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Dec. 14, 2011, 8 a.m.

A web-first politics site for NBC News: Vivian Schiller on the launch of NBCPolitics.com

The site is less a companion to TV programming than a freestanding outlet, connected to the news operation rather than any one show.

NBC News keeps its political reporting in lots of different places. There’s Chuck Todd on Twitter, in the evening with Brian Williams and the Nightly News Crew, online at MSNBC’s First Read, or your Sunday morning coffee date with David Gregory on Meet the Press. That diffusion is part of why today they’re launching NBCPolitics.com, a site that brings all of that news under one digital roof.

NBCPolitics.com will be something of an NBC News aggregator, pulling together the work of on-air reporters like Kelly O’Donnell and Andrea Mitchell, as well as the mostly off-air types like the embedded reporters checking in from the campaign trail. They plan on offering video, directly from their family of shows as well as reports and interviews exclusive to the web. But the site will also see a new collection of social news, maps, and a one-of-a-kind candidate tracker via Foursquare.

As NBC News chief digital officer Vivian Schiller told me, unification is an important aim for NBC News, which feeds into a sometimes confusing collection of network, cable, and web properties. “It’s a way for people to have one destination, where they can get all the political coverage from all of our political reporters in one place, from all of the shows,” she said in a phone conversation. “One of the main impetuses [for the site] is we have so much strong politics coverage both on television and on the web, but you have to seek it out.”

It’s really a reflection of looking at the web as the web, as opposed to looking at the web as an extension of television only.

It’s also an acknowledgment that the division of coverage by TV show — Maddow here, Williams here, Morning Joe here — doesn’t line up perfectly with an online audience that isn’t bound by broadcast times. (“Pretty much most of what we have online has been organized around television shows,” Schiller said.)

If you like news with a side of features and celebrity interviews, here’s The Today Show. If you want inside politics with lawmakers, analysts and reporters debating each other, there’s Hardball. Looking for an overview of domestic and international news? Try NBCNightlyNews.com. Each site serves a purpose and reaches a specific audience, but function largely as a companion to what’s on TV.

“If someone is a political junkie, we don’t want them to necessarily have to think about what is the television show that I’m looking for,” she said. “We want them to have the full power of all the resources of NBC News available to them on politics in a way that is easy for them to find and easy for them to digest.” Schiller said they saw a need to step outside of the normal TV model and create something “webbier,” in her words. “It’s really a reflection of looking at the web as the web, as opposed to looking at the web as an extension of television only,” she said.

Video drives traffic

It’s been close to six months since Schiller joined NBC after parting ways with NPR, and she’s been busy at the Peacock Network, most recently beefing up her social media and engagement team. The development of NBC Politics marks her biggest project yet, and in many ways echoes some of her work at NPR, like investing in research, new technology, and a news platform separate from your primary channel.

But NBC Politics won’t move too far away from the bread and butter of broadcast. Schiller says there will be plenty of video, from reports from the road to interviews from TV programming. Video is what the audience expects from NBC News, she said. According to comScore the MSNBC Digital Network (which includes MSNBC.com, Today.com, NBCNightlyNews.com and more), saw more than 161 million video streams in October, putting it ahead of CNN and The Huffington Post for news videos. “Of course we’re competing with other news organizations around politics, but the strength that we have really above all others is the fact that we have video,” she said.

Making news social through partnerships

The network is trying to press its advantage through social media in reporting as well as connecting the audience, journalists and politicians. The NBC News embeds, a group of young reporters called on for on-air as well as online duties, are active on Twitter most days sending minute-by-minute dispatches from the different candidates. Next month NBC News is co-hosting a Republican presidential debate with Facebook, that will be broadcast on TV and online. And in one of the most interesting mashups, they’e partnering with Foursquare for a feature they’re calling Campaign Check-ins, where readers can follow candidates and reporters as they check in from the high school gyms, diners, and other obligatory locations of the primary season. Schiller said they also need to make themselves available through whatever platform the audience is using: “I’m a big believer in fishing where the fish are.”

That strategy seems to be the backbone of NBCPolitics.com, which Schiller ultimately believes can serve audiences across different platforms, as well as news preferences. If you’re a fan of Chuck Todd, there’s something for you on the site, and if you’re someone looking to stay current on the big themes in the news of the day, you’ll be covered there too. What they’re shooting for is NBCPolitics becoming a kind of audience multiplier for NBC News, a site that can draw in the preexisting audience loyal to shows and personalities, as well as the crowd looking for general election news and the political operatives.

“Our goal is to be the number one most valuable source for politics on the web, period. Not just among television news organizations, but among all news organizations, for Election 2012,” Schiller said.

POSTED     Dec. 14, 2011, 8 a.m.
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