Most media folk will look at 702.tv and think one thing: “This is a newspaper?”
The Las Vegas Sun’s new fast paced, kinda-sorta Web show is a young, hip and irreverent look into the people and topics that make Las Vegas what Greenspun Interactive’s Executive Editor Rob Curley calls “news heaven.”
On the Web, the show is a series of short video clips on everything from an inside peak at the training regimen for an Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter to strippers reading the weather.
The video project may seem ambitious for your normal newspaper, but the Las Vegas Sun isn’t your normal newspaper. Many members of its interactive team, headed by Curley, arrived at the paper in 2008 from Lawrence, Kansas, via stopovers at the Naples Daily News and the Washington Post.
Since Curley and his team arrived at the paper, LasVegasSun.com has more than doubled in traffic, its editorial department has won a Pulitzer and the Sun has become the textbook example of a newspaper that builds an elite interactive team under management with an online-first mindset.
Its newest project, 702.tv, may be one of its most ambitious to date. The show aims to be a “Trojan horse of news,” informing people that don’t necessarily want to be informed (read: young people).
The “Trojan horse” refers to the TV show’s structure, which has a single news segment wrapped in roughly half a dozen feature stories.
“The basic premise [informing people that don’t want to be informed] is so honorable, you feel okay that you just did a two-minute segment on a pool party at the Hard Rock hotel and [there were] people dry humping,” said Curley in a telephone interview.
Once an episode, a host will go over the news, videoconferencing with Senior Editor John Katsilomeies of the Las Vegas Sun. The news story is often accompanied by satirical cartoon graphics.
“I really believe that … if you were to put a traditional news segment right in the middle, the show would come to a screeching halt,” said Curley, who acknowledges that while they do not have the same staff of writers that “The Daily Show” might feature, they try to mimic the Comedy Central show’s satirical or laidback approach to delivering the news.
RUNNING A TIGHT SHIP
At first glance, 702.tv may seem to be an impossibly high investment for any newspaper, and it is in this regard that the Las Vegas Sun benefits from the diverse company portfolio of its parent company, the Greenspun Corporation.
The show, split into vignettes for the Web, is broadcast twice a week as an entire 30-minute episode on VegasTV, a television station also owned by the Greenspun family.
That fancy set you see the hosts stroll through? Constructed by the American Nevada Company, the real estate development business of Greenspun Corp.
“We’re literally taking money out of one pocket and putting it in another,” said Curley, who wrote on his blog that the pool table featured on the set was purchased on Craigslist for $100.
Despite the relatively high up-front investment, the segments aren’t very expensive to produce. 702.tv has a full-time staff of nine employees with a handful of part timers that split their time between 702.tv, the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly. All of the video journalists are expected to pitch, write, edit and shoot their own material.
“A two-minute feature piece on a station or on any kind of interactive site might take a day and a half, but our guys usually take five to six hours,” said Executive Producer Chris DeFranco. The majority of the show’s work is done in pre-production with an emphasis on not shooting a lot of unnecessary video.
Journalists use handheld Panasonic P2 cameras to shoot the video, which is edited using Final Cut on laptops. The cameras, while more expensive than most consumer handheld, are cheaper than the average television studio rig. All graphic work is done in Adobe After Effects.
PAYING THE BILLS
Curley, so far, has two tentative plans to capture revenue from the segments: product placement and content produced by “promotional partners.”
According to Curley, an example of a “promotional partner” segment might be one that features one of the hosts covering a new restaurant opening in Vegas. The graphics would clearly market the piece as provided by a promotional partner and the actual crew producing it would be part of Greenspun’s Sun Media Productions, separate from the crew that produces editorial content for the 702.tv and LasVegasSun.com.
“We don’t forcefully integrate [partner segments], we try to think how make it work in the show to create awareness and value,” said DeFranco. “otherwise it’s a giant infomercial.”
“There’s going to be a ton of journalists that poop themselves right now,” Curley said, “but open up your real estate section, and see if there is a thing in there that says ‘advertorial.’”
There are also plans to feature product placement throughout the content on 702.tv. Curley pointed to a local Las Vegas morning news show where the anchors often have a McDonalds cup sitting on the anchor desk and believes that, as advertisers are increasingly given the option to integrate their products with content, newspapers will have to offer an equally attractive option.
“It's ok to have this separate footprint that acts and behaves differently,” Curley said.
By creating an entirely separate editorial entity in 702.tv, the Sun can test advertising techniques that would not be suitable for a newspaper.
“If 30-second spots were cutting it, then [American Idol judge] Simon Cowell would not be drinking Coke from the judges table,” said Curley.
Such blurring of journalism’s sacred church and state line may make traditional journalists uneasy, but the staff of 702.tv believes the show is different than usual newspaper content.
“I don’t know that we’ve got it figured out,” said Curley, “but it sure feels like we may be closer to right than we are wrong.”