How CNN and Wired Leverage Timing, Location and Serendipity to Push Content

An eccentric tech entrepreneur turned fugitive, an abrupt change in the papacy, a Japanese tsunami – the fact that each of these stories dominated the news for days and drove a whole lot of traffic confirms that content still reigns supreme. But since every big-news scenario is different, figuring out the optimal timing, location and platforms for presenting it to the public remains an ongoing challenge for media brands.

At MPA‘s recent Swipe 2.0 conference in New York, media presenters including CNN and Wired, discussed tablets and other new digital platforms to help get the message out. CNN’s reps explained their system for categorizing video content, while Wired offered a gripping account of how their reporting on tech security pioneer John McAfee factored into the unfolding odyssey.


The range of news stories CNN covers is all over the map — from fleeting visuals to in-depth reporting on big events that unfold over days or weeks. Marisa Gallagher, CNN Digital’s design VP, noted viewers’ tendency to follow the standard pattern: use laptops to consume content during the day, TV and tablets at night and mobile alerts when on the go. CNN created a three-tier video content roadmap based on these habits:

Marvels: these 10 to 60 second ‘snackable’ video clips are often shown repeatedly during the day. They’re experiential, perishable events that are so compelling viewers have to see for themselves. Cases in point include the white smoke from the Vatican chimney signaling the new Pope’s selection, and Japanese tsunami images.

Franchises: these 2 to 5 minute videos contain the sort of evergreen “lifestyle” content often featured as regular segments on CNN’s evening TV series. Examples include AC 360s “Ridiculist” or “Keeping Them Honest” segments that resonate with the audience.

(Side note: CNN is counting on another media personality, Anthony Bourdain, to produce more franchise moments and reinforce this model. His Parts Unknown series will premiere in mid-April. Gallagher said episodes will incorporate stories, interactive maps and immersive behind-the-scenes footage.)

Statements: these videos, lasting 6 minutes or more, are comprised of long-form multimedia stories. For instance, Gallagher said CNN may turn the Supreme Court debate about same-sex marriage into an impact or “statement” piece after the Justices vote on the issue.

Moving forward, Gallagher foresees increased use of social video events allowing hosts to respond to live tweets during broadcasts as well as separate pop-up channels to serve viewers’ passions on specific topics. Whatever the length, it’s all about multimedia storytelling across platforms.


‘Serendipity’ is now a popular media buzzword, but it aptly describes what Wired writer Joshua Davis experienced while reporting on John McAfee. Mark McClusky,’s editor, told Swipe attendees the riveting behind-the-scenes tale of how Davis had been working on assignment in Belize on an exclusive profile about McAfee before his story blew up.

Davis had been in touch with his subject several times in person and by phone for six months. In November McAfee was accused of killing his neighbor in Belize, but the unfinished story wasn’t scheduled to appear until Wired’s January’s issue. McClusky jokingly showed a photo of McAfee with a gun to his head, likening that image to the time pressure faced by Wired’s editors.

The staff pulled three all-nighters to finish editing the story, then turned the tale into a Kindle eBook single. After the e-book version shipped, Wired continued reporting on McAfee’s misadventures. McClusky closed by saying McAfee is “on the loose” in the U.S., so everyone should be wary.

Who knows? Maybe Anthony Bourdain will run into McAfee during his far-flung travels and they’ll share cocktails or an exotic dinner (the ultimate snackable moment). After all, the new series is called Parts Unknown.