LocalNewser standupkid's dispatches from the frontlines of local news


Dispatch from the Front Lines: WUSA's Scott Broom

A few months ago, Scott Broom, reporter at WUSA/DC got a nifty new title: "digital correspondent." The Gannett station was busy transforming its old-fashioned "TV newsroom" into an "information center," and its tired old teams of reporters and photographers into a fleet of shiny new DCs (hey! just like the City! was THAT why WUSA didn't call them "backpack journalists," "multiplatform journalists" or "one-man bands?") like Scott Broom.

The elimination of the traditional reporter and photographer team sent some in the WUSA newsroom rushing to the exits, bemoaning the imminent collapse of the concept of hard local news. Scott Broom, however, is a believer. Profiled on Larry Smith's BulletproofBlog, Broom says it's all about staying current and competitive: "This is a web-first philosophy that is designed to make the TV station the primary source of highly-localized, moment-to-moment text, graphic, and video news online as well as on television."

What a concept. Seeing past the bricks-and-mortar of the traditional TV model to the newsroom as a web-feeding factory. The idea, as Broom and his bosses see it, is nothing less than "a once in a generation opportunity to compete as the dominant media force" in local markets.

This is not a common belief--in fact, it's a foreign concept--in most local TV newsrooms. You know the places where Facebook remains a "new" idea, and Twitter is, well, not on the radar yet. Broom says WUSA digital bosses like Lane Michaelsen and Patrick O'Brien encourage their reporters to take advantage of all these social media tools: "We know that a constant flow of new updates and content is absolutely essential to survival in the digital age...User comments and submissions of photos and videos are all sources of 'new' searchable content," Broom says.

WUSA's Scott Broom

WUSA's Scott Broom

This kind of talk takes the debate over "content centers" out of the arena of cost-cutting and reporters lugging cameras, and into a new sphere: the idea that the medium itself is changing, and moving far more quickly than many of us may even realize into a web-style world: where news consumers want it fresh (and by fresh, we mean posted within seconds) and want to find it the way they find things online--links and keyword searches, not sitting down at six o'clock to see what streams out of the set at them.

If you're a local TV reporter, ask yourself this: does Scott Broom inspire you, or scare you? Do you feel like "yes! he gets it!" or do you feel like your own grandparent, trying but failing to understand what it is you mean by this "internet" thing.

Broom admits context can be a casualty in the fight to serve multiple platforms all by himself, going live, blogging, and feeding, feeding, feeding. "The crew is gone. I work alone, shooting and editing my own video. I write and deliver content on all platforms all the time. I file text, video, and photo updates to the Internet throughout the day via wireless broadband. I twitter my followers when anything new occurs to drive traffic."

So who does context in the content center model? And is this model the prescription for what ails local TV? Or just a low-cost recipe for killing what was good about local TV news in a losing battle against a medium that already works well on its own: the web?

Check out Broom's complete comments...and then let's have this discussion. It's important, and we've got to figure this out together.


Twitter Resisters of the Local News World, Sit Down. Breathe. Read This.

Don't Panic. Be Like Capt. Sully.

There's a sense in local newsrooms around the country that the economy's so bad and jobs are so vulnerable that "now's not the time to try new things!" This stubborn, panic-fueled sense of shock reminds me of the refreshing calm that radiated from US Airways Capt. Sully Sullenberger in his gripping 60 Minutes interview. It all happened in 90 seconds. The mighty bird that just can't be simply knocked out of the sky, suddenly was, and the crew had two options--soil themselves or try something new.

It sounds a lot like local news managers and GMs. The bird that was so strong--the local affiliate that reliably printed money since the dawn of time--is suddenly falling out of the sky at an alarming rate. Passengers are screaming "we're all going to die" back there, and it feels like a lot of managers are just staring at the cockpit controls repeating a mantra: "the car dealers will advertise again...the car dealers will advertise again." But even when they do, things will have changed. The financial model, the way consumers get their info, it's all changing, mighty bird or no mighty bird.

Some are trying new things. In DC, Lane Michelsen and Patrick O'Brien are crafting an Information Center out of what was one of the most old-school of old-school stations, WUSA. Reporters provide for multiple platforms, Channel 9 hits its followers with Tweets, and you get the sense these guys stay at work late thinking, "what else? what are we not thinking of?"

Steve Safran/Media Reinvent

Steve Safran/Media Reinvent

So for those of you who still aren't even sure about Facebook (don't get me started, In mentioning to a friend that my engagement pictures were up on Facebook, and he should have a look, he told me he didn't have time for Facebook, couldn't I just show him the pictures? Huh? Like I carry them around in a paper envelope like it's 1978?) and for those of you who twitter at the mere mention of Twitter, Steve Safran at AR&D has assembled a gentle, it-won't-get-in-your-eyes-Mommy-loves-you post on "10 things to try right now that are cheap or free." He writes: "Here are ten things you can implement in your newsroom right now, cheap or free, that will improve workflow, Website performance or both."

What's the harm in just reading it? So sit down, take a breath. Take another. And click the link. Oh, sorry. You know the words that have lines underneath them? If you put your cursor (the think on the screen that moves around when you touch the mouse) over those words and click, you see the article. It's like magic! Anyway, click through and read. And don't freak when you see that Twitter is idea number 1: "Get several staffers on this."

A good, sensible read. You might learn something.


Local News 2.0: Job Titles of the Future! (And the Future, Like it or Not, Is Now)

Think of the evolution of job titles in local news over the last few years: out goes "studio camera operator," in comes "robotics camera operator." I guess there was a specific title for the guys who developed the film ("footage," as the interns still call it), a job long gone before I showed up on the local newser scene, and now we have "ingest coordinators." And at WUSA/DC, they have a "Digital Development Director," in the form of tech savvy Patrick O'Brien. And please, stay on his good side by not suggesting that he's the guy who runs Channel 9's website. How 1990s of you. No. He's the Main Man of Multimedia at Gannett's flagship, which made major local newser news by becoming the first big-city station in the country to go all video journalist, ending the era of two-person field crews.

Newslab's Deborah Potter, ever at the cutting edge of local news evolution, has a timely profile and, naturally, an embedded video interview with O'Brien, on her spinoff site, advancingthestory. It's worth a look if you're interested to see how the future is playing out now in DC, and believe me, whether your newsroom Twitters yet or not, your managers and corporate types are watching O'Brien and recently hired WUSA News Director (oh, silly me.. what a 2003 job title... he's the VP/Information Center) Lane Michaelsen to see how the new vision works.

Oh, and if you're already in the Twitterverse, add O'Brien. He's a good one to follow.