The news page for Cordillera-owned NBC affiliate in Lexington, Ky. (DMA 63), is third in the U.S. in number of Facebook fans — almost 57,000 with more coming daily to check out the news department's weather alerts, story teasers, polls and interactive features. Bruce Carter, the station’s news director, expects to have 100,000 by year’s end: “That’s bigger than our audience for our noon newscast.”
WLEX News Finds A Friend In Facebook
Just 18 months ago, Bruce Carter, the news director at WLEX Lexington, Ky., wasn’t convinced that Facebook would have much value for his newsroom.
Oh, how things have changed.
Today, Carter is the keeper of what he believes is one of the most popular Facebook pages featuring local news in the country — a coup for a station in DMA 63.
Through about 30 posts a day, and a commitment to staying in touch with its users, the Cordillera-owned NBC affiliate has garnered 56,778 Facebook fans, placing it third among TV pages behind WXIN Indianapolis (DMA 27) and KVVU Las Vegas (DMA 42), according to Carter.
With weather alerts, story teasers, polls and interactivity, WLEX had 47,000 fans in January and is now adding an average of 100 more each day, Carter says. “I can see things growing by the end of the year to close to 100,000,” he adds. “That’s bigger than our audience for our noon newscast.”
Add in the fans of other WLEX Facebook pages, such as those devoted to sports or individual anchors and reporters, and the number jumps to about 150,000, Carter says.
The page doesn’t generate any revenue, although it has become the No. 1 source for driving traffic to the station’s ad-supported website, lex18.com.
The value is news. In just a year and a half, Facebook has become an important news gathering tool, even more so than the station’s website, because of the interactive component.
“This is a newsroom that’s become completely immersed in Facebook and social media,” Carter says.
Reporter Adam Baker, one of WLEX’s biggest Facebook enthusiasts, uses the site for creating rapport with viewers and for tracking down sources.
“In a lot of ways, it’s like the best phone book you could ever ask for,” he says. “I also get messages all the time with tips or pictures that sometimes turn into workable stories,” he adds.
Fans also report on severe weather or accidents in their neighborhoods — just the stuff local reporters like to cover.
“People feel comfortable telling you stuff online,” Baker says. “They may not pick up the phone to call you about it. But they will shoot you a message.”
WLEX’s page really took off last spring when the Lexington area suffered severe flooding. It became the station’s principal means of tracking the flooding and how it was affecting communities.
In just 72 hours, an additional 4,000 people signed on as fans, says Carter. “That’s when I realized what the power of Facebook is for television: It is a direct communication with the fans.”
Today, fans also use the page to “talk” among themselves, sharing tip on matters like where to find the cheapest gasoline and discussing issues and events. One news story garnered 350 comments.
Reporter Jaimie Weiss uses the site to listen to viewers and to promote on-air stories and her Twitter account. She says she posted on Facebook that she would be tweeting from a courtroom during a murder trial. “By the end of that day, I had at least 20 new people following me on Twitter.”
Weiss says social media is a “great way to keep in touch with viewers,” especially during bad weather and other big events. “If I am doing extended coverage, viewers will be responding to my reports in real time. I can come back from a hit, see what they’re writing or their questions and respond immediately.
“Those of us on the news end of it often forget that we are in people’s homes every night, so many feel like they have relationships with us. Now, we can actually interact.”