With its first newscast, My Fox Carolinas News @10, the newly acquired Fox O&O in Charlotte, N.C., has set up five suburban bureaus staffed by reporters that live in those communities. With the newscast’s casual chatty tone and unconventional look (the entire WJZY facility, from its newsroom to lobby, has been built to be used as a set), the broadcast reflects Fox Television Stations President Jack Abernethy’s determination to come up with some new approaches to local news.
To work at WJZY Charlotte, N.C., reporter Robin Kanady has to live in Concord, N.C., a suburb northeast of the city, which is no hardship. It also happens to be her hometown.
She is one of five reporters that the Fox O&O has “embedded” in outer Charlotte communities to provide regional coverage for an innovative 10 p.m. newscast it launched Jan. 1. The reporters seldom come into the newsroom, which is west of the city.
WJZY GM Karen Adams, who has been building the news department from scratch, says requiring those reporters to live where they work is part of her strategy of making My Fox Carolinas News @10 a newscast with regional appeal.
“The journalists are far more tied to [their communities] than an assignment manager is,” she says. They tend to cover stories that might otherwise be ignored because of the communities’ distance from the city.
The strategy has yielded stories like the efforts of a small town 50 miles northwest of the city to get its own medical facility (currently patients have to drive a half-hour to a hospital) and Union County’s proposed school redistricting, Adams says.
Snowstorm coverage last month included live reports “from five major counties in two different states because we had people out there already,” adds Geoff Roth, WJZY’s VP of local content
For Kanady, the arrangement has already paid off. She was able to tap friends and family to find subjects to interview on the personal impact of that snowstorm.
Having perspective helps, too, Kanady says. Her recent story about the opening of an aquarium at a local mall was enhanced by her first-hand knowledge of the area’s evolution into a tourist destination for NASCAR fans.
“I was in college when [the mall] was built. I know what it was back then,” says Kanady, who has worked for several other stations in the Southeast.
David Sentendrey, a reporter who is also embedded in his hometown — Monroe, N.C., southeast of Charlotte — says being a local has helped get his new job off to a good start. “People open up to you more,” he says. “I have been able to get into their neighborhoods and lives because I live there too.”
My Fox Carolinas News @10, which debuted Jan. 1, is WJZY’s first foray into news. Fox bought the former CW affiliate along with MNT affiliate WMYT from Capitol Broadcasting for $18 million last year.
It’s now become what Adams calls a “giant petri dish” for news innovation.
With its casual chatty tone and unconventional look (the entire WJZY facility, from its newsroom to lobby, has been built to be used as a set), the newscast reflects Fox Television Stations President Jack Abernethy’s determination to come up with some new approaches to local news.
Embedding reporters is facilitated by the latest ENG technology. “It’s very easy to establish a lot of bureaus, mainly because we don’t need very expensive equipment to shoot, edit and send back to home base,” Roth says.
Each reporter has his or her own JVC 650 camcorder, which Roth calls “a live truck in a camera.” The camera is capable of streaming live shots via Wi-Fi.
For packaged reports, they have laptop computers, which they can use to edit stories and send them to the station at Wi-Fi hot spots.
The reporters are also outfittted with iPhones with a Vericorder app that allows them to shoot, edit and send stories using only the device, Roth says.
Using the unobtrusive smartphone allow one reporter to get video from inside an apartment complex that houses homeless teens, Roth says. “If a camera crew had shown up, they would never have let us do it.”
The reporters are learning to experiment with their tiny cameras. Sentendrey shot footage of a skateboarding competition using his iPhone — while riding a skateboard himself. Kanady shot pictures of a major highway-widening project by attaching a GoPro to the dashboard of her car.
The station is relying heavily on the Internet and cell networks to gather video. It does not own a microwave truck, and doesn’t plan to get one.
In addition to the JVC camcorders and iPhones, the stations use Dejero gear that can establish links via the cell or satellite, Roth says. The satellite dish is no bigger than the ones satellite TV subscribers have on their homes.
Adams says My Fox Carolinas News @10 is just the start of WJZY’s plans to create a viable alternative news outlet in Charlotte. A four-hour morning show is scheduled to launch this spring. Newscasts at 6 and 7 p.m. will likely debut this summer, she says.
And Adams says the station is determined to set itself apart from its competitors in hopes of attracting viewers that have become disenchanted with the conventional local news or given up on it altogether.
“This is not about just feeling like you have to do something different because you’re the last in,” she says, “It’s because you have the opportunity to do something different.”