Union expands formats and coverage area

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Union file photo from the Washington Evening Journal.

Disclaimer: All programs and products mentioned in this article are the property of the Southeast Iowa Union, the owner of this document. Still, we thought readers might be interested in what we did.

The Southeast Iowa Union has been shaking things up in the newsroom over the past few months. Along with two new multimedia products, the newspaper recently acquired a series of new newspapers in extended coverage areas.

Many of these new initiatives stem from the 144-year-old print product of the Washington Evening Journal.

The Washington Weekly Review podcast goes audio

Washington Weekly Review host Kalen McCain announces into a microphone from a spare booth, recording an episode of the show. (Nick Steffens/The Union)

In its first step into multimedia reporting, the Union added a news podcast in late September 2021 called Washington Weekly Review. The weekly newscast drops every Saturday morning, recapping the week’s highlights with the newspaper’s reporter in Washington.

Like the newspaper, the Washington-centric podcast uses source citations for most of its content.

Contrary to the newspaper, these quotations are not read on a page, but diffused in the form of sound extracts.

“It’s one thing to read a quote in the newspaper, it’s another to hear someone say it,” said show host Kalen McCain. “In a way, you get more information, how they feel about something, how seriously they want to be taken. It’s hard to capture this in words alone.

WWR is divided into three parts.

“The big picture” opens each episode with a look at news that goes beyond county lines, whether it’s local developments elsewhere in the Union’s coverage area, changes to the Legislature of state or national events with local impacts.

The middle of the episode features local news, Washington County stories broken down into a few relevant quotes.

The show ends with “the best news I’ve heard all week”, a lighter, heartwarming story from somewhere in the county, such as lottery winners, area events and stories from dogs.

Recordings are not always broadcast quality. Some quotes include the background hum of a crowd or a loud air conditioner. Some are taken to rooms quiet enough to hear a pen scratching on a reporter’s notebook. Many need to be touched up with audio editing techniques before they can be played for the show.

“I think it makes the show honest, it gives the format some credibility,” McCain said. “Real news is not always spoken clearly into a microphone. Sometimes it’s shouted from across a room, or spoken through a broken mic or between shaky, emotional breaths. This is where the medium becomes powerful, where written words can’t always take you.

The show has steadily grown in popularity over time. While the pilot episode only saw four downloads in its first week, the show now averages around 50 regular weekly listeners.

“It was great to watch this thing grow over time,” McCain said. “It’s been kind of a passion project for me from the start, and seeing it take off has been really rewarding.”

Washington Weekly Review is available on Spotify, Amazon Music, and most podcast-specific platforms. It can also be listened to in-browser at SoutheastIowaUnion.com

Washington Live proves an overnight success

Southeast Iowa Union video producer Nick Steffens sets up a camera before showtime. Just below the frame, countless cords connect the audio, video and broadcast equipment of the former conference room. (Kalen McCain/The Union)

Washington Live host Jaron Rosien chats with County Fair Board Chairman John Wagner and Vice Chairman Kurt Dallmeyer. (Kalen McCain/The Union)

Steffens reads his notes for an episode of News Break (Kalen McCain/The Union)

The Union’s new video product, Washington Live, was launched in late June to positive reception. The pilot episode reached nearly 1,000 views by the time the following episode aired a few days later.

“I was leaving for the day and we were shooting for 600,” said video producer Nick Steffens. “I logged on because I was too anxious to watch it all day, and we were already at 600, so it was a good feeling to go home with it.”

With initial nerves out of the way, Steffens said the show has already improved.

“I think it shows when you look,” he said. “The laughs seem more genuine, we’re all having a great time, I think we’ve finally found a rhythm.”

The show is lighter and flashier than typical Union news content, bringing in a different guest every week to discuss local happenings and more humorous highlights of recent police reports.

“Personally it’s a great way for me to spend my time and energy, it’s good focus,” said host Jaron Rosien. “I think it’s a great vehicle for getting information out to people and talking about pop culture and local events and getting locals talking about what’s important to them.”

The rotating cast gives a different feel to each episode. Rosien said that was a key calling point.

“I especially want to keep the guests in mind,” he said. “It’s hard to talk to a camera, I feed on the energy of other humans…it changes depending on the guest, who they are and their dynamics.”

The Union also launched News Break, a daily video broadcast at 3 p.m. that gives viewers an annotated preview of the next day’s newspaper after reporters’ deadlines, but before the pages roll off the press.

The show gives viewers the opportunity to take a midday break to catch up on the news, presented in a simpler way than the flagship morning show.

“We sometimes talk about stupid things, we’ve talked about sasquatch and mystery dolls, sometimes it’s relevant to the community, sometimes it’s not…that’s why we have News Break every day,” Steffens said. , which animates the daily program. “That way we can put news in there, and the morning show can stay light.”

Washington Live and News Break are available on Facebook and YouTube.

New newspapers join the Union

In May, the SEIU acquired the Clarion-Plainsman, a weekly publication in the Richland area. The newspaper used to consist mainly of press releases and photos submitted by readers, usually printed in black and white.

Since May, it now includes a selection of stories reported in the area taken from Union coverage of Southeast Iowa that week, including a full-color front page.

Melissa Robison, CP’s content writer and former sole employee, said she was pleased with the new product.

“It’s definitely better, and it’s just nice to have more area coverage than I didn’t have before,” she said. “What is happening in Fairfield and Washington, contrary to what people are giving me, contains more recent information. I’ve had people come in to renew and say they liked the new look.

In late July, the Union announced the purchase of a handful of other newspapers further northwest—in Marengo, Williamsburg, Belle Plaine and Grinnell—from Gannett.

“We looked into it and found that these were good communities, and we thought there were some things we could do with the newspaper,” said Matt Bryant, publisher and director of the Southeast Iowa Union. “We thought there was a good base there and opportunities for growth.”

Bryant said the move would help avoid news deserts, counties where public notices cannot be published for lack of a newspaper.

“If legal cases can’t happen because there’s no newspaper, that’s pretty bad for everyone,” he said. “So in addition to thinking these are good, solid logs that are absolutely worth picking up, we’re also doing this to try not to create a wasteland of information in some of these areas…we think that helps the whole state doesn’t have new desserts somewhere, and we want to do our part in that.

The four newspapers currently share one reporter, Melinda Wichmann. Bryant said he hopes to expand the area’s press team over time.

“Our first priority is to hire an ad rep who can start helping us generate revenue,” he said. “Once we start generating revenue, we can start looking for another journalist or a sports journalist to try to increase the content… I think we could do some things that would improve them and make them a better part of the communities . .”

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