Talking TV: Fox’s LiveNOW And The Art Of DJing News
If you thought being a multimedia journalist was a tough enough juggling act, try spending a few hours at the anchor’s desk of Fox’s LiveNOW streaming channel.
In addition to anchoring, LiveNOW’s hosts serve as their own producer and director, teeing up the next story while they’re still reporting the first one, steadily operating a tricaster just below the camera’s eye like a musician all the while.
In this Talking TV conversation, Andrew Craft, a senior digital journalist with LiveNOW out of its Phoenix hub at Fox’s KSAZ, explains how he’s honed his news DJing skills over the past two years. He shares how he’s become hooked on the rush of live news multitasking and the skills he’s found necessary to pull it off.
Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.
Michael Depp: LiveNOW is Fox Television Stations’ 24/7 digital streaming news channel run out of Fox’s newsrooms in Phoenix and Orlando. It essentially DJs news content from across the group continuously with over 100 hours of live programing a week.
In just a few years, LiveNOW has picked up a long and growing list of FAST distribution partners including Tubi, Samsung TV+, Roku Channel, Amazon News, Freevee, Vizio, Xumo, Fubo, YouTube and Fox Nation. Fox is not hiding this channel from viewers, lord knows.
I’m Michael Depp, editor of TVNewsCheck, and this is Talking TV. My guest today is Andrew Craft, a senior digital journalist with LiveNOW out of Phoenix. Andrew’s job is to anchor, produce and direct many of these LiveNOW weekly hours. Coming up, we’ll talk about how just one person can do all of these things simultaneously and effectively, especially when you factor in big events like the recent midterm elections where Andrew led the channel’s recent coverage. We’ll be right back with that.
Welcome, Andrew Craft to Talking TV.
Andrew Craft: Michael, Thanks so much for having me.
Andrew, for those who aren’t familiar with it, tell us what viewers encounter when they watch this on streaming or the web. What does LiveNOW look like with news coming in from so many different directions?
So, essentially as the digital journalist in the hot seat, I operate kind of as the captain. Really the decision-making process is up to me about what the viewer gets to see. We have so many live pictures, live feeds coming into us from all over the country, all over the world, a lot on social media as well. And so, we get to decide which stories we want to tell, what we think is top of mind, what we think is most important.
I really love that autonomy about LiveNOW. Obviously, if it’s a huge story, like, for example, yesterday, the Arizona governor’s race was called and one of LiveNOW’s bases is in Phoenix. And so, we were really on top of that story. We essentially brought live to the viewers the Maricopa County press update on, you know, ballot counting and all of that.
The beauty also of LiveNOW is you have so much time to fill that you can show the viewers these press conferences in their entirety, no matter if they’re 30 or 40 minutes. Something I like to do is if it’s a big event, for example, like today when we’re recording, former President Trump is going to make this announcement at Mar-a-Lago about potential 2024 aspirations, we’ll bring a guest on ahead of that to kind of ramp up coverage and then get the guest’s reaction as a recap once it’s over. We use Zoom as well a lot for our guests.
And given that this is produced in such a minimalist fashion and the source material comes in from across the group of Fox stations, how do you give it a distinct brand identity, and how would you describe that identity so that LiveNOW feels like its own autonomous news presence in some way?
We have kind of a slogan here: Live, raw and unfiltered. So, for the viewer watching at home, you know, it does kind of look essentially like we’re not, you know, the broadcast networks, we’re not as flashy as some might think because we are doing it basically alone.
There is a lot on us, especially the technical aspect of it, you know, getting the audio correct, choosing the video. We type out all of the graphics that the viewers see on the screen, and we also control the guests’ audio as well. We have at our disposal so many of the Fox O&O reporters, the Fox News Channel correspondents who are, wherever they are on a big story, we can ask them if they want to come on.
And we’ve gotten a lot of feedback that unlike cable broadcast, there has to be like a minute 30 or two minutes. That reporter or correspondent could come on LiveNOW and can essentially tell their story a little longer, for example. So, five, six, seven minutes. We are kind of constrained by commercials. We try to get four in an hour, but sometimes if it’s really a major breaking story, we let the correspondent and the hosts kind of just go back and forth on how important the story is.
So, they’ll do their hit for local and then maybe you’ll have them and interview them longer or there will be a longer version of the piece versioned? How does that play out?
