UNC-TV's Health Care Reform: North Carolina's Watch on Washington

UNC-TV's Health Care Reform: North Carolina's Watch on Washington  is our latest station project in the spotlight.   This project is a success story of how a station incorporated timely, local and national content, while interactively engaging the viewer through calls and online questions on the health care reform proposals.

Shannon Vickery, Dir.  Of  Productions & Project Executive Producer, Kelly McCullen, Producer, Health Care Reform:  NC's Watch on Washington, Jamie McGurk, Promotions Manager, Jen Jones, Publicist/Media Relations/Web Editor, and R.L. Watson, Webmaster/Website/Content Developer have taken the time to respond to our Station Products & Services questions.

1.  Please describe Health Care Reform: North Carolina's Watch on Washington for other stations.

Health Care Reform:  North Carolina's Watch on Washington allowed five U.S. Congressional members who represent North Carolina to answer viewer questions on the health care reform proposals.  Viewers could call in by toll-free telephone number, send E-mail messages to a custom email address or communicate to us through UNC-TV's Twitter and Facebook pages.  The PBS Engage module was implemented to solicit viewer comments. 

2.  What station or community need(s) are you fulfilling with this project?

The community is the state of North Carolina in our case and this let viewers/participants speak directly to federal lawmakers on a timely issue.  UNC-TV served its existing audience but the new online technologies opened the door for more avenues of communication and, by nature of the online user, a younger audience.  In our state, we are not familiar with many other television operations that truly offer interactive opportunities with viewers. While most stations run websites offering varying levels of interaction, very few actually incorporate Web 2.0 elements into their on-air productions as we did with Health Care Reform: North Carolina's Watch on Washington.

3.  Describe the resources it took to create Health Care Reform: North Carolina's Watch on Washington and the resources required to maintain it.  How many staff members worked on this and will work on this to keep it updated?

In TV production terms, it was a standard three-camera studio production with about a dozen "traditional" positions filled (camera, audio, floor manager, producers, director, graphics).  We operated a satellite truck with a three-person crew in the field.  Five people managed our phone bank.  Regarding online participation, one person sent out eNews Blast, one person moderated the PBS Engage comment module and two people tracked E-mails and Twitter/Facebook messages - a social networking expert and a producer in the control room.

4. This is a great example of community engagement incorporating both local content with national content into the HealthCare Reform: North Carolina's Watch on Washington.  Can this project be adopted by other stations?

It could easily be adopted by other stations if given the human resources to produce a quality television broadcast first and foremost, then add staff to track submissions via the Web.  A smoothly operating control room and show "flow" made online production elements work well.

5.  Do you have any advice for other stations who may want to put something similar in motion?  What would your top three suggestions be?  Also, what is the most important thing you learned NOT to do?

•       Involve your Web team into the initial production planning stage.  Incorporate Web components, like social networking interaction into a production plan that is a known quantity to the producers and crew.  We took our call-in/panel discussion show and built upon it.  The Web components made the health care reform program unique while keeping the crew and producers "grounded" in a known production concept.  The result was a successful broadcast and what we consider a very successful implementation of the PBS Engage module and other Internet outreach strategies.
•       Keep control of the content or questions that flow in from viewers and don't let a suddenly-filling email or comment box distract the producers from keeping the broadcast progressing smoothly.  Stay one tweet, e-mail question or telephone call ahead during the broadcast.  That provides valuable breathing room when making decisions whether to pose an email or Facebook question, a phone call or a tweet.
•       Invite your Web team or a representative to attend regular producers/production meetings. The Web team member(s) can provide Web updates, news, answers, content/application demonstrations and training, as well as serve as liaison for helping to fulfill Web-related requests/questions/concerns/etc. and creating a valuable relationship between producers and the Web team.

The most important thing you learned NOT to do:
We learned to back off the addition of too many new elements in tying our television broadcast and Web presence together.   Once the show took shape and we had a game plan, we would think of a new innovation or idea, then force ourselves to step back and say, "Maybe next time."

Thanks, UNC-TV for taking the time to answer our questions.  If you have additional questions or comments for UNC-TV please feel free to post them below.

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