Bart Feder, Tribune’s SVP of news, says that while stations can take a page from digital news and become “more authentic and gutsier,” their big advantage is their proximity to their viewers. “We talk about the second screen, but we are the second screen a lot. We are the companion. That puts the onus on us to continually call the audience back.” Key is to move away from the long-standing practice — and mindset — that producing stories for on-air broadcasts comes before all else.
While local broadcasters can stand to learn a few things from alternative news outlets like Vice — being gutsier among them — mainstream TV news still has an edge that will keep it viable, an industry exec says.
“Proximity to the audience is the thing we have that no one else does, and that is a huge advantage moving forward,” says Bart Feder, Tribune Broadcasting’s SVP of news.
“People have been talking about the death of local news for as long as I can remember and here we are, 2015,” he says, crediting broadcasters “proximity to the audience” — i.e., being entrenched in the communities they cover — as the reason behind the medium’s longevity.
“Do we need to be more authentic and gutsier? Absolutely,” he says. “But I am not worried about Vice being on every night because we do something they can’t.”
“Our value proposition is different than theirs. Our fundamental value proposition is that we’re local,” Feder says.
Feder’s remarks were part of a discussion Wednesday with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell on the state of news reporting, which was part of the day-long news directors seminar at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.
Feder addressed a range of challenges facing local TV news organizations — competition, pepping up a staid format and capturing all those consumers who prefer to get news from handheld gizmos than TV.
Nonetheless, Feder, who was hired in February to oversee news operations for Tribune’s 42 TV stations, says he’s a big believer in local TV, going so far as to having to defend his decision to return to the medium after working for other outlets, including most recently CNN.
“Friends questioned me,” he says. “People look down on local news, but I think we should be proud of what he do,” he says.
At the same time, however, Feder says the medium does have its work cut out for it in a multi-screen world, and needs to move away from the long-standing practice — and mindset — that producing stories for on-air broadcasts comes before all else.
Feder pushes that idea even further, saying, that at a time when consumers are juggling multiple devices at once, even while watching local newscasts, TV can no longer be considered the primary medium at play.
In turn, digital editors need to have a larger role in newsrooms, as they, more than any other staffer, have their pulse on the community they are serving, and the hot button topics they are interested in.
“We talk about the second screen, but we are the second screen a lot. We are the companion,” he says. “That puts the onus on us to continually call the audience back.”
It’s up to the larger TV news industry to figure out how to do that — whether it’s plugging broadcasters’ digital properties before commercial breaks, creating tie-ins with what viewers tend to be doing on their devices while watching news (shopping, browsing the Web) and addressing consumers as they deserve to be, he says.
Teasing viewers with the promise of a seven-day weather forecast, for instance, just doesn’t work anymore when consumers likely already know what’s in store — or can find the answer online in seconds. A better bet would be to put upcoming weather patterns in context that creates a better understanding of climatological events, he says.
“We can’t be trite and pandering,” Feder says.
“It still amazes me when we produce our product without really recognizing and appreciating the viewer and acknowledging their relationship with information and how that’s changed.”
Feder praised some of the experimental local newscasts out there — including Newsfix, which started out as anchorless news (and now has a host) produced by Tribune’s KIAH Houston — as well as investigative units across the country.
But there is no sure-fire answer for raising the bar for — and interest in — the content produced by TV stations. But with consumers, particularly young people, showing a waning interest in local TV, it would behoove broadcasters to rethink everything from the style of their content to the means of distributing it.
“It’s about how each individual group and each individual station executes that. But the wake-up call is real,” he says.
He does see advancing the medium as an industrywide initiative — one that spans multiple platforms and aims to reach the breadth of viewers.
“We need to be the No. 1 provider of local content on every platform,” Feder says. “That should be everyone’s goal.”
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