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SlimeWatch, Part 3: What Local Stations Can Learn from NPR’s New Website

6a00d83451b26169e201053659b16a970c-800wiNPR.org doesn’t exactly grab you by the shoulders and scream “cutting edge!” At least, not yet. But give it time.

One thing that is clear is this:  the thinking behind the radio giant’s redesign is advanced, and should be studied by every local television station manager and web team–at least the ones that intend to survive as employees of viable, profitable businesses.

For NPR, the new thinking goes like this:  kinda, sorta, start not really focusing so much on the “R” in NPR: “This is an organization that’s in transformation into becoming a fully functional news content organization, not just a radio company,” said NPR’s Vivian Schiller in an interview with Newsweek.  Schiller’s the force behind one of the most powerful news sites on Earth–nytimes.com–but she left the Times six months ago to join NPR and get the old school org all multiplatformy and stuff.

As Newsweek’s Johnnie Roberts wrote, “For Schiller, that means building on NPR’s reputation as a broadcaster of national and international news, by extending its reach into local news. She plans on relying more on local member stations to fill what she sees as a “scary” void in local coverage as hometown daily newspapers fold.”

Supporting local coverage is obviously something most localnewsers can get behind.  Unless, of course, that means a network, like NPR, or NBC for that matter, coming in an bypassing its local station to do the local work itself. And NPR’s new model, as Schiller’s old shop The New York Times noted, “would make it easier than ever to find programming from local stations, (it) will also make it much more convenient for listeners to bypass local stations, if they choose.”

NBCChicago:  No Worries for NBC-Owned WMAQ.  But Boston, Tampa, Vegas?

NBCChicago: No Worries for NBC-Owned WMAQ. But Boston, Tampa, Vegas?

This is exactly the threat, as I’ve argued, that NBC’s “Locals Only” effort poses to NBC affiliates who don’t choose to accept NBC’s terms to do business on a local level.  GE’s already laid the groundwork by buying up domains from coast to coast that would allow the network to instantly be in the local online news business (as “NBC Boston,” for example) and bypass entirely another “NBC” entity in the same city. Welcome to the Wild West, folks, where allegiances may shift depending on who’s got better firepower, stronger horses, and cash.

Speaking specifically of NPR’s aggressive move into multi-platform news growth online, Jake Shapiro, the executive director of Public Radio Exchange, a group that supports local radio stations, told the Times, “That’s the risk. It increases the pressure for stations to offer compelling and distinct programming.”

As Schiller told the Times, NPR’s revamped website isn’t about offering National Public Radio a presence online, and certainly it’s not an effort to drive ears to NPR stations.  The new model reverses all of that, taking NPR’s website “from being a companion to radio to being a news destination in its own right,” Ms. Schiller said.

The Web's News Giants Smell Money in Your Backyard.  You Ready to Compete?

The Web's News Giants Smell Money in Your Backyard. You Ready to Compete?

With TV networks contributing their content to Hulu and ending the once ironclad arrangement that you see NBC shows on NBC stations, the “bypass local stations but own local advertising” model is no hypothetical threat.  It’s time for smart station managers and news directors to look at their own websites and ask if they can compete against their own network–if it ever came to that.

Can you?  Is your site that good?  Is it tied to your TV product or growing in creative ways away from the TV newscast and terrestrial station?  Is your local online reporting going to be better than NBC’s or CBS’s or Huffington Post’s?

You may not be thinking this way.  But trust me.  They are.

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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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WMAQ/Chicago to Get the “Content Center” Treatment

If you like what they’ve been doing with WNBC/NY, you’ll love what’s in store for WMAQ/Chicago. WMAQ GM Frank Whittaker told staff yesterday that news producers, writers and editors would be required to re-apply for their jobs; the new jobs will be “multi-faceted,” with titles like “platform manager” and “content producer,” and the Chicago Tribune200px-wmaqtv reports it’s all based on the “content center” format unveiled in New York.

“A writer now has to write, an editor now has to edit,” Whittaker said. “These new jobs are going to require multiple skills. You’ll have to write, edit, you’ll have to know how to send a story to the Web, order graphics and design graphics for the story you’re working on,” reports the Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal, whose sources tell him there’s plenty of worry the new multiplatform model may mean layoffs or reduced salaries: “Privately, some current WMAQ staff members expressed concern that the most experienced – and most expensive staff members – would be vulnerable in the 21st century makeover. There also are fears that someone who is particularly good with a skill such as writing or editing might not be as adept at something else with which they have less, little or no experience.”

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Chicago’s Choppers on the Chopping Block

Chicago’s air wars have gotten a lot less hardcore–with fewer birds in the air.  Phil Rosenthal’s Tower Ticker

Still Flying Solo

WLS/Chicago's Chopper 7HD: Still Flying Solo

 

blog in the Chicago Tribune reports two Windy City stations have quietly teamed up–and grounded one of their pricey eyes in the sky.  “Since New Year’s Day, NBC-owned WMAQ-Ch. 5 and Fox-owned WFLD-Ch. 32 have been sharing a single news helicopter and whatever video is shot from it,” Rosenthal reports.

The smaller air fleet flying over breaking news stories in Chicago comes on the heels of a growing relationship between NBC and FOX, with stations in Philadelphia experimenting with a video-sharing agreement to cut costs and avoid “duplication,” as the news suits like to call it.

But the one chopper, two station deal has its awkward side:  “Weekday mornings from 5 to 7, Channel 5 can have a traffic reporter on board. That person can be replaced by a Channel 32 traffic reporter from 7 to 9 a.m. If news breaks during that time, the other station can run the video but not the reporting,” FOX’s Senior VP of News Operations at the FOX Television Stations Sharri Berg tells the Ticker.

Local news air warriors look at the deal as yet another scary sign of the times.  “It just gets worse and worse,” says a veteran major market chopper vet.

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