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Feb. 12, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
Reporting & Production
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James Pindell is trying to bring The Boston Globe’s election coverage to everyone by being everywhere

“Whether it’s their inbox, whether it’s for Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Instagram — the idea is to reach audiences where they’re at.”

In the past five days, Boston Globe political reporter James Pindell wrote three front-page stories about the New Hampshire primary. He also did a couple dozen TV and radio appearances, sent out five email newsletters, posted four pictures to Instagram, sent more than 120 tweets, and did three Facebook Live videos and three Periscope livestreams.

james pindellSure, the New Hampshire primary was a particularly newsworthy event. But Pindell expects his journalism career to continue this way indefinitely. “This has been my life my entire life,” he told me, happily.

The Globe hired Pindell last year to cover the 2016 elections in a new way. His Globe vertical, Ground Game, is focused around the idea that the paper needs to reach people wherever they are; if they don’t make it to the print edition of the newspaper, that’s okay, because they’ll have seen Pindell’s coverage elsewhere — on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or in an email newsletter — and they will learn, that way, that the Globe is an essential source of election coverage.

“We’re putting him out there deliberately in a very focused way saying, ‘This is our guy. This is the face of our coverage,'” David Skok, the Globe’s managing editor and VP of digital (and a former Nieman fellow), told Mashable last year.

I spoke with Pindell this week about what it’s actually like to be out on the ground doing this kind of reporting. How many backup phone batteries do you need? Are all the candidates cool being livestreamed? What happens if you can’t get an Internet connection? Below is our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.

Laura Hazard Owen: Give me a little context around your role.

James Pindell: I’m digital-first at the Globe. Part of the end goal and strategy from David Skok was to anchor some coverage — particularly New Hampshire primary coverage, but it also applies to the whole campaign.

His idea is that the paper itself is one outlet. In the old model, the job was to tease all of your Globe content on these different social media platforms, like: Oh my gosh, please come back here to read this story. But that’s the old model.

The current model is to reach people where they’re at. Whether it’s their inbox, with the Ground Game email; whether it’s for Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Instagram — the idea is to reach audiences where they’re at, and not just as a pure promotional thing, but to actually create snippets — information, stories, pictures — that may only exist on those different media platforms. I could not really tell you, here’s everything that I ever wrote, or here’s everything that the Globe ever wrote, or produced, or did. Because they’re existing on each separate platform.

It’s a flip on the head of the way most [news outlets] are still doing things that say: Hey, come read this story. Yes, I do promote, of course. But I’m also just trying to report things where they’re at. And they may just end there.

When I go into this when I’m on the trail, my job is, at every moment to figure out, where’s the best place to do this story, how do you serve the audience, and the audience is not just one audience, but several different audiences.

Owen: Let’s talk about the logistics of each platform a little more. How do you decide what you are going to post where?

Pindell: Obviously, Twitter’s where the conversation’s happening on the campaign trail. It’s the No. 1 thing that I use, the first thing I check. But email is key to everyone else — email and Facebook.

Something that’s always surprising is Periscope, and now, increasingly, Facebook Live. Say I’m at an event and we’re doing a press gaggle — everyone’s around the candidates. I might record that 40-minute speech or hour-and-a-half town hall meeting just using an audio recorder to make sure I get the quotes accurately. But if it’s more exciting than just a person in front of the room answering questions — if it’s a press gaggle, if it’s a candidate walking down the street, if there’s something that’s more visually appealing — I will bust out Periscope quickly and start broadcasting it.

I’m serving an audience that way, because there are people who want to watch it. I’ll have 60, 70 people watching whatever it is. But here’s the secret for me as a reporter: If it’s just a press gaggle and it’s just going to be, like, news of the day, I don’t want to use the space on my phone to record, even if later I could upload it to Dropbox or something. I’m only going to use a quote from this gaggle in the next day. So I’ll just use Periscope, it’s no big deal, and I’ll then transcribe off of Periscope. All that data lives on Periscope, it goes away in 24 hours, and after that 24 hours, I don’t need it.

If the audience wants to come along with me and watch this scene play out, that’s fine — all I’m really doing is recording the audio, but I might as well just [make it public], too.

Facebook, as you know, is where the audience is at. Matt Karolian, our social media guy, has taken my Ground Game and used Facebook Notes with it.

Owen: Have you abandoned any platforms because they didn’t work so well? What do you want to get better at?

