Taking Town Meeting to the 21st Century

Town Meeting is the proverbial wedding day for News 7. All hands are on deck — able bodied (or not so much after a week of break) reporters and photographers show up dressed in their best (or marginally okay) attire, and are ready for a day full of stress, stories and in the end, celebration when it’s all done.

The standard town meeting involves a well-thought out list designating destinations for reporter/photographer pairs, a strategy for the ever important video-journalists, and somewhere in this treasure map, web staff finds their way into the fray.

Web on town Meeting day is a tough. Point blank. You have 15 towns to cover, and not much of the “breaking” news happens until that magical time of 7p.m. rolls around. When the ballot boxes get cracked open, that’s when the web really need to be on top of things.

Part of the issue of Town Meeting is that the day before (and most of meeting day), it’s preview after preview:

“__________ might get a new fire truck.” :

“__________ is looking to bring back the full time librarian position.”

“__________ is looking to get a new police cruiser.”

All of the above are actual items from this year’s town warrants I found laying around, paraphrased of course. These items do not scream viral content, and to be honest, would interest only the most passionate readers from Barnet or Peacham, Monroe or wherever we cover. That’s when the social media strategy can come into play.

I’ve been following KUSA in Denver all semester, so I figured I’d go back to them to see how they handle breaking news. It turns out that spring weather in Denver isn’t much different than that our lovely New England, as it was almost 70 degrees yesterday and today they faced a snowstorm that slowed travel times, and at Denver International Airport, forced hundreds of flight cancellations.

This post is a bit lengthy because of the need for detail. A lot of times, including at KUSA, breaking news will have a shorter headline, but that’s more or less irrelevant. What I’m here to focus on is the checklist from Gannett.

First off, this impacts a TON of people in Denver, obviously. This news is also particularly important because it can impact virtually anyone on the planet who might have been flying into (or from) Denver International Airport.

In terms of urgency, this would be near the top. With roads in the city (including one leading to the airport) impassable, it was critical to release this information to the public as soon as it became available. This will help people avoid confusion and hassle, and viewers/readers will be grateful.

Lastly, I can imagine determining the credibility of the report was not a difficult issue for KUSA. As it came straight from the airport itself, it is a primary source, and can be verified nearly instantly. This is another step in ensuring the news gets out to people as quickly as it can.

Going back to News7, after taking a critical look at this post and the context surrounding it, I believe that we need to make Town Meeting Coverage more interesting as a whole.

We send reporters out during the day, so why not do a quick interview if we find a resident who is passionate about a topic? It would be a nice way to get people from outside that town interested (at least for 30 seconds to a minute) in what’s going on there. Also, it would save a “results are coming up” post.

Social media is as much about content as it is timeliness, and that can be an issue on “the day.” Results tend to come in a wave from about 7:15p.m.-9:00p.m. Instead of trying to flood Facebook with results from a few towns, why not compile an article on NewsLINC that gives a town by town breakdown of what happened? It would be easy to update, and would get shared far more than if we posted a few individual posts.

We’re always pushing page views and likes, and what better way to get new eyes on our page than to have one article encompassing the results every town we cover? It seems (at least to me) like a sure-fire way to bolster the size of our audience, since you’re all directing them to the same story.

It would take some work updating it throughout the evening and the staff would have to be on top of things, but I see that as another potential solution in order to make the day go more smoothly on the web side of things.

That’s the way I envision Town Meeting 2017 looking on the web, but who knows? There may be even better coverage strategies out there…

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