Lessons Learned – The Washington Post’s new interactive video tool

An interesting case study for media innovation comes from The Washington Post with the launch of its new interactive video analysis tool and social media tracking for the media organisation’s video coverage of the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

The tool enables users to interact with the video while watching the speeches, to see what part of the speech was the most tweeted, and to view other users’ reactions on Twitter, as well as to see exactly what moment of the speech triggered the reactions. One can also see what the Washington Post had to say about the issues covered in the featured speech. Links accompanying the interactive video allow fact checking and insight into previous news coverage, analysis and opinions, reports Poynter.org. Word clouds show the most words most used by the speaker and Twitter users.  

“We will package these reactions to reveal insights into the nation’s response to the conventions and their most-watched speeches”, says the Post in a piece announcing the project launch.

The tool is a result of partnering with VoterTide, a company specializing in non-partisan social media analysis mainly for political issues, advocacy groups, news outlets and non-profits.

Cory Haik, executive producer for digital news at The Washington Post, provides some useful lessons for media innovators in an interview for Poynter.org. We summarized them and added commentary for the purpose of this article:

  • Develop it fast
    Haik says that the project started a few weeks before its launch. The Post has clearly used the logic of contemporary innovation management – allocate short time to develop the project and abandon it if it did not work out.
  • Do not throw resources at the project
    Only seven people worked on the project, while also working on other things, says Haik. For such a large organisation as the Post, it does not seem to be a big number. The logic would be that it is better to invest the time of few dedicated people than to establish a cumbersome in-house team in the uncertain waters of media innovation projects that can turn out not to be the right thing business-wise. Startup incubators and dedicated innovation labs are a different story, which we covered in one of the previous posts.
  • Mobile, Social and Video
    “Haik said she has three words high in her mind when developing new projects: “Mobile, Social and Video”, Poynter.org reports. This is an example of converging media logic at work in a newsroom, with a much tighter integration of content and social network communication than usual in the case of the interactive video analysis tool meets Twitter.
  • Have both Business and Journalistic Reasons
    “There are business reasons and journalistic reasons that this idea was attractive,” Haik told Poynter.org. Indeed, both seem to be needed for a successful project with a mainstream media organisation which needs to take care of the business aspects of innovation. Following business reasons only could degrade the quality of the content, while a project with good content but with no well-developed business case can have a big question mark looming over its survival.
  • The Business Reason – Engage the People
    Haik explained to Poynter.org that projects like this one have a high engagement as the user spends more time on an interactive than on static content, which is precisely the parameter of interest to advertisers – “time spent on site”. Engaging people is not only good for advertisers, but it also prompts the users to see other content instead of their usual behavior of quickly flying through the online pages, said Haik. 
  • Journalistic Purpose
    Haik says that with this innovation they also produced a new story form. Indeed, it is a new form of digital narrative. She also said that the Post journalists used the speech search tool as a resource to produce material for stories. Therefore, both the general audience and the journalists have the use of the tool.

  • Scalability
    “Scalability” is an issue, Haik says for Poynter.org. If a project is a success, she wants to know that it can have multiple applications.  
  • Big events as Springboards
    The Washington Post launches new projects on the occasion of big political events (such as inaugurations, elections and political conventions) “because political coverage is so key to its core brand”, reports Poynter.org. The video interactive tool will likely be used by the Post for debate coverage, said Haik.


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