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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Watkins

The State Newspaper

Updated: 6 days ago

From January 2021 to December 2022, I worked for McClatchy's southeast regional team as an Audience Growth Producer. I was based at The State Newspaper in Columbia, SC. During that period of time, my responsibilities included:

  • Working with newsroom editors to drive subscription and growth strategy

  • Using analytics to inform our coverage and social media strategy

  • Collaborating with reporters and editors to promote content across the region

  • Creating in-depth distribution strategies to promote high-impact projects, such as "Secrets of the Death Chamber"

  • Leading breaking news strategy with growth team colleagues to effectively share news stories with readers across the region

    • Working closely with reporters in Hilton Head to chase the ongoing Murdaugh murders story, which received national coverage

  • Managing and producing social media content for the southeast region (including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram)

  • Workshopping headlines and improving SEO with reporters for stories

  • Updating homepages across McClatchy's southeast region, based on trending data

  • Writing newsletters for outlets such as The State, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer

  • Experimenting with the latest innovative technology to enhance readers' experiences on our website and social platforms

  • Managing sponsored content across social media and newsletters

After working nearly a year as an audience growth producer for The State Newspaper in South Carolina, I transitioned into my role as the primary audience growth producer for all of McClatchy's South Carolina papers: The State, The Island Packet and The Sun News

In addition to carrying out my responsibilities as a growth producer, I also:

  • Led audience growth and engagement strategies for three different newsrooms in South Carolina

  • Became a member of The State's leadership board 

  • Took on more engagement responsibilities, such as managing live events and crafting large distribution plans for high-impact projects across the state of South Carolina 

  • Worked with reporters and editors across South Carolina newsrooms to plan breaking news strategies, drive page views and generate subscriptions 

  • Continued to collaborate with members of McClatchy's southeast regional growth team 

  • Became the primary manager of all social platforms for all of McClatchy's social media accounts

In 2021, The State Newspaper was awarded "Best Use of Social Media" from the South Carolina Press Association. I particularly focused on growing the paper's two newest platforms: Instagram and TikTok.

In 2021, I also received the "Best Team Player" Hampton-Gonzales award from The State Newspaper.

It was an exhilarating and intense time to be a journalist in South Carolina. Some of the stories I helped break included the infamous Murdaugh murders, the University of South Carolina's Women's Basketball 2022 NCAA Tournament win, the 2022 Masters, the state's first execution since 2011, a mass shooting at the Columbiana mall that made national headlines, the ongoing effects of covid-19 across the state and more.

Due to the fact that I worked on a regional team, I also assisted with a wide range of breaking news stories in neighboring areas, including the Rock Hill mass shooting of 2021, when ex-NFL player Phillip Adams shot and killed six people before killing himself. On the day of the shooting, I served as the lead audience engagement producer. Along with my coworker Kristen Kornbluth, we devised a breaking news strategy, coordinated with reporters on the scene and shared our breaking story with Apple News, where the story was picked up and shared nationally with its users.

I also served as the lead audience engagement producer for North Carolina papers during UNC's March Madness loss to KU in 2022, and assisted with leading breaking news strategy surrounding the retirement of Duke's longtime coach, Mike Krzyzewski, otherwise referred to as "Coach K."

During this time, I also became more passionate about working in long-form journalism.

One of my favorite projects included creating the distribution plan behind an interactive, investigative story titled, "Cut Off." This story was reported and written by Andrew Caplan and Gina Smith.

This project explored the alarming high rate of amputees among Black residents in the 29203 zip code in Columbia, South Carolina. Several factors in north Columbia’s 29203 make it one of the most medically dangerous communities in the Deep South. Here is an example of one of my favorite Twitter threads I created for the project. As part of the distribution plan, I put together copy and assets to be used for all South Carolina newspapers and their social media accounts, newsletters and websites. I also worked closely with the design team and reporters to execute the final interactive product.

Another one of my favorite long-form projects that I led the digital strategy for was the "Future Cities" project, which explored how seven main cities across South Carolina have the potential to shape the state's future identity. The investigation also explored some of the unique challenges the cities faced in order to become more sustainable for the Palmetto State in the long term.

During the course of this long-form project, I helped manage our reporters across the state of South Carolina, and worked with the lead editor of this project, Sarah Ellis, to devise a distribution strategy for all of McClatchy's South Carolina newsrooms. This project was a large undertaking, but through this experience, I further developed my leadership and project management skills; I worked with the lead editor to manage journalists working on the project across the state. Here's an example of a tweet I wrote to promote the project.

During my time at The State, I also helped organize and promote Facebook live events events, such as the "Housing for all Zoom" panel discussion. Some of my duties included promoting the event via social media, newsletters and push-alerts; organizing the run of show of the event, meeting with panelists to coordinate logistics and more.

Another initiative I helped spearhead in my region was McClatchy's new addition of interactive polls across all of our websites using a platform called BeOp. We used this feature to engage the local community on some of their favorite things about Columbia, from favorite restaurants to hidden gems. Our barbecue bracket was one of our most popular, and you can tell that our lead reporter for this project, Chris Trainor, had fun with it. Here's an example of a digital video we created and shared on social media.

I loved this project because we were able to connect with the community at a deeper level, showcase local businesses and, in turn, were able to dramatically grow our page views and website traffic as this series began to take off. Here's the final article.

We also had lots of fun with a Halloween decoration contest in Columbia, using BeOp polls to drive engagement. Halloween happens to be my favorite holiday, so I enjoyed connecting with the Columbia community over a shared love of the spooky season. View the final article I co-wrote here.

Lastly, the most impactful longterm project I worked on at The State Newspaper was a story from our investigation team titled "Secrets of the Death Chamber." Chiara Eisner, the lead reporter on the piece, interviewed the executioners of South Carolina. I also managed the distribution strategy behind this piece, and helped pitch this story to national outlets. This story was a finalist in the national 2021 Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Award competition.

Overall, I'm incredibly grateful for the hands-on experience that I gained at McClatchy. This was my first full-time position, and although some days were challenging, I grew immensely as a journalist. Local news will always hold a special place in my heart, and I'm fortunate to have worked with so many talented and hardworking journalists at The State Newspaper.


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