Tag Archives: san francisco

Dispatch from the Frontlines: VidSF Co-Creator Steve Cochrane

Trying It a New Way:  San Francisco's VidSF

Trying It a New Way: San Francisco's VidSF

Clay Shirky (who got a nice nod in Frank Rich’s Sunday Times piece) has noted that the next evolution of journalism will emerge one way or another, whether it’s the creation of a known monster like Google, or “some 19-year-old kid few of us have heard of.”

Steve Cochrane’s not 19, but he may be one of those “kids” who figures it out.  And even if he doesn’t, he’s one of the braves one out there trying something new, instead of rolling to work every day obsessing over whether we’ll be fired that day, and bitching about the fate of local news.  So on principle, Cochrane and his partner, Kieran Farr, deserve a lot of credit.  But what, exactly, are they doing? And is it showing signs, you know, of working?

So to start this week with something to ponder beyond Frank Rich’s “American Press on Suicide Watch,” we offer our first Monday Morning Dispatch from the Frontlines.  And thanks, Steve, for being the kid in class brave enough to share his project first.

DISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINES:  STEVE COCHRANE, CO-FOUNDER, VidSF

Hi, I’m Steve Cochrane, and I co-founded VidSF with Kieran Farr. First, I’d like to thank Mark for letting me have the run of his wonderful blog here. It’s extremely encouraging to hear such interest in our project.

So, why did we start VidSF? We noticed that our friends weren’t watching local news anymore. Kieran and I are both in our mid-twenties, and if anyone our age is watching news, it’s probably from The Daily Show and not from a local offering.

We had also worked together on a television station that Kieran founded while at college, Indiana University Student Television . It’s still going strong and we learned a great deal from the project, so we decided to try again with local news for the web. We’d like to say we predicted the collapse of local TV news, but we just got lucky.

What’s the difference between news for TV and news for the web? As you all know, back before you had your Internet Blogs, and your Tweeter and MeSpace, making local news required a horrifically expensive studio and a time slot on cable. Because of this scarcity, a local TV news station only had to compete with maybe two or three other stations for viewer attention. At least, that’s what I’ve pieced together from multiple viewings of the historical document Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Today, with compact cameras and dirt-cheap webhosts, the days of limited options are over. The level of competition has gone way, way up, and viewers are likely to flee a site if they have to watch even one sub-par video. When viewers are held in contempt, like the classic “bait the viewer with the most interesting story and withhold it until the very end of the broadcast,” they don’t have to stand for it, because they can get their news elsewhere. So it’s important that we really respect our viewers, value their time, and edit relentlessly. That’s why we have a rule that our videos can only be two to four minutes in length. There aren’t many stories that need more time than that.

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Cochrane: "Being the Little Guy Has Never Held Us Back"

What’s working for us? We’re really happy that we decided to go the all-video route. There are many, many local news start-ups popping up, but they’re predominantly text-only. While a video site is harder to set up and more expensive to maintain than a text site, it definitely has its advantages. Video advertising generally performs far better than traditional banner ads, which viewers have trained themselves to ignore.

As for content, event coverage has been working great for us. There are lots of fun and quirky events in San Francisco to cover, like the Bring Your Own Big Wheel race and the Valentine’s Day pillow fight . So instead of the inane reporter stand-up , we interview the people involved and let them tell us why it’s important. We’re not going to be winning Pulitzers any time soon, but these events are fun to watch and quick to produce.

It’s also surprisingly easy to gain access to events, even if no one’s ever heard of us before. We’ll just send a polite email and almost invariably we’ll get a nice reply with a press pass and free drinks. Being the little guy has never held us back.

What’s not working for us? This one’s easy: user-generated content. When we originally started VidSF, we had the crazy idea that “anyone can be a video journalist!” We soon found that when you get a bunch of random people from Craigslist without any journalism or video production experience and have them tape what they want with no oversight, the end product is not very compelling.

So we’re changing our approach from user-generated content to more of an edited publication. Having to make that transition has slowed us down a bit, but that’s how start-ups like these go. In order to survive you can’t just set a plan in stone, you have to bob and weave.

This may be disappointing to some, but we’ve also noticed that our more laboriously produced and researched “serious news” videos are generally less popular than our lighter, more entertaining ones.

