TVNewsCheck is occasionally featuring examples of exceptional TV station reporting from across the country. Here are the first four, taking on everything from fraud, wasteful spending and public safety to a parking lot owner with a penchant for driving other people’s cars.
Newspaper sites around the country are producing video on par with that of TV stations, often with the help of former TV multimedia journalists and photographers. In fact, some of the newspapers’ video content is so good that it has beaten material produced by TV news departments when it’s gone head-to-head in awards competitions.
Responding to a survey that ranked TV and radio news as one of the 10 worst jobs in the country, many broadcasters say they love their work despite the stress, falling salaries, cutbacks and little growth potential cited by Careercast.
Twitter and Facebook have quickly become one of the basics of TV news. Faster and easier than blogging, which industry watchers say is becoming increasingly passé, and more personal than station-run websites, social media has become so important that stations are investing in training talent to use them and, in some cases, mandating it.
The normal career path at a TV station results in general managers rising from the ranks of the sales department. Recently, there’s been an upsurge in news directors being chosen to fill the top management spot. And many say that the increased and varied responsibilities that leading a news department entails, is great experience.
The Landmark-owned CBS affiliate in Las Vegas was awarded a Peabody for its extensive investigative reporting on the causes, effects and those responsible for the city’s mushrooming housing crisis. Bringing a number of the issues to light helped prompt the state to act faster to pass laws to ease the suffering of homeowners.
U.S. Army Capt. Frank Razzano Jr. is spending a year as an intern in the news department of Raycom’s Savannah, Ga., CBS affiliate. He’s following a reporter and a photographer as they pursue stories, sits in on news meetings and studies the station’s marketing and promotion efforts. It’s all to learn techniques and skills that will help him do his Army job of convincing foreign populations to support the work of U.S. forces in their countries.
More TV stations are investing in audience research than have since before the economic troubles that began four years ago. And they are doing so using more and more online techniques that let them reap better feedback from a larger pool of participants for less money.
In their growing attempts to offer local coverage to attract interest to both newscasts and websites, more than half of the news-producing stations across the country now include prep sports coverage. Football and basketball still get the biggest play, but with many stations now making high school sports a year-round feature, everything from wrestling and riflery to girls’ volleyball gets its share of coverage.
The fact-checking service is lining up relationships with all 25 of Hearst’s news-producing stations and has even broader ambitions. Other broadcasters with PolitiFact deals include Cox and Gannett.
As part of a retransmission consent deal, Time Warner Cable’s statewide 24-hour news channel in North Carolina, is producing three newscasts a day for WXLV Greensboro, Sinclair’s ABC affiliate. Executives on both sides of the agreement say their goal is to use the newscasts to lure and hook more viewers, resulting in ratings for WXLV and subscribers for Time Warner Cable.
After a relatively quiet few years, the organization is hoping to raise its visibility with its new executive director, an experienced broadcast news veteran who can speak out on the First Amendment and other issues affecting electronic journalists and perhaps restore the annual conference to its former stature.
Chris Buck, Larry Chollet and Steve Ives are starting a new nonprofit, RetroReport.com, that will examine high-profile stories from the past to find out if they were true and what has happened since. They hope the site will educate people to be more critical about what they see on TV.
Most of the seven top-25 stations that filled the 4 p.m. time period left by Oprah‘s departure with local newscasts report they’re pleased with their performance so far in this new TV season. Three are holding their top positions in household ratings, and at least two more are leading their markets in key demos. Here’s a first look at how the newscasts are doing.
At the broadcaster’s KSTP and KSTC in Minneapolis, News Director Lindsay Radford is looking for reporters with ability, not just affordability. “We still value paying talented reporters,” she says, and she’s willing to wait for individuals who not only bring news know-how, but also the perspective that comes with time.
KOMU Columbia, Mo., in DMA138, has taken the plunge into social media news, last week launching a 4 p.m. newscast that makes viewers an integral part of the show. And there’s a social media desk that includes two reporters tracking bloggers, Tweets and online conversations about topics making the news. Industry watchers applaud KOMU for pushing the envelope in its use of social media at a time when many stations are still trying to figure them out. But some question their heavy use in what has always been a sit-back, passive medium.
After teaming with the NAB for its annual conference, the Radio Television Digital News Association has a new partner this year, the Society of Professional Journalists. It’s a move RTDNA Chairman Kevin Benz says gives the group an opportunity to present a conference “that is absolutely and totally journalism-based. We believe that we will be putting on the most important journalism discussion in the country.”
The Dispatch Broadcast Group’s NBC affiliate in Indianapolis has a clear goal — to be the best station in the country — and a strong strategy to accomplish it: a total commitment to enterprise and investigative reporting. It’s working as its RTDNA, DuPont-Columbia and Peabody awards this year attest. And it’s No. 1 in the ratings, too.
As TV stations struggle to distinguish themselves with hyperlocal strategies, one old solution is looking new again. A number of station groups — including Hearst, Belo, Cox, Gannett and Scripps — are finding that the specialized, localized reporting they get from their Washington bureaus has become a differentiator for them. As the head of Cox’s bureau says: “Our sole mission is to give stations hyper-local, unique coverage they can’t find anywhere else.”
