HOME
          
LATEST STORY
What’s the right news experience on a phone? Stacy-Marie Ishmael and BuzzFeed are trying to figure it out
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Feb. 16, 2012, 1 p.m.
LATsenitmeter

The L.A. Times tries to differentiate itself through award-season analysis with The Envelope

In experimenting with their awards season product the Times hopes to reach both flyby and hardcore entertainment news readers.

For all of the pageantry, glamour, and prestige of award season, it can be rather ordinary — even mundane — particularly for the people and companies that cover the trail of celebrity. The pattern’s familiar, from the late-fall buzz to the Christmas prestige releases to the nominations and finally the awards themselves. So, if you’re a news outlet that puts a lot of effort into entertainment, how do you shake things up?

If you’re the The Envelope, which exists as a website and weekly print supplement, is the Times answer to how to feed both an increased general interest in awards season, but also readership in the entertainment industry itself.

“We’re sort of in this unusual position where we cover the Oscar race as any newspaper might for the general reader, but then we have a whole constituency of hometown readers who consider this their lifeblood,” LA Times film editor Julie Makinen told me.

What the Times did, Makinen said, was try to create a site that both covers awards and gives multiple perspectives on the competition. What they created was a vertical that in some ways approaches the Oscars the way ESPN or Yahoo approaches fantasy sports: blow out the coverage; give the insider-y details; put as much data analysis behind it as possible.

One example would be what they call the Oscar Senti-meter, a tool that mines tweets for how the public feels about the various Oscar categories and contenders from day to day. The Times worked with IBM and the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California to create the sentiment-analysis tool, which gauges positive and negative reactions using language-processing software. For instance, Makinen says it tells you “a lot of people on Twitter thought Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was very confusing but still love Gary Oldman.” The Oscars are perfect fodder for an effort like this, since opinions typically run strong (WHERE IS GOSLING?). “This tool now allows us to tap into a much larger ocean of comments about this and examine it in an analytical way,” Makinen said.

Similarly the Heatmeter attempts a statistical approach to measuring the momentum of any given movie, actor, actress, or director. Using an in-house points system that assigns different values to things like awards (Oscars > Golden Globes > Screen Actors Guild, etc.), the meter tries to put data behind the anecdotal notion that The Artist and Meryl Streep are going to win their respective categories. “Everyone in Hollywood likes to talk about the horse race and momentum,” Makinen said.

Aside from its innovation merits, The Envelope also opens up another avenue for for studios, talent agencies, and others to advertise. (Think of those “For your consideration” ads you see everywhere this time of year.) But The Envelope is also a response to competition in the entertainment-reporting market. While the Times has long had to deal with the likes of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, these days it contends with sites like The Wrap and Indie Wire, not to mention entertainment coverage from The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast among others. While Makinen wouldn’t go into specifics, she said The Envelope sees a healthy amount of traffic, which, considering the Times is breaking records for pageviews and other marks, means its probably doing okay.

The competition is a good thing, Makinen said, as it forces organizations to be creative in how they pursue their awards coverage. At the end of the day, there are only so many things George Clooney can say in pre-award interviews, which is why readers are looking for sites that offer more than the norm, she said. “This time of year in particular, it can feel like we don’t have anything fresh to give our readers,” Makinen said. “These kind of things can help do that, and set us apart from other publications as the same time.”

POSTED     Feb. 16, 2012, 1 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
What’s the right news experience on a phone? Stacy-Marie Ishmael and BuzzFeed are trying to figure it out
“Nobody has to read you. You have to earn that. You have to respect people’s attention.”
Come work for Nieman Lab
We have an opening for a staff writer in our Cambridge newsroom.
The newsonomics of telling your audience what they should do
At WNYC, a public radio station is getting more aggressive about telling people what to do: go vote, get more sleep, stay healthy. What happens when a news outlet starts talking about behavior change?
What to read next
718
tweets
Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
540Here’s some remarkable new data on the power of chat apps like WhatsApp for sharing news stories
At least in certain contexts, WhatsApp is a truly major traffic driver — bigger even than Facebook. Should there be a WhatsApp button on your news site?
502Controlled chaos: As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?
Old and new media types from journalism, documentary, and technology backgrounds gathered at MIT to share practices and discuss mutual concerns.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
The Blaze
The Tyee
The Globe and Mail
McClatchy
Mozilla
CBS News
Hacks/Hackers
The Huffington Post
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Chi-Town Daily News
DocumentCloud
Forbes