Monday, June 01, 2009

Land of the Lost

Pee Dee Nat'l Forest 2Rival newsrooms vowing to collaborate, rock steady anchor teams crumbling into dust, Conan O’Brien hosting the Tonight Show! Yes, it’s a frightening time for that glowing box in your living room, let alone the journalists that live inside it. For decades, news viewers could count on their local stations to do one thing exceedingly well: imitate each other. Chrome-plated news desks and promos at the ready, updates slathered in gadgets and delivered by ‘Talent‘, breathless reports laced in mood music, swaddled in Doppler and buzzing with candy-colored choppers. Now, however, all that amalgamation is in flux as tricked-out new tools and a dearth of advertising dollars are doing what those smarmy consultants tried so very hard to avoid… They’re making TV newscasts interesting again.

Notice I said interesting, not viable. Whether or not the rumbling plates underneath the Fourth Estate will thrust the property skyward or just swallow the damn thing whole is still unknown. One thing is for sure, though: it will never be like it was. No, the economy could correct itself overnight and the broadcast landscape would still buckle under the weight of new expectations. Sure, magic laptops and boned-up telephones play a part but all the gizmos in the universe fail in the face of human nature. Take my oldest daughter (Pease - she’s FIFTEEN!). I’ve yet to buy her one of those cell phones that comes with its very own flux capacitator, but that hasn’t stopped her from consuming news the way her better-equipped peers do. Al A Freakin’ Cart.

See, she’s been on-line since around age 3. When she wants to learn about the world she knows the libraries of the globe are just a Google or two away. If a snowstorm hits and the school day is in question, she triangulates texts, Facebook updates and a myriad of Twitters before I can ever stumble out of bed and find the remote control. Not once does she think to simply sit down and wait, to stare at a haughty rectangle in the corner of the room until someone handsome appears and speaks in glib riddles. Why would she - when with the twitch of two freakishly strong thumbs, she can truly spin the globe - without the assistance of any thumping news themes, spasmodic graphics or disembodied pitchmen. To do so would not just be old-school, it would reek of the antique.

So do the tectonic changes my chosen field are experiencing fill me with dread. Naaaah, not really. Not half as much as if we were still just aping our neighbor down the dial. THAT, is the road to extinction.

UPDATE: Friend of the blog and N&R Editor John Robinson weighs in with his own thoughts on the matter as does NewsLab Czar Deborah Potter.

1 comment:

Amanda Emily said...

The last station standing is going to be the one who has both a ND and GM with the backbone to force through the culture change that needs to happen - and not squash it out of fear.

Vee-jaying ain't the answer, nor is a shiny new set to capture the next generation of viewers when they finally settle down and have a stake in their communities. The kids are accepting of local news - if that station happens to be on their turf, and to "be real" as those millennials put it.

That means news directors and newsroom inhabitants need to actually, gasp, interact with the community online - whether its Twitter, FaceBook or whatever the geeks of the world dream up next. And that interaction needs to be with an actual human voice instead of teases show producers are so fond of dreaming up. No one really wants a tweet telling them to watch the 6pm show to find out exactly how dirty those lemons in local restaurants are, but on the other hand, they love actual useful news and a human on the other end who can answer their questions if they see something in the community.

I know, its difficult for your average reporter, anchor, assignment editor, producer - or any other newsie for that matter - to communicate with the community at large in a format they can't control. I've been there, spent six months arguing with a news director and web manager over the station's Twitter account among other community outreach ideas and my views were finally vindicated in the end when the station's web page views doubled and the station received many notes from the community about being actually helpful when that record breaking snowfall hit my market (for those in the newsroom, page views equals fodder for the sales department to sell to help keep those bi-weekly paychecks from bouncing).