3 lessons from AAJA National Convention, by Sean Lim

imageBy Sean Lim in Seoul

This was my first attendance at an AAJA National Convention. Due to the heavy distance, time and expense of traveling from Asia, I had postponed several previous opportunities, especially since I was skeptical of whether I would enjoy the panels, workshops and events. Well, the 2015 convention in San Francisco dispelled all those doubts. I learned a great deal and here are the top three lessons I found most valuable from this year’s event.

1) Find Memorable Characters for Your Stories

Even if your subject is not ‘cool’ you can find ‘cool’ characters who tell the story for you: Colorful, Outgoing, Opinionated, Lively. This refrain came from multiple sources – particularly those working at broadcast news outlets. However, depending on the market, show and even news director, it seemed how ‘cool’ to make your characters can differ widely.

But in general, audiences want to see real people to flesh out the details and facts. Share the ‘cool’ characters’ fears, hopes, disappointments and joys. You can tell complex stories through interesting characters who are closest to the story.

2) New Media Creators Dominate Social… Legacy Media Catching Up Quickly 

A few years ago, it seemed as if no one knew how to operate in the mobile-first, social-media driven news landscape. But from what I saw at AAJA 2015, it seems both new media companies and legacy networks have got a good grip on their digital future. Buzzfeed’s Eugene Lee Yang seemed to represent how new content and platform companies know exactly what they’re doing to drive traffic. Pop culture, beauty-based content has some of the best ‘relate-ability’. But ‘relatable’ content isn’t just limited to mascara and celebrity information. And whitewashing content to the lowest common denominator is NOT the path to relate-ability. Actually the opposite direction – the specific – resonates more with viewers. Being weird, being ethnic, being unique – these all bring more traffic than the bland.

Legacy media organizations presented a strong unified front in embracing digital and social. And they seem to be throwing drones at it, assigning their reporters to tweet religiously and dedicating new departments to repurpose content from their traditional channels into mobile and social. Feel good stories do best when it comes to sharing content. Social strategy should focus on compelling images, sharable graphics (quotes, stats, facts) and catchy headlines.

3) Long-distance Relationship Success Stories

Jumping markets to move up the ladder can make relationships seem of the question, especially when both parties are in the news business!

But I was able to hear how two couples successfully made it work. The key is to continue shared experiences even while apart. This may include watching a movie together (from miles apart) while keeping facetime or skype on so that you really are experiencing it at the same time. Focus the fun on planning the next time you’ll be together. The upshot of seeing each other in limited bursts is that you always seem to be on a honeymoon. The downside is that if you have something to hash out you better do it quickly during your few days together. Not seeing each other for 5 weeks seems to be the breaking point when people go crazy so never go beyond that if you can. Patience is key. So is logistical planning. Go to cool places.

Many, many other lessons were learned during this conference and I feel very grateful for the opportunity. (I will be sharing more during my talk to the Seoul sub-chapter). It is very rare to see so many hard-working, inspiring and gracious journalists take time off their busy schedules to share in a common experience. But that’s what many do each year to come to an AAJA convention. Everybody deserves a round of applause for contributing energy and wisdom to build a better future for journalism.

(Read 3 reasons to go to AAJA’s National Convention, by Yuri Nagano.)