IJNet's parent organization, ICFJ, partnered with the Facebook Journalism Project on its U.S. Local News Accelerator, a digital storytelling program that provides coaching by news industry veterans. The Philadelphia Tribune was a participant of the program in 2020.
Aaron Eaton works in a small newsroom where he runs a one-person video team — himself.
He produces at least one video per week for the Philadelphia Tribune, the oldest and largest continuously published newspaper in the U.S. covering the African American community.
His videos typically attract between 1,000 and 2,000 views — more than ten times the paper’s traction with video before he joined the newsroom a year ago. The paper used to produce one or two short feature videos a month, according to Eaton. These would draw only about 50-100 views each.
The key to his success? He’s gotten to know the newsroom’s audience, for one. “What I like to do is go out and find stories that pull at the heartstrings, that have an emotional side for our audience,” Eaton told IJNet.
A former video producer with NFL Films, he also knows his skillset. He’s a storyteller. “I knew I could come in and create real storylines and make mini movies. I expanded the way they do stories,” said Eaton. “I do three to five minute pieces with music, high quality production and it added a different dynamic to what they were doing before.”
And he’s been strategic with his capacity. “I look for stories myself, whether through social media or word of mouth. I’ve built a network of people who I can trust with great ideas, stories, and people I should look out for,” Eaton said. Once he publishes a video on the Tribune website, he will also post on YouTube and circulate on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
At the end of every month, he takes stock of which videos performed well. “I like to do an inventory to see what stories did well and put those to the side and say, ‘Our audience likes stories like this, or this kind of person — maybe I should cover more people like this, profile more stories like this.’”
As smaller video teams like Eaton’s at the Philadelphia Tribune compete with larger local and national news outlets, it’s important they tailor their processes and capacity to maximize their output. Two things are key for any team, and especially video storytellers, because of the time involved to create video content, said Selymar Colón, a journalist and former newsroom executive at Univision.
“One: understand your workflows very well up to the T. Know the processes you have and how long each one of them takes, because that will help you identify the areas you need improvement,” said Colón. “Second: once you have a clear map of what your capacity looks like, that will allow you to make decisions about what platforms you should be on. You always have to identify the things you can and can’t do. Even if you have a big team, you can’t be doing everything.”
Eaton’s videos highlight positive stories coming out of Philadelphia’s black communities. His most popular Tribune video to date followed a group of black fathers who gave out high-fives to kids on their first day of school. The story went viral last fall, generating more than 30,000 views and 600 shares on Facebook alone, according to Eaton. It was the top story on the Tribune’s website for over a week, and was picked up by USA Today’s HumanKind platform.
In December, he covered a ballet yoga, or “boga,” class that black fathers attended with their daughters, and last April, he published a video about a man experiencing homelessness who gives free haircuts in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall to others who are homeless. “He’s become a community figure, people see him every day,” Eaton explained. “They know who he is but they don’t know his story — why he does what he does, or how he came to do what he does. Just telling those stories within our community — right down the street — how can we not tell those stories?”
Today, through his involvement in an ICFJ-Facebook Journalism Project video accelerator, he’s planning a project that will showcase efforts in Philadelphia to counter the city’s high rates of gun violence.
Eaton advises his fellow video journalists, especially those on smaller teams, to continue pushing limits. “Newsrooms all across the country have the same goal in common,” he said. “Don’t be intimidated; take information — even if it’s meant for a large newsroom or a larger organization, you can apply it to yourself. Go out there and don’t be afraid to try new things, make mistakes.”
David Maas is the manager of IJNet.