Google Hangouts: Reader engagement through live video chats

Los Angeles Times Lakers beat writer Mike Bresnahan laughs during a live video discussion with Sports Editor Mike James and columnist Bill Plaschke.

We’re doing more and more Google Hangouts at  Love it.  Smart.  A big differentiator.

We’re building a place to have smart conversations.  A place where readers can go to not only better understand an issue but to interact with the reporters and the newsmakers.

It’s also good because it shows our home page is alive.  This is especially important now.  People have to know that we’re live 24 hours a day.  And the live video discussions help communicate this to our most loyal audience and prospective new loyal audiences.  Our readers get to know us in a more personal and deeper way.

Deeper relationship

Plus, it really augments our content.  Steve Lopez’ column last week on death in dignity was powerful on its own.  It stands alone.  But then to have him discuss it with people personally involved in the issue brings our readers closer plus it allows our readers to get to know Steve in a different way.  He’s already got a huge following.  This deepens the relationship and allows our younger readers to get to know him.


Another good example:  David Lazarus hosting a conversation on ‘hate in America.’  This followed a terrific story on  the influence of hate-filled music and violence in America in light of the Sikh temple shooting last week.  Really good conversation with reporters from the LATimes who have real depth in the subject, like Kim Murphy and August Brown.  And outside experts who track, monitor, have participated in such groups.

The conversation is solid.  It’s informative, interesting, and important.  And it gives our content another life.  If you missed it the first time, we’re offering the story in another format.  Plus, we’re hoping you’ll go back and check out the original story.


Then there’s been the fantastic coverage of the Mars Curiosity Project.  City Editor Shelby Grad has been relentless on this.  It’s a fascinating topic with a local angle.  Plus, we have real expertise on it.  Reporter Scott Gold has been exceptional in explaining the significance of the Project.  You can’t tamper down his enthusiasm when he discussed the unbelievable photos that Curiosity has brought back so far.

Whether it be the conversation with Internet sensation ‘Mohawk Guy.’  Or Amina Khan discussing the mission, or continuing updates from Scott Gold, the live video conversations produced real conversations with the experts.


Another solid discussion this week with Jim Rainey, Maeve Reston, and Robin Abcarian discussing Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick possibilities.  Real pros with great chops who are really comfortable in front of the camera.


One of my favorites this week was the discussion between Sports Editor Mike James, columnist Bill Plaschke, and LATimes reporter Mike Bresnahan on the Lakers trade which brought Dwight Howard to LA.  It’s our version of Around the Horn.  It was fun.  Really entertaining and informative.  Loved it.

Most of our Google Hangouts are still one-way.  That’s going to change.  We’re working on ways to make it truly interactive (which it’s gotta be).  Ramping up.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr


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Meteor Shower means NASA interactivity and reader engagement

Screenshot of NASA’s “Up All Night” webpage.

Kudos to NASA.  Huge meteor shower tonight.  It’s the Perseids and the scientists at the space agency say it will probably be the best show of the year.  Up to 100 shooting stars an hour.  Great.

So, how are they connecting with the public?  Live streaming of the sky (seriously) and they’re hosting an online chat with readers.

How smart is that?  NASA’s been way ahead of the game in the digital space.  I remember back in 1995, NASA had one of the few actually good websites in early Internet-land.  And they get a gold medal tonight.

Reader engagement

This evening’s effort is great.  Bill Cooke and his team from the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center are answering questions from visitors and it’s very active.

Surprisingly, the live stream of the sky is really good too.  I’ve already seen two meteors.

NASA’s smart.  They realize there is tremendous interest in meteor showers.  Anyone who’s paid attention to what people search for know this.  Anytime there is a celestial happening, people go crazy for it.

Eclipse and Mars

Remember the eclipse a couple months ago?  Our traffic went through the roof because of our live coverage of it.  And the Mars Rover this past week?  Readers clamored for it.  The most viewed videos of the year so far have been our live video discussions on the Mars Curiosity Project.

Check out this screengrab from Google .  People want to know about this event more than anything else.  It’s the most searched-for phrase online.  No mistake.  People want information on the meteor shower.


NASA takes advantage of the interest and provides experts to answer real questions that people have.  Plus, their live streaming of the sky brings the meteor shower to people who can’t see it.  I can’t see it.  I might as well live on the sun.  The middle of L.A. really doesn’t mean great opportunities for star gazing (this kind, anyway).

Good move

The more NASA can interact with citizens, the better it is for them.  Same goes for us in the media industry.  We want readers to stay with us, we gotta interact with them.  It’s expected now.

That’s why I like what we’re doing.  We’ve really ramped up the efforts in our interactive department.  The audience is there.  We’re seeing it.  We just gotta keep doing it.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr




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The readers (and viewers) rule. We gotta go to them.

One of the things I constantly say is “we gotta go to where the readers are.”  The media isn’t just a push medium anymore.  Significant portion of it is pull.

Our metrics are very clear about this.  Most people don’t find us by coming directly to our site.  They come from offsite locations.  Maybe it’s social media.  Maybe it’s Search.  Maybe it’s aggregators.  Whatever.  They ain’t starting with us.

We love the ones that do.  And we’ll do everything to keep those readers (and future readers like them) happy.  But in order to keep growing, we have to follow the readers.  The readers don’t have to follow us.

Back to Sarajevo

We saw the same thing with the Olympics.  NBC told the viewers how to watch the opening ceremonies.  They decided on an approach like Sarajevo, 1984.  Tape delay.  No streaming.  Tape delay.  Ugh.

A smart way to cover live sports?  Look at CBS and how they handled March Madness or any of the golf tournaments they host.  Like the PGA Championship this weekend.  They stream it — live.

Despite it being on TV at the same time.  They’re going to where the viewers are.  They’re not saying:  this is the only way you can watch it.

Back to the Future

I can watch the PGA Championship on my patio on my iPhone.  I can stream it on my iPad while I’m writing something brilliant on my desktop.  I can listen it while I’m driving in my car.

CBS isn’t handcuffing me to the TV set.

During CBS’s coverage of The Masters, I had my big screen with the main coverage, one iPad streaming the leaders, and my other iPad streaming ‘notables.’  They gave me options.  Options I took advantage of.

Same with DirecTV and its NFL coverage.  Sure, I gotta pay for the package.  But with that package I get my NFL games where I want them.  At home.  At a friend’s house.  In a restaurant.  On the road.  Wherever.  I’m not chained to DirecTV’s restrictions.

They’re going to where the viewers are.

Viewers are mobile.  They want options.  The technology is there.  Take advantage of it.

Learned a lesson?

There’s been much criticism at NBC for its coverage of the Games.  And critics of those critics say they’re unfounded.  They point to the record ratings and say it all worked out.

It wasn’t a good decision.  Tape delay is an antiquated approach.  You present coverage when it happens.  You let the viewers decide what they want to watch and when they want to watch it.

They found this out when their numbers didn’t evaporate during the evening coverage despite streaming the events live during the day.

And now we see they caved and have decided to live stream the closing ceremonies on Sunday.  Well, that’s smart.

Except for this odd caveat:

“NBC stressed that Sunday’s stream was an experiment and doesn’t necessarily mean the same policy would hold true for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.”

Ok.  Well, that’s fair.  Maybe the Internet’s just a fad.  And viewers really don’t know what they want.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr

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Shared responsibility is no responsibility

Smaller teams are usually better. But football teams should probably have more than three players. (Atari 2600 screenshot)

Sometimes there are articles that just nail it.  “Why Less is More in Teams” from the Harvard Business Review does exactly this.

People get tired of me saying “Shared responsibility is no responsibility.”  I say it a lot.  I advocate for personal ownership whenever possible.  I do this because wherever I’ve worked I’ve seen the results.  From the White House, to Capitol Hill, to the executive branch of state government, to the media industry:  you own something and you’ll make it successful (assuming you’ve got the right people).