Yeah, for example we’re speaking to a Fox 26 Houston reporter. They’re done with their hit for Houston and they kind of hop on, maybe right after their hit is over, we roll their package, but we also kind of get to do an extended Q&A on the back end, diving a little deeper into the story, letting the reporter show us their reporting a little bit more.
Do you draw from sources beyond the Fox-owned stations? And if so, who else?
Yeah, essentially, since I’ve been here for two years, we rely mostly on the Fox owned and the Fox News Channel correspondents. But a lot of times, if I have to fill a gap of, say, you know, one of those reporters isn’t available, I look elsewhere. So, a lot of print outlets, radio outlets, local journalism, just because, you know, those people know the story just as well, if not better than some of our Fox reporters. And so, we try to rely on that to fill those gaps if someone’s not available.
A lot of times I DM reporters on Twitter, I DM experts on Twitter, cold email, you know, basically source gathering and here at LiveNOW we’ve established a lot of great relationships that way — subject matter experts, policy analysts. I’m essentially my own booking department now.
And you’re doing all this while you’re on the air, right? In many cases?
I mean, before I go on the air. I average four hours a day, nine consecutively, on the air. But that preparation time, I’m calling people who want to come on and talk about it. And I know I kind of keep harping on, you know, length is the beauty of it. And that’s kind of the beauty of LiveNOW is if you’re really into a story, you’re really passionate about a subject area, you know, we do have the time.
For example, since the war in Ukraine broke out in February, we’ve almost had nightly, about 30 minutes every night on updates to the war in Ukraine with national security experts who we really heavily relied on. So obviously LiveNOW did not have someone in Ukraine throughout the duration of this war. But I think our coverage has just been as good.
So, basically, you’re the band and the roadie and the sound engineer and selling the merch and kind of producing the whole thing. I mean, it’s essentially all you? Or do you have anybody backing you up? Is anybody reinforcing you while you’re on a shift?
Yeah, and that’s kind of the novel approach, Michael, to LiveNOW, where that is what makes it so different. I used to be in the field. I used to be a one-man band, MMJ. Now I’m kind of one man banding the show, kind of what you were alluding to. I mean, we do have producers. They are very helpful. They assist us when we’re in the hot seat. They also book. They also hand us scripts, help us formulate questions when we’re talking to the guests. But a lot of the decision-making process is for the DJ up in the chair.
And so, when breaking news happens, yes, they are very, very helpful. But like I said, I kind of have a rundown in my head. There’s no line producer. There’s no typed-out rundown. It’s kind of what I want to go to next. I have a general plan before I go up there about what the biggest stories are, and then I kind of execute it that way with, you know, live reporter hits and expert hits, too. So, it’s very dynamic, but it is very unorthodox.
Yeah, highly. You trained as an MMJ, so you’ve already got multiple skill sets for story production that way. But this is a whole other set of skills. I mean, you’ve got, you know, the control room essentially as well. Then you have to be able to bifurcate your attention or trifurcate your attention to be watching all these other things. So, I guess I’d love for you to paint a picture of while you’re live on the desk, how pragmatically you are able to attend to all the things that you need to do at once in order to pull off this kind of newscast.
It’s definitely a work in progress, and it does take time to kind hone that skill, prioritize your time. You always have to be thinking about what is next. So, say, for example, you know, something ends. It’s 12 minutes long, what am I going to next? Because there’s really no, you know, person saying, OK, we need to hit this right now, next. It’s completely up to me up there.
And so, for example, with breaking news, we are at LiveNOW a lot of times the first people on it because say we’ll just put up a bump shot, or we’ll put up a tweet and we’ll just keep talking. We also have no teleprompter. It’s completely ad lib, which is something I had to really focus on and learn because I had never anchored before this. I was always in the field. And so, you know, no teleprompter is very, very daunting. It’s very, very intimidating. You have to kind of just surrender yourself to the camera. It’s almost like you’re on stage and you’re speaking to that little black box. Obviously, I refer to my notes a lot, but it’s very freewheeling, almost in the sense that you have to prepare so much for the stories, like 10 to 12 stories a day. And if, you know, just a few bullet points on them, you can get by through that. But it is challenging.
