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BY BRENT FRAZEE
First, I have to apologize for starting off with a cliché, but I think I can justify it.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Well, I am an old dog (64 years old). And I’m learning new tricks.
I’ve been in the newspaper business for 41 years, most of them with The Kansas City Star. When I first came to Kansas City 35 years ago, I worked for two papers, The Times and The Star, both owned by the same company.
Business was booming. Everywhere you went in the city, you’d see a face buried in a newspaper.
But times have changed.
Now everywhere you go you see people’s eyes glued to their cell phone.
We’re a society on the go, and we want our news quickly and immediately. By the time people read their morning newspaper, many have already read the news hours earlier on the Internet.
That means newspaper veterans like me have to adjust.
Newspapers are putting far more emphasis on their websites today than ever before. As newspaper circulations go down, the number of views on websites are going up.
A survey showed that more than 60 percent of The Star’s readership now access us by mobile devices – namely, cell phones. That signals unique opportunities for outdoor writers. It allows us to get creative in ways like never before.
Instead fighting for space in an ever-shrinking print product, we can report on the outdoors and present it in an attractive manner on a website that is continually looking for new material.
Here are some of the ways we are reporting the outdoors in the digital age:
- Videos: Last year at this time, Facebook had 1 billion views of videos per day. This year, that number is up to 4 billion per day. It’s no wonder newspapers encourage reporters to include short videos to accompanying many of their stories. This provides a special opportunity for outdoor writers. We make our living painting a picture with our words. Now we can add video of some of the beautiful places we write about.
Surveys show short videos are better for grabbing viewers. We tend to run videos accompany stories that are two minutes or shorter. Our video department doesn’t want us to return with merely a “talking head.” They want us to shoot an intro and different segments of B roll – like footage of our subject fighting a fish, scenery, a close-up of the lure or bait being used and maybe some wildlife such as a blue heron fishing in the shallows.
The idea is to give the viewer a sense of what the experience is like. I am especially careful to make sure the video provides additional information to support the story and doesn’t just repeat the same content in a different format. I shoot these short videos with my cell phone and edit them there through the Videolicious program.
- Soft news: Sometimes, web readers want to be entertained,
not informed. We have a regular segment called “You can’t make
this stuff up,” in which we take a look at the wild and zany side of the outdoors. We’ve featured a guy who invented the Goosinator, a drone that scares geese off golf courses; an eBay listing that was selling the location of the new world record bass; and a pro fisherman who won a big tournament by using a lure that was supposed to look like a redwing blackbird, among others.
- Lists: Readers love lists. The top 10 spots to camp in the region, the best bass lakes in the area, the top float-fishing rivers in the Ozarks; the best public-hunting areas, etc.— they’re all easy to compile and provide readers with a lot of information in an easy-to-read format.
- Regular features: We include a “Lure of the Week” feature spotlighting new lures that are creating news. We also have an “Adventure of the Week,” highlighting something like a hiking trail in the Ozarks or a whitewater stream ideal for kayaking or canoeing. The downside for the extra content? It takes additional time. So ask your editor for a raise. Wait, don’t do that. I was just kidding. Your compensation for the extra work will be a greater following of your outdoors coverage.
Take it from an old dog who is actually enjoying learning new tricks. ♦
Brent Frazee has been the outdoors editor at The Kansas City Star for 35 years. During that time, he has won multiple national, regional and state awards for his writing and photography. He lives in Parkville, Missouri, with his wife Jana and two Labs, Zoey and June.