LocalNewser standupkid's dispatches from the frontlines of local news


For Local News to Survive, It’s Going to Have to Start Thinking Like the Porn Biz

Yeah, seriously.

And no, it's not my idea (though I really wish I had thought of it first). It's the brilliant observation of Nick Bilton, who edits the Bits tech column for The New York Times, and has just written a book called I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted.

In a video conversation about the book with Daily Finance, Bilton makes a great observation that local news directors ought to seriously think about: porn's always ahead of the tech curve, and they know an awful lot about giving their consumers exactly what they want in exactly the ways they want it. Can you imagine if the porn industry was still asking its audience to go to theaters? Or even to keep buying VHS tapes?


Does Anybody Investing in Hyperlocal Actually Give a Damn About Local?

The New York Times announced this week its next effort in the much-hyped but so far unrealized potential world of hyperlocal:  The Local East Village, set to debut next week.  It's an interesting choice of neighborhoods--the funky but fast going generic streets from Alphabet City to Union Square, filled with some of the best dive bars and funky restaurants anywhere on Earth.  It's the kind of place that should make for rich, rich content for true hyperlocal coverage.

And that got me thinking about the hyperlocals rapidly spreading like weeds in places like Connecticut, New Jersey and Long Island--the money-fueled machines replicating themselves in town after town like viruses, and with all the personality of smallpox.


Apple’s Message to Local News: If Your Viewers are Running Away, Why Not Follow Them?

When you watch an Apple “event”—that’s what they call them, you know—as I did today, you get the brain-stretching feeling that you are getting a glimpse of the new way you’ll be doing something.  The new way that, before long, will feel very, very normal.

Remember the debut of the iPod. Launched in 2001—doesn’t it feel like they’ve been in your life a lot longer than that?—the iPod quickly dominated the brand new category of digital music players. Now you’ve got one, I’ve got one (three, I think) and looking back, Apple reinvented everything.

But think of what the executives in the music industry must’ve been thinking back in 2001. “Huh? Apple’s doing what? Music? Yeah, right. We do music. No worries.”


5 Reasons Why Reporters Hated Your News Release

So you spent all that time crafting the perfect news release and—full of confidence and high hopes of massive news coverage and a satisfied client—you sent out your releases.

And zippo.  Something went wrong.  Systems failed.  The news trolls (like me) somehow missed the chance to make you happy.

But why? Why would a reporter read a solidly written news release with a beefy story to back it up and not jump at the chance to do a story--a minute and a half on the local news or a few inches of copy in the local paper?

Here are five common reasons why:


What Local News Could Learn About Business from the Airlines

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that local news was, you know, a business.  We all know it’s not, of course—how silly! It’s a tradition and a calling and a public trust and all kinds of other stuff we tell ourselves in the newsroom while people elsewhere in the building go about making piles of money—or, lately, trying to.

As journalists, we obsess over the competition not for its innovations or business models, but for its stories.  If this were a business just like any other, that’d be a lot like an airline focusing a ton of energy on which in-flight movie the other guys got—and who got Avatar first.  Crap! They’re killing us on the trans-Atlantic eastbound movies.  Who the hell decided to buy Transformers 2?

Nobody ever bought a seat on a plane for the movie.  Ever.

And, increasingly, while journalism is of course critical to a free society, journalists who only think about the news, but not the business, may be dooming themselves to being the creators of fantastic content on doomed airlines.


Could Somebody Give My TV a Reason to Live?

There was a brilliant ad campaign a while back for Virgin Radio, with a series of shots of a radio in classic "I'm going to jump" scenes, including a sad little radio at the edge of the subway platform, clearly on the verge of doing itself in.  The tagline was "Give Your Radio a Reason to Live."

You could say the same for my TV. Imagine living your life plugged into a cable box. You'd be suicidal also.

Sometimes I sit watching television and am forced to realize I'm still watching cable. And I can't begin to tell you how tired I am of that. Forget the tired but true (they will never change) tales of the World's Worst Customer Service Experience. I'm talking here about the simple user experience. And when I can watch a movie instantly via the Netflix app on my iPad, it galls me that I'm still stuck watching news and sports and the shows I'd rather watch on a big HD set--on cable.

