If you’re working at a local news station worth anything, part of your job these days includes reporting for the 5:00, 6:00 and maybe the 11:00 and filing a version of your story for the station website. Maybe you remember, as I do, the emphasis put on this part of the job by your news director in memo after memo after threatening memo: “you must file a story with the web before your day is over,” etc.
Some of us take this multiplatforming as a way to reach new audiences and flex new writing muscles (I, for one, love translating my broadcast voice into “print” format for the web, even if sometimes, it seems like rolling a boulder up a hill while riding in a livetruck back to the station at the end of a long day. (Oh man…what was the name of the hotdog vendor we interviewed at noon?) What about leaving the job to an overworked web editor? Ah, my friend, beware.
For that part of today’s life lesson, we turn the blog over to WCCO’s Jason DeRusha, who not only worked for broadcast and filed for the web, but also responded to a Brooklyn blogger’s last-minute request for a guest post. And he offers some damn solid insight into the risks and rewards of telling your story–and keeping control of your story–across all platforms. If you’re banging out the web version as an afterthought, or leaving it to someone else, you’re playing with your own reputation.
DISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINES: Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV/Minneapolis
As a guy who started in Davenport, Iowa in 1997, my job was clear. I was a television news reporter. My job was to go find out stuff and put it on TV. Maybe I’d write a VOSOT for 10, or the morning news. But that was it.
Writing my story for online publication may be the most important and least appreciated part of my job. I learned this a couple years ago, when a Google search of my name turned up a Pacific Business News article ripping me for a story I did where I supposedly referred to Hawaii as the “big island.” I did no such thing, on the air. But the online version of my story, published under my byline (and written by a web producer), got it wrong.
I bring this up, because a local Minneapolis Fox station took a great deal of heat online for the text version of a perfectly fine TV story. They should have expected that a story on Twitter would get a lot of attention on Twitter. The story I watched on the air was a perfectly nice introduction to Twitter. It was well-written and well produced. The story online was not. No links to the people in the story. No quotes from anyone in the story. With no disrespect intended toward the person who probably had to post two dozen stories that night, it appeared to be written by a child. The story was annihilated online: with Tweets like this: “That Fox Twitter story reads like a piece on the CB Radio craze submitted to me in 1976 when I edited the 6th grade paper.” Not good.
At WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, several years ago management decided that reporters and field producers would write their own stories for the web. We had seminars, reminding us that writing for the web is different. Online readers expect you to get to the point right away. On-air, you might build your story to a climactic point. Online readers expect you to cite your sources, specifically. Online readers expect you to link to source material.
Some of us are pretty good at this, others need quite a bit of editing. But the web producers can work on editing, rather than trying to figure out what we were talking about when the TV script reads, “SOT: In: bob went…. OUT: pizza parlor.” At first, I hated writing my web scripts. It jams more work into the end of my work day. Now, I love it. I love adding the extra information that I had to leave out because of time. I love the challenge of coming up with a provocative headline to attract viewers. And I’m proud of the fact that when people link to my stories, they get a well-written story, under my name, and under my station’s brand.
If you wonder about the value of a well-written web story, go to your web team and ask to see some web traffic statistics. I’ll bet you the text versions of stories get at least ten times more views than the corresponding videos. And unlink the television story that went out into the ether and disappeared, your online version will live nearly forever. So make it count.