USA Today Network to cover election on Facebook Live amid broader push into video

With less than two months to go until Election Day, Gannett-owned USA Today Network is taking to Facebook Live to provide on-the-ground coverage of key races across 11 different states.

The media network, which includes the flagship USA Today as well as local papers like the Arizona Republic, Detroit Free Press and Des Moines Register, plans to go live more than 100 times on Facebook from now until November. Aiming to go as in-depth and down-the-ballot as possible in each market, participating outlets will go live for interviews with local candidates and voters, editorial board discussions, ballot explainers and even official debates between down-ballot candidates.

“The goal is to use the format in a all sorts of different ways: If Trump is coming to town, [the local outlet] will coordinate a Facebook Live coverage of that event,” said Jamie Mottram, senior director of social media for the USA Today Network. “If their editorial board is endorsing a candidate, instead of that being only a traditional story that runs on the website, we’ll also create a live video for the announcement.”

The Facebook Live series will be overseen by a group of five people at USA Today — but it will not be a full-time effort for them. Instead, USA Today has assigned a social staffer at each participating publication to oversee local Facebook Live efforts. These individuals, who will work with the news, politics and social teams at the local outlets, have been equipped with mobile production kits that allow them to quickly go live when they’re out in the field. (USA Today also worked with Facebook to train them on Facebook Live best practices.)

“When you’re operating with 11 different newsrooms, it’s a bit like herding cats,” said Mottram. “Good thing is we have a lot of smart cats.”

While the videos will be produced at the local level, USA Today plans to use its network to boost videos that might be relevant for a broader audience. With Facebook now making it easier for publishers to post the same video across multiple pages, the USA Today Network can syndicate a live video produced by the Tallahassee Democrat across the pages of five other Florida newspapers it owns, Mottram said.

“Something like a Trump rally in North Carolina or a video about the effects of marijuana are more universally interesting,” said Mottram. In such instances, he said the videos can “bubble up to the national level” with USA Today, which has 15 million fans across multiple Facebook pages.

The USA Today Network’s Facebook viewership is growing across its 200-plus pages, though the company is still figuring exactly how big that audience is, Mottram said. The main USA Today page did 60.5 million views in August, up from 38.4 million in June, according to Tubular Labs.

The growth in its Facebook viewership comes as USA Today dedicates more resources toward growing its overall video business. Today, USA Today employs 59 people across its network with plans to grow that number starting with the hiring of Yahoo exec Russ Torres as vp of digital video content and strategy and Kent Laird as director of video product management. (Sales exec Michael Krinzman has also been promoted to vp of video strategy and revenue.)

The network is on track to hit 1.2 billion video views across platforms by the end of 2016, which would be up 38 percent from 866 million views last year, Gannett said. (The network reached 14 million desktop viewers and 68.2 million views in the U.S. in July, according to comScore.)

With the video investments, USA Today Network plans to “activate” its network across all platforms, not just Facebook, said Torres. Centralizing operations within USA Today’s video studios in Atlanta, the flagship publication will share resources, strategy and content with the 108 member publications in the USA Today Network. (This includes working with network partners on virtual reality and other emerging video formats.)

“We’ll be working with the reporters, editors, videographers [at the local outlets] to amplify video for them,” said Torres. “The goal is to make video consistent, repeatable and expected in the eyes of their readers and the general marketplace.”

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