by Payton Bruni
NBC Left Field is a newly formed short documentary unit established by NBC News in June, 2017. The project team set out to create content geared towards social media platforms and bridge the gap between audiences and journalists. With this goal in mind, a number of new series are being produced by NBC Left Field. One of these series, Tag, strives to engage with its viewers and create loyal followers by crowdsourcing their video topics. Audience members are asked to leave story-topic submissions through social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. Once a story is selected, a short video is produced covering that topic or individual.
Project Goals: Sutton Raphael, currently one of two producers of Tag videos, says the goal of the project is to attract loyal followers who feel “responsible for the stories that were covered.” Raphael said that after receiving a number of “fake news” remarks regarding NBC content, the aim with Tag was to “start a conversation with those folks that initially want to turn off when they first see the headline by NBC.”
Tools and Technology: Audience members can submit story ideas using Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Videos are hosted on YouTube as well as NBC’s news website.
Impact: Tag’s videos foster trust with the program’s subscribers, while also benefiting the people and organizations featured in the short documentaries. For example, Sutton focused on the topic of homelessness by covering a food kitchen in St. Louis, Missouri. Following the release of the video, many viewers asked for donation info. “I was so shocked to see how many people were asking for that direct information,” Raphael said. Consequently, in a subsequent video about a Kansas City history teacher, Raphael included the teacher’s email so viewers could donate items directly to the school classroom. Raphael said, “I think that’s a cool way to say: maybe we can actually go further and create not just a conversation between the audience and ourselves, but also the audience and the subject.” With roughly 150 initial story ideas, viewers appear to be receptive to crowdsourcing video topics.
Organization Background: NBC Left Field and the Tag project, are part of the greater NBC News umbrella. In 2017, NBC News held 385.4 million global views; 190.2 million of those views originating within the United States. 53% of NBC’s followers are below the age of 35.
Project Resources: Although NBC News is a major corporation with a significant number of resources, NBC Left Field and Tag are offshoots of the company. The Tag videos, as of today, are only being created by two producers, and graphic designs for the project are created by an in-house designer. When asked about the size of the Tag budget, Raphael said, “I’d say it’s remarkably small,” and added that “the only budget hit we have right now is from the travel expenses.”
Here’s what worked
1. Leaving room for a variety of video topic submissions
“We decided to leave the driving question a bit broad so that audiences could interpret our call to action as they please,” said Sutton Raphael. He said that as they asked viewers for a person who “they think deserves recognition for addressing an issue that speaks to 2018,” they received a greater mixture of submissions. “I think that’s allowed for an amazing variety of responses that touch on a huge range of issues that our country is facing today,” said Raphael.
2. Keeping travel locations broad
Not being limited to certain locations has yielded a wider variety of story topics. “In leaving the locations relatively broad as well, we’ve garnered responses from both rural and urban communities across the country,” Raphael said.
3. Allowing for engagement between audience & subject
By including the contact information of the subjects featured in Tag videos, audience members have the ability to further engage with content. Adding links to the subject’s donation page encouraged viewers to learn more about the video topics, and to consider lending aid to the issues at hand.
Here’s what could work have worked better
1. Emphasizing the need for continued engagement
“I think some people might be under the impression that we’ve already selected the comments in the series, and the story idea phase is over and we already have our ideas,” Raphael said. The Tag project is still in its infancy. For consistent flow of content, the project relies on continued engagement from the viewers. He said, “As we move forward with the series, we want to ensure that viewers understand this is an ongoing experiment and we’re literally choosing comments as we move from state to state.”
2. Adding more full-time staffers
Raphael explained that with a small number of producers working on the Tag documentaries, he is limited in certain aspects of the project. Raphael said he would like to do more behind the scenes content for a focus on transparency so “people can feel like they’re right there in the reporting process.” However, he said it’s difficult to add this aspect to the videos if he’s the only one filming.
3. Once a region is chosen, work with local journalists
“A lot of times I feel like I’m not the best person to tell certain stories,” said Raphael. He explained that he occasionally felt someone local to the community should be the one to tell the story. “I would love to start leading towards a focus in local journalism, and maybe that’s reaching out to as many local journalists as possible at the local affiliates,” said Raphael.
Here’s what else you should know
- Low toxicity from online comments: “We have had toxic comments in the past, and I have been so thoroughly surprised in the lack of toxic comments in these videos specifically,” said Raphael. Despite Facebook’s and YouTube’s reputations for toxic comments, this has not been an issue so far in the Tag project.
- The BBC’s Pop Up series used as a guide: Matthew Danzico, one of the NBC Left Field team members, used his past experiences with the BBC’s Pop Up as a guiding principle for this project.
- Feasible turnover rate on production: As the only producer, Raphael successfully creates engaging and interesting documentaries that encourage interactions from audience members. “The series tag has required a month of pre-production in executing an initial launch video (call for story ideas), and then each video takes about a week to make from start to finish,” said Raphael. This is done only with one full-time staff member.
To learn more about this project, you can contact Sutton Raphael on Twitter, or email him at email@example.com. To view the Tag videos or find more information on NBC Left Field, visit Tag’s dedicated YouTube playlist or visit the NBC Left Field homepage.