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An online approach to covering LeBron

I just started my third full week at WEWS in Cleveland, and in my short time with the station, I’ve been in the middle of the team’s web coverage for an earthquake, a national news story about a missing local child, and the biggest sports story in the country.

Not a bad way to start.

Much of my time the past week has been spent covering the ongoing LeBron James free agency saga, which has put the entire city of Cleveland in limbo. Everyone around town has an opinion about LeBron’s future, and Cavaliers fans are desperately seeking out new information that might give an indication about LBJ’s future.

King James is all anybody in Cleveland is talking about.

As a local television station, we wanted to cover this event in a way that was efficient and unique, giving fans a reason to come to our website and TV station, instead of turning to the hundreds of other outlets reporting on LeBron. At a time when the entire local, national and blogosphere were covering the same story, we needed to give fans something different.

We decided that the best way to do this was through the web. Of course.

The strategy we decided to use was to host a blog that would be updated several times throughout the day, promoting collaboration across the newsroom and allowing for our story to evolve with the story.

A challenge with that approach was that we knew putting together a quality product would take a concerted and unified effort from the entire newsroom, not just the web staff. Even at a station like WEWS that has an online focus, getting that kind of convergence is sometimes difficult.

But with this story, we got it.

From the time the blog went live on Wednesday, June 31, the newsroom embraced the web product, and nearly everybody had an active role in keeping it updated.

The blog, “Keeping LeBron,” has remained a top story on our website since free agency started. By placing the story right on the homepage, users can easily find the information right they visit our site.

It is easy to find, and easy to follow.

Each entry includes a time-stamp, with the newest information at the top. The entries vary in length, but many of them are short bits of information from our reporters, or from rumors that have appeared in other media outlets around the web. Whenever we include the information from another news outlet, we give them credit and provide a link to that information.

We chose to include some of these reports from other outlets because of the nature of the topic. One of the challenges with covering NBA free agency was that there was very little official information. Until LeBron announces his decision, nearly everything is rumors and speculation. But does that mean we shouldn’t cover it until a decision becomes official?

No way.

Instead, the best strategy is to be as transparent as possible, giving fans a ton of information and being open about who is saying what.

Fans want to know everything—who is meeting with LeBron, who is involved with the meetings, how long the meetings lasted, what is the team’s pitch, and on and on and on….

So we have reported just about everything. The blog entries have come from a combination of original reporting and from reports found in other reputable media outlets, which we credited. Our strategy was to use the power and resources of the web to get as much information out there.

All of this has been done with heavy social media integration, as we gathered and sent out information through Twitter, and connected with fans using our Facebook page. We also have a Twitter feed inside the blog itself, with posts from some of the people dedicated to covering the event (see below).

Social media is certainly at the center of our efforts.

One of the elements that I thought has made the blog work is that many of the entries have just provided entertaining information, such as what LeBron was driving or how fans acted fans as he pulled into the garage. Sure, that seems basic—and it is—but people love that kind of stuff. People want information as it was happening, and this blog was an ideal way to provide that.

With the LeBron story, information has literally changed by the minute, so it can be exhausting for fans to keep track what is happening. We have tried to make it as easy as possible.

The assignment desk and morning producers update the blog several times throughout the night and early morning. That way, if you look at the blog before you go to bed at midnight, it has already changed several times before your check it again at 8 a.m.

During the day, the web staff, assignment desk, news producers, sports department and on-air reporters contribute to the blog with new information. As a web producer, a bulk of my day is spent maintaining, updating and formatting the blog to make sure it accomplishes our goals of fast, accurate and entertaining reporting.

The result of this effort has been a web story that is transparent and never truly completed, which is how this kind of story should be on the web. As our story changes with the story, fans have a reason to check the site constantly.

That has driven traffic, and made the blog one of the most read stories every day since it went live.

Generally, sports stories don’t do that great on local TV websites because most TV sites simply run Associated Press stories, with information that people can find anywhere. Those stories have no intrinsic value to a local new website because they give nothing unique.

Our blog is different.

It is detailed and thorough, but never a static product. And most importantly, and it is not something that a user can find anywhere else on the web.

The blog has kept our consumers informed on the events as they happen, and then the television broadcasts supplement the breaking news with context and perspective.

The newscasts do not have to waste much time getting viewers up to speed on what has happened because the people interested already know. Fans follow the story on the web. So with television, our reporters could take the story to another level and provide some perspective or take a fun angle with the story.

This blog is the ideal way to blend online news coverage with the television product. The web and TV stories work together, complementing each other, but still allowing each medium to work well as an individual entity. We aren’t trying to make the web product something it’s not, and the same goes for TV.

In the world of online news, the key is having the ability to adapt, and our blog is expected to change. In fact, if the page goes a few hours without a new update, then something is wrong. And it will continue to transform until LeBron puts the story to rest by signing a new contract.

Until then, it is our job to cover the heck out of the story the best way we can.

Category: New Media Thoughts, WEWS

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