Pindell: I’ll say one that I don’t think worked: Medium. We had big goals for Medium in the beginning of last year. The idea was that I’d be on Medium a lot. It obviously was a place that was getting a lot of traffic, kind of buzzy, and such a beautiful easy platform to deal with.

This is not a slam on Medium — I think it’s more of a positive for the Globe — but I kept finding that those posts that I was going to do tomorrow or next week for Medium actually played a little bit better if I just tweaked them and put them in the paper. The paper’s becoming more like Medium in that sense. If I didn’t have the paper as an outlet, I’d be using Medium all the time, so I’m not slamming it. That’s just the reality.

Instagram is not intuitive to me personally, and I need to be better at it. We get a lot of responses to Instagram stuff, but I don’t like how, when you link your Instagram to your Twitter, it makes the Twitter user follow the link instead of just showing the photo right in the tweet. So I’ve begun to separately post to Instagram and then go back and post that picture onto Twitter. It’s time-consuming. You’re riding from one event, you’re walking with a candidate as they’re doing something, and you’re like, should I be taking a picture or doing something else? Oh, I need to upload another thing.

This brisk fall morning is perfect weather to go grab the Sunday Globe.

A photo posted by James Pindell (@jameswpindell) on

There are two things that I’m not using that I need to use more of and just haven’t found how to do it. One, I do not have my head around Snapchat; that’s on me. I’d love for you to tell me how to get my head around Snapchat. And the Globe’s not on Discover, so everything that we post on Snapchat will go away. I’m struggling with the best way to use it.

And two: I would find all those tools that are able to geographically target social media activity in a certain place very helpful. If there is a rally or a town hall meeting, I’d like to be able to create a block or a radius around that particular high school or church or VFW hall and see all the social media activity around it. That’s something I’m not doing currently but want to be able to do.

Owen: When you have to be engaging with a candidate at the same time as you’re trying to broadcast them, have you worked out any tricks, or does it feel natural by now?

Pindell: Candidates, probably more than other people, are getting more comfortable with it. If it’s a gaggle then you’ve got big fancy cameras facing into your face. I’m sitting there holding a phone, I’ve got my aircard in my jacket pocket.

If it’s one-on one, I just ask if can I put this on the Internet, can I put it on Periscope, and people are like, sure, that’s fine. I did a few spot interviews on primary day. It’s becoming less of an ordeal, I think.

I’m still trying to figure out Facebook Live versus Periscope. Obviously, Facebook’s got the audience. I like the interaction of Periscope, though; people can be at an event and ask questions, or I can go live and do a briefing of what’s going on right now and answer people’s questions.

I would like the ability to be able to schedule it: To say that, like, that at 1:30 I’m gonna talk to Jeb Bush’s campaign manager, and be able to have a short link all ready to promote that, and then at 1:30 do it. But these platforms are immediate. I was with Donald Trump for most of the Thursday of the primary and I didn’t know if in five minutes I’d be broadcasting stuff. So, before he got out of his car, I would be outside next to the car, and I would go ahead and go live then to try to give [viewers] time to catch up. It’s like if you’re having a conference call and it’s at 12:15 but you know people are going to be straggling on until 12:20 and are going to need a few minutes. I try to give people some time.

Owen: Do you have some sense of how different or similar your audiences are across platforms?

Pindell: I see my Twitter followers as very politically sophisticated, since they have to put up with a lot of my politically sophisticated micro-news. On Twitter, there’s not much space to explain things with 140 characters. I try to do the several tweets in a row explaining things. But I feel like if there’s breaking news or some tidbit or whatever, I go to Twitter.

On Facebook, I have more space to explain, and I need to explain, because it’s just a much more massive audience.

Instagram, I feel, is a little bit younger and it’s about the picture.

I know Periscope is going to be a pretty insider-y audience because they have to be alerted through Twitter. I try to show them what they’d see if they were attending the event and try to avoid things that I don’t think anyone would really care about.

Twitter, and the videos and explainers on Facebook, have been successful, but the biggest thing is the email newsletter. Its audience has really grown. It’s also intimate: People feel like they can hit reply and have more of a private conversation with me, and I respond to them. On Twitter or any other method, meanwhile, you can see our interaction back and forth. Email is still key to me, right now, despite all of these fancy social tools.

Owen: How much of a problem is connectivity? Are you usually able to get a good enough Internet connection to do whatever you need to be doing?

