The Battleground Blog Experiment: An Update and First Assessment

Nov 8, 2012

Tuesday was the big day for the Battleground blog, our experiment to aggregate coverage from a small group of stations across the country into a single live feed. We already know and believe that stations produce exceptionally good reporting, even inside the breaking news pressure cooker. We also know and believe that some of this content is relevant to a national audience.

So before we went all in on a system-wide effort, we wanted to test a few things on a smaller scale: 

  • Can we handle the volume of data coming in?
  • Can we process it, contextualize it and publish it quickly?
  • Can the end product have coherence?
  • Can we add something to the conversation?

We selected eleven stations in nine states where the presidential race appeared to be very tight or where there were other significant races or issues that we wanted to cover. We kept the number small for the sake of a manageable experiment. We chose stations where we knew there was a strong digital presence in place (station size, interestingly, has nothing to do with a strong presence). So we could expect a robust stream of news through online channels (mainly Twitter). 

We asked another 15 or so stations to also host the blog on their sites, and a few of those stations also offered their reporting, which we happily accepted. Then we opened the experiment to any stations that would like to post the blog, using the NPR API or an iframe.

Want to see the blog? Read it here.

The results, based on our first analysis; we're also doing a deeper dive (numbers updated 11/9/12):

  • 34 stations posted the blog on their site
  • 155 posts on the blog between 4pm and midnight
  • 117 tweets of local station content on the @nprdigitalsvcs twitter
  • 2400 retweets and 420 favorites
  • At least 22,000 pageviews

That's fun, but let's get to the meat of this. Here are a couple of early conclusions from the experiment:

  • Local races have national impact; local reporting adds substance, depth and color to coverage. NPR News did good work reporting the national impact of Elizabeth Warren's win over incumbent Scott Brown for US Senate from Massachusetts. But WBUR reporter Meghna Chakrabarti's photo of Michael Dukakis at Warren headquarters conveyed the significance of the moment. WBUR also interviewed Rep. Barney Frank about the Warren win. We highlighted that reporting and pushed it to a national audience. Local stations have reporters on the ground, and they're capturing the photos, video, audio and flavor that bring events to life. They also break stories and spot trends sooner than national networks in some cases.
  • Voters care about issues and issues transcend state boundaries. Our tweet about voter approval of gay marriage in Maine got 932 retweets. Our biggest audience response came from our reporting about ballot initiatives that tied to issues that people everywhere were watching: gay marriage, medical marijuana. KPLU, KUNC, Michigan Radio and a number of other stations were covering interesting ballot questions, and we were able to tap into a larger national audience that wanted to know the results and share them.
  • We were most effective when we focused on content that wasn't getting a lot of attention but deserved it. Our posts and tweets updating races were useful, but they also duplicated content already widely reported on television, radio and online. We got the best results when we contextualized the updates, tracked ballot initiatives and found local reporting that was unique and added to what the audience was already seeing or hearing. 

Credit NPR

So, is there something here? Our answer for now is yes. The Battleground concept - aggregating quality local content that's relevant to a wider audience - has value. Maybe its value is as a behind-the-scenes "news service" for major events that stations can mine for content to selectively publish to their live blogs. Maybe there's a software solution, like a live-blogging tool, that would facilitate not only aggregating and disseminating this content, but also easy republishing for local stations.

But we need to talk to participating stations, and we need to do some more testing and refining. What we've found is that we can spin this up quickly, so we're watching for the next major event where we can put this concept to the test.

Did you use the Battleground blog on your site? Did you monitor it or the Twitter feed? If you did, please take a moment to contact me with your thoughts: