Talking TV: Gray TV’s Local News Live Upgrades To Version 2.0
Local streaming news formats continue to evolve past their initial, plant-the-flag stage. One example is Gray Television, whose Local News Live service was initially conceived as a way to fill in the cracks between time-shifted streaming local newscasts on Gray stations’ OTT apps.
At launch, Local News Live was a bit rough and ready, produced with a minimum of studio dressing and on the fly. In March, however, the service moved from its original digs in Omaha, Neb., to a sharper studio space in Washington, D.C., and it hired a small team of anchors to add some polish to its presentation.
In this Talking TV conversation, Kyle Rogers, news director for Local News Live, explains what’s different about this new iteration of the service. He discusses the storytelling and in-depth advantages inherent to streaming, where time constraints are less onerous than on a live, linear newscast. And he anticipates what’s next as Local News Live gets its footing.
Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.
Michael Depp: Gray Television’s Local News Live launched in 2021 as a sort of news content backstop for the company’s OTT desks and each of its stations. Produced out of Omaha, Nebraska, it was a simple, low-budgeted news DJing operation, filling in the spaces between streaming local newscasts.
Fast forward to the present and Local News Live’s operations have been shifted to Washington, D.C. Budgets and staff are bigger, sets are slicker and news deejays are now proper anchors. What viewers now see is much more in line with a conventional newscast.
I’m Michael Depp, editor of TVNewsCheck, and this is Talking TV. Today, a conversation with Kyle Rogers, news director of Local News Live. We’ll talk about how the service has evolved, how it’s put together every day and where it sits in Gray’s overall streaming news strategy. We’ll be right back with that conversation.
Welcome, Kyle Rogers to Talking TV.
Kyle Rogers: Michael, thanks for having me. Good to see you.
Kyle, how different is what viewers see today on Local News Live as opposed to what would have been in its original 1.0 version back in Omaha?
Sure. I think viewers can see a more structured newscast now with the new LNL and our revamp and relaunch. We are really promoting a newscast. We are really trying to put together a well-rounded show that streams throughout the day. Previously, it was a lot more live events. Of course, as you mentioned, the anchors were more so VJs. But now we have a team of anchors and producers who are working constantly to bring those live events, have more structured coverage, anchored coverage in addition to putting on a one-hour live newscast.
How many hours of content are you now producing daily?
Our Local News Live hours are from 7 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday. So, we do guarantee three hours of live news coverage, 7 a.m., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern. Those newscasts really rotate throughout the day. But we’re constantly bringing viewers live events such as scenes of breaking news. Right now, we have a hearing from Washington. And then we’re also updating those news blogs, too, throughout the day to really freshen it up.
These then run on a loop?
It’s a wheel style format.
Basically, it’s coming in to complement the local newscasts that are run on Gray OTT apps, correct?
Correct. You’ll find Local News Live on all of Gray Television’s websites or their streaming page, as well as their news apps. And we’re really there to supplement that stream. So, when the local station is on the air, you’ll be watching their coverage. But the second they dip out, you still have more news. And that’s coming from us. We’re filling.
Their own newscasts are time shifted by when they finish on air, and then they roll over onto the OTT apps?
Just to be clear, also, Local News Live doesn’t iterate on its own app, right? It’s folded solely into the pancake of local market news content in those respective spaces?
Correct. We don’t have a standalone app now. We’ll see what the future holds and hopefully so. But we are really just fitting in with those the Gray websites and the apps.
Tell me about the process of how you program this. Do you have or how do you have transparency into what’s being produced at the various Gray stations? And then how do you pull that into your own stream?
Sure. So, every morning we do an editorial meeting, and our team is really divided into regions. That’s their beats. They are constantly checking the station’s websites just to find those stories of interest that could have national interest. Of course, we’re looking for the breaking news and what’s developing there, because that’s, you know, breaking news always starts at the local level. We have that power to really home in on it first and see what’s building up on the ground to bring it to a national level.