Pindell: For the most part, I can. Usually, with an aircard, you’re good, and if I’m in a place that has wifi, I use that for a better connection. Sometimes I’ll post latergrams to Instagram. It’s something of a problem, but not as big as you’d think.

Owen: What’s your setup when you’re out? What do you bring with you?

Pindell: This is my fifth presidential campaign. I adhere to the campaign trail rules: Eat when you can, pee when you can, travel as lightly as you can.

Usually I just travel with my iPhone and Mophie [battery], aircard, MacBook Air, iPad for Periscope if I need to use my phone while filming, and a notebook and pen.

The only other trick is that if I am going to an event with Secret Service, I prefer to leave my computer bag in the car and use a folding bluetooth keyboard that fits in my coat pocket. It has a stand and I just plop my phone there. There’s less of a Secret Service search if you don’t have a bag, so you can get right into the event.

Owen: How do you use the live reporting that you’re doing in your later stories for the paper?

Pindell: I use Twitter a lot for note-taking during the town hall meetings. Twitter gives you a sense of when something happened. If you look at your notebook, it’s like: At six minutes and 28 seconds, Bernie Sanders called for a revolution for the sixth time. But then you also have it in your Twitter feed and you can get the direct quote. I do that a lot.

My attitude is: I have to write down the quote anyway, and I prefer to type because I’m faster typing than I am writing in a notebook. My perfect situation is to have a chair [laughs] and have a good Internet connection and just start tweeting direct quotes. Then, when I get down to the story, I can go back through it and be like, oh right, that was the direct quote. Copy and paste. Done.

The other way I use it is with Instagram, or with pictures. A lot of what I’m trying to do is the hard news, but sometimes, if I want to capture a scene, I’ll take those pictures and report off of that. “Oh yeah, he was wearing a yellow sweater today.” “Right, he stood in front of a sign and didn’t even know that the sign said something really ironic given the state of his campaign.” I use the photos that way to report things that I forgot existed.

With Periscope, it’s just a matter of, I’m going to record this person saying something anyway, but if people want to watch it live, have at it. It’s not exclusive material, I’m standing around with five other reporters. It’s fine.

Owen: There are exceptions to what you make public, though.

Pindell: There’s a competitive aspect here. If I have exclusive access to something like a meeting or an interview with a candidate one-on-one at a diner, I will be on a blackout on social. I don’t want competitors to know where I am with a candidate because they could then drive over and report the same thing.

This was particularly the case with the Clinton campaign in the early days. She would tell the press she would be doing one event a day, but of course she had meetings and stopped in for coffee somewhere to shake hands. I would find out about those other events from old-fashioned shoe leather reporting and I would only tell you that she was at a particular location after she left.

Owen: So is this your life until November?

Pindell: This has been my life my entire life. I went to college in Des Moines because of the Iowa caucuses. I really enjoy the politics, but I’m also really into the changing business model of our industry and how I can best serve an audience, so I’m going to try stuff and probably fail a lot. But I’m going to try. But, yes, this is pretty all-consuming.

I’m digital-first at the Globe, so I’m being asked to do a lot of this. I am implementing a strategy from David Skok and from the editor of BostonGlobe.com, Jason Tuohey. Other reporters are doing just the same. My colleagues have been doing great work in this space, and we try to figure out this reporting together.

I did a lot of TV last week, too, and it’s all part of the strategy: Everything you can digitally, everything you can in the newspaper. I had three front-page stories in a row this week — which I don’t recommend, by the way, if you’re trying to sleep — and then I do everything I can do to try to extend the Globe so it’s going to be where you’re at: If you’re watching TV, if you’re checking email, if you’re on Twitter. We’re just trying to reinforce that we’re going to be where you need us to be. And hopefully you’ll get a digital subscription!

Owen: Wait. When do you sleep, actually?

Pindell: I’d say on average…this is what I do. Usually at night, at 9:00 and 10:00, I’m talking to people on the campaign. It’s not hardcore reporting — it’s people I’ve known for years, and we’re doing gossip. I guess they’re technically beat calls, but I don’t charge the Globe for that time. I thoroughly love politics. I love learning about it, love talking about it, love seeing it play out. Usually, at night, I’m continuing along with what’s going on. So, yeah. This is what I do, from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep.

Photo of Robie’s Country Store by Ted Eytan used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 12, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
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