This a question I get asked a lot. The thing is, media changes so quickly, my response changes too.
I often tell students that the jobs they’ll end up doing after their degree haven’t been invented yet. In this way, it’s not the number of essays completed or exams passed that make people suited to a workplace. It’s the broader skills learned through doing these tasks that matter most, like seeing patterns, managing workflow, choosing where to invest your energy, attention to detail, knowing where to look when you don’t have an answer. Journalism is about creating clear communication, across a variety of channels, with the audience of that form of communication in mind.
Over the last 26 years, SBS’ coverage of the Tour de France has grown from a half hour highlights package at 6pm to a 24/7 multimedia affair. We have a team on the ground in France who work around the clock producing the colour, action and commentary you see on your screens.
Back at the SBS HQ in Sydney, a team of video and digital editors and producers work around the clock too. I can’t speak for the video team or the crew on the ground in France, but having worked on with the digital team for three years now, I want to share a little bit about what it is that we do. And, if you read all the way to the end, who’s involved in the doing.
The short answer is that we create and curate content for the digital space
If you used an internet connection to watch it, read it, listen to it or ‘like’ it during the Tour de France, there’s a good chance the Cycling Central digital team had something to do with getting it from the ether to your screen.
The media landscape changes so quickly that the work we do is as much about constant reinvention and working with new media technologies as it is about sharp editorial skills and sharing the content created by the rest of the team in the digital space. Monitoring audience feedback, opinions, mood and engagement help to maintain a sense of which approaches to stories will sink and which will swim.
The actual nuts and bolts of it include: pulling the relevant text out of a press release or subbing an article against a style guide. Sourcing an image and cutting it to size. Coming up with a unique headline and lead-in text, something that attracts a reader to find out the what next.
We use a lot of social media embeds for colour, and video excerpts if they’re available, to show the personalities of riders and teams in more engaging ways. They’re also quicker and more friendly on your muscles, tendons and joints than adding a gallery of images one by one.
Sometimes social embeds enhance the text, sometimes they provide a related aside:
Loading these elements into the back end of the system means adding a lot of keywords and many clicks of the mouse. The next step is scheduling it on various social media channels in a way that works best with that platform and the demographics that are engaging with it most.
Where the challenge comes in for me is in producing this content quickly and accurately, and finding the most effective way to frame it: an opinion, a report, a Buzzfeed-inspired stitch up, saving it for the podcast, creating a longer piece out of several short ones, or knowing when to leave it. During the Tour, our collective online output goes from four or five pieces a day to between 15 and 20.
Content that’s worth people’s time
In the words of our Managing Editor and Producer, Phil Gomes, our competition isn’t other websites. Our competition is people’s time.
Last year it was video that dominated the way people consumed the SBS Tour coverage, even on the web. This year, it was very much about direct audience engagement on social media throughout the live broadcasts, reactions afterwards, and weaving these in with the multiple modes in which moments from the Tour are shared.
Engagement from our audience on Facebook and Twitter, through comments, shares, retweets, follows and likes, was through the roof. I’m proud of our whole team for the way they wove this content together. It’s exciting and motivating to see several thousands of others enjoy this side of the SBS Tour coverage as much as we did, alongside coverage shared in alternative ways elsewhere.
So who produces this work?
The 2016 digital team was made up of a rotating roster of six people, working around the clock, one or two at a time. They each bring different skills to the table, they’re generous, they’re reliable and they’re sharp on the things that matter most.
Rachel De Bear worked a tonne of night shifts. If you saw a GIF that made you laugh, it was probably from her. Her timing is impeccable and I have no idea how she sustains that level of humour and energy. She then pushes on for another hour or two to write a race report, one that requires almost zero subbing or embellishment, before she even thinks about going to bed.
I think of Rach as a content chameleon. You’ll rarely see her by-line, but she’s able to quickly and seamlessly adapt to any style, and across any sport. She works with SBS Zela throughout the year as well.
Jamie Finch-Penninger shared the night shift roster with Rach. They both did the odd day shift as well. Jamie writes a killer race report and preview. You can pick out a trademark Jamie report or tweet because of his thoughtful insights on riders’ individual strengths and tactics. He also stepped up for the daily podcast, giving Gomes some much needed time off.
Something I rate highly about Jamie is that he gets women’s cycling with a similar depth to the way he can report on the men’s.
Kevin Eddy stepped into our team for the Tour again this year, in between shifts at the Cyclery Northside bike shop. Kev is a whizz at getting loads of content up at lightening speed. He brings a fresh tone and approach to the day shifts, which start at 5am. This not only reduces the load on the rest of us, but it pushes us to lift our own content game too.
“I see your ‘Froome descending’ article,” came the SMS during week one, “And I raise you Leigh Howard descending at 122km/hr.” Game on.
Anthony Tan has been working on the Tour since the days when reporters covered the race in print and interviewed riders in their hotel rooms. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of Tours past, Tan Man wrote all the stage previews this year and came in every day for the pod.
In this way, he takes care of the afternoons while the morning person goes to bed and the night person crams in a few more precious hours of sleep or shares some awake time with their families and friends. Tanny quite enjoyed staying in the AEST time zone this year, having pulled massive and irregular hours in Tours of the past.
And then there’s Phil Gomes. Phil worked every single day during the Tour this year, including the rest days. Given the technical, logistical and legal limitations on what we can and can’t produce, communication across multiple teams, working with different objectives, is a crucial part making this multi-platform coverage shine. Phil is like the connective tissue that keeps all of these parts functioning as a whole.
Phil understands our audience better than anyone. He also has a proven ability to integrate new media technology into online coverage about five years before anyone else has ever heard of it.
Learning about the technology of the future as we work together is one of my favourite parts of the job. This is a guy who Tweeted the Tour in 2007 before most people even knew that was a thing. He has also developed the above team of freelancers, who add to the site with a flavour and strengths of their own.
Toby Forage, Sarah Van Boheemen and Al Hinds have been a core part of this team in the recent past. It’s not the same without you three and it’s been a privilege to work with you all. An important shout out to the 2016 video team too. They make early mornings in winter something to look forward to even more: Roberto Archoa, Therese Harrison, Ray Munro, Dan Casey and Ken Munoz.
As I said at the beginning of this blog, if you watched it, read it, listened to it or ‘liked’ it during the Tour de France, there’s a good chance this team had something to do with it. Please join me in giving them, and the rest of the SBS Tour de France crew, a huge thank you for their efforts over the last three and a half weeks.
They don’t do it to stand in the limelight, they do it to grow the sport and see others share in that excitement. In a ‘like’ or approval based media landscape, seeing that engagement, and knowing it translates to more people enjoying cycling in all its different forms, is something very satisfying indeed.