Size and productivity

The author of the post, Mark du Rond, discusses the relationship between team size and productivity and comes to a similar conclusion:  smaller is better.

Blogs, for example.  If you own a blog and are responsible for the success of that blog, you’ll pay more attention.

If you are one of many, unless you’re super-motivated, are you going to check where the readers came from? Will you pay attention to the comments?  Will you jump on something that readers are telling you they’re interested in (even if it’s after hours)?  Sure, some do.  But where I’ve really seen that level of commitment is when an individual knows that the success of the blog is up to them.


When I led the Christian Science Monitor’s blogging efforts back in 2008 as we transitioned to a digital-first platform, I knew it was my responsibility to not only make the blogs work but to demonstrate how it could be done.  It my was responsibility.

So I was on the phone with our social media and SEO experts daily.  Sometimes hourly.  The Monitor wasn’t a major player in the political scene.  Sure, we had very talented journalists and the Monitor Breakfast was a staple in Washington, DC.  But in the digital space, we weren’t there.  We needed to get there.


Coming from a political background serving two U.S. senators, two governors, and one president, it was easy for me to jump in the political blogging space.  My experience let me start participating right away.  I could write many posts throughout the day and feel energized by it.  I loved it.  I knew the people.  Could easily make the phone calls.  Could easily get information that others couldn’t or would take a much greater effort for many.

When I tapped into the national conversation by way of social media, aggregators, and search, it was especially gratifying because I had tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of readers.  The metrics told me directly just how many readers I had and where they came from.

And when fellow writers linked to me, quoted from me, and initiated back and forth conversations between blogs, it made it that much more fun.

At one time, I was driving more than 25% of the site’s traffic with links coming in from the Washington Post, Politico, New York Times, Drudge, ABC News, CBS News, NPR, and my future employer: the Los Angeles Times.

The difference between any of these links and Google is that people were linking to my posts.  They made the determination that my content was worth quoting or linking out to.

Personal responsibility

It was fun.  But, again, I knew it was my responsibility.  I had to do it.  Therefore, I did it.  And the overall success of the Monitor’s traffic-driving efforts is well-documented.

The point that de Rond makes in his article is that the more people who are responsible for an output, the less they are going to feel motivated to participate.

He describes the ‘social loafing’ problem.  That is:

 “…when team members reduce their effort because they feel less responsible for the output.”

Highest performers 

de Rond goes on to give a number of possible solutions designed to fix problems of lower performing teams.  One thing he says is particularly important:

“Your best performers typically resent the company of those who don’t pull their weight, particularly if the reward system doesn’t adequately discriminate between average and top performance.”

That’s true.  I’ve seen this throughout my career.  The As are self-motivated.  They want to achieve.  They thrive on it.  But they’ll only do it for as long as they feel appreciated,  They don’t get that feedback, they’ll check out.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr

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Promise of video was always there; now tech makes it rock


Following the filming of “Barney Cam II” on the South Lawn of the White House in December, 2003.

It’s really no surprise that video is exploding in the digital space.  You give people quality content and they’ll engage.

We’re seeing that at the Los Angeles Times.  Many of our live video discussions are highly-watched.  Google Hangouts gives us the ability to talk about the issues with reporters and the newsmakers quickly.  And in a format that is acceptable to the viewers.  Not highly produced.  But the content speaks for itself.

Ease of technology

Technology has just evolved to the point where it’s much more easy to watch video online whether it be on a tablet, smart phone, laptop, or desktop.  It’s just easier.

But the promise was always there.

Barney Cam

I’ll go back to December, 2003, at the White House.  We had just completed the filming of Barney Cam II:  Barney Reloaded.  When it was unveiled by the First Lady at the Children’s Hospital in DC, it quickly became the most-viewed video ever on the White House website with more than 2 million views in just a matter of days.

People loved it.  It was fun.  It was a lighter side of Washington.  Perfect for the holiday season.

Hard work

Back in 2003, broadband wasn’t commonplace.  So it was an effort for many people to watch it.  But they did.

