Aaron Morton | Web Sports Producer, DeseretNews.com, DDM | @UtahMortReport | December 3, 2015
In order to publish more original sports content on DeseretNews.com — and specifically articles that bring in readers and enhance our brand while not duplicating content from our news team or print partners — we work extensively with community writers. Our contributor content enhances the work our sports team does while freeing us to focus on the types of stories that require our credentialed access or professional experience.
The key to working with contributors is to find types of stories that are easy and fun for them to write while also being interesting to read. For example, we came up with templates for pregame and postgame analysis. We’ve also sent out calls for lists, social media roundups and commentaries. For high school and smaller college sports, we’ve asked for simple game recaps and photo galleries because there are hundreds of games to cover in a week and the risk of duplication is low.
The challenge isn’t so much identifying the types of stories we want covered, it’s motivating contributors to write them without having money to offer in return. Make no mistake, we have plenty of other ways to motive them that create a strong value exchange. Identifying the differences in each contributor is the key because each will have different motivations. For us, they come in three different types.
1. Aspiring sports writers
Characteristics: These writers are typically in college or high school. They’re looking for connections and experiences to further their careers.
How we motivate them: First, we provide lots of feedback. This may sound daunting, especially if your newsroom is already strapped for resources. But that’s exactly why it’s so worth the effort. Contributors can multiply the efforts of a single newsroom resource exponentially. A little time spent giving constructive feedback helps their writing improve and keeps them engaged and motivated.
Another strong way to motivate a sports contributor is to arrange for job shadows and tours of the newsroom. Think back to your first time in a professional newsroom. It’s exciting! They’ll love the chance to see behind the scenes of the organization for which they’re writing. It takes little effort on your part, but goes a long way with them.
Sam Benson is one of these aspiring sports writers. He is a student at a rural high school in our market. He started writing for Bleacher Report in junior high. Benson writes features covering subjects ranging from collegiate logos to a feature about a man running hundreds of miles for charity. We invited Benson to tour our office to see what he’s a part of. We’ve also had him cover a few BYU football games for DeseretNews.com. In the past two and a half years we’ve published about 35 of his articles, which have generated 173,000 page views.
Characteristics: Hobbyists tend to be college graduates. They love to write and have a passion for a team or sport. In some cases, they may have studied journalism or have experience writing for a school paper.
How we motivate them: These writers often want to be part of something, so we create a community they can join. The Deseret Connect contributor management platform we use allows us to create groups into which we can invite these writers. Then we do collaborative stories like mock drafts and email chains. We hold an annual NCAA men’s basketball championship watch party in April where we can meet and talk to other contributors. It’s a blast for them and us.
Kincade Upstill is a great example of a hobbyist writer. Upstill graduated from BYU and is a big Utah Jazz fan. By day he manages a Walgreens and is the father of three girls. He writes insightful analysis stories on the Jazz. In less than a year, he’s written 18 articles and generated 111,000 page views.
Characteristics: Promoters — the third type of contributor we’ve identified — have invested heavily in a high school team, minor sport or a small website. They want a bigger megaphone.
How we motivate them: Give them that megaphone, while disclosing their background with an editor’s note. This offers transparency and authority to the piece. Parents and high school boosters fall into this promoters group. If their kid is on the team, will they write about him or her? Sure. But you’ll ensure their athlete doesn’t get any different treatment in the article than any other player in the game. You’ll also disclose their connection to the team in an editor’s note.
The opportunity to write for your organization can have a snowball effect. We’ve had boosters from our writers’ rival schools start writing for us so their team gets more coverage throughout the season too.
Examples: These contributors in our network include photographers, bloggers, the owner of a statewide lacrosse website, a weekly newspaper sports editor, and lots of fans of high school teams. I couldn’t even begin to calculate the tremendously positive impact they’ve had on our sports section.
Each group has its advantages and disadvantages, but they all can be really fun to work with. Many contributors can be your extra eyes and ears for breaking news and for general feedback — becoming a valuable connection between you and your audience.