Random Reality Recaps – Contextual Essay

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When considering the success of any type of project, highlighting and reflecting on the concept, methodology, utility and overall trajectory is crucial. For this semester’s digital artefact, appraising the project’s success and limitations is also a significant aspect. Deciding to continue the digital artefact started for a previous subject was a simple decision. It became clear, especially towards the end of the previous semester, that the digital artefact, ‘Random Reality Recaps’, had a great potential, if changes were made. As a result of making these changes, and adjusting the problems which brought down the quality and the reach from last year, I felt that this digital artefact achieved the utility originally outlined, as well as the personal goals that were created at the start of the semester. While the concept and methodology remained similar, the tweaks made at the beginning, and throughout, allowed for the overall trajectory to be far more successful. The iterations were crucial, and as a result of learning from the audience, and understanding the feedback loops, ‘Random Reality Recaps’ truly succeeded any of my original expectations.

The concept for this digital artefact remained fairly simple. Beginning from last year, I wanted to begin creating recaps, focusing on reality television shows. When considering a recap, it can be asked, “what if, instead of simply telling viewers whether or not they should spend their time on a show before it even airs, a writer tracked a program’s ups and downs for the people who’d already made that commitment? (Herman, 2018)”. This is the philosophy that I took on board when creating my own recaps, when I started this project last year. I was creating these recaps for an audience who was already committed to a show, and as such, there would be a great appreciation, and a far greater chance that these recaps would resonate with the fans of the shows.

Last year, I decided to focus a variety of different Australian reality shows. While it was an interesting experience, covering different shows, some of which I had never seen before, there were different problems with this approach, with the most significant simply being a lack of audience for many. While each recap did get at least over 10 views, I found, for the most part, that I received very little feedback or comments, and this may have been due to choosing shows that didn’t have a built-up community, where this type of content would be both common, and appreciated. As such, when restarting this project, the first iteration made was changing the focus. The only recaps that I truly felt did well, in regards to engagement, and the ones that were the most enjoyable to write, were the recaps which focused on the franchise, ‘Survivor’, where there is already a large community, which has existed for over 10 years, discussing and debating aspects of the show on both Twitter and Reddit.

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Big difference in views when comparing the Survivor Recaps to any of the others

 

Being a fan of the show, and noticing the large number of views on the ‘Survivor’ recaps posted last semester made it an easier decision to focus solely on this franchise for ‘Random Reality Recaps’. Survivor recaps written by Dalton Ross, and Josh Wigler, and past contestant Stephen Fishbach, which are considered the most notable in the Survivor community, and are the recaps I read every week after an episode, have always been inspiration for my digital artefact. Rob Has A Podcast, and the range of analysis he brings through the podcast recaps of the episodes he does weekly, was another inspiration for this project. After making the change, the decision was also made to do two different types of recaps, one focusing on the older seasons, named ‘Flashback Recap’, and one focusing on the current airing seasons, which ultimately became power rankings. This was to cater to all audiences within the community, the ones who enjoyed discussing the past and the ‘what ifs’ of the older seasons, which is particularly popular on the subreddit pages, and the individuals engaged with the season which was currently airing.

In terms of methodology, the process was remained very similar to the methodology used last semester. However, as mentioned, instead of focusing on a variety of different reality television programs, I decided to instead just focus on the Survivor franchise. Nevertheless, in regards to the methodology, it would differ depending on the type of recap I was doing. If it was an older season, for the ‘Flashback Recap’, the episode would only need to be watched once, and would require notes throughout. However, if it was a current season, I would watch the episode live episode, but if needed, re-watch it either later that night, or in the coming days. The first time would be just for my own natural reactions, as well as grasping what the general audience was also thinking during the time. If needed, the second time involving taking any notes that may be necessary for the recap, in the chance that something crucial was missed. While the main aspect of the digital artefact involves the “FIST” principle, which means that the project should be fast, inexpensive, simple and tiny, and while watching the episode more than once may have slowed down the process, I felt it was necessary to produce quality content, based on two episodes a week, on a weekly basis.

These recaps, or power rankings, usually turned out to be between a 1500 to 2000 words, in a blog post format. Even though there are a variety of different formats that a recap could take place, as “It can mean traditional formal analysis of each episode, or of a whole season, or of a show over several seasons, it can mean weekly podcasts, or weekly GIF round-ups, or video supercuts (Holmes, 2015)”, the blog format worked well, and was the one in which I was most comfortable with. The word length though, wasn’t the original plan, but, over time, it became very apparent that the audience I was writing these recaps for enjoyed the analysis brought being provided, and was one of the most significant learning moments experienced. This is especially true when considering that “the bulk of our TV writing has as much to do with what TV means as what it does (Loofbourow, 2014)”, and as such, while reducing the word count would make the process faster, it would have potentially had a negative effect on the quality of the content. Learning from past experiences, especially from last semester, listening to any feedback was crucial, especially after having received a complete lack of audience support in my previous attempt. There is no doubting that “it’s always a good idea to get peer feedback on anything public-facing (Boatman, 2018)”, and when looking over feedback received on the weekly posts, the general agreement was that the word count was a non-factor, as long as the analysis was there.