We knew people would come back for a sequel because of the success of the original Barney Cam.

Two thumbs up?

I still laugh at the New York Times review of Barney Cam II:

“The plot of the video is more complex than last year’s video, which had no plot. The story line is that Mr. Card asks Barney to decorate the White House for Christmas, but Barney wants to play. There are moments of what a White House press release calls ”drama,” but the ending is a happy one.”

Mr. Orr wrote the script, but he said in an interview on Friday that the president improvised his lines. Mr. Orr also said that despite its name, the video was not filmed from a lipstick-size camera attached to Barney’s collar because Barney objected.

”He would lie down on the ground and howl,” Mr. Orr said. ”We took it off quickly because it was the president’s dog.”

More reviews

The media coverage Barney Cam and the sequel generated was pretty fun.  Everybody got it.  It was the holidays.  We could have fun.

Look at the Associated Press:

Look out Hollywood.  Barney is back – with a sequel.  Last year’s Christmas video by President George W. Bush’s Scottish Terrier was such boffo box office, the White has produced a sequel: BarneyCam Two:  Barney Reloaded.”

Even Keith Olbermann had fun with it:

At 31 and a half minutes 11am this morning, a direct video feed went from the White House to all major news operations.  In an editorial process unprecedented almost since the airing of the deposition of President Clinton, that video feed was aired unedited, unscreened by several television networks.  On what vital topic for what urgent purpose could the White House and the news networks set aside their frequent status as adversaries?  Barney Cam.

And, of course, all of the morning shows had fun with it.  This from Good Morning America touting the ‘exclusive clip’ they received.

“Barney Cam is back as the White House pup sends his annual holiday greeting.  We’ll have exclusive video from the Barney Cam.  They do this and it’s always great to see it.”

It was a fun time.  Here’s a video of me talking about the filming of the video…

Follow me on Twitter: @jimmyorr

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How a bad URL can derail your whole message

I love grammar fights.  And I tend to be on the side of the grammar absolutists even though my prose needs a lot of work.  I need to be edited.  I’m constantly learning.  I write in a blocky, conversational style with plenty of colloquialisms that can easily be criticized.

If you are an absolutist, you’re a lightning rod.  You gotta be perfect or you’re gonna get nailed (and perfection is a moving target).


Great example happened earlier this week in the Harvard Business Review.  Kyle Wiens, the CEO of iFixit, has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bad grammar.  He writes:

“…if job hopefuls can’t distinguish between ‘to’ and ‘too,’ their applications go into the bin.”

People should know the difference.  He further writes:

“If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use ‘it’s,’ then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with.”

Great.  This is also pretty basic.  People should know this too.

His whole post is worth reading.  I’m onboard.  I like it.


The problem?  Many of the readers don’t appear to be paying attention to his message.  Why?  An unfortunate (but hilarious) URL.  It got truncated in the wrong spot.

Lost focus

The most-liked and the most-commented of the comments?  You guessed it.  It’s all about the URL:


Does it derail everything he was trying to say?  No.  But it does demonstrate if you’re going to preach about the importance of paying attention to details, you have to pay attention to all of the details.  Or get ready to get pummeled.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr

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Nolan Bushnell on learning and innovating

I’m a longtime fan of Nolan Bushnell.

As someone who would spend every cent of my paper route money on Atari cartridges, I invested in Bushnell — the founder of Atari.  I was a diehard supporter.

In 9th grade, everyone had to give an oral presentation on an American they admired.  You heard what you might expect.  Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Neil Armstrong, etc. etc.

I choose Bushnell.

My parents advised against it.  They thought I spent way too much time on my Atari 2600 and frowned on my spending habits.

Undeterred, I delivered my speech and to the shock of my parents got an A. My teacher didn’t agree that he was in the same league as the father of our country, but she said she was impressed with the effort I put into it.

It might have been the first time I didn’t hate doing homework.  I was fascinated by Bushnell.  I knew everything about him.  I knew Pong was invented in 1972.  I knew he built it in his garage.  I knew his favorite game was Space War.

