With niche publications having a renaissance on social media, we talk to Eric Pickhartz of Wide Open Spaces, an outdoors-focused publisher that prides itself on being optimized for social.
Niche media outlets seem to be enjoying their spotlight on social media. These are the publishers posting stories with a dedicated focus, perfect for readers passionate about a specific topic.
With social algorithms designed to deliver users the exact content that they care about, it seems natural that specialized publications are flourishing on social. We talked to Eric Pickhartz, the managing editor of Wide Open Spaces, for his take on how niche publications are ruling the day.
The site, Wide Open Spaces, writes for sportsmen and women, providing content on hunting, fishing, shooting and outdoors. We spoke with Eric about what it’s like to manage a niche publication, how Wide Open Spaces built up a community of contributors, and what’s to come.
What’s a day in the life for you?
Eric: I work with a big team of freelance contributors who pitch ideas or get ideas suggested to them by us. We get those posts into our site, edited, posted out. We run the gauntlet but try to keep things outdoors focused.
You’re focusing on three specific interests — hunting, fishing, and shooting — is there overlap between them? How do you choose what content to post, and how often?
They meld together. Our most popular segment is the hunting, well, you need a gun to hunt. We don’t say we need to have “x” amount of hunting posts out this week, “x” amount of fishing posts. We work with the flow of the news, and what insights the tools like Spike give us.
(This video posted to Wide Open Spaces’ Facebook drove over 1,100 comments, 4,900 shares, and 4,100 likes and reactions)
You have a very focused audience, from a variety of specific localities. How do you use social signals to identify stories and reach your audience?
We set up alerts through Spike a long time ago, and haven’t had to tweak them that much. The alerts give me a strong idea of what we’re looking for. It matters to us where our audience is coming from – we want to deliver Texas news to a Texan, Minnesotan news to Minnesotan.
This outdoor world is pretty universal, even if they don’t do things the same way in one state, news is still going to be interesting to an outdoorsman. We don’t get too granular, but when things are newsworthy and when they show us they have potential, we post them out.
Spike took a step beyond Google Alerts for us, by using a lot of social data. We can see how something was doing on the internet as it was shared.
How do you feel about your followers and community? Do you interact with them, or source them for content?
There is community behind this. People are very passionate about gun rights, concerns around the law, hunting groups and those who think it’s wrong. There is always a discussion around hunters needing to back each other. We have a really large Facebook following on our page, and most of our traffic comes from Facebook on a day-to-day basis.
What are your challenges? Is it difficult to report on subjects like guns that are politically hot right now?
We make a conscious effort to stay as unbiased and like a genuine news outlet as we can. That doesn’t mean we’re not speaking to a certain demographic who’s passionate about their activity, but we never try to go too far one way or the other.
(For hunters, Wide Open Spaces’ Facebook Page offers a community of like-minded hobbyists)
With hunting and fishing and the outdoors kind of thing, there’s a huge issue with public lands usage, so it’s all definitely something we pay attention to and treat with care.
How important is it that your reporters build out audiences of their own?
Many of our writers have their own individual Facebook pages and do a fantastic job on their own of sharing them with groups and their audiences. It’s not a requirement we put on our writers — there’s a balance for the writers who are freelance, because they have day jobs and their own lives.
It’s something we feel is important and something we can’t do for them, so we definitely encourage it.
What have you mastered as a publisher and what are your goals for the future?
Wide Open Spaces wasn’t really a content-first site until I came along. So I built the bones of what you see day to day. We have a lot of people around us that we brought onto the team and know what we’re doing. We brought on board our social media manager, and she helped us surpass 300,000 likes on our Facebook page in a short time.
We’re putting a lot of time and thought into video. People like to watch video more than other type of stories. We’re trying to develop more video and we have a video team here. We’re seeing how our audience will engage with video and we’ll go from there.