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May 2, 2016, 2:24 p.m.
Reporting & Production

With a scripted daily comedy news show, Mic looks to add a little late night TV to the social video mold

“We don’t just present a bunch of headlines and say what we think. Our videos are chock-full of facts and research.”

None of my friends own (working) TVs. Left-leaning, smartphone-toting, annoyingly predictable content consumers that we are, we’re instead constantly emailing each other links to clips from shows like John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal. The other week, an outlier snuck in among our usual fare: a two-minute clip about Florida Governor Rick Scott from a new Mic daily series called Mic Check. The show takes a page from these satirical news shows — which makes sense, given the backgrounds of its young team members.

“His state is plagued by giant snakes and deadly sinkholes, and he still manages to be the worst part,” host Sage Boggs, whose priors include Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Late Show with David Letterman, quips in the video. Boggs helps write the scripts for the Mic Check segments and hosts the show, along with staff writer Natasha Noman.

mic-check-videos-facebookThe series debuted this past January and attracts the bulk of its audience through Facebook. The Rick Scott video, for instance, garnered 1.7 million views on Facebook, where Mic’s page has 1.7 million likes, versus a mere 1,000 views on YouTube. Mic’s Facebook audience across all of its content is 55 percent female and 43 percent male, mostly between — surprise! — the ages of 18 and 34. (On YouTube, the sex breakdown is flipped. The average age of Mic’s editorial staff itself is 27.) The most successful Mic Check so far has been one from March on the Free the Nipple movement: 7.7 million Facebook views. (Don’t confused Mic Check with MicCheck, the company’s iPhone app.)

There’s a pattern to many videos on Facebook these days: captioned three-or-so-minute collages of clips, often pulled from TV news sources, with a finger on the pulse of Internet outrage (Trump, scary state laws, climate change denial, Trump, and so forth). Mic Check videos tick many of those boxes, but with a bunch of extra jokes mixed in, and a lot of research.

Mic-Check-video-Facebook-nudity“We’ve been going through an interesting creative process. It’s really been a training exercise,” Chris Wade, Mic Check’s director and editor, said (before Mic, Wade was at Slate producing video and podcasts, and also has a background in TV and film). “When we first started, we would try to provide as much info as we could, backing up all our arguments, and what ended up happening was that we were going on three- or four-minute argumentative threads, spiraling into tangents that didn’t have to do with the primary point we were trying to make. We’ve been training ourselves to get down to the two-minute mark, and as Sage gains more and more control of how long a written script is versus how long the final video is, the videos have gotten leaner and more muscular.”

“As a small team, we’re in a position to closely monitor how we feel about it and how our audience responds to it,” Nathan Cykiert, a Mic Check producer who worked previously on video at Vox, said. But while the team seeks input from Mic’s growth team on story topic selection, monitors analytics, and does weekly post-mortems on why some videos take off and others don’t, Cykiert emphasized that the trial-and-error process is casual, not clinical. “It feels like every six months, whatever is the most popular style on the Internet changes.”

Mic as a company is leaning heavily on video. CEO Chris Altchek told Ken Doctor in January when the Mic Check series launched that Mic is a “videocentric millennials-serving digital news company,” and that audiences should expect Mic’s content to be “majority video” by summer. Last month, Mic acquired the video aggregation mobile app Hyper and is building out that online discovery video platform. Its longer (five- to eight-minute) documentary-style video series The Movement, which highlights “individuals who fight to reclaim and recover marginalized communities across America,” debuted with five episodes (and 250,000 views on Facebook for the last episode). Its successful web series Flip the Script‘s marquee host Liz Plank was recently picked up by Vox, where she hosts the election cycle show 2016ish).

The Mic Check videos generally don’t have the jaw-dropping numbers of Flip the Script (which got 33 million views in its first season on Facebook), but they share its DNA of activist-y, political progressiveness. The videos are for the most part hosted out of Mic’s crowded offices in downtown Manhattan. The show doesn’t get overly fancy in its production values, but the team describes a frenetic daily workflow: The show is scripted, edited, and fact-checked, then filmed by the afternoon.

“We have to cover so much in one script, and there’s so much to each side: how do you do that objectively, fairly?” Boggs said. “Our whole thing is that we have to have a thesis — almost like a college thesis paper. We catch you with the hook, we present the thesis statement, and then give all our supporting details.” (The “college thesis” comment lines up nicely with Mic’s “college-educated millennials” pitch.)

“My background is video research. We use a service that searches transcripts from different stations,” Boggs added. “Pulling the right clips is one of the most important components. A lot of breaking news–pegged stories just take whatever the hot clip of the day is and pass around that same exact clip, but we try to go a little deeper to see what that incident says about other things.”

“We don’t just present a bunch of headlines and say what we think. Our videos are chock-full of facts and research,” Wade said. “That’s one of the things we’re learning as we go along: what we do and do not have to cite. Toward the beginning, we were citing in the video almost any fact that pertained at all to reality. Eventually we decided, we can just say ‘the sky is blue.’ But we try to be rigorous with any kind of assertion that would at all be argumentative.”

The team has some ideas about switching up the video’s host-at-a-desk format down the line, including doing more original interviews, videos from location and of events, or man-on-the-street bits. (In one recent episode, Boggs self-effacingly rapped the week’s news.)

“We have a lot of ideas!” all three of them said, excitedly.

POSTED     May 2, 2016, 2:24 p.m.
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