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The Keyword

Reaching a new generation of news viewers with VidSpark

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Editor's note: Ahsante Bean is the head of Vidspark, a new Google News Initiative partnership with Poynter to help local publishers use video to reach a new younger audience for their journalism.  

When I want to know what’s going on in the world, I often turn to social media. Like many people my age, I don’t own a television or subscribe to a newspaper, but I do watch a ton of online videos and do basically all of my reading from a screen. I’m eager to stay informed, but when I look for credible, accessible news content that’s relevant to my interests and viewing habits, my options are limited. If I’m looking for local news from my community, those options shrink further.

People in their teens and twenties are looking for content that’s important, but also engaging, fun, and relatable. We don’t need to seek out information; thanks to a variety of social feeds and specialized algorithms, it comes to us. But it doesn’t always come from trustworthy sources. Meanwhile, mainstream local news is struggling to meet young audiences where they are. If they rely only on their traditional methods of distribution, they risk becoming irrelevant to the next generation.

With the support of the Google News Initiative, Poynter is announcing VidSpark—a program helping local newsrooms reach younger viewers online with engaging, shareable social video.

Over the course of this year, Poynter will collaborate on a video series with three local newsrooms: WTSP, a TV station in Tampa Bay, Florida, the radio station at WGBH News in Boston, Massachusetts, and The Star Tribune, a newspaper in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Poynter will provide funding, coaching, and hands-on support in the areas of  content development, audience engagement, and platform optimization.

As a YouTube creator myself, I know the importance of showing an authentic personality behind the content. With these series, we want to be transparent with the viewer, letting them into the process of journalism. We will showcase each newsroom’s unique talents, areas of expertise, and local character. We’ll have the freedom to play across platforms; we could create an IGTV series on climate change with a quirky host, or a YouTube show that talks about current events in a fun way. We’ll be responding to comments, listening to feedback, and learning along the way.

VidSpark is about helping newsrooms create fresh content that grows a sustainable audience well into the future. It’s a process of getting in front of younger viewers, acquainting them with local news organizations as trustworthy sources of information, and showing the investigative process. By doing this, we can show the next generation the importance of local news in maintaining informed citizens and safeguarding democracy. 

VidSpark similarly seeks to shape the larger local news landscape. At the end of the year, Poynter will create a playbook of best practices to share our insights in hopes that our work helps the local newsroom in your community cover what you care about. If you want to see what we create and follow along as VidSpark develops this year, you can do that here.

The power of local news is in knowing what’s happening on the ground, in your community. It can preserve regional history and culture, and hold local authorities accountable. It can go deep on issues that affect your day-to-day life. Through online video, we hope to bring the strength of local news to the forefront for the next generation and make them feel a part of the story. 

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