LocalNewser standupkid's dispatches from the frontlines of local news


SlimeWatch, Part 3: What Local Stations Can Learn from NPR's New Website

6a00d83451b26169e201053659b16a970c-800wiNPR.org doesn't exactly grab you by the shoulders and scream "cutting edge!" At least, not yet. But give it time.

One thing that is clear is this:  the thinking behind the radio giant's redesign is advanced, and should be studied by every local television station manager and web team--at least the ones that intend to survive as employees of viable, profitable businesses.

For NPR, the new thinking goes like this:  kinda, sorta, start not really focusing so much on the "R" in NPR: "This is an organization that's in transformation into becoming a fully functional news content organization, not just a radio company," said NPR's Vivian Schiller in an interview with Newsweek.  Schiller's the force behind one of the most powerful news sites on Earth--nytimes.com--but she left the Times six months ago to join NPR and get the old school org all multiplatformy and stuff.

As Newsweek's Johnnie Roberts wrote, "For Schiller, that means building on NPR's reputation as a broadcaster of national and international news, by extending its reach into local news. She plans on relying more on local member stations to fill what she sees as a "scary" void in local coverage as hometown daily newspapers fold."

Supporting local coverage is obviously something most localnewsers can get behind.  Unless, of course, that means a network, like NPR, or NBC for that matter, coming in an bypassing its local station to do the local work itself. And NPR's new model, as Schiller's old shop The New York Times noted, "would make it easier than ever to find programming from local stations, (it) will also make it much more convenient for listeners to bypass local stations, if they choose."

NBCChicago:  No Worries for NBC-Owned WMAQ.  But Boston, Tampa, Vegas?

NBCChicago: No Worries for NBC-Owned WMAQ. But Boston, Tampa, Vegas?

This is exactly the threat, as I've argued, that NBC's "Locals Only" effort poses to NBC affiliates who don't choose to accept NBC's terms to do business on a local level.  GE's already laid the groundwork by buying up domains from coast to coast that would allow the network to instantly be in the local online news business (as "NBC Boston," for example) and bypass entirely another "NBC" entity in the same city. Welcome to the Wild West, folks, where allegiances may shift depending on who's got better firepower, stronger horses, and cash.

Speaking specifically of NPR's aggressive move into multi-platform news growth online, Jake Shapiro, the executive director of Public Radio Exchange, a group that supports local radio stations, told the Times, “That’s the risk. It increases the pressure for stations to offer compelling and distinct programming."

As Schiller told the Times, NPR's revamped website isn't about offering National Public Radio a presence online, and certainly it's not an effort to drive ears to NPR stations.  The new model reverses all of that, taking NPR's website “from being a companion to radio to being a news destination in its own right,” Ms. Schiller said.

The Web's News Giants Smell Money in Your Backyard.  You Ready to Compete?

The Web's News Giants Smell Money in Your Backyard. You Ready to Compete?

With TV networks contributing their content to Hulu and ending the once ironclad arrangement that you see NBC shows on NBC stations, the "bypass local stations but own local advertising" model is no hypothetical threat.  It's time for smart station managers and news directors to look at their own websites and ask if they can compete against their own network--if it ever came to that.

Can you?  Is your site that good?  Is it tied to your TV product or growing in creative ways away from the TV newscast and terrestrial station?  Is your local online reporting going to be better than NBC's or CBS's or Huffington Post's?

You may not be thinking this way.  But trust me.  They are.


Local Newsers: You've Heard "Feed the Web." But Beware Throwing It Scraps.

KMSP/Minneapolis:  Great Story On TV, Not So Hot Online

KMSP/Minneapolis: Great Story On TV, Not So Hot Online

If you're working at a local news station worth anything, part of your job these days includes reporting for the 5:00, 6:00 and maybe the 11:00 and filing a version of your story for the station website.  Maybe you remember, as I do, the emphasis put on this part of the job by your news director in memo after memo after threatening memo:  "you must file a story with the web before your day is over," etc.

Some of us take this multiplatforming as a way to reach new audiences and flex new writing muscles (I, for one, love translating my broadcast voice into "print" format for the web, even if sometimes, it seems like rolling a boulder up a hill while riding in a livetruck back to the station at the end of a long day.  (Oh man...what was the name of the hotdog vendor we interviewed at noon?) What about leaving the job to an overworked web editor? Ah, my friend, beware.

For that part of today's life lesson, we turn the blog over to WCCO's Jason DeRusha, who not only worked for broadcast and filed for the web, but also responded to a Brooklyn blogger's last-minute request for a guest post. And he offers some damn solid insight into the risks and rewards of telling your story--and keeping control of your story--across all platforms.  If you're banging out the web version as an afterthought, or leaving it to someone else, you're playing with your own reputation.


As a guy who started in Davenport, Iowa in 1997, my job was clear. I was a television news reporter. My job was to go find out stuff and put it on TV. Maybe I'd write a VOSOT for 10, or the morning news. But that was it.

Today, my job is to do work across multiple platforms. I blog, I have webcam a at my desk, I Tweet and I turn my nightly TV news report "Good Question" into a story that can live on the web.