The cable that raves about its ridiculously lousy DVR that begins whining about capacity when there are ten hours of programming on it and has a user interface that upon turning on the set greets me with a screen that says "press any button to watch television." Didn't I do that already? I turned it on. Yes, I want to watch television. That's what I'm here for, and don't bother me with your channels of music. I don't care about that, don't want that, resent you for charging me for it.

Ryan Lawler writes on GigaOM that cable's days are numbered--at last--and not for the customer service indifference and offensively outdated DVR technology. Lawler says it's a simple matter of a generational shift: "The $100 cable bill is dead. The cable industry just doesn’t know it yet. What killed it was not just a combination of ad-supported online video sites and cheap subscription video services, but a fundamental inability on the part of TV programmers and cable companies to reach the next generation of consumers."

Lawler writes that cable's big idea is "TV Everywhere," or basically bringing the joys of the cable experience to your laptop.  For crap's sake.  The last thing on Earth I want is any of the 1980s-style experience of cable television to somehow worm its way into something in my life that works better than I could've hoped--the web, my laptop and my other devices.

What I'd like, though, is to get my web experience to connect seamlessly with that big HD set in my living room.  As Lawler says, "so-called TV Everywhere services miss the point: the existing audience paying $100 a month for TV doesn’t care about watching True Blood on a laptop. And the people watching True Blood on a laptop aren’t going to shell out $100 for a cable subscription."  And he's right.  I watch shows online, but prefer to watch them on the big screen.  I don't, however, want to pay cable for that anymore.

So Steve Jobs, really, get a team on that Apple TV and connect the TV I already get online (Hulu, Daily Show clips posted to Facebook) to the stuff I'm still paying cable for: live news, live sports, HBO and Survivor. I don't want satellite. I want you to effortlessly bring the ease of finding content online and bring my TV into the 21st Century.

But it wouldn't just be cable that collapsed in the aftermath. I'm talking to you, local stations. Have you got a way to bring your newscast onto my computer? Because I've seen your website, and I'm really not impressed. So get thinking. If my prayers are answered, time's running out.

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“I” Reporters vs. “It” Reporters

A passing quote in a story today by St. Pete Times TV writer Eric Deggans caught my eye:  in writing about Sunday’s NBC documentary on New Orleans five years after Katrina, Deggans quotes anchor Brian Williams as saying, “I’m going to make you sad, and I’m going to make you angry.”

The quote caught in my ear, and at first, I couldn’t figure out what I didn’t like about it.  And then it hit me:  “I.”

Throughout my reporting career, I’ve noticed there are “I” reporters and “it” reporters.  The “it” reporters tend to talk mostly about the story, and the “I” reporters talk a lot about themselves and how they covered the story.  In local news, this is easy to spot, and if you don’t care much for the “I” approach, it can be tiresome.

I’m not accusing Williams, whom I like and respect, of being an “I” reporter, but his quote got me thinking about the phenomenon in general.

I just hate “I” reporting.  Hate it.

When I commented on the Williams quote on Eric Deggans’ Facebook page, a commenter quickly accused me of nit-picking, saying Brian Williams is a journalist who, the guy said, did the “lion’s share” of the reporting and who had every right to say “I” when talking about it his documentary.

Sure.  Go right ahead.  I’m not saying you (or he) can’t.

What I am saying is that in any story—especially an emotion-laden story like Hurricane Katrina—it’s not the reporter who makes a viewer angry or sad, it’s the story.  Injustice makes me angry.  The reporter who tells me a story of injustice does not make me angry.  Good reporting takes you directly past the anchor and the reporter and the camera and the lights and the whole ton of equipment and work that is involved in broadcast journalism, and drops me right into the lap of what's happening--and often, it's something lousy, infuriating, miserable.  A great reporter brings me there and lets me make up my own mind and feel my own emotional reaction to what I'm seeing.

A different kind of reporter keeps running interference, never letting me forget about all the driving that was done to get to that location, and the phone calls that were made, and the reluctance of some others to talk, and when I finally get to the subject of the story, these reporters will inevitably tell me which emotion would be best for me to feel.  (These are the same reporters who do standups inside people's living rooms with the people sitting on the couch behind them, as if they were nothing more than background, or props for what's really important--the reporter)

But no, "I" reporters, you won't be making me angry or sad.

Unless, of course, you somehow make a story of injustice become a story about yourself and how great it is that you personally brought this story into my home.

