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How Sinclair Broadcast Group Harnesses the Power of UGC to Report the News and Cultivate Community

Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) is a U.S. diversified media company that focuses on local news, sports and general entertainment. You wouldn’t realize they began with just one UHF television station in Baltimore in 1971. Over the years, Sinclair has seen exponential growth—now encompassing 186 television stations across the country, 73 of which are news stations. In addition, they own 19 Bally Sports regional networks; Marquee, the exclusive home to the Chicago Cubs; Tennis Channel; over-the-air networks including Comet, Charge! TBD and Stadium; and FAST channels through STIRR and NewsOn.

As a large local news organization that produces over 2,500 hours of news per week, one of Sinclair’s strengths has proven to be how they share content and facilitate interconnectivity across all of their platforms—including over 200 websites and mobile news apps as well. Among the content they distribute is user-generated content (UGC), which is becoming increasingly important to the day-to-day newsroom, enhancing existing news reporting. Partnering with Stackla allows Sinclair to further drive this trend, creating a scalable solution that allows them to harness the power of UGC from millions of ordinary Americans.

Why user-generated content matters to local news

As almost everyone always carries around a high-quality camera on him or her, the news has inevitably become more user-driven. UGC helps news stations report on experiences from the people living through them on the ground, not just from the traditional news crews. This helps stations capitalize on different perspectives of a news event by featuring relevant content from the people who were actually there.

Sinclair’s news stations have made this an ongoing part of their local news, web and mobile content. For example, say there is a traffic accident on a highway or a big weekend event happening. The station will reach out to viewers/users on-air, on social media or even push notifications in their apps and ask people to share images and videos of what they are seeing or how they were participating.

Lane Michaelsen, News Team Liaison, said, “The other level of this is what I call the ‘direct reach-out.” For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic prevented people from attending sporting events and there was an Iowa NCAA basketball match, Michaelsen said they were able to “create a direct reach-out campaign where we contacted the families, the players and the coaches who would be at that event so they could help supply images and video. ”

“If people are going to be on the ground, we want to get their first-person perspective. Everyone has a camera in their pocket. When we share or broadcast content from viewers, it helps them feel more involved in and engaged with their local news – Mike Leonardo, SBG Business Liaison 

Why Sinclair chose Stackla as its UGC solution

Before partnering with Stackla, Sinclair had been using a different solution for their UGC needs. When they decided to look at other platforms, Michaelsen said, “There were a few things that were important in the decision-making process to switch. One that was key was Stackla’s ability to gather, reach out and get permissions to use social media content—specifically from Twitter and Instagram.”

“Now, when there is breaking news occuring, we can just use the Stackla platform to immediately source from social media, gather and report that content, which is quicker than sending out requests for content and waiting for somebody to submit an image or video.”

Sinclair wanted a more robust solution that could scale alongside their growing business and be used across their many stations and consumer touchpoints. Stackla was best suited to deliver the scale, flexibility and automation they needed.

Mike Leonardo, Project Manager of SBG Content Labs said, “The more that people are able to contribute to the news, the less the future of broadcasting is about talking at people and more about talking with people.”

“We’re focusing more on connecting with our communities and making them feel included as an important piece of what we’re reporting, and Stackla, as our UGC initiative, really feeds that.”

Sinclair’s implementation process with Stackla

When it came time to onboard Stackla, Sinclair’s team was able to hit the ground running and get all their news stations onboarded in record time.

Leonardo said, “Our plan was to take [Stackla] from a proof of concept all the way to unleashing the solution throughout the entire company, which doesn’t happen very often nor does it happen at the speed at which this did.”

According to Michaelsen, “We did this much faster than previous platform rollouts, which have taken up to six months to reach critical mass across the 73 news markets. With Stackla, we did this in about 10 weeks.”

Sinclair fosters community with its Stackla-powered “Chime In” pages, direct upload forms and transactional emails

Cultivating community is something Sinclair strives for across all their news stations. And, as SBG’s Product Manager Jordan Alhadeff said, “We’re using UGC to help us get there.”