In addition, as you know, we’re constantly getting push alerts on our phones, and we have 113 stations throughout the company. I do not have all 113 news apps on my phone or else I’d be getting a ton of messages. But we do have this internal way where we can see every push alert that’s being sent out in real time. We are monitoring that daily. Pretty much it’s on my screen all the time and that’s how we gauge, you know, what’s breaking, what’s happening now, what’s trending, what are people talking about. And it’s really a good way for us to kind of see what the stations are promoting to their audiences, what’s grabbing their attention. And, you know, that’s how we find out a lot of breaking news before the others.
That’s interesting you’re almost a consumer. But a lot of the things that they might do a push alert for as breaking, you know, a fire is happening in such and such a place probably wouldn’t be interesting to this service, would it?
Correct, yeah. I mean, there is always going to be those push alerts about I-81 closed, you know, not really catering to a national audience. But, you know, the most recent example for us, unfortunately, was the tragedy out of Nashville with the school shooting. I mean, we were able to identify almost instantly that there was something happening there that we needed to cover. It started, I believe, with a shelter in place in that area. And we looked on the station’s website. They went live almost instantly with wall-to-wall coverage.
And the beautiful thing about Local News Live is we’re telling these stories through the local journalists’ eyes. And we just patched in the Nashville station’s coverage. We went with their coverage pretty much all day, and I think we were able to get a unique perspective from all the reporters on the ground there with their anchors leading the coverage.
OK, so you flip the switch there, then do your anchors sort of jump in periodically to give some context and back it up a little bit?
Yes, we do. We’ll have anchors just kind of do that. If you’re just joining us, kind of recap and explain, you know, what station we’re watching, why we’re tuning into them. You know, because we really feel like the best journalists to tell a story on the local level are the local journalists. So, this is an opportunity for them to just shine and, you know, really share to a national audience what’s happening there.
Now you don’t have the same time constraints as a linear TV newscast. How do you use that to your advantage? How do you expand on stories in a local market that would likely have much shorter iterations?
I think that’s one of the beautiful things about Local News Live and streaming in general — we don’t have those time constraints, so we feel like there’s a story or a conversation that can have more time. For example, one of our stations, I believe it was up in Vermont, did this really powerful investigation about magic mushrooms, of all things. They took a very well-done story, but we had a lot of questions and we wanted to have a more in-depth conversation. So, we aired that story, invited the reporter who did this investigation and joined LNL for an in-depth conversation.
I thought it was quite compelling. And it also allowed the reporter to really share more that he wasn’t able to on the air and, you know, spark that conversation. That’s what I’m looking for. And I truly believe that these days, you know, if you are taking the time to stream live news, you are a true news consumer. You are hungry for that news. We have that power to really have those conversations without getting too carried away, if you will, if that makes sense. You know, this is what I expect our viewers want.
A few months ago, I was talking with Jonathan Saupe, I think it was at Hawaii News Now, a Gray station. And we were talking about how with his show that he produces daily, a digitally based show, he takes a lot of the scraps, a lot of things that get left on the floor from stories when you’re cutting it down to a minute-30. And often he uses that to create new versions of the stories. And he expands on it not just with interviewing a reporter, but with a lot of stuff that you just don’t use that doesn’t make it into the final package. Are you now doing that yourselves or is that in the game plan to eventually take some of that stuff and create whole new packages?
You know, I would say what’s unique about us in my department is we don’t have reporters here. So, we’re not really in the business of newsgathering as much as we are gathering news, if that makes sense. Ideally, I think that would be great to, you know, get on the cutting room floor of these local stations and bring something to life. But right now, you know, our original reporting, if you will, are our anchors doing these interviews.
I mean, just last week we had Ava Hutchinson, who is running for president for the Republican nomination. He was in studio. Today, we have Marianne Williamson coming to talk to us. That’s kind of where we find those long-form conversations and being able to have a more expanded product, if you will, instead of being tied down to the minute-30. But we do encourage all of our stations back to the cutting room floor. If there’s something more that they want to add or something unique that maybe can’t fit into their newscast to come to us, we have the space and the platform to air it, and we’re all about it.
