‘Cover what makes your area unique’ and other lessons from Southern California

June 20, 2019

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can sign up here.

On Monday, Southern California News Group’s Vanessa Franko said what might be my all-time favorite quote and new motto:

“You’re never gonna beat (the story about) the guy with no nose who robbed the bank,” she said. “Don’t compare yourself to that.”

SCNG’s made up of 11 properties, including the Orange County Register. Franko, digital director of entertainment, was sharing lessons on what she’s learned from taking both a more narrow and deeper approach to covering local arts and entertainment.

The point of that quote: Don’t judge your work against other people’s work. Use data to set your benchmarks and goals.

Related: How to better cover beats in your backyard … like Disney, or Coachella, or #RHOC

After we talked about how her team has learned to cover arts and entertainment like locals, Franko sent a great list of tips. Since she can say all of this so much better than I can, I asked her to take over today’s Local Edition.

She also generously offered to talk more about their strategies on Twitter or email.

Here’s Franko with more:

– Cover what makes your area unique and that others don’t cover as deeply. And after you start covering it deep, there are huge opportunities. (For us, those verticals include Theme Parks, Music Festivals and Casinos.)

– You can link the heck out of your coverage and get people to fall down that rabbit hole with you.

– When you’re covering something deeply, and it’s something that is resonating with the audience, it makes it easier to build that out into other platforms, like a newsletter. If you already have that content, it takes away the stress of where you’re going to come up with that content.

-– If you’re covering something a lot of people are doing, how do you make it different? Our approach includes a lot of experiential journalism. I think one of the other things about our team is that we approach these verticals as normal people. We go to Disneyland and Coachella, too, so we can tell you what’s worth waiting in line for and what you can skip. What would we want/need to know if we were going? And if you aren’t there, this is what it was like. Examples: Tips for making the most out of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge during the reservation period; Ride reviews for theme parks.

(As a bonus, a lot of those stories have a long tail life so they can be re-optimized and re-shared with minimal extra effort.)

– Find where people are talking about your verticals. It could be Facebook groups, sometimes a subreddit. It’s a place to find ideas, sources and sometimes a promotional tool, too.

– Because we’re covering the fun stuff, we have a lot of freedom to experiment with how we’re telling the story. We turned a map and illustration that ran large in print into an interactive graphic with links to the stories we had already written ahead of Star Wars: Galaxy’s EdgeWe did Real Housewives of Orange County recaps with emojis at the bottom of the article to count the number of drinks, curse words, crying binges, etc.  We asked people to get creative with their best Coachella moments for us for a photo essay.

– To get the staff on board, make it part of the conversation every day and at meetings. Editors need to be a united front.

– Have individual goals for each reporter as well as team missions. Treating everyone as an individual rather than comparing to each other has been big in getting buy-in and working to be stronger.

– Digital plans are HUGE, especially when covering live events in the field, like Comic-Con or Coachella or the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It provides a place where everyone can get the info at a glance. It also helps to plot out social media posts/stories, newsletters, etc., and keep everyone organized.