The NBC-ABC duopoly in the 107th DMA has been offering news around the clock by turning producers and shooters into on-screen reporters. INC Now is broadcast on a digital channel and streamed on the stations’ Web site. “Now we’re able to report breaking news or update a story at a moment’s notice,” says President-General Manager Jerry Gieseler.
Is “hyperlocal” coverage the future of local TV news? It’s starting to look that way.
Last week in Market Share we met the team behind myNC.com, online coverage down to the neighborhood level by Media General’s WNCN Raleigh, N.C. The site is a well-organized mix of professional and viewer-generated reports organized by community and topic. The advertising is sold much the same way, with account executives courting small businesses with special appeal to certain neighborhoods or demographics.
But for a different take on hyperlocal, check out INC Now, a two-month-old 24/7 news service produced by Granite’s duopoly in Fort Wayne, Ind. (DMA 107), NBC affiliate WISE and ABC affiliate WPTA. (Granite owns the former and manages the later.)
INC Now has been able to zero in on local happenings by greatly expanding its staff of reporters. Does that mean that, despite the economy, a station is actually been adding staff? Not exactly, explains Jerry Gieseler, president and general manager of the duopoly.
“Our focus has been re-allocating resources. Everyone has been cross-trained in reporting, videography and editing,” Giesler says.
The normal newsroom hierarchy has been deliberately disrupted to make nearly everyone a “content producer.” Whenever possible, stories are still reported by the station’s reporters and anchors, Giesler says, “but very often our content producers will go on the air instead, even using the webcam built into their computer.”
The end result looks like a cross between CNN Headline News and Warner Brothers Domestic TV’s TMZ. INC Now is a 24-hour news wheel where the polished reporters and anchors share time with the other less-than-polished content producers. “Now we’re able to report breaking news or update a story at a moment’s notice,” Giesler says.
The service is streamed on the duopoly’s indianasNewsCenter.com, broadcast on one of WISE’s digital subchannels and carried by local cable systems.
WPTA established the Indiana’s NewsCenter brand back in 2005 and its newscasts have been nipping at the heels of the market leader, LIN TV’s CBS affiliate WANE.
Giesler is hoping that the addition of INC Now gives the entire news operations a further boost. “Younger viewers tell us they want local news around the clock and we can finally deliver that. There’s someone on duty 24 hours a day.”
The cost of the dozen or so extra positions plus the renovation of WISE’s news facilities were largely offset by designating the NewsCenter as the technical hub for all of Granite’s Midwest stations, including WMYD Detroit and WEEK Peoria, Ill. The Fort Wayne facilities will now handle master control, program and commercial scheduling and on-air creative services for all the stations.
While Fort Wayne has seen no true news emergencies since the January launch, there have been several fast-breaking stories, including the emergency approach of a plane with bad landing gear and a pile-up on Interstate 69. These stories broke immediately on INC Now and then expanded later on the stations’ primary newscasts.
Whenever possible, major stories are presented by the stations’ primary reporters and anchors, but already a number of “content managers” and other contributors have appeared often enough to attract a small following. Multimedia journalist Scott Sarvay is known for delivering the results of daily Web opinion polls, while former videographer Jeff Bowman reports live almost daily on WISE’s morning news. (Click here for a sampling of their reporting.)
The extensive training ensures that all “content producers” are capable of covering and shooting news stories by themselves and then preparing that video for air. Nearly everyone uses HP laptops with PC Edit Pro software. The newsroom itself is a Bitcentral environment.
Writing and producing skills remain the main focus of the training, Giesler says. “The people we hire would be fully qualified show producers in any other newsroom. We’re seeking total journalists with deep technical skills because everyone’s work overlaps both on air and on the Web.”
It’s too soon to gauge the ratings impact of INC Now, except to say that it’s clearly outdrawing the former NBC Weather Plus service that preceded it.
Giesler is all but certain the new venture will be profitable. The companion Web site is already “consistently the leader among the Granite group for page views and for fresh content,” Giesler says.
Indeed, the December 2008 stats show impressive quarterly growth: 29 percent more unique visitors, 27 percent more return visitors and a whopping 80 percent jump in visitors seeking weather information.
Perhaps most encouraging is advertiser response, which Giesler says has been growing right along with the hyperlocal focus. “We’re able to offer more targeted positions and more specific demographic data at rates much lower than the competition.”
And while the INC Now wheel format and content servers can’t yet match ad content with story content, stay tuned. “We’re heading there,” says Giesler. “We look forward to doing so.”
Market Share by Arthur Greenwald is your weekly stimulus package. Every Monday we showcase ways broadcasters are improving programming and boosting sales. What’s going on in your station that others need to know about? Write to Arthur at [email protected]