Looking back

Bushnell relived those memories last week on This Week in Tech.  It’s worth the watch whether you’re a video game nut or not (most of the interview is not on video games).  Bushnell has been unbelievably successful.  Not just Atari but he other businesses as well.  The guy is a visionary.

The whole 60 minute interview is entertaining and fascinating.  But I was drawn to his thoughts on innovating and learning and pulled out a few quotes.

On ideas:

Start writing down every idea you get.  Then start to embellish them.  Turn a line into a paragraph and then into a page.

In that process, pretty soon something is going to talk to you.

My projects choose me, I don’t choose them.

On conventions

Go to every trade show there is.  Be a sponge.

Every trade show is a snapshot microcosm of an industry.

When I go to Las Vegas, I’ll to go any trade show that’s there.  I don’t care what the business is.

Why is that?

Continuous learning

You can learn from anything.  Doesn’t make any difference where you are or who you’re with.  You can learn from any situation.  And you’ll repeatedly hear that message from other successful leaders.

Best-selling author and uber salesman Grant Cordone says the same thing in his book ’10X’.  He writes:

Successful people make time for conventions, symposiums, and reading.  There has never been a book, audio program, download, webinar, or speech from which I have not benefited — even from the ones that sucked.

The most successful people I know read everything they can get their hands on.  They approach a $30 book as though it has the potential to make them a million dollars.

 Watch the show

I’ve embedded the interview with Nolan Bushnell below.  Enjoy.  (And follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr).


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Early days of interactivity at the White House (we had fun)

First Lady Laura Bush and I chat on “Ask the White House.”

When I was at the White House I had frequent conversations with Dan Froomkin, who ran the very popular White House Briefing column at the Washington Post.

We discussed the e-communications policy at the White House and what we were doing on the website.  Remember this was really before the days of social media.  No Twitter.  No Facebook.  No YouTube.  It was destination-based.

It was early but we paid a lot of attention to the blogs as I mentioned here in one of Dan’s columns.

“Bloggers are very instrumental. They are important. They can lead the news. And they’ve been underestimated,” Orr wrote.

“Here’s what the bloggers do. They notice something in the news or something they’ve observed that maybe the ‘traditional’ media hasn’t covered or isn’t spending much time on. But they think it is significant. So, they give the story a second life (or first). And they talk about it. And others talk about it. Before you know it, it is leading the news.”

White House Unplugged

Knowing the power of this newer medium, we worked to make the site relevant to these influencers by launching two different interactive programs designed to bring readers (and reporters) closer to the people in the White House.  It was really the “White House unplugged.”  Or as I told Froomkin:

“We’re trying to make it more bloggish,” he says in an interview. “People need to see that we’re on the site and we’re listening to what they have to say.”

We had a lot of fun.  We encouraged the hosts of “Ask the White House” — be it a Cabinet official, a senior White House official, or whomever — to take the hard questions.  The real questions.  The difficult questions.  Froomkin calls out this chat as an example of someone who didn’t dodge questions in favor of softballs.

Behind the scenes

Candidly, I think we were able to be so ‘real’ on the website was because it wasn’t paid attention to enough — internally.  It really wasn’t.  It didn’t get caught up in the giant machine.  I ran it the way I wanted.  So it was fun.  And it was unpredictable.  We had a blast.  Associated Press’ Jennifer Levin wrote:

Someone going by the name “King Bloop Zod” asked Housing Secretary Mel Martinez if the government might offer incentives to those considering “Mars as an ideal location for a vacation home or just a place to get away from it all.”

“Dear King,” replied Martinez, “Your problem is one that does not appear to be housing. I think you are doing great at promoting tourism, but affordable housing in America is more of my concern.”


It was all purposeful.  If these chats didn’t come off as fun or controversial, no one would pay attention.  It they came off like a bunch of softball questions followed by pre-packaged horribleness known as talking points, we were DOA.

