PBS NewsHour expands online audience with website makeover

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Click for expanded view. (Image: PBS NewsHour)

Click for expanded view. (Image: PBS NewsHour)

A focus on audience engagement and social media has paid off for the PBS NewsHour website, which relaunched Feb. 1, 2014.

Page views have grown from 15.7 million in the first quarter of 2014 to 25.1 million in the fourth quarter, according to Nick Massella, director of audience engagement and communications. January 2015 marked the highest monthly traffic ever: 9.4 million page views from 4.1 million users.

“We’ve seen a number of stories each day driving significant traffic, but the month’s traffic numbers demonstrate continued growth since the relaunch of our site,” Massella told Current. “These gains don’t represent a few blockbuster pieces, but increased engagement from our audience.”

Topics including parenting, economics, culture and arts and politics “consistently do very well,” he said.

Over the past year, NewsHour has also put “significant resources” into bridging on-air and online content via social media, Massella said. The program has added several new staff members who are focused specifically on engagement. To pay for the digital expansion, NewsHour “increased general support and reallocated resources,” he said, declining to discuss if that included new underwriters or foundation backing.

“We’ve not only increased the amount of reporting we publish on our website, but we’re carrying that over to social platforms when it’s suited for that specific audience,” he said. In addition to its growing Facebook and Twitter presence, NewsHour is now pushing into other outlets such as Tumblr, Instagram and Medium.

The team has experimented with graphics and video designed for specific networks, Massella said. “We’ve seen such success with those that we are looking to hire a social video producer to target individual platforms.”

Making the new website mobile-friendly was “hugely important,” he added. “Such a significant amount of our traffic comes from mobile devices, and our online visitors expect an excellent experience regardless of how they make it to our site.”

He also credited the 2013 premiere of PBS NewsHour Weekend for bolstering audience growth. The show’s expansion into weekends “has enabled NewsHour to reach our audience seven days a week,” Massella said.

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