In that case, yes, you, the reporter, will make me angry.

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Warning Labels for Local News

From the "Wish I'd Thought of It First" file comes a brilliant bit of blogging from The Awesomer: journalism warning labels. The labels, perfectly composed but sadly only for print, cover most of the routine daily crimes of reporting, from news release cut and paste jobs to reporters who just haven't a clue what the hell they're talking about. You know the drill.

But the idea got me thinking about local television and the switcher-load of chyron warnings that a station might be saddled with, if ever such warnings came to TV. I'm thinking of TV13-type oversized bugs that would have to be used during packages, liveshots and studio appearances. There'd of course have to be a way that the lobbyists for Big Anchor would exempt anchors from being constantly stuck on screen with the ugly "Had 3 Drinks at Dinner" bug and the "Stopped Caring Six Years Ago" one.

But for the reporters: "Missed the Point of Story Entirely" might be a good one, as would "Didn't Get Key Interview, Flip Now to 7 for the Whole Story" and "Copied Story Almost Entirely from this Morning's Paper."

Perhaps a nice iPhone icon for the "Reporter--as You May Have Guessed--is Phoning it In Today" warning bug.

What else? Post your best shots here, and any graphics person who can compose the on-screen look gets a MAJOR PRIZE.  (Please don't ask about the prize, as I'm totally bluffing--I just love graphics and hope somebody will cook some cool ones up)

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Squawk Box

Yesterday, I believe, was NOT take your daughter to work day. But as luck would have it, my thirteen week old and I had to hustle to a midtown Manhattan studio for a last-minute appearance on an Australian network morning show, covering a story for the network's US correspondent, who'd broken overnight for a story in Arizona involving the death of an Australian tourist on vacation.

My daughter's pretty damn amazing in every way, but she has her moments, as every kid does. She had a great time on the 6 train, perfectly cute as ever, and showed no signs of trouble as we dashed along the sidewalk in the rain. It was just as we arrived at the studio that my little Peanut decided that was the place and that was the time to throw the tantrum to end all tantrums.

Is That a Baby I Hear?

Screaming with the surprising volume that only a newborn can, I tried everything in my Daddy diaper bag, without success. The studio's super nice makeup woman offered to help, and in my panic I asked, "is anyone in the studio?" She said yes--they're doing a live talkback for CNBC's Singapore version of Squawk Box. Delightful. Now I had my daughter to worry about--and my journalist's code of not disturbing someone else's liveshot.

Why would she want to be on CNBC anyway? Does she know something about the Asian markets that she felt just had to be said? (If so, I can't wait for her to start talking, because I know nothing about money) As it turns out, a call to CNBC in New York by a producer determined that no, they couldn't hear my daughter on air (though the talent emerged from the studio asking with a confused face "was there a baby crying out here?")

I had a few moments--once my wife arrived and took our daughter for a lovely walk in the scream-to-your-heart's-content sound factory that is a New York City street--to get my wits together and get in place for my hit Down Under. Anybody else had one of these experiences? I'd love to hear your story!

Here's how I did in the aftermath of the Singapore Screamer, which my wife and I will forever call "The Squawk Box Incident:"

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Brilliant BBC Moment as Weather “Presenter” Flips the Bird

God love the Brits and their unique way of delivering the news. Serious, hard-hitting at times in some of the best grilling of politicians I've seen anywhere, and at times--delightful in their handling of a mistake.

Case in point yesterday's morning news--just before 11 a.m.--when "news presenter" Simon McCoy starts mentioning that awkwardly-named weather guy Tomasz Schafernaker (how many small market news directors in the States would've told him to switch over to Tom Storm or Tom Squalls?), even suggesting Schafernaker had a "100 percent accurate" forecast in the making.

Schafernaker, naturally, flips the guy the bird and unfortunately gets punched up mid flip. His move to quickly switch bird to chin rub is delightfully desperate. According to the Telegraph, Schafernaker's had a few mishaps before, including calling part of the UK's Western Isles "Nowheresville" during a forecast, and telling folks in Glastonbury they live in a "muddy shite."

All that was missing was a Roger Grimsby retort from McCoy; the legendary WABC anchor explaining away an on-air bird as a "reminder" that Eyewitness News is "Number One."

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