No doubt. I mean, a press conference has got to be a great relief to you because you can at least step away. Those go on for 15 minutes, half hour or so and gives you a little time to pull some other things together, right?
Yeah, it does buy us a lot of time. I could prepare for my next guest hits, my expert hits. I can read up on something, I can use the bathroom or go print something that I need. But yeah, when you’re up there, you are in control. There’s no person in your ear telling you what to do. It’s all it’s all on you right now. You probably can’t see it, but I have a board in front of me. It’s called a tricaster. There’s a lot of buttons, there’s a lot of lights. And so, the muscle memory of that goes a long way, but it takes, you know, six to eight months to really master.
And then you can kind of look at it without even needing to, like, reference it down here. But I mean, I think the viewer, a lot of times, if they’re watching LiveNOW, you know, they’ll see me. They’ll see me look away, look down, not be looking at the camera because I have to focus on all of that.
I wonder about their level of expectations for how polished it could conceivably be given that you have to do so many things at once. It’s got to be a little bit less slick veneer on this than your standard newscast.
That’s definitely true. And I’m very transparent with the viewer about that. I will say that, you know, we’re waiting to get a reporter. I have to check in with them and do a mic check with them. They have just called in. I’ll put them on standby. I’ll throw up maybe a shot of the U.S. Capitol if we’re talking politics, and then I’ll bring them in. So, there are those moments where I think the viewer is a little bit forgiving. If you explain to them that you’re going to get this set up, we’re going to have this story next, that they’re going to wait for it. I do a lot of previewing of what’s to come this hour, who we’ll be speaking with and top headlines like that.
So, they do give you a lot of latitude given they understand you’re doing so much at once. And when it does go sideways, what does that look like? How sideways does it go?
There are backup options that we have, and we have experience where something technical happens and we have to just kind of think on the fly, correct it as quick as possible sometimes. You know, I go to commercial break just to give myself a breather, just to give ourselves [time] to come back from that. But yeah, it does happen. We have to think about that. And thankfully, everyone in the newsroom off the desk is also working to rectify and correct that as well. So that’s why we say, live, raw and unfiltered.
I mean, it happens. It happens frequently where, for example, you’re on something aerially and the Sky Fox chopper flies away or something goes to color bars and you just get off it very quickly. Say, if we get that shot back, we’ll bring you that story. We’ll monitor that. So doing this for two years has really taught me kind of how to get out of those situations. But it does happen.
You seem like a guy who’s pretty unrankleable, so you could probably roll with a lot. Now, I mentioned at the top that you were the main journalist on the desk for coverage of the recent midterms. And I’m told that LiveNOW carried 44 hours straight of live coverage of the midterms. How the hell was that even possible?
We stayed up all night. We have an Orlando kind of East Coast outpost as well. They took it over in the very early morning hours. We did this similarly with Hurricane Ian as well. That was really the first time we tried 24 hours straight. But yeah, it took a lot of planning. I mean, months of planning for the election and just having guests on every hour, reporter hits for our O&O stations and our Fox News Channel correspondents who are at these candidate watch parties, these election night rallies. So yeah, it took a lot of planning.
And then of course, there were so many candidates that we relied a lot on concession speeches, victory speeches and then, you know, polling experts, political strategists. A lot of the booking I did as well for experts. And then we have a managing editor, executive producers who also help with the booking. So, I say it is, you know, a one-man show, essentially, but there is a lot of assistance and a lot of help.
And some of that help now comes from Orlando. This started in Phoenix. Phoenix was carrying the torch alone for this for quite some time now. Orlando has come in the last year or so as a sort of the second desk here. How does that work? I mean, do you sort of pass the baton across the country at a start, like a shift change, or is it continuously going back and forth between Phoenix and Orlando?
Right now, there is just one kind of baton change, if you will. It happens in the early morning hours, I guess, West Coast time. We just kind of transition once say if there’s, you know, breaking news or something. Or they want to keep it a little later because they’re in something. It is flexible like that. There’s talk of maybe transitioning back and forth periodically throughout the day. Right now, it’s just one essentially cut off and then Phoenix takes over and we do the duration of the rest of the day.
