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Bold Idea for Local News: Put Something on the Menu for Smart People

Chris Anderson, TED Curator

Maybe you've heard that across the country, in a desperate search for any signs of eyeballs that might watch local news, stations are moving the start of their early morning newscasts to the are you sure that's not still considered night time of 4:30 a.m. This is all about doing whatever it takes to grow audiences, wherever and whenever they may be.

Let me give stations another idea, though admittedly a bold one--and one that you don't have to go into work at 11 p.m. to get ready for--why not target some smart people?

Let's be honest. The standard format of most local newscasts is not exactly designed with the smart person in mind. And I'm not even suggesting you toy with the tried-and-true (though hardly unstoppable) approach that has made stations so much money over the years. After all, there's still an audience out there worth serving up to advertisers, who are still paying. The problem is the audience is aging and shrinking. (Is that redundant?)

So here's my idea: use the web (I know--don't freak yet. Just hear me out) and throw a few morsels on there for the too-smart-for-TV crowd. See, you were never going to get these folks with Doppler 7 Million anyway, and they can't be tricked into watching your late news no matter what kind of tie-in you have to Dancing With the Stars. But you might get them another way.

What if you took the underutilized talent you already have in your reporting and producing staffs, and let them really demonstrate why established newsrooms have an obvious edge over carpetbagging corporate hyperlocals? You actually know stuff and know people. Smart, important people.

So let your reporters have at it. Sit down somebody in your community who's smart, who knows what's what, who has a vision for the redevelopment of the waterfront, or even just has a ten-minute take on what it truly means to be an active part of your city. Like a TED talk that's as local as it gets. And the only place smart people who want to hear this kind of content can find it will be on your website.

I'm guessing you may have watched a TED talk or two online. They're good, they're smart, and they're not available on TV. And they're booming. As Steve Rosenbaum points out, "for those of us who grew up on TV that was 'bad for us' — the idea that Web video could actually make us smarter seems a bit hard to accept. Yet, the massive video viewing of TED talks alone suggests that someone other than geeks and PhD's are using their free time to engage in, explore, and share ideas."

Just imagine if the biggest brands in local news, the WPLGs and the KSDKs and the WSBs decided to own this niche. To use their resources--their people and their technology--to know who to put in front of a camera and what to talk to them about. Your McHyperlocal's not going to have a clue, because the "editor" just got into town and just graduated from college. Also...he or she's working 80 hour days running down every fire and cat-snatching. (Because that's what people care about, right?)

People who watch TED talks share them virally around the web. And why wouldn't that work for a WSB-branded talk that brought a simple, smart idea of unique interest to Atlantans to a large audience? It'd be posted on Facebook pages, sent around in emails and create a connection between WSB and THINKING (as well as COMMUNITY). And those are the kinds of connections that will be critical for survival as the broadcast audience fades, and web video rises.

Oh, and did I mention local advertisers might want to attach THEIR names to these videos?

And beyond the market value, brand-building opportunity and all, there this: it could bring about a kind of intelligent conversation that could lead to making your community a better place. Here's a great TED talk from Chris Anderson:

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  1. As a guy who has worked for both large media companies and a pure play .com looking to operate in “local”, I can say that I think you’ve nailed this one down. I’ve never understood the concept of puking out the same product online that I can get through “traditional” means. Once newspaper/TV/Radio picks up on this, the little guy has no chance. They have the means to create, promote, build an audience, and run away with the money before a group of bloggers with no business background can have a conversation. Those who can create content hold the cards, but those who can promote and sell play them.

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