Connected World Speeds Up News Reinvention

Executives and on-air talent from Newsy, Hearst, Fox Owned Stations, Tegna and NBCUniversal Local say the proliferation of digital distribution channels has dramatically accelerated the shape of the news product. The upsides, they say, are many.

Broadcasting has evolved alongside the changing world, with new formats for different platforms, new technologies and a focus on presenter authenticity and connection with audiences.

The COVID pandemic has forced some of those changes, such as the embrace of remote production technologies and shift toward cloud workflows, panelists said during the Reinventing TV News for a Connected World discussion for TVNewsCheck’s NewsTECHForum conference on Tuesday, Dec 14.

The pandemic coincidentally assisted with authenticity as work from home conditions allowed peeks into broadcaster’s home studios and lives. Journalists are publishing short-form and long-form content to more platforms than ever, even as they maintain a love-hate relationship with social media.

Meredith McGinn, EVP of diginets and original production for NBCUniversal Local, said there has been incredible innovation in the behind-the-scenes technology that increases the speed at which news gets to viewers.

“Light, easy remote production is a game changer,” McGinn said.

Barb Maushard, SVP of news at Hearst Television, said broadcasters had the tools for things like remote newsgathering and production activities but they hadn’t been adopted until the pandemic forced the issue.


“I can interview anybody on Zoom. It works more times than it doesn’t,” she said. “We’ve learned how to do it.”

And the ability to reach sources more easily has made newsgathering nimbler and faster, which makes the storytelling piece of it better, she said. “We have ways to reach the sources and locations and that adoption of that has made us better.”

The cloud has also gotten more buy-in. Stephen Bach, director of sales, news segment for Amagi, said one reason is that it provides a great way to experiment or to create pop-up channels.

“You don’t have to have this heavy metal investment to get a channel up off the ground,” Bach said.

Eric Ludgood, head of Newsy, said that organization is encouraging anchors to “be themselves” because the audience has indicated they want more authenticity. “We want our anchors to be who they are within the boundaries of decorum,” he said.

Brooke Thomas, a host at Fox Soul streaming channel, said there has been a shift toward authenticity that makes it possible for a “regular” hairstyle to be seen as professional. “We’re told to be authentic, but now there’s permission,” she said.

Maushard agreed with the notion of having permission to be authentic. “The pandemic gave people permission,” she said. “Even if they dressed the part they needed to for that role, you might see a toy in the background, and that was awesome.”

Even so, there remains the need for professionalism.

“There is still a level of expectation that people are going to bring their professional best to their job,” Maushard said.

And when it comes to platforms, some are more suitable for certain lengths of content.

“The broadcast format has evolved,” Maushard said. “Content should determine our format.”

Digital offers elasticity, allowing stories to run longer.

“We can do extended live production without upsetting the Wheel of Fortune viewers,” Joanie Vasiliadis, VP of digital content at Tegna, said. “But we have to be careful that we’re not just going long because we can. Storytelling still matters.

Real-time feedback can show if people drop off longer pieces of content, she added.

As McGinn put it, “just because it’s longer doesn’t mean it’s better.” Instead, she said, the journalist should be deliberate about the story and give it the length it warrants while catering to the platform it’s on.

“It’s all about characters in the story and the topic,” McGinn said.

As Ludgood said, “We are storytellers now.”

He said Newsy is still looking for the “sweet spot” on length. He said they are finding that people stay a fairly long time on documentaries.

Digital has another benefit, Vasiliadis said. It allows more experimentation with different types of creative content, she said.

“The nervousness goes away,” Vasiliadis said.

Vasiliadis noted it can be dangerous to push content only on a single social media platform. “Many of us were overly reliant on Facebook 10 years ago,” she said, noting it’s smarter to spread out effort across more platforms.

In this way, if a platform goes away or changes its algorithm, the broadcaster isn’t dependent on one platform for its core audience, she said.

McGinn said there’s been a debate on her team about what social media platforms to focus on, “but the numbers are with Facebook,” she said. “It’s not smart to just walk away.”

They do, however, use other platforms to highlight the brand differently than they do on Twitter and Facebook, she said.

Maushard said Hearst is constantly assessing the social media platforms. People tend to seek out and respond to breaking news stories such as the tornado tragedy last weekend on social media.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Maushard said. “The goal is to be the trusted source” by providing accurate information. Yet “some go to social media and don’t trust what they’re getting.”

Vasiliadis said social media can be “a toxic place for our journalists who are on these platforms.”

While toxic behavior exists across all platforms, she said, Facebook is a difficult platform. “We’re fighting that battle.”

In the end, though, Thomas said, social media is an incredible tool for her job, allowing her to communicate in ways she wasn’t able to before. “Our jobs have evolved with social media, but social media will make you evolve.”

For more from NewsTECHForum 2021, click here.

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