Writing my story for online publication may be the most important and least appreciated part of my job. I learned this a couple years ago, when a Google search of my name turned up a Pacific Business News article ripping me for a story I did where I supposedly referred to Hawaii as the "big island." I did no such thing, on the air. But the online version of my story, published under my byline (and written by a web producer), got it wrong.

Fox 9s Story on Twitter: Great on TV. Online: FAIL.

I bring this up, because a local Minneapolis Fox station took a great deal of heat online for the text version of a perfectly fine TV story. They should have expected that a story on Twitter would get a lot of attention on Twitter. The story I watched on the air was a perfectly nice introduction to Twitter. It was well-written and well produced. The story online was not. No links to the people in the story. No quotes from anyone in the story. With no disrespect intended toward the person who probably had to post two dozen stories that night, it appeared to be written by a child. The story was annihilated online: with Tweets like this: "That Fox Twitter story reads like a piece on the CB Radio craze submitted to me in 1976 when I edited the 6th grade paper." Not good.

At WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, several years ago management decided that reporters and field producers would write their own stories for the web. We had seminars, reminding us that writing for the web is different. Online readers expect you to get to the point right away. On-air, you might build your story to a climactic point. Online readers expect you to cite your sources, specifically. Online readers expect you to link to source material.

WCCO's DeRusha: Live on the Street, Live at his Desk


Some of us are pretty good at this, others need quite a bit of editing. But the web producers can work on editing, rather than trying to figure out what we were talking about when the TV script reads, "SOT: In: bob went.... OUT: pizza parlor." At first, I hated writing my web scripts. It jams more work into the end of my work day. Now, I love it. I love adding the extra information that I had to leave out because of time. I love the challenge of coming up with a provocative headline to attract viewers. And I'm proud of the fact that when people link to my stories, they get a well-written story, under my name, and under my station's brand.

If you wonder about the value of a well-written web story, go to your web team and ask to see some web traffic statistics. I'll bet you the text versions of stories get at least ten times more views than the corresponding videos. And unlink the television story that went out into the ether and disappeared, your online version will live nearly forever. So make it count.


Time Has Told… The Era of the One Person Crew Is Upon Us

Mitch Roberts/WKRN VJ and Anchor

Mitch Roberts/WKRN VJ and Anchor

It's always educational to take a step back, turn around, and look at where we've been.  It helps to see where we've come from, and how we've gotten to this place.  In thinking about the spread of--call 'em what you will, one man bands, all-platform journalists, multimedia journalists, backpack journalists--single person crews, I looked back at the debut of the form, if you will.  The early reactions to the off-Broadway version of the show that's now getting decidedly mixed reviews, but somehow selling lots and lots of tickets to news managers and corporate suits looking to find a way--any way--to cut costs and keep the profit in local news.

The first station group to go "VJ," as they called it, was Young Broadcasting, which put cameras on reporters' shoulders at WKRN/Nashville and KRON/San Francisco, copying a news-on-the-cheap model that had seen success elsewhere, notably at outfits like New York's local cable newser, NY1.  Variety wrote about the "Crew Cut in News Biz" in 2005, quoting a WKRN anchor: "It's like they took the rules here and hucked them out the window."

Steve Schwaid/CBS Atlanta

A lot of rules have gone out that window, especially lately.  In addition to the expansion of one man banding to stations like WUSA/DC and WNBC/NYC, WGNX/Atlanta news director Steve Schwaid recently updated his Facebook profile to read:  "Steve is looking for one person bands - send dvds to me at CBS Atlanta."  The whole stations, he says, won't be going OPB;  he says "there will always need to be some working in teams and some can work by themselves...back to the future - we worked like this when I worked at whio in the late 70s."

The mere suggestion of one person field crews drew fire on Facebook, with one person commenting on Schwaid's profile page, "Nice BS-ing around the reality. One person does 2 times the work for less pay. That is the reality."  Schwaid responded:  "hey, the reality is the business model as we know it is dramatically changing...so you can be working for the last company that made the buggy whips or looking ahead...I prefer looking ahead."

Is KPIX Next?

Is KPIX Next?

And he's clearly not the only one looking ahead and seeing lots more reporters with cameras on their shoulders (or photographers reporting, however you want to look at it).  Word is KPIX/San Francisco is bringing the one person crew into the mix, and some say it will soon show at NBC O&O's like WRC/DC, and WMAQ/Chicago as they undergo the "Content Center" transformation.  (So, in DC, you'd have a Content Center competing against an Information Center?)

Is there any way to argue now that this isn't happening and won't keep spreading?  Did naysayers suggest the three-person crew would never end?  (before my time)  And what, pray tell, is the union strategy in all of this?

As the Nashville anchor said waaaaaaay back in '05 (remember the good old days, when we didn't fear for our jobs every minute of every day?), the rules, they're getting "hucked" out the window.


Making Multi-Platform Work: Building a Brand All by Yourself


If I said to you, "hey, check out this reel of a guy's one-man-band standups," you might feign a kidney stone and run.  But the above video's rightfully burning up the proverbial YouTubes.  It's the work of KGTV/San Diego phenomenon Joe Little, a backpacker who doesn't use that as an excuse to do boring standups.  In fact, he's more creative by himself than the vast majority of two-person field crews shooting standups today.  Far more creative.