What about the whole “money” thing? This is probably the thing that readers most want to hear about, and unfortunately we don’t have much of an answer yet. We did recently build a custom advertising system that serves pre-roll ads — brief video ads that play before a feature — similar to the ads on Hulu . Currently we’re thinking through how we want to make sales, and we haven’t approached any local businesses yet, but we’re close. Will it work? We don’t know yet, but we hope to make lots of money, and we’ll see how that pans out.

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Filed under Local News 2.0

Time Has Told… The Era of the One Person Crew Is Upon Us

Mitch Roberts/WKRN VJ and Anchor

Mitch Roberts/WKRN VJ and Anchor

It’s always educational to take a step back, turn around, and look at where we’ve been.  It helps to see where we’ve come from, and how we’ve gotten to this place.  In thinking about the spread of–call ’em what you will, one man bands, all-platform journalists, multimedia journalists, backpack journalists–single person crews, I looked back at the debut of the form, if you will.  The early reactions to the off-Broadway version of the show that’s now getting decidedly mixed reviews, but somehow selling lots and lots of tickets to news managers and corporate suits looking to find a way–any way–to cut costs and keep the profit in local news.

The first station group to go “VJ,” as they called it, was Young Broadcasting, which put cameras on reporters’ shoulders at WKRN/Nashville and KRON/San Francisco, copying a news-on-the-cheap model that had seen success elsewhere, notably at outfits like New York’s local cable newser, NY1.  Variety wrote about the “Crew Cut in News Biz” in 2005, quoting a WKRN anchor: “It’s like they took the rules here and hucked them out the window.”

Steve Schwaid/CBS Atlanta

Steve Schwaid/CBS Atlanta

A lot of rules have gone out that window, especially lately.  In addition to the expansion of one man banding to stations like WUSA/DC and WNBC/NYC, WGNX/Atlanta news director Steve Schwaid recently updated his Facebook profile to read:  “Steve is looking for one person bands – send dvds to me at CBS Atlanta.”  The whole stations, he says, won’t be going OPB;  he says “there will always need to be some working in teams and some can work by themselves…back to the future – we worked like this when I worked at whio in the late 70s.”

The mere suggestion of one person field crews drew fire on Facebook, with one person commenting on Schwaid’s profile page, “Nice BS-ing around the reality. One person does 2 times the work for less pay. That is the reality.”  Schwaid responded:  “hey, the reality is the business model as we know it is dramatically changing…so you can be working for the last company that made the buggy whips or looking ahead…I prefer looking ahead.”

Is KPIX Next?

Is KPIX Next?

And he’s clearly not the only one looking ahead and seeing lots more reporters with cameras on their shoulders (or photographers reporting, however you want to look at it).  Word is KPIX/San Francisco is bringing the one person crew into the mix, and some say it will soon show at NBC O&O’s like WRC/DC, and WMAQ/Chicago as they undergo the “Content Center” transformation.  (So, in DC, you’d have a Content Center competing against an Information Center?)

Is there any way to argue now that this isn’t happening and won’t keep spreading?  Did naysayers suggest the three-person crew would never end?  (before my time)  And what, pray tell, is the union strategy in all of this?

As the Nashville anchor said waaaaaaay back in ’05 (remember the good old days, when we didn’t fear for our jobs every minute of every day?), the rules, they’re getting “hucked” out the window.

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Filed under Cutbacks

NASDAQ Delists Young; Company Can’t Sell KRON, Onetime Powerhouse in SF

KRON/SF, once a strong NBC station, has suffered since its purchase by Young Broadcasting, losing its NBC affiliation, and this week, Young lost its listing on NASDAQ, as shares tumbled into the three-cents-a-share range. “Burdened by what some investors believe is a prominent asset with a questionable future and more broadly, the overall malaise in the ad market,” Young’s trading was moved to an over-the-counter market, reports mediapost.com.

KRON, ever a source of lively debate and rumor among San Francisco local tv newsers, has lost most of its marquee talent and moved to a one-man-band newsgathering model since becoming an affiliate of My Network TV. In its first day of over-the-counter trading Tuesday, mediapost.com reports Young shares dropped another 33%.

Other station groups in similar trouble, reports the site: Gray, Entravision, and Lin. Read more here.

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Filed under Station Sales/Purchases