KSAT lifestyle reporter David Elder doesn’t have any formal broadcast training — in fact he graduated with a degree in marketing — but that hasn’t stopped him from creating one of the most popular foodie segments in the San Antonio market, “Elder Eats”. In the first two weeks of May alone, the “Elder Eats” segments and promo teases averaged 635K views on Facebook.
What makes Elder’s story of success even more incredible is that he handles every aspect of the show himself. Even as the “Elder Eats” brand has grown, Elder continues to write, shoot, produce and edit each segment. When he first started, the station even gave him a Sony XDCAM to shoot on, but he prefers his smartphone.
“I’ve gotten a rig before where I could set up my mic and have a light, but I just feel like it feels bulky,” Elder said. “When you’re in a kitchen, and there’s some kitchens and food trucks where you have like 50 square feet, it’s nothing. It’s a tiny little space, and you have to get around and be mobile.” In fact there are multiple times that he’s almost dropped his phone in a food frier trying to get around, he said.
In 2018, Elder shot every single “Elder Eats” episode on his phone.
Elder has an iPhone XR, which he says shoots high quality video with great natural sound. He does use an adapter when capturing interview audio to help with the sound quality, but it’s captured on his phone as well. When he’s just posting “snackables” for social media, he’ll even edit them in iMovie and put them out before he gets back to the station.
When Elder first began producing these foodie segments, people in the newsroom asked him what he shot on. They thought for sure he was using a DSLR to get that quality, and were all shocked when he told them it was shot on his iPhone.
“Everybody wanted to know what kind of camera is that? And I was like, ‘I used my phone,’” he said. “And everybody was like, ‘What?’”
The quality is good enough to go on TV, but for Elder his first thought has always been social media. His goal is to produce content that is visually appealing with subjects that are evergreen. “I shoot them that way intentionally,” Elder said. “I don’t focus on a current special. I don’t focus on an event. I shoot them so that a year from now I can share it out again and it’s still relevant.”
Elder’s focus on social media, combined with his lack of formal training, have produced videos that don’t fit a typical local TV mold. “I came in here and I was just kind of like, ‘Well I’m going to do this, this and this.’ And they [station executives] were like, ‘Well, we’ve never seen that before.’ And I was like, ‘Well check it out.’ Then other people [the audience] responded really well to it,” Elder said.
He gets his inspiration from watching food documentaries on Netflix like “Street Food” as well as popular YouTube videos. “I’m hooked on YouTube,” he said. “I like watching videos that are popular. And I watch in two ways, I watch it in the ‘I’m a general person that wants to be entertained.’ And then I also watch it from ‘How can I do this?’”
Elder worked in the restaurant industry since he was in high school, so food was always his passion. When he first began on air he was doing a lot of “feel-good” stories, but “they never felt right,” he said. “They never felt like that was really something I felt passionate about.” So he began gravitating towards food stories, and his passion for the subject fueled its growth.
“All of this is my own will to create this monster,” Elder joked. “If I just decided to stop giving it 1,000%, this wouldn’t happen.”
While the segment has existed in some form on both broadcast and social media since 2016, it really took off on social media. His early videos got a few thousand views each, but once he decided that food was going to be his focus he started getting hundreds of thousands, even millions, of views for each one.
This past February, “Elder Eats” became a dedicated 30-minute segment on SA Live, KSAT’s live daily variety and feature show, every Thursday afternoon. Elder was originally hired by KSAT to be a graphic designer, so he used his graphic design skills to create the logo and the brand.
Just a few months in, and the show has been averaging the highest ratings for a lifestyle show in the market, he said. At this point, Elder said he has visited over 200 restaurants in and around San Antonio. Having a longer show now gives him the flexibility to cover each restaurant differently, with the time the story deserves. Sometimes he’ll have shorter segments covering four restaurants in an episode, while other times he’ll spend the whole show covering a single topic or place — for example, one episode was all about a food festival taking place at SeaWorld.
His success has led to a lot of copycats in the market — outlets looking to tap into the consumer base he has found — and that has forced Elder to continue to innovate. His dream is for “Elder Eats” to evolve into an hour-long segment where he can educate, inform and entertain an audience all about food. Now that the show has earned an audience on broadcast and social media, KSAT is exploring monetization opportunities including sponsorships to make Elder’s dream a reality.
David Elder’s success with “Elder Eats” is an example to all newsrooms that ‘phoning it in’ can be an innovative way to create compelling, original local content.
If you have any examples of reporters using new, different tools in their storytelling let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.