LMA’s Digital News Innovator of the Year shares his secret for success: Make things as easy as possible

Steve Baron, VP/Digital and Head of Product, Tribune Media, has been recognized for his work driving audience and business-side content strategies as part of the Local Media Digital Innovation Awards.

Baron was named this year’s Local Media Digital News Innovator of the Year and will be recognized at the Local Media Association Digital Revenue Summit in Chicago where winners from the Local Media Digital Innovation Awards will be presented.

The award recognizes a digital media industry leader who is a high achiever in audience development and has the results to back it up.

Judges said this about Baron:

Steve and his team’s results speak for themselves. Tops in comScore for local multi-platform news, robust local news sites and apps, and forward looking adoption of voice and OTT channels, as well as for-platform vertical video for mobile.

First, can you tell us a little about your background?

My initial work in the TV industry was as an on-camera meteorologist and news reporter in cities such as Gainesville, Florida; South Bend, Indiana; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Chicago. I had the good fortune to be working at a FOX-owned station when FOX bought Myspace, and suddenly the internet became important, so when the boss asked ‘who knew HTML,’ I raised my hand and found a new career out of it.  That was around 15 years ago, and while I still love weather, I’ve found it much easier to forecast digital metrics than a Midwest snow storm.

What are your responsibilities at Tribune Broadcasting?

Tribune owns and/or operates over 40 TV stations, a radio station, a national cable network and several freestanding digital businesses. At Tribune my team handles anything digital which is customer-facing.  So we build websites, apps, special projects and such, along with running an internal national wire service, a social media strategy team, an analytics team, a content strategy team which supports local newsrooms, and pretty much anything else we’re asked to help with to keep our content in front of our customers eyes (and ears).

Tribune has impressive comScore performances across many markets. What’s been key to success?

ComScore really is how we judge our performance against our peers. The initial hard work on the technical side of making sure everything is tagged properly is definitely important, but finding content which resonates with your users is just as important in the big picture.  We don’t really optimize anything we do specifically to hit a comScore number, but it’s a nice side effect of the hard work our newsrooms do covering news in their communities.

Judges recognized your work in OTT and voice. Can you share your strategies in both?

Our goal has always been to be on every platform a user could reasonably expect to try to find local news on, and in 2019 that includes Alexa, Google Home, Amazon Fire TV, Apple, TV, Roku and Android TV.  Audio was surprisingly easy to get internal buy-in on since many newsrooms were already doing updates for partner radio stations. Connected TV devices such as Roku are a bit more complicated since just publishing old news clips isn’t very interesting – so we’ve found success with evergreen and ‘from-the-archives’ type content on those platforms.

Your analytics approach and understanding on how to optimize and monetize your audience is impressive. What lessons learned can you share?

We love real-time data from Google Analytics and some internal tools Tribune has developed, and use that to guide decision-making across the company for both digital and broadcast platforms.

With the scale we have, it’s easy to see both what kinds of content and what specific stories are resonating on a national level at any one time, and the power of that data cannot be underestimated. Paying attention to what you are producing, how and where it’s being consumed, and who is using it are the keys to building audience – and also not relying on any one social network to be the main source of your audience. We love our direct traffic, people who come right to our brands for the content are for sure our favorite users.

When it comes to innovation, what’s been key to leading with that kind of spirit across your TV group?

Innovation is hard, there’s no question about it. It’s not like we invented a new form of storytelling here; our audience isn’t asking for that anyway. We always say what the audience really wants is just a bigger font (so they can see the text on their phones).

The innovation happening around Tribune is based around building digital products which are easy to use and don’t require phone-book sized training manuals to go with them. Anyone can post a story on our digital platform with three clicks and have it be on websites, apps, Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP, Microsoft News, and other platforms. So I’d say the real innovation here is making things as easy as possible so the barrier to contributing to digital platforms is as low as possible.

Anything else you would like to add?

I’m so happy to have the LMA on our side when it comes to the future of local news. The work you are doing to foster growth, innovation and revenue is so important to make sure the critical resource of local news doesn’t disappear can’t be understated. I’m proud to win this award but more proud to be around people who can help make sure local news has a long and bright future on all platforms.

You can register for the Digital Revenue Summit by clicking here.