Months in the Making and Now We Know: WNBC’s Vision of the Hyperlocal News of the Future: Swishpans and Look-lives.

WNBC/NYC Prepares to Go Nonstop

WNBC/NYC Prepares to Go "Nonstop"

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.

observer_man

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?”

What Kind of Nonstop Content from the Content Center?

What Kind of Nonstop Content from the Content Center?

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.

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3 Comments

Filed under Local News 2.0

3 responses to “Months in the Making and Now We Know: WNBC’s Vision of the Hyperlocal News of the Future: Swishpans and Look-lives.

  1. ben

    I hope one of these stations will get back to basics. Perhaps it’s an issue of waning talent as a result of layoffs, but instead of trying to make everything hyper-local and treating us like we have the attention span of a squirrel, how about doing smart, long-form, important journalism? I hear a lot of “we need to be different.” What could be more different than doing actual reporting and news, when everyone else is serving up the tv news equivalent of the McDonald’s drive-through.

    Case in point would be the “Final Edition” doc you mentioned. I know it took more than a day to get that done, but if you dedicate part of your newsroom to production teams that can put a good long form piece together once or twice per week, you can offer something no one else is doing. And judging by the success of 60 minutes and other long form programs, it could work. Maybe I’m giving the local audience too much credit, but I believe if you deliver quality, people will watch.

    Maybe my suggestion was the original intent of “i-teams” but clearly those franchises jumped the shark years ago. Stop covering stories about botox, baby proofing the home or the identity thief du jour and cover stories people will actually remember.

    You can still cover the news of the day. If the typical news hole for a 30-minute newscast if roughly 15-20 minutes, and if you can count on your rotating “production teams” to deliver a solid 10-minute piece per day…. you bookend that with the day’s headlines and you have something different. I know this isn’t anything earth-shattering. Maybe I’m just thinking out loud here.

  2. Chris

    “If it looks like a newscast, we’re dead.”

    I’m not quite sure how a TV news operation with TV news people in front of and behind a camera can POSSIBLY deliver a product that DOESN’T ‘look like a newscast.’ Is it even in their DNA to do so?

  3. Chris,

    It’s actually in our DNA to be creative more than you’d think. In many cases, some of the most inventive, gifted storytellers I’ve ever been around have ended up producing some pretty pedestrian stuff thanks to corporate guidelines, producers who have managers breathing down their backs, and a general gotta-run-to-the-fire-and-forget-that-special-story-for-today mentality.

    I agree with Ben. Set aside a team…and today, a “team” could be one smart, creative person with a small camera and the desire to do it different–who produces memorable stories like “Final Edition” and maybe we’d attract viewers back who’ve grown bored and insulted by our product.

    Mark

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