How a Digital Content Coordinator in Minnesota is helping her newspaper group create video shows, drone footage and stories driven by data

Rachel Minske 

Title: Digital Content Coordinator, Southwest News Media 

Tell us a little about your background and what you do in your current role:

I followed the television and radio news track in college and graduated with a broadcast journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, but my interest has always been in digital journalism and how newspapers can thrive in that space. That’s largely what my role is about — building on Southwest News Media’s digital presence so we can serve readers better and in new ways. I worked at Southwest as a community editor for about 18 months before moving into my current role, but I’ve worked at papers all over Wisconsin. 

We understand you are one of the driving forces being the “Spoonful” weekly news video project. Tell us about those weekly news videos and why you think they are working?

The Spoonful is a weekly, informal, online news broadcast that we film around our office. We pick three to five stories to feature each week — usually starting off with a hard news story or investigative piece and ending with a lighter story. It runs a couple of minutes. We post the video to our YouTube page, our website and our Facebook pages, the latter is where we see most of our digital traffic. 

I’m a big fan of just trying out new ideas and seeing where they go, and we’ve been really pleased with audience engagement on The Spoonful. The video receives thousands of views each week and the web story, where we flesh out the stories we discussed and link back to the original reporting, is sometimes one of our most-read.

The Spoonful is just another way we’re serving up content to our readers, no pun intended. It adds variety to our website, it’s readable and it adds personality to the bylines. We’ve had reporters out in the community hear things like, “Hey, I recognize you from The Spoonful!” I think that’s one more non-scientific way we know it’s successful.

And there’s so much room to grow it. I’m excited to see how we can continue to improve The Spoonful in the coming months. 

Has video become a big part of the work you do?

Yes and no. While video has become a big conversation piece during our daily story budget meetings, we’ve become increasingly deliberate about how we use it. We don’t do video just to do video, but we know when to strike when an opportunity arises. A couple months ago, our coverage area was inundated with flooding that shut down roads and impacted businesses. I called up a local drone pilot and asked if he could capture some video of the destruction. We put together a video using the footage and it did really well online. 

Reporter Amanda McKnight recorded herself testing out a new roller coaster at Valleyfair, an area amusement park. It was a simple video, but readers ate it up and it performed extremely well online. It complimented her print piece nicely and it was something we could tease in our paper product to push readers to our website. 

We are aware of video’s value, but we’re also cognizant of the limited time our busy staff has. In short, we do video when it make sense. Of course, our staff is always ready to capture video in breaking news situations, too. 

We saw that you did a Google search trend on what local voters were searching for prior to the election. What did you find out?

We found out what our readership area was curious about a couple weeks before the election, based on what they were Googling. There are plenty of caveats to the data, but it was interesting to learn that our coverage area, which is predominantly conservative, was showing interest in Democratic candidates, based on their Google searches. Beyond that, health care was a major topic of interest in our coverage area. 

Do you see other opportunities to use data in future stories?

Certainly. If nothing else, Google Trends is a great tool for journalists in our newsroom. It shows us what our readers are interested in and, to an extent, could help drive coverage. It helps us get to know our audience better and learn what matters to them. 

We loved the story you did on the most popular in candy in Minnesota. What made you do that story?

I saw it as an opportunity to have some fun with an otherwise routine press release. I was interested to know what Minnesota’s favorite candy was and I figured readers might want to know, too, especially right before Halloween. I wrote the story in a conversational way, added some numbered lists to make the information digestible and embedded a YouTube clip to add variety and keep readers on the page longer. I had fun with it! 

Anything else you are doing that would think would be interesting to share with us?

I’m always working on ways to step up our digital news product. 

Not too long ago our staff covered a high-profile murder trial. I knew that we planned to have a reporter sit in the trial for most of the week anyway, so why not capitalize on the opportunity and run a live blog? The judge was kind enough to let us bring a laptop into the courtroom and we were able to post brief updates of the entire trial, essentially live. I worked from the newsroom, coordinating the coverage and editing content, in nearly constant communication with our reporters in the courtroom. Of course, we also had plenty of coverage for print, but that was a way to approach something in a new way, using the tools we had. 

Aside from that, I’m excited about entering the podcast realm and expanding our live streaming use.