It does seem then for the anchors’ role that primarily they have to take these stories that are originating in local markets and frame them in a way that makes it relevant for a national viewer to care, right? That’s the challenge there.
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, we come into our morning meeting and identify the stories that are getting national play in the morning. And our first thing is to identify our markets within Gray to see if they have content that can really supplement it and how we can make that work. Of course, we’re tailoring the anchor intros because they are written for a more local audience, and we broaden them out. Other, you know, it’s for our national audience as well.
It seems like in that tailoring you sort of have to get across “And here’s why you need to care. Here’s why this matters.”
Absolutely. And that’s what we’re up against every day. Our team is really doing a good job with that. And as far as you know, why should someone in Kansas care about this story that’s happening out of North Carolina? And that’s I think that was one of our bigger challenges when we first did this revamp is really writing and, you know, getting that message across to those viewers. But we’re really picking up on it and it’s identifying some good language and how we can make it expense and reach out, reach a broader audience. That’s what we’re about.
Now, the programing format at this time is more or less a conventional newscast. Are there plans to play with that or try different concepts or shows out inside of this service?
Yeah, we’d like to. I always tell people we’re building the house now, so, you know, we’re going room by room. But once we, I think, have everything built up. We’re a relatively new staff, so learning the basics and getting that structure down. I really want to see our team take this step forward.
How can we create programs aside from the newscasts that would have interest across the country if it’s a half-hour show? With some good news, I know viewers are thirsty for good news. I am, too. But really, you know, what can we do to make something different outside of that newscast? And I think really, once we get our producers, everybody more comfortable, I mean, we relaunched less than two months ago now. So, we’re still finding our groove.
But down the road, I really want to see us do some special programing. We’ll have those conversations. Looking ahead, we have the coronation of King Charles happening on Saturday. So, we’ll be doing actually live coverage from here at D.C. We’ll be waking up very early and covering that for all of our radio stations. And we have some unique content ready to go and some unique perspectives joining us. So, you know, I feel like those types of events to where we can add, you know, unique voices to these live events and content to supplement that really will help us stand out, too.
And you are in D.C. You’ve got Gray’s D.C. bureau there, presumably in the same building, right?
Right down the hall. That’s right.
Do you lean on them particularly? Are they even more frequent contributors?
Absolutely. We love having our Washington correspondents on. And again, that’s another example of they come in, they do their story, which is naturally tailored to a broader audience, but we can have a Q&A with them just to dive deeper into the topic they’re covering.
As you know, a lot of the news in Washington can be complex, there’s a lot to take in. So, we can really kind of break it down with them. And we’ve had great support from our Washington correspondents, our White House correspondent, John Decker, is very much, you know, all things Washington.
And we also have InvestigateTV, which I know you’re aware of. So, you know, we have this powerhouse team of national investigative reporters. We have a couple based here in Washington. They’re doing these compelling stories, but we love bringing them on afterwards to really put a bow on the package they’re doing because, you know, you’re left wondering, there’s so much on the table. It’s a talk about whatever they’re covering and to really home in on that and have just more time to explain it, I think it does everyone justice.
The viewer, the reporter being able to expand more on a particular nugget and the story. So, those are some really good conversations that we’re using the resources of Gray with our Washington team, with our InvestigateTV team and our local journalists.
Now you got a bigger budget, better facilities. This is obviously the 2.0 version of this endeavor. What is the 2.5 or the 3.0 version going to look like? How is Local News Live going to continue to strategically evolve?
You know, we’re still in the infancy stage here, 2.0. But I think our next steps would be seeing how we can expand our footprint, if you will, beyond just where we’re streaming now on the apps and our station website. So that’s going to be most likely what’s next for us. You know, we’re already on Roku in some markets, and I think growing that and getting more exposure elsewhere will be what’s next. Stay tuned!
Stay tuned indeed. Kyle Rogers, news director of Local News Live. Thank you for speaking with me about it.
Thanks for having me. Good to be here.
Thanks to all of you for watching and listening. You can watch past episodes of Talking TV on TVNewsCheck.com, and on our YouTube channel. New episodes come along most Fridays. See you next time.