‘Media Dichotomy: Both Local Live Events & Virtual Reality are the Future’

By Edwin Ruis, Integrated Revenue Director, Swift Communications
May 22, 2017

Our second day of the innovation Mission started with participants sharing their experiences of leading innovation in their organizations. A common theme emerged: Accountability, data, and structured efforts are driving results for those organizations that have made a commitment for sustainable change.

“We have a team that focuses its attention in creating magic,” said Second Street Co-Founder and President Matt Coen. “I have three teams competing with each other for scalable ideas,” shared Dream Local Digital Founder & Client Success Officer Shannon Kinney. “Start, continue, stop” evaluations is an activity that WBNS-TV Director of Digital Strategy Stephanie Slagle and her team use regularly to keep themselves productive and focused on what is important to her organization.

Spirited Media: “We are Building Local News Brands that People Love” 

Well-known veteran news-leader Jim Brady (pictured) started the second session. The CEO & Founder of Spirited Media gave us the opportunity to take a deep look into the company. With local news websites in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Denver, Spirited Media is challenging the traditional news generation efforts by concentrating their efforts in quality local content with a heavy focus on civic engagement that caters to an audience younger than that of traditional media outlets.

Producing only eight to ten stories a day per site, Spirited Media has been able to position their brand as a reputable source of content that can’t be found anywhere else and opting for an angle that prioritizes relevance over quantity. “If we only have eight to ten stories a day, we need to be snipers. We really think about how long the story will live,” Brady said.

In Philadelphia they produce several events a week. Most are small but lucrative and foster this largely mobile-platform community built around the local brand Bill Penn.

Events happens to represent the biggest revenue stream for Spirited Media, about two-thirds, followed by advertising and memberships.  “Events gives you the chance to enjoy time with your readers, and they leave you feeling better about your brand while you monetize the experience,” Brady added.

Gannett: Structured Innovation, Advertising Integration, and Data Informed Design

In our third meeting of the day, we learned from Gannett’s executive team about their Innovation Lab, an initiative that is concentrating its efforts in three main areas:

  • Developing tools that allow newsrooms to prioritize quality over quantity in storytelling
  • Providing direction about emerging technology
  • Supporting “intrapeneurism” among all properties in the organization

User experience is the top priority for website design at Gannett. Rethinking the relationship between content and advertising online, Gannett is improving performance and user engagement by experimenting with new formats of native advertising.

Leveraging the benefits of Google native ads’ units, data informed design is making a big difference for Gannett by lowering costs while improving performance and user experience. Combining data points from multiple sources – DFP, Moat, calls to actions, imagery, colors, and others, VP of Advertising Innovations Jeff Burkett and his team are providing a new direction to their creative production efforts. In Gannett’s network, optimized static ads outperform animated ads by as much as four times.

VR and 360 Video: Storytelling for a New Audience 

An early adopter, Gannett has made a significant commitment to VR, which has resulted in them being positioned at the forefront of both storytelling and revenue generation. Although there are a lot of questions about this technology, it is clear that storytelling is the key factor that validates the platform.

In our last visit of the day, Newseum Chief Technology Officer Mitch Gelman, let us experience some of the best examples of 360 Video in storytelling as well as the work the Newseum is doing producing a Virtual Reality experience for its exhibitions.

Just like with every new technology, there are promises and challenges to be consider when adopting VR.


  • Great storytelling potential
  • Deeper empathy
  • Emerging technology
  • Ad & sponsorship opportunities


  • New narrative structure
  • Ethical questions
  • Production costs still high

At least at this point, VR and 360 Video are not a solution for all media organizations, it is not even a tool that can be applied to all stories. However, it is also clear that the next generation of consumers will expect our organizations to master all possible ways to tell a story. It is our organization’s decision to learn about it now or to be left to chase others in the future.