Considering the basic business of local television has always been, you know, television… and the people who do the news get hired in part for their energy, personality, and knowledge (don’t bother emailing, I know I should’ve said “youth, inexperience and willingness to work for pizza”), it must mean something that the most boring blogs and video-dead websites on the internet all seem to belong to local televisions stations.
Here’s what it means: Local newsers? You still don’t get the internet.
So local news director? GM? Give me a moment of your time and let me spell it out for you. Ready? You’ve got it precisely backward. The station website isn’t a tool to drive people to your newscasts. Your newscasts are tools–until they become obsolete and cease to exist in their current form–to gather up an audience for your website. The future is online, and the sooner you start planning for that, the better chance you’ll have of surviving.
Scott Clark, a business strategist and search marketing guy knows his websites. And back in January, he took a close look at how stations were performing with their sites, especially at times of maximum potential traffic: right after a huge regional ice storm. His conclusion? “You’re doing it wrong.”
Clark takes the sites apart for assuming everyone who shows up online watches their news (and knows the anchor heads plastered all over the screen), for failing to understand search engine optimization, for failing to keep video posts current and updated, and for just having some damn ugly and annoying sites to look at: “Basic human interface design is a mature industry. You don’t even need to hire someone, but at least do some reading or buy a book and learn a bit about web design.”
It pains me to say it, but the most advanced local news website thinking seems to be emerging from the corridors of NBC, which instituted its “Locals Only” sites on O&Os this year. The sites have little or nothing to do with the local station, though stories appear and if you dig deep enough on the site, you can find a programming schedule. But trust me, check out NBC New York and you’ll conclude quickly the powers that be at NBC don’t see the future in building up Channel 4. Rather, WNBC is a vehicle to build the NBC New York brand, which will likely, at some point, outlast Chuck, Sue, and the 6:00 news.
So local news managers? Think about it. You’ve still got power in your broadcast brand. But think very carefully every time you send a viewer over to your website for “more information.” On the sites I’ve seen, those lame anchor tags and web bugs may get you a click, but they also may convince a person to never bother with your website again. Go have a look for yourself. And think about it this way: if you didn’t have a tv station on the side, could this website be your entire business? Is it good enough to BE the franchise?
No? Then you’re already behind. And your competitors probably won’t slow down to let you catch up.