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.
Sure, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) November 9, 2015
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.
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.
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!