The beat system, under which reporters cover their beats — and only their beats — hasn’t existed in many TV newsrooms for years. And some believe that it’s contributed to a decline in the quality of local TV news. Although the new economic realities of the business make the widespread return of full-fledged beat reporters unlikely, some are trying to bring them back in different and limited ways.
The Gannett NBC affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., is bucking industry trends with its focus on in-depth reporting. And that effort isn’t going unrecognized. It’s making steady gains in the ratings and was just honored by the Radio Television Digital News Association with an Edward R. Murrow Award for overall news excellence in a small market.
There are currently good opportunities for broadcast journalism grads, at least in medium and small markets. While it’s true that there are fewer TV news jobs these days, newsroom recruiters are interested in the newbies because they bring increasingly important skills — digital know-how, multi-platform reporting and the like — that veteran reporters may not have. Of course, they also come cheap.
Once the weather service issued a tornado warning for the Joplin, Mo., area on May 22, local TV and radio stations followed protocol for severe weather, ramping up their weather coverage in the 90 minutes or so before the twister hit at around 5:30 p.m. either with cut-ins or going wall-to-wall. But such alerts had become so frequent, especially lately, that even the station staffers themselves did not take them as seriously as subsequent events demonstrated they should have. After the storm hit, news teams scrambled to figure out what exactly had happened and how they could help their striken community.
“There are, in my opinion, more good jobs in weather than any other aspect of the business,” says Rick Carr, a Denver-based attorney who represents news talent. Even stations in small markets, he says, will go out of their way to secure weathercasters blessed with a knack for accurate forecasting and a telegenic personality.
The 16 Fox-owned stations that produce news are trying to change the way they do latenight news and “break out of the box.” Among the innovations are debates, interviews and commentary about controversial local issues. Says AR&D’s Jerry Gumbert: “Fox realizes, perhaps better than some broadcasters, that the same old content and same old format and presentation style are barriers to future growth and relevancy with consumers.”
Local TV’s low-rated MNT affiliate has calculated that it may be able find its place in the 45th largest TV market by focusing on the large local community with connections to the military. If successful, Freedom 43, as the station is now calling itself, could prove the value of seeking niche audiences other than those based of gender, age or ethnicity, says Hofstra media prof Bob Papper.
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.”
Academicians often come up with unconventional topics to study. And those involved in television are no exception. Here are four research projects that range from tracking the lipstick factor in female anchor credibility to weathercasters who think they’re God.
While working together on a 14-acre Media Center, WHIO Dayton, three radio stations, four daily and four weekly papers plus digital properties cooperate on some stories, “we are staying away like the plague from the homogenization of news,” says Alex Taylor, the Cox VP for Dayton. “Reporters are still going to compete against each other.”
As part of its commitment to the FCC, NBC’s O&Os are looking to partner with nonprofit news organizations that can provide investigative, community-focused stories. Proponents are hoping that other commercial stations will see the symbiotic benefits of such deals and join the movement. The partnership between NBC’s KNSD San Diego and VoiceOfSanDiego.org could be the model. Says the nonprofit’s CEO Scott Lewis: “They have skills to do video and production that we don’t, but they don’t have the personnel anymore to do analysis and writing. It’s a perfect kind of match.”
The Gray-owned CBS affiliate in Lincoln-Hastings-Kearney, Neb., decided that it could secure its place by better serving the community when things were at their worst. It took advantage of the “bunker mentality” that has gripped other broadcasters, hiring news pros who had been ousted from larger markets, increasing its staff and launching a variety of new shows, a subchannel newscast and a website, momseveryday.com, that will serve as a model for similar sites on other Gray stations.
With Fisher Communication’s recent announcement that its KIDK Idaho Falls would be turning over operations to competitor News-Press & Gazette’s KIFI under a shared services and sales agreement, 27 people will be out of work and there will be one less news voice in DMA 162. The official line is the move was made to take advantage of “operating synergies and expense savings,” but executives of both companies wouldn’t say any more or take questions.
With growing cutbacks in both personnel and budgets at news departments in stations across the country, many are thinking they need to have options and are choosing to leave TV news before they are forced out. “It’s very difficult out there now,” said Steven Dickstein, a Philadelphia lawyer who represents TV talent. “There are cold winds blowing in the job market and it’s difficult for everyone.”
Probably not, but the upcoming and much ballyhooed experiment with anchorless news at Tribune’s KIAH Houston may allow broadcasters to gauge just how much value anchors still have these days. “There will always be a voice and lots of personality,” says Lee Abrams, who conceived the anchorless newscast before being forced to resign from Tribune. “There just won’t be two people behind the desk.”
Local TV reporters and anchors, even long-timers in major markets, are being asked to sign contracts with onerous terms. And since it’s no secret that management is looking to cut costs wherever it can, reporters and anchors are, more often than not, acquiescing.