USA Today focuses more on viewership than news

  • Categories:

    Content Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media

  • Date:

    July 29, 2014

USA Today focuses more on viewership than news



Content Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media

There was an interesting article in the New York Times earlier this month about – of all things – USA Today.

The story focused on the paper’s publisher Larry Kramer and his efforts to sustain (recapture?) the success of our country’s most read paper. A big part of his effort is encouraging reporters to promote their own stories via social media. Not only are the reporters asked to share their stories, but they are rewarded by their ability to take stories viral.

Excerpt from USA Today Goes Viral – New York Times, July 13, 2014.

All of the paper’s journalists have tools allowing them to track the online viewership of their stories. An electronic board displayed prominently in the newsroom tracks overall top performers. Reporters are not penalized if their articles do not make the list, but their skills at promoting their articles online are considered as important as front page bylines.

In addition to Social Media Tuesdays, they run informal contests to motivate the newsroom staff of 430. Competitions have included who can create the most viral headline or add the most new Twitter followers in a given time.

A premium is placed on reporters’ speed and digital output. Because search engines give higher rankings to USA Today’s original content rather than wire service stories, Mr. Kramer has insisted that 95 percent of its digital content is produced in-house — and goes up quickly. Only 15 percent of the USA Today online stories run in the print edition. “Reporters have to write 5- and 30-minute stories,” Mr. Kramer said.

Susan Page, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, said she and the staff appreciated the energy Mr. Kramer has brought to the paper and its online operations. “We file more and we file faster,” she said, “and we file without consideration of whether it will make the print edition.”

The full article is an interesting read, but in the spirit of USA Today’s “5- and 30-minute stories” here are three quick takeaways for content marketing professionals.

  1. 95 percent of USA Today’s digital content is produced in-house. While shared content has its place in any content marketing and social media program, original content is more valuable. Why? Search engines rank original content higher because readers value it more. That’s why your efforts must be based on relevant, rich and original content.
  2. Only 15 percent of the USA Today online stories run in the print edition. As a content marketer or writer for the web you must be focused on your online audience and how they consume information. While high editorial standards that represent the brand are critical, so is publishing speed. Your editorial teams must learn to balance time and quality for the greatest impact.
  3. Competitions have included who can create the most viral headline or add the most new Twitter followers in a given time. This could be a fun (if properly supervised) and re-energizing competition for your content team. Brands have a tendency to settle for safe headlines and social media posts. Don’t be afraid to shake it up from time-to-time. Just remember to stay true to your brand.

Here’s one more thing to consider: if reporters are being rewarded for writing “viral headlines” and gaining Twitter followers, their content will naturally follow suit. If you are a public relations professional trying to gain coverage in a publication with a “viral headlines” mindset, how does it affect the way you pitch reporters?

Your pitching style may not change much if you have already mastered concise pitches and intriguing subject lines. Just remember the key to successful media relations is to solve a reporter’s problem. If the problem is “not enough clicks on the article,” how can you help?