And then that allows our Orlando digital journalists to call sources, do prerecorded interviews. A lot of that time is spent creating our own content, and we have the opportunity to sometimes take a station’s coverage for big breaking stories. I know, for example, like Darrell Brooks is being sentenced today. And so, if Fox 6 Milwaukee, for example, was in live coverage of that, we might take their coverage for just a little bit. And so, they kind of add to and circumvent some of our coverage that way if we maybe need a breather or we can kind of supplant our coverage that way.
There was talk awhile back of maybe L.A. as a third desk. Is that still in the cards?
I don’t believe so, no. But yes, there was there was talk of that a little bit early on. But right now, Phenix or Orlando, the two main hubs, really strong owned markets and stations. You know, we’re based in Fox 10 Phoenix’s studio headquarters and Orlando’s at Fox 35 Orlando.
You personally, you’re a young guy with a lot of energy. People might be looking at you as an example of how sustainable is this kind of approach to the work. I mean, MMJ is a lot of roles at once, but this is sort of metastasized beyond that. How sustainable is it for you? And what are the upshots for you personally of working in this way?
For me, I really enjoyed being in the field and I didn’t know something like this was available, so I wanted to try my hand at it. You know, people were like, you should try anchoring. You should see how you like it. And I’ve really fallen in love with the format. So, you know, if I ever in my future career had to go to something a little more traditional, it would be kind of hard to fit back into that box of maybe like a traditional newscast because this is so innovative and novel and different. Obviously, you wouldn’t have as much time as you would in a traditional broadcast. And I’m always talking about LiveNOW to potential candidates, to new hires, telling them, yeah, it is a lot of work, and you have to really diligently work at it.
You have to surrender yourself to the news. You can’t kind of leave here at 5:00 and put your blinders on because you have to get in that hot seat the next day knowing what happened in the interim, because you’ve got to talk about it. I thought and I think that is what’s really the most challenging part is doing your research, doing your preparation, so you can tell the viewer that you know the story even though you’re doing everything else.
So, you always have to be soaking in the news water. You can never dry off.
That’s so true. I think the viewer can tell if you were just thrown in on a story and you were just kind of getting caught up on it, I think in addition to all the tech aspect of it, you would be able to tell a little bit.
You said you’ve been doing this for about two years. What have you learned and what are you still learning about how to do this kind of anchoring and producing well?
I think when I came in, the production aspect of it was the biggest kind of baptism by fire. I am confident in my news judgment but translating that into how I’m going to work my way through these hours and tell the viewer about what all these stories are, I think that took a lot of learning and trial by error about what to do and what not to do.
But yeah, there are still things that I want to work on partially when I get up there in the chair each and every day about keeping it moving, keeping the pace moving. And that’s kind of what I’ve gathered. You know, if I can tell maybe that the viewers aren’t necessarily into something that I’m playing, you know, that’s 40 minutes long. I’ll get out of it, and I’ll say we’ll get back to that a little bit later if there are any more developments, and then I’ll keep it moving with another top story and another top story. Getting that viewer feedback has helped me a little bit do what I do up here and saying, all right, well, this maybe not be working as much as the last story we did.
The other thing that I haven’t mentioned, which I really like about it is, we are limited commentary and limited opinion. So, I get a lot of feedback from viewers essentially saying, oh, wow, LiveNOW is just straight news. You know, it’s not a lot of punditry or a lot of opinion. Obviously, we do bring people on talking about politics last Tuesday night, a week ago, about the election, about real Republicans, Democrats, who’s going to keep it? Who’s going to lose it? But that’s definitely not the focus. And I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from viewers that’s really what they like about it.
So never any panels?
No, we rarely have panels. I think the first panel we did was last week.
It’s one guest at a time, typically, or do you ever bring in a panoply of guests?
We tried it really for the first time last week on election night. We did bring in two guests on Zoom. Weldon Watson, our technical director, made kind of a three-box graphic. And so, we did try that, and it worked. It really worked. I kind of had to play referee a little bit, but that is definitely something I would like to do in the future. But as far as, you know, having six, seven people on panels ad nauseum talking about whatever, no, that’s not really our format.
The world has enough of that to begin with. Well, Andrew, I’m surprised you even had the time to spare for this conversation, so I thank you for it.
No, thank you, Michael. I appreciate it.
That’s our time for today. We will be back soon with all kinds of new, smart conversations about the business of broadcasting. Until then, you can watch past episodes of Talking TV at TVNewsCheck.com and on our YouTube channel. See you next time.