I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am. The New York Observer has obtained an internal memo on the “imminent” launch of WNBC/NY’s long-awaited (or should I say long-delayed…) 24-hour hyperlocal channel, which we now know will be dubbed (ready for it?)…
“New York Nonstop.” (Ooooooh! Shivers.)
Sure, the name’s a showstopper. (..sigh..) But the content oozing “nonstop” out of the “Content Center” at 30 Rock may seem a bit more tired, especially given the buildup and buzz: “NBC executives first announced their plans to launch the digital, cable channel back in May of 2008. Initially, the plan was to roll out the channel (which, at the time, various news reports described as a potential challenger to Time Warner’s NY1) by the fall of 2008. But the channel’s debut has since been delayed a number of times. What exactly the channel will look like has been a hot topic of speculation in recent months among local TV newshounds in New York. Now the wait is almost over,” writes the NYO.
And what have the hyperlocal visionaries been cooking up all this time? Well, to me, it sounds a lot like a local news consulting reporting circa 1994: “Think ‘look live,’ (“I’m standing on line with some people buying lottery tix,” and then walk down the line talking to people all in one take. Simple. Easy.) Think swish pans, dutch angles- but try to make it look different,” according to an internal email written by WNBC’s Michael Horowicz and printed in the Observer. And yes, “look live” was in quotation marks, as if it was some kind of emerging News 2.0 concept reporters might not be familiar with. Oh my.
To add to the stale smell of “been there, done that,” the memo leads off with an 80’s reference. I kid you not: “The debut of New York Nonstop is imminent. It is, as Magic Johnson called it in the late 1980’s, “Showtime.” [excessively snarky comment redacted]
Having just watched “Final Edition,” the video produced by multimedia journalists at the late Rocky Mountain News, the in-house description of “New York Nonstop” sounds so jarringly lame. “Sometimes, your contribution will just be a series of soundbites butted together,” the memo reads. It urges reporters (or are they content producers over there now?) to make sure their pieces don’t look like traditional newscasts, for fear people will “click away.” Well, I could be wrong, but I think the objective might be trying to be MORE creative and unexpected than traditional local newscasts–to take ADVANTAGE of new media to do something DIFFERENT, like “Final Edition.” Instead, it sounds like New York Nonstop will be nonstop filler, walk and talk look-lives and butted sound bites and “oh, crap, did you remember to feed something to “Nonstop?”
I hope I’m wrong. I hope it looks fresh and I hope it’s inventive and interesting. But aside from the musty scent of decades-old newsroom “do walking standups” memos, there’s also a sharp smell of panic in that memo. The stakes are high, and local tv news isn’t fighting from a strong position these days, especially at WNBC, where most of the strength in their deep bench is now laid off and looking for work. “If you can’t feed your piece in early, I need to know why. You can feed on your laptop while your shooter is covering the news conference. If everyone were to feed in their contribution at the end of the day, then our mission wil have failed. They’ll turn it into a lifestyle channel and we’ll have one less platform in which to showcase our work, and you know what will happen next. I cannot overemphasize this point,” Horowicz writes. “If it looks like a newscast, we’re dead. It will also look out of place compared to all the other content on the channel. It is within our power to make this channel the talk of the town… in a good way.”
It certainly is within their power to do it different and to showcase creative talent and become an example of how local tv news will stay relevant by embracing new media, new ways to tell stories, and new audiences. Or, it could be the talk of the town… in a bad way.