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Dispatch from the Front Lines: WUSA’s Scott Broom

A few months ago, Scott Broom, reporter at WUSA/DC got a nifty new title: “digital correspondent.” The Gannett station was busy transforming its old-fashioned “TV newsroom” into an “information center,” and its tired old teams of reporters and photographers into a fleet of shiny new DCs (hey! just like the City! was THAT why WUSA didn’t call them “backpack journalists,” “multiplatform journalists” or “one-man bands?”) like Scott Broom.

The elimination of the traditional reporter and photographer team sent some in the WUSA newsroom rushing to the exits, bemoaning the imminent collapse of the concept of hard local news. Scott Broom, however, is a believer. Profiled on Larry Smith’s BulletproofBlog, Broom says it’s all about staying current and competitive: “This is a web-first philosophy that is designed to make the TV station the primary source of highly-localized, moment-to-moment text, graphic, and video news online as well as on television.”

What a concept. Seeing past the bricks-and-mortar of the traditional TV model to the newsroom as a web-feeding factory. The idea, as Broom and his bosses see it, is nothing less than “a once in a generation opportunity to compete as the dominant media force” in local markets.

This is not a common belief–in fact, it’s a foreign concept–in most local TV newsrooms. You know the places where Facebook remains a “new” idea, and Twitter is, well, not on the radar yet. Broom says WUSA digital bosses like Lane Michaelsen and Patrick O’Brien encourage their reporters to take advantage of all these social media tools: “We know that a constant flow of new updates and content is absolutely essential to survival in the digital age…User comments and submissions of photos and videos are all sources of ‘new’ searchable content,” Broom says.

WUSA's Scott Broom

WUSA's Scott Broom

This kind of talk takes the debate over “content centers” out of the arena of cost-cutting and reporters lugging cameras, and into a new sphere: the idea that the medium itself is changing, and moving far more quickly than many of us may even realize into a web-style world: where news consumers want it fresh (and by fresh, we mean posted within seconds) and want to find it the way they find things online–links and keyword searches, not sitting down at six o’clock to see what streams out of the set at them.

If you’re a local TV reporter, ask yourself this: does Scott Broom inspire you, or scare you? Do you feel like “yes! he gets it!” or do you feel like your own grandparent, trying but failing to understand what it is you mean by this “internet” thing.

Broom admits context can be a casualty in the fight to serve multiple platforms all by himself, going live, blogging, and feeding, feeding, feeding. “The crew is gone. I work alone, shooting and editing my own video. I write and deliver content on all platforms all the time. I file text, video, and photo updates to the Internet throughout the day via wireless broadband. I twitter my followers when anything new occurs to drive traffic.”

So who does context in the content center model? And is this model the prescription for what ails local TV? Or just a low-cost recipe for killing what was good about local TV news in a losing battle against a medium that already works well on its own: the web?

Check out Broom’s complete comments…and then let’s have this discussion. It’s important, and we’ve got to figure this out together.

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