One of two local content directors at the station group, Jerry Walsh has been actively involved in Nexstar's $78 million news expansion and improvement push. While there are advantages to having the deep pockets of a large company — resources and station collaboration, among them — he says it's vital to think local and realize that no two newsrooms are alike. (To read NetNewsCheck’s Monday interview with Nexstar’s chief digital officer, Thomas O’Brien, click here.)
Making Bigger Better For Nexstar’s News
Over the past five years, Nexstar has poured $78 million into improving its expanding TV news operations, which today comprise 39 newsrooms producing for 70 stations.
Jerry Walsh has been in the thick of that effort as director of local content for the stations east of the Mississippi. (With the same title, Christopher Berg oversees the stations in the western half of the country).
In this interview with TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Diana Marszalek, Walsh talks about how Nexstar integrates newly acquired stations into the fold in a way that benefits the stations and their viewers and the challenges of keeping up with digital media.
TVNewsCheck’s sister site NetNewsCheck yesterday posted an interview with Nexstar’s chief digital officer, Thomas O’Brien. Read it here.
An edited transcript:
Your job includes overseeing TV newsroom content in a wide variety of markets, many of which are tied to stations Nexstar has only recently acquired. What are the first things you do when the group takes over?
It really does start with what the local community needs, wants and desires.
We have to learn about the market … to understand what local news is. We all know that what’s news in California is not necessarily news in New York, especially at the local level. What works in Syracuse isn’t going to work in Little Rock. Each region is different, too.
We need to spend the time with the newsroom management and station management, but you also spend the time with the rank and file — the producers, the editors, the feet on-the-ground. We have to understand the markets we are serving and how we can serve their viewer interest.
What sorts of changes should viewers expect when Nexstar buys a station?
There is so much that we are able to share, so having our television stations collaborate is a big push for us. When I was news director in Rochester, WROC was the only Nexstar station in upstate New York. Now we have six stations, so we have a significant footprint to provide a regional focus and cover statewide issues like nobody else can.
Let’s take Illinois for example. We have a state capitol bureau operating out of WCIA (Champaign-Springfield-Decatur), so our news directors are able to pick up the phone and ask for help. There’s a lot of collaboration among our Texas stations too. When the [April] Ft. Hood shooting occurred, there was one satellite truck that provided feeds to six Texas stations and a number of Nexstar markets across the country with custom live shots. We have the opportunity to do those custom live shots whenever Nexstar stations are at the frontline at national events.
I imagine that could be tough on news crews because they now have to do stories for other stations as well as their own, along with the regular pressures of covering breaking stories.
I think we look at it this way: It is to the benefit of a lot of our markets that border each other and news directors who know each other well. That’s a realization we are trying hard to build up through regional meetings and through regular phone calls.
During the recent tornados, obviously, being in the home market for the tragedy, our reporters in Little Rock were really busy doing a good job covering the news for their local station. So our station in Springfield [Mo., KOZL] drove its satellite truck the three hours down to central Arkansas to help KARK and the other Arkansas stations.
What technology do you use to make this all happen?
It all depends on the event. Satellite trucks are still used and in play. We also have an internal video transfer system so every Nexstar station can download video, pull in a script. Every day stations post stories and sharing is taking place. Stations in several regions still do daily phone calls and discuss what they are covering and stories of interest.
What sort of locally focused initiatives do you have? Do you emphasize, for instance, investigative reporting?
We have investigative reporters in some of our markets, where it fits with the overall brands and approaches of the TV stations. At the end of the day, we should all be doing a lot of investigative journalism but from the standpoint of how it fits in.
We also recognize the need for good political reporting beyond getting results on election night. So two years ago we rolled out the “Your Election Headquarters” brand, which includes graphics packages, some targeted goals for markets including issue-based reporting. We have talked to viewers and they acknowledge they want political content but it has to be based on issues.
“Your Election Headquarters” is running this year with midterm elections. Stations in Texas and Illinois have already had successful primary coverage and we are gearing up gearing up for races in Pennsylvania and Arkansas.
What do you consider the greatest challenges facing TV news operations?
Every day you’ve got to be telling good local stories and that’s what our viewers demand. There are more journalists today than there ever have been on Twitter and Facebook and social media, and that’s a challenge across all our platforms.
Technology is also a challenge. You’ve got to be up and running on a lot of platforms. What is exciting about the new digital acquisitions that we have made [Nexstar recently bought Internet Broadcasting and purchased Inergize in 2012] is they give us the substantial ability to offer content that is relevant across a number of platforms.
We did a website connected to the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination — it had content produced by our Texas stations, which went into Dallas and tracked the events and talked to the doctors who worked on President Kennedy. Every one of our digital platforms had that on their site, which had the ability to drive viewers. That is a distinct advantage of having a number of news operations across the country and also an integrated digital team.
Where do you think the TV industry as a whole is heading?
I think it’s a really exciting time and I think it’s a tough time. You have competition out there — Facebook is a competitor to broadcast — and how do we continue to inform individuals? We constantly have to be reinventing ourselves and find ways to keep our engagement high on all our platforms and on our core evening newscasts.
I recently spoke with students at a university, and it’s exciting to see the next generation because they are talking about how they are going to shoot packages on tablets and get them on air. For a guy like myself who was a photographer and had a ¾-inch camera, that’s an interesting example of how the technology has really changed, and how it allows us to cover news and have our eyes on the future.