BusinessWeek has a big special report on how network television needs to reinvent itself.  There are a series of articles which are worth a read.

I have written quite a few blog entries about the idea that local television needs to reinvent itself.  I think many stations and groups have made a lot of progress – engaging social networkers, getting everyone involved in shooting video, feeding more and more screens with content.  And people are noticing and consuming more of that content every month.

It Starts With This

It Starts With This

But I don’t think we have gone anywhere near as far as we can, should or need to.  I have a few random thoughts and could use yours.  For example,

  1. We aggregate local headlines on our site from other media; Google News is king at this.  Do we adopt the same idea for television – running each other’s actual stories?  How would that work?
  2. TV and newspaper newsrooms worked on building partnerships for years, which would include joint reporting.  Could two local TV stations ever jointly break a story?  It might happen if we all finally realize we’re not each other’s main competitors.  Those, to me, are the web, our cell phones and ever-busier lifestyles.
  3. Could a TV brand survive if the station didn’t actually produce the news?  What I mean is this: a station, WXXX, goes out of the news business in terms of producing newscasts.  But a few reporters are kept and produce stories that are sold and run by competitor WYYY with WXXX’s name still on them.

OK, I admit those ideas may not fly in spring 2009.  But how many of us in 2007 thought FOX and NBC stations in major markets like Philadelphia would be sharing video daily?

What ideas do you have?

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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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Lots of discussion going on these days about the idea of aggregation news content.  Most of the heat is being directed at the Associated Press and, to a lesser degree, Google.

I was reading Jeff Jarvis blog on the topic tonight.  I agree with his main points.  Let me share just one:

but the latest story in a topical cluster is often the 87th rewrite of the news and it’s usually from the Associated Press, which cuts off links and credit to the original journalism

It is interesting that I can get better AP content for me as a customer with my iPhone App that we can in our local Information Center, despite the fact we pay thousands for that!

I want to discuss the greater issue of aggregation.  I think aggregating quality content is something any local media organization should already be doing (WZZM has been for months).  For years, we let Google and Yahoo! News aggregate all our content, repackage it, sell ads around it and build a sizeable reputation and audience.   It just came to me a few months back – why don’t we do this?

I agree with Terry Heaton, who has dicusssed the concept of ‘Walled Gardens’ for at least a year, probably more.  The concept is this: we can’t expect to create great content and simply expect everyone to come to only our site to experience it.  The web is not built that way.

There are lots of companies working to build better SEO strategies.  I don’t know of anyone building better web walls!

Do you agree with me?  Or, do you think we need to keep everything on the home site to maximize ad revenue?  Let’s discuss.

    I recommend you read this study if you want to know anything about teen behavior online – or spend a few hours in the evening at my house with my teenagers!

    Here was the part that really stuck out to me, as someone in the business of creating and marketing local information:

  1. 94% visit Google or Yahoo! weekly
  2. About half visit cnn.com or msnbc.com
  3. Just 27% visit a local TV site

    Local newspaper sites don’t rank that higher, either.  Where am I going with this?

     I think part of the Neighborhood News Bureau plan needs to focus on what I would call a viral marketing strategy.   Here are a few of my specific ideas:

  1. The crowd we have attracted to our Facebook page is my age, not my teenage daughters’ ages!  We need to produce some content they find interesting (the study showed teens are ‘interestable’.)
  2. We should find a couple teens who know Facebook and ask them how to target those influencers the teens use for content.
  3. Several TV stations in town are affiliates of CNN.  Its site often pulls interesting local content onto either its main site or here on the national page.  I pulled tonight’s Midwest list:

CNN Logo

 Midwest

   Imagine one of the NNB stories on this page.  The traffic – and exposure – would be huge.  That’s one of the benefits working with the commercial TV stations can bring.

Notice anything different about this page:

Look Closely on the Right

Look Closely on the Right

Since you probably can’t see the picture – I’ll work on a better pic – check the link.  You can now see most of West Michigan’s top news sites on our local news page.  On the top right is WOOD, followed by several MLive sites.  If you click on one of the active headlines, it opens their site and article in either a new window or tab, depending on your browser.

We have also done the same thing with our partners and MLive along the Lakeshore (click here)

Check them out and let me know what you think.