Q&A: Get to know Toby Collodora, Vice President of Content Strategy for Cordillera Digital

Name: Toby Collodora

Title: Vice President, Content Strategy, Cordillera Digital

Tell us a little about your career? I was so fortunate to have an internship in high school at WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, where I was able to shadow a reporter once a week for a year.  That’s when I learned being on-camera wasn’t for me. I worked part-time on the assignment desk during college and started writing for WCCO.com after graduating.  Those were back in the days where producers were just responsible for writing copy and clipping the newscast for the website.  Social media and smartphones didn’t exist yet – the simple days of digital production!  Eventually I managed digital content for both WCCO-TV and WCCO-AM, before taking a brief hiatus from the industry for a couple of years to work on digital content for Optum/UnitedHealth Group.  I joined Cordillera Digital nearly five years ago and have been working on news strategy for all things digital with all of our television stations.

You mentioned recently that you are thinking about how to improve on air promotions to digital. Could you share your thinking? Our stations, like many television stations, are good about promoting our .coms for more information from the television broadcast, and have been for years.  The problem: the content isn’t always there and it’s not always easy to find. A promotion that says, “Go to station.com for more information” just isn’t specific enough to motivate someone to go to the .com and then search for “more information.” And now, we have so many platforms that it may be easy to find “more information” on desktop, but nearly impossible on mobile web. A couple of our stations are rolling out app campaigns in their newscasts, where they promote very specific pieces of content that you can find in the “Seen On” section of their app. The newscast graphics support that messaging and it helps build our app following, not to mention access to the information for the viewer.

How are you thinking about social media today? Are you all in or being more cautious? Social media is a great way for us to have a conversation with the community and connect with our viewers in more human and personal way that we couldn’t before.  I believe we have to be cautious about relying on it too heavily as a distribution platform, but there is no doubt that’s where the audience is.

Has the transition from just telling TV stories to telling TV and digital been challenging? What’s helping make the transition successful? I really want to meet someone who hasn’t thought this was challenging!  (Seriously! I want to learn your tips and tricks if you thought this was easy!)  Writing for broadcast and writing for print/digital are two different skillsets and training entire newsrooms to write in a new way is very hard.  Years ago, as a web producer, I got a web story from a TV reporter for digital that began with the phrase, “We begin tonight with new details …”.  That was the start of the web version of the story, and this was not this reporter’s first web story.  One of the tricks we’ve learned over the years is that it’s often easier to write your digital script first, and then cut down that piece for TV. It’s rare your digital script is shorter than your TV piece and writing your digital piece first can help you organize your story for TV, find good nuggets and tell your story clearly and concisely on TV.

I don’t think storytelling on digital is the biggest challenge for traditional TV storytellers. Marketing your story is one of the biggest challenges on digital, because that’s the majority of what digital producers do. The headline is marketing the story. The description, the Facebook post, the Twitter post, the blurb in the email newsletter. They’re all about trying to get someone to make that click to read your story. That’s very different thinking for journalists, especially in broadcast.

Anything else you’d like to share? In a time where you can get information about just about anything in the palm of your hand, local journalism is so important.  Most of my career has been in large-market television and one of the things that’s been the most rewarding in my current position is learning about all of the smaller-market communities we serve and just how connected our stations and teams are to those communities.  We’re there for you not just when the hurricane comes through or when the wildfires are burning, but every other day in between. It’s so powerful that we can now tell stories and distribute information immediately on so many different platforms to inform, entertain and connect with our communities.