How to promote a TV investigation

One of the many challenges of a television investigation is figuring out how to make sure people see it. Josh Hinkle and the investigative unit at KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas, spent 10 months looking into killings of peace officers across the state. Using the state public information act, the station obtained court records and police reports on 79 deadly shootings to produce Fallen .

One key finding was that more than a quarter of all peace officers killed in a 17-year period died at the hands of someone with mental illness. The investigation culminated in a television series that aired on three successive nights, a long-form text version published by a partner news organization, the Texas Tribune, and a web package with graphics and six additional videos. Online, the three TV stories were loaded into a special player on day one so users could “binge watch” them all.

After investing a lot of time and effort in the project, Hinkle says it was critically important to plan the rollout. The station used on air promotions, social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter), and direct outreach to raise interest in the series.

KXAN promoted “Fallen” with Instagram stories

“We wrote personalized emails to dozens of key lawmakers, police agencies and mental health entities explaining the project and when they could see it,” Hinkle said. “We asked them to share the link and an art attachment we included. This was perhaps one of the biggest reasons the project was shared by so many – once it was posted on statewide Facebook pages for those groups, it took off.”

KXAN says that in the first day alone the project drew five times the number of views the market typically sees for a successful online video. Analytics also showed that far more users than average were clicking to additional pages to see more of the project, and the digital audience continued to grow over the course of a month. The investigative team shared the “story behind the story” to be completely transparent about its reporting.

The station linked back to the project as it covered stories that came out of the investigation, including the Texas legislature’s decision to require law enforcement cadets to get more training on how to handle people with mental illness.