The Kansas City Star’s newsroom is getting a very different kind of news tip these days.
“Our tip line is filled with Travis and Taylor tips of late,” said Andale Gross, the Star’s managing editor.
The tips: where pop star Taylor Swift and Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce might be in the KC metro area, the next best angles for coverage, sightings of the famous couple and more.
In September, the newspaper chain Gannett announced it would hire reporters to cover Swift and Beyonce. (After continuous layoffs. Uproar and interest followed.)
But the Star, owned by newspaper chain McClatchy, got the beat by default when Swift showed up at a Chiefs’ game.
They’re not wasting the moment.
“We called it unofficially the Taylor and Travis beat,” Gross said. “I feel like what’s important there is it’s really about the local football guy who happens to have an uber-successful celebrity girlfriend right now. It’s something that really is resonating and connecting with our local audience.”
Nor are they making it a one-person beat.
“It’s pretty much the whole team,” Gross said, including sports, entertainment and business, depending on what’s happening.
“We treat it like other news stories,” he said. “It’s just that it happens to be about Taylor and Travis.”
The Star got a lot of practice in the last year for how to treat other news stories, particularly those that feel big culturally in the region, including the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win and the NFL draft.
Before Swift’s Eras tour came to town on July 7 and 8, Hannah Wise, the Star’s audience development editor, asked, “What if we covered Taylor Swift with the same fervor and intensity that we brought to a Chiefs’ Super Bowl? For people who love Taylor Swift or love Beyonce, The Eras Tour or the Renaissance World Tour, this is their Super Bowl,” she said. “This is an opportunity for us to connect with different, newer, likely younger audiences in ways that the Star hasn’t previously.”
With Swift, the Star focused on search optimization, on showing people across the country what was happening, on helping locals navigate it, and on taking people through the experience with visuals and social media. And it worked.
“We definitely saw a significant Taylor Swift bump to the audience numbers, similar to a Chiefs’ win,” Wise said.
That includes a significant rise in pageviews, local pageviews, subscriber readership, a higher than average number of lead-to-conversions and direct conversions (aka subscriptions) from May through July, when the Star published about 40 stories. The paper also published a Taylor’s version front page and offered it for free as a digital download, asking people to share their email for access. They expected hundreds would get it. They got thousands.
Gross joined the Star in late July, and he wanted to make sure that same energy went into covering Beyonce.
“It’s not lost on me that Beyonceeven though she’s a pop star, she’s a Black artist,” Gross said.
Covering her, her local connections, her impact, is another way to foster relationships and grow and serve local readers, he said.
“Ultimately the coverage for both of those artists was done in a big, big way, probably bigger than people are used to seeing national arts coverage by local news sources.”
Now, the Star is applying those skills to the Taylor and Travis moment. And they’re trying to do it as the Star and not, say, a BuzzFeed Midwest or Deuxmoi
Instead, everyone in the newsroom gets the chance to contribute. Everyone gets to have a little fun, which, c’mon, is rare in newsrooms. And the local paper gets to reflect what it’s like to be in Kansas City right now.
Here are a few tips on how to cover national news like this locally:
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