This is usually the time of year I spend my day seeing new technologies at the National Association of Broadcasters’ convention and attending conferences held by the RTNDA (Radio-Television News Directors’ Association) – and nights losing at the craps tables!

But these are different times and I, like many of my fellow News Directors, are watching RTNDA@NAB through live webcams, Twitter updates (look for hashtag #RTNDA) and CoverItLive weblogs.  And it looks like the convention started rocking with the first big session on the future of our industry.  (Read the whole CoverItLive transcript here.)

It looks like the conversation had two sides, both of whom I think made very valid points.  On the one side were news and industry leaders like Lane Michaelsen – who runs WUSA’s Information Center – and Raycom’s Susana Schuler.  On the other, well-known consultant and author Terry Heaton, who works for Audience Research and Development.  Michaelsen and Schuler argued journalists need to have multiple skill sets and that we need to provide the audience quality content.  Heaton argued back that quality is a red herring and we, as journalists, need to focus our dayside energy on the web and mobile screens.

I think you can, should and need to do ALL of that.  But I think we need to look at the word quality.  Quality to a journalist is an EMMY or Murrow-award winning story with fantastic visuals, great writing and compelling characters.  But quality to one of our customers might be the fact we did a fair job of covering a story critical to her and her family’s life with video shot from a cell phone camera.  Which one’s right/wrong?  I say both are right.

As for Terry’s points, forward-thinking newsrooms are already working to post content on their web and mobile sites during web prime time (which is during the day).  I agree most newsrooms – including my own – could improve that process to make it work more quickly and get more content out earlier in the day.  The trick is balancing that and keeping your current cash cow – TV news – strong enough to support the growing digital platforms.

People always ask me where I think our business will be 5 years from now.  First of all, I still think TV will be in business at the local level.  My newsroom of 2014 – and hopefully much sooner – will be a content-producing and aggregating machine that:

  1. Produces local content with the size of the field crew dictated by the story’s needs: 1, 2, 3 or more.
  2. Works with local freelancers, paying for multi-platform content by the article (this would work, obviously, in a city with a lot of freelancers!)
  3. Partners with any other local content-gathering group in town to at least share links, if not content.
  4. Uses the community to crowdsource and cover those hyper-local stories happening in their neighborhood, church, etc. (like the Neighborhood News Bureaus)

Time to see what else is happening in Vegas tonight – virtually, that is!

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