Rad, the journalism laboratory of Radio Canada, experiments with formats for young people

We are republishing this article, originally published on Méta-Media, as part of an editorial partnership between Méta-Media and WAN-IFRA. The article was written by Laure Delmoly.

In May 2016, Radio-Canada made a strong commitment to innovation by creating Rad, a journalism laboratory that develops formats for young people who get news on the Internet. The lab has achieved a lot then: two major digital awards, a weekly YouTube news broadcast and effective collaborations with the various teams at Radio-Canada.

Rejuvenating the audience and renewing journalistic formats

Located on the ground floor of the Radio Canada Tower, Rad operates in a dedicated space, separate from the rest of the editorial staff. It brings together a multidisciplinary team of 15 members: journalists, motion designers, camera operators, product managers and UX experts. Inspired by agile methods, the lab has developed a specific digital offer and renewed its audience.

“We started from a simple observation: part of the population no longer listens to Radio Canada but reads our content online. How can we address this audience directly?” explains Johanne Lapierre, Editor-in-Chief.

Radio Canada’s editorial lab has several objectives:

  • renew journalistic formats
  • develop content on social networks
  • address the digital citizen
  • … and a challenge: rejuvenate audiences while continuing to address its historical audience.

The initiative is headed by three women: Johanne Lapierre, editor-in-chief, Gigi Huynh, digital strategist and Caroline Choinière, digital product manager.

Different formats for the same subject

“We operate in broad subjects for which we offer several formats: the reader can choose the format he likes the most. They can choose their entry point into our content,” comments Johanne Lapierre.

Major topics such as control of the internet, degrowth, reproduction, artificial intelligence thus generate three video formats: basic, experimentation and anticipation.

  • Basic: an “explainer” format, embodied by a journalist who presents the subject to the camera with video clips and graphs. Below Marie-Eve Maheu talks about the geopolitical and economic issues related to the control of the internet.

  • Experimentation: the viewer follows the journalist in the process of taking up a challenge or conducting an investigation. A “journalism experience” format that is popular with the younger generations.

Below, Olivier Arbour-Masse, decides to try the challenge of zero waste for a month.

Or Mathieu Papillon and Nicolas Pham travel around Montreal, a world-leading AI city in search of precisely… artificial intelligence.

  • Anticipation: a decoding format consisting of interviews with experts.

“At Rad, we try not to settle on a format, but to experiment. Even the explainer format is rethought every time,” adds Johanne Lapierre.

These new video formats were inspired by YouTube, and their duration ranges from five to fifteen minutes.

“We don’t give ourselves any time constraints. We tend to say that video viewing time is short, but it really depends on the distribution platforms. On YouTube, people can watch journalists chatting in a studio for an hour,” says Johanne Lapierre.

An award-winning program with sustainable formats

The “23-23” program was set up in preparation for the provincial elections in Quebec. It won the Boomerang 2018 award for best editorial strategy. According to the president of the Boomerang jury, Jennifer Varvaresso, this editorial production “quickly won over the jury with its relevance, creative approach and quality of execution. This format succeeds in reaching a young target group, both the well-informed and beginners, often put off by more traditional news media. All delivered with impeccable artistic direction, a pleasantly offbeat tone and an expertly thought-out digital implementation.”

23-23 also won the Numix 2019 prize in the “linear production” category.

The success of 23-23 is explained by the aim to be as close as possible to the public. Inspired by the thirty-day challenges that are all very popular online, the objective was to provide readers with 23 pieces of content at a rate of one per day in order to prepare digital citizens for an informed vote in early October 2018. Rad first surveyed its community with forty questions, gave them thirteen minutes to answer, and received 1200 responses. Inspired by the feedback, the team has developed 3 informative, accessible and attractive video formats.

1. “Basic” formats on elections

Take the video “Why vote?”: a format in the style of an audition to encourage young people to vote. The auditioned people march past: comedians, theatre performers, hip-hop dancers, UQAM students in political science. The video  addresses the lab’s core target audience, the 18-39 year-olds who now represent one third of the Quebec electorate and whose abstention rate remains high.

or “Once upon a time there were political parties” by Nicolas Pham: a video made entirely with Playmobil toys, depicting the four Quebec political parties represented in the National Assembly.

2. “Quest” topics on the main social issues in Quebec

3. A weekly news broadcast on YouTube: le bunker

Le bunker is a weekly news broadcast presented by Rad journalists that covers most of the news of each week.

“The format allows us to highlight the personality of our journalists. Younger generations love this authentic format. This helps to build a relationship of trust. But this more familiar tone does not allow us to cross the line into opinion. Our journalists remain rigorous in their journalistic practices,” comments Johanne Lapierre.

Program 23-23 was able to reach its audience through several distribution tools: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, a newsletter, a chatbot and through Radio Canada sites: iciradiocanada.ca, curio.ca and rad.ca. The programme was also advertised on radio and television.

This online communication strategy has generated an organic reach of four million people, more than two million views, an average engagement rate of 9%, an average listening time of 4 minutes and 30 seconds on YouTube, and more than 15,000 subscribers to the newsletter sent out every morning. Beyond these figures, Rad’s journalists attest to an online community that is very active throughout the editorial process.

“Internet users thank us for the re-contextualization and analysis in their YouTube and Facebook comments,” explains Johanne Lapierre.

The format invented for Program 23-23 was renewed for the October 2019 federal election: twelve minutes every Saturday since June 2019. The complete playlist of the broadcasts is online on the lab’s YouTube account.

Collaborations with TV teams and regional offices

The most creative collaboration is with the head of Quebec’s provincial political office, Sébastien Bovet. For the 2018 elections, he agreed to play along and swap his tie and jacket for a Rad t-shirt and explain the so-called “first-past-the-post” electoral system in front of the camera.

The Lab also collaborated with the regional offices, in particular to produce a full dossier on the Francophonie. It was an opportunity for journalists from the Toronto, Ottawa, Moncton and Winnipeg regions to come to Montreal to receive intensive training in the new Rad scripts, and take new practices to the regions.

Finally, some topics such as reports on medical assistance in dying (legal in Quebec since four years ago) were broadcast by the TV news teams. The success of the Rad formats has also led to television broadcasts on the programming side: the best dossiers were put together to create two series that were broadcast at Christmas 2018 and in June 2019 on the RDI television channel.

An agile broadcaster within Radio Canada

The Radio Canada Lab is inspired by the new methods of sprint design. The team works iteratively to improve each editorial production based on user feedback. During the subject pitch sessions, designers and developers are invited and can express themselves on editorial issues.

To infiltrate the CBC Lab and watch the team work, watch the full making-of video of the 23-23 program.

Listening to its community, Rad tests, learns and evolves with internet users. Rad is a renewed news experience, a mix of online styles and the journalistic rigour of Radio-Canada. “Canadians associate Radio Canada with credible journalism. Rad allows this marriage of innovation with credible journalism,” comments Johanne Lapierre.

Present on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, Rad was designed to become Radio-Canada’s journalistic content laboratory, and the recipe is working. We look forward to the next editorial productions from this fast-paced team.

 

(Main image from Behance)

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