to work in an experimental way with people who were very interested in being audience-centric, that they really came at their work with the idea that they were trying to serve a specific audience,” he said.

The Knight program seemed like a good place to look for ideas. While searching for funding for “Public Table,” Dailey pitched the idea of a news humor show for women, and First Look selected her project.

Dailey and her team started with a live show (free for women) to see if the concept had an audience. The show, at the time, didn’t yet have a name — and that was intentional. Everything was under construction, Dailey said, and she wanted to be transparent and let people be part of building it.

“I think that one of the things I learned is really respecting the intelligence of the audience is very important,” she said.

Part of that transparency was asking members of that live audience and a group of other people who understood the show’s purpose to help choose a name. Dailey asked them through an online survey. And they chose the craziest one, she said — “News Hangover.”

Right around the time when “News Hangover” was ready to start filming, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a Bay Area alt-weekly, shut down. Dailey contacted a friend who knew the Bay Guardian’s news editor. Three days after losing her job, Rebecca Bowe met up with Dailey to talk about working as an investigative journalist for the show.

“The transition to ‘News Hangover’ was like a breath of fresh air,” Bowe said. “All of the sudden I had permission to experiment.”

Dailey didn’t want “News Hangover” to give people more of the news they already had. So she and Bowe worked on monthly themes, including economics and mental health. The two researched and reported them out.

“We did so much research that would never end up in the pieces, but it informed how we approached it and how we edited it,” Dailey said.

Now, she’s not sure if that was the right approach or not. Give people more of what’s trending or something they don’t know?

“It’s that journalist in me,” Dailey said. “It’s like no, no, they need to know this.”

Throughout the show’s six-month run, about 20 people were part of the production at various times. Dailey met with a group of women in late November for a roundtable to talk about their issues and concerns, which helped inform the show’s topics.

“We took it out and left the online setting often and got in person with people, and that was really revealing,” Dailey said.

In April, as the show wrapped, four episodes were screened at the Society of Professional Journalists’ annual conference.

“After, a lot of journalists came up and said, ‘how do we do this?'” Dailey said. “That’s the best feeling, you make this crazy thing that hasn’t been really done before, and other people say ‘where do we sign up?’ That’s the best.”

Dailey isn’t sure what will happen next with “News Hangover.” She wrote about lessons learned from the six-month experiment for Medium. And next year, she’ll start teaching about news satire at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Next, “News Hangover” could be a newsletter or a podcast or a pop-up magazine.

“I feel like the space for comedy news is rich and really could expand outside of a studio,” Dailey said.

The concept of creating media for young women using humor definitely has a future, Bowe said.

“It was sort of this refreshing take on how information can be presented and how this can be done.”

To continue, the show itself obviously has to be able to make money, said Pam Maples, innovation director at the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford, “but there’s lots of ways to define success.”

Whether or not the show returns, it created a foundation for Dailey to build from.

“She is a different journalist coming out of it,” Maples said. “She was a very good journalist going into it. I think she’s an even better one now. I think it’s gonna take her places. I don’t know where.”

What Dailey did, and what all journalists need to do, is to find inventive ways to reach new audiences, Maples said.

“This isn’t about new ways to promote content,” Maples said, “it’s about a new way to do content.”

With “News Hangover,” Maples said, Dailey experimented and let herself become uncomfortable. When she first started the series, Dailey wasn’t used to being a personality, even though she’s natural on camera, Maples said. It wasn’t her normal comfort zone.

“But she went there in real time, tweaking, iterating,” Maples said. “I think that’s just something that’s so important today in journalism, to be really open.”

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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