If there had moments of wackiness and contention, we’d get press coverage.  So, we mixed it up and we had fun.  And we had tons of coverage.

I used to speak all the time about the White House days.  And the conversations about “Ask the White House” seemed always to be a favorite.  Here’s a clip:

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Don’t just do something to do something. Wait, then pounce.

Love an article today in the Harvard Business Review on mobile strategy.  Smart for a variety of reasons but what resonated with me was a point the author was making about doing something — just to do something.

When something is new, people freak.  They think they gotta get in the game.  Even when it doesn’t make sense.  They run around frantically like the little humanoid in the old Robotron video game.

The Internet is filled with the graveyard of ideas that died because they weren’t thought through.

Know what you’re trying to achieve before implementing.  Or as it pertains to mobile, HBR advises:

Don’t put mobile tactics in front of strategy. In the early days of the web, every site seemed to have an animated GIF or a clunky site-counter. In the early days of social, companies spent millions on costly Facebook apps with cute gimmicks but no real utility or sharing value. Today, companies are scrambling to come up with something “mobile” whether or not it makes sense for their long-term business goals, and whether or not users will actually want it.

I get throwing stuff on the wall to see if it will stick.  I do it too.  But there’s gotta be some strategy behind it.


If we start a new initiative in the newsroom there will be tangible reasons we’re doing it.  Tangible.  Can’t be just “let’s see if it works.”  And if that means we’re not the first, that’s fine.  Let someone else make the mistakes.  We’ll implement when it’s ready for prime time.

But the key then if we see it works, we have to move fast.  Then we jump on it.  Quickly. Quickly.

The key for me is to find something that works and then use it better than anyone else.  Pinpoint your strength.  Pinpoint how you will use it differently.  And then unload.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr





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Google Hangouts are great

Google undersells Google Hangouts.  They really do.  Here’s how they describe themselves:

Hangouts let you video chat with up to 9 people, face-to-face-to-face. You can watch YouTube videos, wear pirate hats, or even doodle together.

What do they really let you do?  Connect.  Engage.  Experience.

Decade of interactivity

I’ve seen it before but this is really cool stuff.  We thought it was cool nearly a decade ago at the White House when we launched two interactive programs that would allow us to communicate directly with constituents.  Creatively called “Ask the White House” and “White House Interactive,” it was a great way to connect with voters.

But man, compared to what we can do now?  Those were the dark ages.  Technology has really improved.  And it’s been pretty recent.

Tech moving fast

Even a year ago when we hosted live video discussions to talk about the freeway closures known as Carmageddon, it was an all-hands-on-deck situation.  We had a ton of people involved.  I would guess a good dozen or so were involved just to pull of the 30 minute Q&A.  Way too many moving parts.

With Google Hangouts, it’s really plug and play.  Web-cam on our people.  Web-cam on readers.  Web-cam on the newsmakers.  And boom, we have a live video conversation.

We’re  not the only ones experimenting here.  And by no means is this a broadcast-ready performance.  It’s nothing like the Boulevards project, for example, with the finely produced videos chronicling LA’s most famous streets.  But it’s good for what it is.  Connecting with our readers.

Upping the ante

We’ve held a number of them so far.  And they’re getting better.  We’ve got at least one Google Hangout every day.  And they’re working.  We’re connecting.

Today, Nation Now reporter Rene Lynch hosted a live video chat.  She wrote a great story earlier this week on a very sick and abandoned dog she rescued.  Today she connected with other rescue dog owners in the Los Angeles area.

Two things I like:

  • Great niche.
  • It’s local.

We’re connecting with people who have a passion.  And these people are here in Southern California.  I’m fine if this goes national.  Great.  But it’s connecting with our local audience that’s the most important.


The potential is huge.  The speed and ease at which we can do these make me very optimistic.  Sure, some of the camera angles are weird.  There are some lighting and sound issues.  But these can be ironed out.  But when you’ve got the seasoned professionals with the experience like we do at the Los Angeles Times, these are the types of vehicles that are the great differentiators.  It’s gonna be fun.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr


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