The idea of local nobodies creating Web videos that rock the world is threatening to TV news departments, but grassroots journalism could help stations survive in a multimedia world, experts argue.
TV stations searching for a way to capitalize on their localism in a changing, multimedia world may well find the key in citizen journalism, according to a panel of experts at the RTNDA News & Technology Summit track at NAB New York.
Stations need to move quickly, however, the panelists said, and they need to overcome the inertia created by traditional TV news staffers who feel threatened by the trend, and by management that isn’t yet aware of how quickly Internet video is transforming journalism.
Citizen journalism is already alive and well at Pappas Telecasting, where the group’s eight stations operate Community Correspondent sections on their Web sites. People can upload photos, stories and video right to the sites, which are monitored by associate producers who screen the videos to make sure they are not objectionable. So far, the APs, have rejected very little of the content, said Desiree Hill, vice president of news development at Pappas, and when they reject a story, they call the citizen journalist and explain why.
Pappas stations promote the Community Correspondent sites by featuring a video or photo each day on their evening newscasts. Often, this adds up to a shot of a child in a Halloween costume, but about once a week, stations will get a shot of a local fire or other event that the station hadn’t covered itself.
NBC O&Os have begun working with MotionBox, a Web technology that allows people to quickly upload videos via a station’s Web site. Once loaded, the citizen journalist gets an e-mail telling them they can see their video right away at MotionBox.com. Another e-mail comes later, once NBC station producers have screened the video, letting the submitter know if it has been accepted and will be displayed on the NBC O&O site.
MotionBox’s technology allows Web users to use a scroll bar to scan quickly through a video to find the part they want, then cut and paste it into an e-mail that they can share. “People don’t want to edit, so the vast majority of video going around the Internet is raw and un-produced,” said Douglas Warshaw, chief marketing officer and co-founder of MotionBox. “You want it, but you want it in a way that won’t frag your brand.” The MotionBox technology doesn’t actually edit the video, however, so even if a submitter cuts out pieces to send to friends, station producers still have the entire clip to work with, should they want to use it.
Jeff Jarvis, a blogger and founder of BuzzMachine.com, singled out Young Broadcasting’s KRON San Francisco as local TV’s leader in exploiting the new world of citizen journalism. Station executives invited local bloggers to sit down in a studio and talk about their business and then created an area on the station’s Web site that aggregated content from the local bloggers. Next, it invited the bloggers back to the station to train them in shooting video, with the aim of adding video to the bloggers’ section on KRON.com. The station also sells advertising in the bloggers section of the site.
The question facing stations is how to use citizen journalism to become more local than the local newspaper, Jarvis said. “It’s all about building a relationship of respect among people who can help you survive,” he said.
One news director in the audience expressed the frustration he and his peers feel when trying to embrace new trends like citizen journalism: “I have a sweep coming, I don’t have a budget for this kind of stuff, my boss doesn’t understand the Internet and our sales guys aren’t making a nickel from all this stuff. What do I tell them?”
Jarvis had a quick, stinging reply: “Stop doing fake standups at 6 o’clock with nothing going on behind the reporter,” he said. “TV stations are spending money on things that are a ruse.”
Pappas’ Hill added that stations have a limited time when they can establish themselves as local leaders on the Web. Pointing to a recent survey that found that 68% of people get their news locally, she suggested: “We have to leverage what we have while the specialness of local TV news is still there. If you are in broadcasting, the time is now, because those numbers could get smaller over time.”
Moderator Merrill Brown, who is editorial director of News 21, MMB Media of New York, added that research has found that the local broadcaster has a more intimate, personal relationship with viewers than newspapers do. “That’s why this conversation is so important,” he said. “People are engaged with local TV talent and news in ways that they are not still with local newspapers.”
The best way to monitor citizen-submitted videos and stories may be to create a pool of trusted submitters, the way Pappas stations have, suggested Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, although panelists conceded that that solution may not work as well for large-market stations, which are bound to be inundated with much more material than smaller ones. The job of monitoring content will likely fall on some of the people who are now shooting video for stations, they said. “That same reporter or producer who would shoot video for an hour to cover a story can now go through all the video submitted by citizen journalists and pick what he wants,” Cox said.
Warshaw said that the task of providing news is changing as media proliferate. “The narrative is dead,” he said. “I even read magazines differently than I once did, because it’s all about getting information. For news groups, it’s going to be about managing that information flow and being more selective about where you offer narrative and where you simply provide information.”
Jarvis agreed: “You have to redefine journalism more broadly,” he said. “There is a lot of crap and wasted effort. What we need to do now is boil down to our real values and invest in that.”
Web site Lost Remote.com has a transcript of the session here.