So as we talk about the inevitable spread of multiplatforming one-person content machines, think about Joe Little and what he represents:  the complete lack of downside for the determined reporter, willing to lug his own gear, but also willing and ready to get the upside... a unique brand that is yours and yours alone.  Nobody's asking Joe Little, "hey, who were you out with today, that standup was great!"  It's his thing.  And right now, he owns it.


WMAQ/Chicago to Get the "Content Center" Treatment

If you like what they've been doing with WNBC/NY, you'll love what's in store for WMAQ/Chicago. WMAQ GM Frank Whittaker told staff yesterday that news producers, writers and editors would be required to re-apply for their jobs; the new jobs will be "multi-faceted," with titles like "platform manager" and "content producer," and the Chicago Tribune200px-wmaqtv reports it's all based on the "content center" format unveiled in New York.

“A writer now has to write, an editor now has to edit,” Whittaker said. “These new jobs are going to require multiple skills. You’ll have to write, edit, you’ll have to know how to send a story to the Web, order graphics and design graphics for the story you’re working on," reports the Tribune's Phil Rosenthal, whose sources tell him there's plenty of worry the new multiplatform model may mean layoffs or reduced salaries: "Privately, some current WMAQ staff members expressed concern that the most experienced – and most expensive staff members – would be vulnerable in the 21st century makeover. There also are fears that someone who is particularly good with a skill such as writing or editing might not be as adept at something else with which they have less, little or no experience."


Liveshot? Yes. Livetruck? Nope. Vol. 2, The Obama Inauguration Edition

Lauren Squires Goes Live by Skype

Lauren Squires Goes Live by Skype

I should probably label these posts NSFW, since if your news director sees them, it could spell trouble:  another Skype-enabled backpacker doing it all and going live...no photog, no truck, no satellite window, nada.  (Can you hear the dripping sounds of local tv news managers salivating?)

Lauren Squires, a bureau reporter in Dubuque for KWWL/Waterloo got a big gig:  the inauguration of Barack Obama.  She traveled to DC with a local group of Iowans and, in keeping with the multiplatform ideal, she blogged, shot her own packages, and even whipped out the laptop to do liveshots via Skype: 

"I traveled (26 hours) via bus with the Dubuque Colts Drum and Bugle Corps. They were selected to play in the Inauguration parade. I was an embedded journalist, who slept on a gym floor with hundreds of members of the corps (Alumni and current members, marching and spectators).   I blogged from the moment we left Dubuque on Saturday to the moment we arrived back to Iowa. http://addins.kwwl.com/blogs/scribbles/ "

Check out her work.  And think about it.  Seriously.  Think about it.  One day soon you're going to get that tempting offer--"hey, we'd like to send you out of town..."

FULL DISCLOSURE:  My attempt at backpacking my way through the Obama Inauguration, complete with laptop, blogging and Twittering, was, shall we say, somewhat less successful, with snowstorms and bus breakdowns.  Read about my sad saga here.


Reporter Goes All Multiplatformy for a Chance to Cover Obama Inauguration

Yeah, I'm talking about me.  Look, I know I can write about multiplatform, convergence, hyperlocal and backpack journalism with the best of 'em.  And often, I'm harshly critical.  But to be honest, from my first day as a local tv newser, in Grand Junction, Colorado, I've never had to lug my own gear and shoot my own stuff.  I edited my own packages for a few years, but I was never, officially, a one man band.  

So tomorrow (actually, later this morning) I'm going to get a taste of the future.  (Or is it the past?  Or the present?  I get so confused lately as things in this business change so fast.)  A few days ago my news director asked if I'd like to cover the inauguration.  Now this was waaaaaay past the point of your standard have-a-hotel-room-and-sat-time-booked point.  I jumped with "yes" before I even knew the details.  Short version?  Ride up to DC on a bus with folks who want to witness history;  no hotel, no shower, not even a bag bigger than a ladies' handbag.  Just me, multiple layers, a coat, (hopefully, God-willing, a steady supply of decent coffee) and a laptop.  I'll Twitter and blog on the bus, and while I will have a solid, professional photographer with me, I'm bringing my old XL1S also.  

As much as I've criticized the cutbacks and convergence, I must admit I'm excited.  Not just your standard get to be there for the moment in history excitement, but the guerilla reporting excitement.  The "we don't need no stinking credentials for edit space" excitement.  Down and dirty, figure it out as we go along.  

I'll be Twittering and blogging throughout.  I hope to experiment with videoblog entries from the bus on our www.localnews.com

Washington Post Photo

Washington Post Photo



site.  I hope we can make this an ongoing conversation.  I only wish I was going into it on more than an hour's sleep (and that's if I get to sleep in the next ten minutes).

UPDATE:  tvnewser and webnewser report there will be other first time "guerilla" reporters on the Obama story:  ABC's JuJu Chang's "unwired" and ready to try a new way to report.  The story's here.


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