Last night, Washington Post designer Dan Worthington live-streamed the drawing of The Post’s Sports section front, attracting several thousand viewers and generating a large number of tweets and questions. Dan and Sports Editor Matt Vita talk about how the idea came about and why this kind of experimentation is important.
What gave you the idea to live-stream the design of The Post Sports section front?
Dan Worthington: I’ve wanted to marry Periscope with print since it was first released. But this idea came about really late, actually. I had never actually used Periscope to broadcast prior to last night, so I still needed to enable my camera, mic and location when I started. To keep my phone upright and charged, I had to Macgyver a device last minute with an exacto knife and basically the bottom of a water bottle. I can’t specifically say what “gave” me the idea but thought it would be a fun experiment and figured we would get 30-40 viewers. Most people originally went on Periscope to look at the inside of people’s refrigerators.
Why last night in particular?
DW: D.C. sports fans have had a tremendous spring sports season thus far. And we’ve tried to do our best to capture that excitement with our sports cover design and content packaging. Last night had the potential to be the greatest sports night in the history of the District. Imagine the Capitals advancing, the Wiz going up 3-2 and the Nationals winning on a grand slam home run. We could all sense the excitement in the DMV area — and it’s a feeling D.C. sports fans don’t often get. The Periscope was another way to potentially let the readers share in a historic night and watch the print production of a page that seemingly would footprint that moment in time forever. Unfortunately for D.C. fans, the moment was one they’d soon rather forget.
What kind of response did you receive?
DW: The response was unbelievable. And people stuck around for multiple hours as their phone batteries died out — many tweeted me saying as much. As I alluded to above, I didn’t expect the response. I did a few broadcasts last night and the first one had 39 viewers and I was wowed. Later when the games ended and we began to get into the nuts and bolts of the cover, I watched as thousands joined the broadcast. The Twitter-verse was very complimentary and loved how we used Periscope to give them an inside look. People asked great questions and gave great suggestions; they learned more about what we do to produce a newspaper; and they even found out columnists don’t write their own headlines. It was a chance to show the readers the process and how we work as a team to produce this thing 365 times a year. I have already spoken to our Sports Editor, Matt Vita, about some other opportunities in the future for other uses of Periscope and potentially bring the readers in closer to help make the print product even more interactive.
Dan’s live-stream generated 9,200 live views last night—that’s a tremendous response for a spur of the moment idea. Is this something you see your team doing more of?
Matt Vita: It was brilliant inspiration by Dan to live-stream himself – on deadline – drawing the front of the Sports section! Talk about a high-wire act. But the coolest thing, to me, was the stream of comments and questions from viewers during the event, and that Dan answered so many of them, speaking to the viewers as he calmly arranged the front of the section. At one point, you hear the night editor or someone saying, we have four minutes to close the section, and Dan was still trying out different pictures for the Wizards package AND answering questions about what content management system we use! I also remember one commenter writing that this was making newspapers cool again! Which was great to read, but in reality it was a perfect marriage of old school and new school journalism. So sure, we definitely will look for ways to do more of this kind of thing. It’s such a great way to connect journalists and readers, because they are so interested not just in what we do but how we do it.
Why do you feel this kind of experimentation is important?
MV: What’s most heartening to me is that this was Dan’s idea. We didn’t have a meeting about it. We didn’t plan it. He just did it. That’s the sense of empowerment I believe journalists need to have today. The media landscape is so Balkanized it’s impossible for any one person or any newsroom, frankly, to completely get a handle on all of it. So you have to foster a spirit or ethos of creativity and experimentation and allow people to just try things out. We might swing and miss a few times, but more often the product will be much more innovative and interesting. Plus all of us have a responsibility to look for ways to bring our journalism to readers, to find new readers, because it’s a pretty competitive world out there.
Could this factor in to other big sports stories in the future?
MV: Why not, though I don’t think Dan would love the idea of me peering over his shoulder every night!
Here’s a look at a few the notable tweets from last night:
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 14, 2015
— Michael Katz (@KatzM) May 14, 2015