WaPo Leads Web Alternative to Election-Night TV Coverage

Joins Forces With Other Dailies to Offer Six-Hour Online Broadcast

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- On this election night, as in years past, eyeballs will be glued to network-TV election centers and their hours upon hours of live coverage. But this year another player is joining the usual cast of pundit-prolific cable and broadcast news outlets. The Washington Post, along with a host of syndication partners such as The Dallas Morning News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Denver Post, will air six hours of live video election coverage.
The Washington Post's election night coverage is produced by WashingtonPost.com and Newsweek.
The Washington Post's election night coverage is produced by WashingtonPost.com and Newsweek.

The move is a bet that on the biggest news night of the year there will be an audience that wants to follow along on computers and see a different kind of coverage, one that lets interviews run longer than 90 seconds, has fewer talking heads and lets viewers chat with one another -- debating the calls and critiquing or praising the coverage -- as the broadcast progresses. It's also indicative of a future in which newspapers are willing to share and borrow resources from one other in order to capitalize on their particular strengths.

Old hands at politics
The coverage is produced by WashingtonPost.com and Newsweek, which has done live video for Super Tuesday, the Potomac Primary and at the political conventions. It was born, said Chet Rhodes, assistant managing editor for news video at WashingtonPost.com, because the cable news networks were constantly calling on Post reporters to share their opinions.

Of course, creating a six-hour live broadcast without the full-time staff of a TV station requires everyone to be flexible; the Post and Newsweek hired a director but called on existing staffers to man all the other duties. For past broadcasts, a public relations executive ran the lower-third on-screen graphics, interns handled some of the production and various reporters -- when they weren't blogging, Twittering and making calls -- got picked for on-camera roles.

The syndication deals happened almost by chance, when Mr. Rhodes ran into Anthony Moor, deputy managing editor-interactive at The Dallas Morning News, in the halls at the Online News Association's annual gathering in September. The Post and Newsweek reached out to other newspapers, keeping the deals exclusive to one paper per market. Deals have also been struck with international publishers, The Australian and Canada's National Post. The syndication partners don't pay for the video but neither do they share in the ad revenue. It's a pure content-for-eyeballs deal. The coverage will include pre-roll ads from existing video advertising clients.

AP offering video, too
The Associated Press, which tracks and tabulates electoral votes for newspapers and broadcasters, is also streaming live election-night coverage on its online video network, which is made up of more than 1,900 affiliate newspaper, broadcaster and radio websites. The Dallas Morning News, said Mr. Moor, was looking for something more unique.

"AP is the commodity content of the 'newspaper.com' world and, in fact, of the web world. Everybody's got that," said Mr. Moor. "And this is different and as good if not better."

For The Dallas Morning News, it fulfills a philosophy that it will do what it's good at -- a local voter guide is really its big election-season draw, said Mr. Moor -- and outsource what it can't do. It has called on RealClearPolitics.com, of which Forbes is an investor, to supply polling data and uses PolitiFact, from the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, for its fact checking.

The Washington Post suggests this might be the future of the news business. While it can do a quality broadcast around politics, it probably wouldn't attempt to do live video around other events where it didn't have some sort of particular strength. If AP's video service were covering the selection of new pope, said Mr. Rhodes, his paper wouldn't win. Added Jim Brady, VP-executive editor of WashingtonPost.com, "Everyone has to step back and take a look at what they're good at."

Changing viewer habits
One question is whether people will think to head to their local newspaper website as opposed to CNN, Fox News or CBS News for election-night coverage. Earlier live-video coverage has drawn "tens of thousands" of viewers, Mr. Brady said. That's a far cry from the millions that TV news outlets draw. Washington Post in the past has relied on e-mail blasts to goose audiences and alert them to the live-video coverage, but Mr. Rhodes admitted that training people to go to newspaper sites for that kind of content won't be easy. But it's necessary for the long-term health of the site.

"The only way we're going to convince people we have this type of stuff is to have this type of stuff," said Mr. Rhodes. "We're trying to change the image for our brand to become more than a newspaper website."
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