Across 73 of Sinclair’s local news stations, they feature “Chime In” pages, which showcase content from local viewers and encourage others to upload their own content in order to be featured on the webpage.

Here, site visitors can filter through the different types of UGC images they want to see via the ‘topic’ dropdown at the top of the gallery—letting them easily scroll through news and weather images or even local pets and sports content they want to engage with.

“What we wanted to reimagine with Chime In, was putting more of the UGC front-and-center for the users,” Alhadeff said. “Previously, this content was hidden behind albums, so our goal with Stackla was to get it more visible to people.”

As a journalism-first organization, the SBG local news teams review every image prior to publication—no easy feat given the number of submissions per day. This assures that no inappropriate content is posted.

“UGC not only improves the communication between our audience and our broadcasters, but it also lets us connect our audience members to each other so they can share the news of what’s going on around them.” – Jordan Alhadeff, Product Manager for Sinclair news stations

“Stackla’s out-of-the-box UGC widgets were a real value for us,” Alhadeff said. “Then for users to be able to select specific topics and dig into something deeper that they find interesting was extremely beneficial. Having this topic feature also helps us sell sponsorships, which has become a valuable source of revenue for Sinclair.”

SBG has generated certain Chime In topics that can be universal for its stations, like Valentine’s Day. In the future, a local station or the national sales team could sell Valentine’s Day sponsored ads that would pair well with the Valentine’s Day UGC their local communities were generating.

Sinclair Valentine's Day Chime In

Taking sponsorships a step further, Stackla even helps SBG’s stations feature sponsor ads within their interactive UGC galleries. Now, whenever website visitors click through the engaging viewer content on Chime In pages, SBG can serve relevant sponsor ads at predefined times (like after viewing three expanded pieces of UGC, for example.)

Making sure to drive action from site visitors at the point of inspiration, Stackla enables Sinclair’s local news stations to feature the ‘Submit Content’ prominently at the top of the gallery, seamlessly taking people to a direct upload form where they can easily submit their own content to be featured alongside others in their community.

Sinclair Chime In page upload

Since people can supply their name and email addresses when submitting content to their local Chime In page, Sinclair is able to automatically send emails to community members thanking them for contributing as well as notifications letting them know when their personal photos are live on their local news site or scheduled to be broadcasted on air.

They can also leverage the data being submitted to Stackla’s direct upload forms in order to include specific sponsor content in their ‘thank you’ emails. For example, if a pet food brand was sponsoring the pet section of that station’s Chime In page, all the ‘thank you’ emails to people who submitted pet photos would also feature relevant content from that pet food sponsor.

Michaelsen said, “When people talk to us about these galleries, the response is overwhelmingly positive because it’s so rich in media. Visitors aren’t just seeing a single image, but rather several categories with collections of images. People may come to a Chime In page to see UGC on a specific topic but then end up sticking around to look at others.”

Sinclair’s winning partnership with Stackla

Stackla has worked with the Sinclair team to come up with detailed roadmaps and timeframes so that all stakeholders involved understand what the next priorities are.

“It doesn’t appear that ‘no’ is part of the Stackla vernacular,” Alhadeff shared. “Stackla’s has been very accommodating and their team values what we’re trying to achieve with Chime In just as much as we do.”

SBG had seen significant UGC numbers since partnering with Stackla.

Sinclair’s future with UGC and Stackla

This is just the beginning of SBG’s partnership with Stackla. “There are so many engagement tools that Stackla brings to the table that we’re looking to unlock as this partnership continues,” Alhadeff said.

Leonardo said that “now, other parts of the business are working with Stackla on potential initiatives.”

One thing in particular the team is wanting to achieve is to have their Chime In feature fully integrated with their mobile news apps across the different news stations. For Alhadeff, “Doing so brings inherent engagement and facilitates more interaction between the people in each community.”

Michaelsen said, “From a news perspective, our goal is to turn the user-generated content platform into a breaking newsgathering platform. We really want to align with the stations’ news goals and use UGC to cover what’s happening now. This platform will give us the ability to do that.”

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