In regards to the format of the recaps, these went from long pieces of texts, to a more rankings format. I chose to view a recap as “a service-oriented piece, though there might be some jokes and observations thrown in (Seitz, 2012)”, and as such, if necessary, I would also include links, as well as gifs and images, just to break up the text. That said, right from the very start, I wanted to keep the format similar for all recaps, whether that was the ‘Flashback Recaps’, or the ‘power rankings’, as a way to keep the audience familiar with the type of content being posted.  When considering the promotion of these recaps, by choosing a show that already had a large audience online, that still discuss, and debate episodes, Twitter and Reddit were convenient places to post these recaps, to both bring in viewers, and, as my main goal for the project was, create discussion. In addition to that, I knew going in that just by posting as many quality recaps as possible, I would begin to bring in traffic, as “research has shown that publishing more content will always lead to an increase in traffic for you (Evans, 2017)”. This idea of keeping the format very similar, to allow an audience to become familiar with my content was successful, as I began to receive comments from different individuals, noting how they enjoyed the style, and were looking forward to the next week.

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The change from long bulky texts (left), to the rankings format I use currently (right)

 While the concept and methodology of this digital artefact had tweaks when beginning again at the start of semester, and slight changes as time progressed, the utility has also remained the same, from the time this project began last year. The social utility for my digital artefact was to provide an audience with an engaging, well written recap, that would also offer a place of discussion. Whether that was through the recaps themselves, or on Twitter or Reddit when posting them there, the main goal, and the main want for these recaps was to create a piece of content that would start, or encourage discussion on the episode that was being covered. The changes made, especially the decision to solely cover one particular type of show, and thus, building up an audience, allowed for this utility to be met.

Building up an audience was a crucial part of the utility of ‘Random Reality Recaps’, and it was a personal goal from the beginning. Last semester, the views varied and changed, however, with a change of focus, it wasn’t long before I felt an actual audience was being built up for my recaps focusing on the current season of Australian Survivor. Not only did I consistently get over 200+ views for each of the recaps, or power rankings, which focused on this current season, there were two of the rankings that reached over 400 views. Not only that though, the main utility of this digital artefact was to create a place of discussion, and through posting these power rankings online, through Reddit and Twitter, this was achieved consistently. While the first post only got 1 comment when posted on Reddit, it gradually increased, to the point where there was a 12-comment thread on one of the recaps posted through the season. This also included receiving messages from different people, posting their gratitude for the posts, and hoping that they continue. It was feedback like this that cemented the idea that the change made was for the better, and I was able to continue to create content that not only I enjoyed creating, but also content that seemed to both resonate with the audience I was building, and have a place in the community. While I had hoped to get in touch with the people behind ‘Australian Survivor’ after emailing them, in a hope to work together either this season, or in the future, this unfortunately did not lead anywhere, this has not stopped myself from being, more so than ever, incredibly confident with the type of content I am now creating.

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All recaps focusing on Survivor consistently did well (both from this semester, and last semester)

While the recaps, in the form of power rankings can be viewed as nothing but a success, the recaps focusing on the older seasons, which I named ‘Flashback Recaps’, were not entirely successful, in terms of both views and engagement. While a fun experience, going back and watching old seasons, the concept just did not work. Perhaps with more time spent on it, I could have started gaining an audience for this type of content, but, after two attempts, and only between 30-40 views on each, I decided that it simply wasn’t content that my particular audience wanted to read, or had a desire for. While there are discussions on old season still occurring to this day, which is why I chose to have this as part of my digital artefact, I quickly realised, from learning through the feedback loops, or lack of feedback, that this was not a concept to move forward with. Feedback loops, which “provide people with information about their actions in real time, then give them a chance to change those actions (Goetz, 2011)” were utilised effectively, and quickly, to focus on the content which were consistently getting views and comments.

Ultimately, this process has been incredibly enjoyable, and also, in my mind, highly successful. More than that, it is a project, that, unlike last time, where I lost motivation after the semester, this year, I can see myself wanting to continue on. Looking back now, there is very little I would change, especially with the consistent views and comments I received throughout the project, it has become clear that the concept and methodology utilised has resulted in a digital artefact with a strong social utility, full of successes. Even with the minor issues presenting themselves early in the project, when choosing to, at the time being, to focus simply on the current seasons instead of the ‘Flashback Recaps’, ‘Random Reality Recaps’ has become a project that can only improve from this point on.

 

References

Boatman, A. (2018). 5 Tips You Can Use Right Now to Improve the Feedback Loop | Blog | TechSmith. [online] TechSmith Blog. Available at: https://www.techsmith.com/blog/feedback-loop/ [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].

Evans, K. (2017). How To Promote Your Blog: 101 (Free) Ways To Boost Traffic. [online] How To Start A Blog. Available at: https://startbloggingonline.com/how-to-promote-your-blog-and-get-visitors/ [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].

Goetz, T. (2011). Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops. [online] WIRED. Available at: https://www.wired.com/2011/06/ff_feedbackloop/ [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].

Herman, A. (2018). Previously On: How Recaps Changed the Way We Watch Television. [online] The Ringer. Available at: https://www.theringer.com/tv/2018/7/31/17633128/television-recaps-history-alan-sepinwall-jeff-jensen-twop [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].

Holmes, L. (2015). Television 2015: Some Writing About Writing About TV. [online] NPR.org. Available at: http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2015/08/28/435516145/television-2015-some-writing-about-writing-about-tv [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].

Loofbourow, L. (2014). How recaps changed the way we think about TV – and our lives. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2014/nov/04/how-recaps-changed-the-way-we-think-about-tv [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].

Seitz, M. (2012). The Sum and the Parts: In Defense of TV Recaps. [online] Vulture. Available at: http://www.vulture.com/2012/04/matt-zoller-seitz-in-defense-of-tv-recaps.html [Accessed 26 Oct. 2018].

 

Hyperlinks

https://ew.com/recap/survivor-season-37-episode-5/

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/survivor-david-goliath-tribe-evacuation-episode-5-recap-jackets-eggs-1154562

https://people.com/tv/survivor-jackets-eggs-drive-survival-centric-episode/

http://robhasawebsite.com/shows/survivor/

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