February 8, 2016

If you kept an eye on your second screen last night during Super Bowl 50, at some point, a haiku or two might have crossed your Twitter stream. A football haiku. NPR started it with #SuperBowlHaiku, but soon users were out-haikuing them.

“We collaborated on a hashtag with our colleagues at WBUR, and happily, Sara Kehaulani Goo, our deputy managing editor, was supportive at every step,” said producer Colin Dwyer. Dwyer wrote the football haikus during the game. Here’s how he described the experiment in a post Sunday night:

Think of it as a syllable-conscious live-blog. We’ll be tweeting our updates in haiku as the game goes on, retweeting your contributions and doing it all using the hashtag #SuperBowlHaiku. Check back here — or find NPR on Twitter — to follow along as we go. And send us your ideas using the hashtag.

Now, you might be asking yourself why, exactly, we’re covering the big game with all these tiny poems. Good question. That’s because — well, because this is NPR.

I spoke with Dwyer last night via email about NPR’s coverage, its engagement and what the rest of us can learn from it. (I’ve also mixed in some of the tweets from the night.)

Seeing haikus from NPR during the Super Bowl felt pretty unexpected. Were you looking for a reason to watch the game while handling social? Where did this idea come from?

Well, the idea arose from a desire to do something a bit different. Of course, we were going to cover the Super Bowl — it’s one of the biggest events of the year – but we also realized that every other media outlet would be, too. Why would readers come first to NPR, if we were just going to do the same live-blog as everyone else? So, my editor Joe Ruiz and I figured we’d try something a bit weird — an experiment to get our readers involved in the game with us, even if they weren’t necessarily invested in the action on the field. Haiku is challenging, but by no means impossible: a nice vehicle to draw people in — and, I’ll admit, I simply enjoy writing them. We adopted a hashtag begun by our colleagues at WBUR, and happily, Sara Kehaulani Goo, our deputy managing editor, was supportive at every step.

Has NPR tried something like this before, participating in live side-tweeting (and is that what this is called?)

I must admit this, too: I don’t really know the name for what we did. But in the past, especially for our political debate coverage, we’ll often retweet our correspondents and editors — for, after all, they know their beats best.

How did it work? I saw tweets of delight at the haikus, but also tweets counting your syllables and tweets telling you to just stop. How did your audience respond?

I’d say it was a success! From the start, I was astounded by the number of people writing their own, and that number just kept climbing as the game went on. It was a heartening experience to see so many people getting involved, and to see such quality from the haiku they were writing. It certainly made my job easier, giving me plenty of great options for retweets. In every project worth doing – especially one that’s a bit of an oddball – you’ll have some critics, and that’s OK. As for those who were counting my syllables, well, I welcome the rigorous audit; it kept me on my toes (or, I should say, counting my fingers).

How was engagement? From a quick scan, it looks like a lot of people were side-tweeting with you.

I’ll need to speak with our analytics gurus to get actual numbers. But speaking anecdotally, at least, the engagement from our readers was great. At times, even overwhelming: During the game, readers’ haiku were streaming in at a pace of four to five a second – so many, in fact, it proved quite difficult to keep up.

Some newsrooms are still stuck on how social directly converts to pageviews, viewers or listeners, but that doesn’t seem like it was the goal here. What advice would you give other news orgs who want to maintain a voice on social during a big event?

I fear being a bit presumptuous in offering advice to others. But I can say, in NPR’s position, you’re right: We weren’t doing this for the pageviews. We wanted to give readers accurate information as fast as we could, to do so in a compelling way, and to give readers the chance to have a hand in that project, too. The hashtag — and the tweets embedded on the NPR.org post — seemed to give us the best flexibility to do all of this at once.

What haiku was best?
Favorite? Most NPR?

Hmm … tough decision.
There were dozens, by game’s end.
But this seems fitting:

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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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