I was a 41-year-old intern. In the summer of 2018, I used a grant from the National Association of Television Program Executives to spend three weeks embedded inside a local newsroom. It had been eight years since I produced my last show and became a full-time journalism professor. What struck me the most was how TV news is becoming less about TV, and more about the web. Here are my top five things I believe today’s journalism teachers need to teach, and journalism students need to learn.
1. The website versus newscast battle is being won – by the website
When I produced my final newscast in 2010, the station’s website followed the newscast’s lead. Stories were only posted after they aired on television. Web editors only attended editorial meetings to see what stories the reporters were working on, and had no say in coverage decisions. But this relationship is flipped in 2018. At the station I visited, web editors are the first to pitch stories in the editorial meetings – even before assignment editors, reporters or producers. Often times, stories that are trending on the website become the stories reporters will follow that day. If a web story isn’t enough for a full package, it’s sure to become a VO. The reasoning is that if people are reading or watching a story on their phones, they’ll want to watch it on TV as well.
2. Social media is now a way of life
For the vast majority of my time in TV news, I didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, and neither did the station. Social media didn’t exist in its current form. When reporters or anchors posted something, it was more of a novelty. At the station I observed, reporters and anchors are required to post several times a day on the most popular sites, promoting their stories and interacting with viewers. Producers, news managers and photographers are also encouraged to post and tweet. It’s not clear, however, what viewers are looking for. One reporter, for instance, mentioned how he’ll get about 10 to 20 likes or comments when posting about a story he’s working on. But when he posts personal things, like pictures of dropping his son off for his first day of day camp, he’ll get more than 50. The implication is that people don’t necessarily follow their favorite TV journalists to get a heads-up on the news. Instead, they want to connect with them on a personal level as a “friend.” A good social media strategy appears to have a mix of both informational and the personal posts, including occasional Facebook Live sessions to interact with viewers in real-time.
3. TV reporters don’t always have to appear on TV
The station I visited recently hired a new reporter – but not for TV. Like a broadcast MMJ, she shoots her own video and does her own interviews. Instead of producing a traditional package, however, she edits the clips into 60-second viral-style videos, with music, subtitles instead of narration and only an occasional standup. The goal is to provide web exclusive content that attracts clicks and shares and isn’t simply a television package posted online. Topics are typically lighter visual stories, like a new gourmet pretzel restaurant opening, a day at a local Comic-Con and a local bar that stopped giving out straws. Whatever the topic is, however, managers are careful not to present her pieces in the newscast too often. They want her stories to have a “web exclusive” identity and to make her a viral star that people want to follow, which will in turn drive traffic to the station’s website and social media accounts.
4. The website looks different than it did before
The web and social media are changing the way news looks. When I left the newsroom, I still had a flip-phone, the iPad was just four months old, and nearly everyone visited the station’s website on a desktop or laptop. Now, however, analytics show a large and growing portion of people go to the station’s website from their phone or tablet. That’s forced a redesign of how the website looks and functions. Stories are now formatted to look good on a small screen, rather than a large screen. “How will it look on mobile?” is the first question that’s asked, instead of being an afterthought.
5. Making money isn’t just about TV ads anymore
Newspapers have struggled for years as advertisers abandon print for cheaper and more targeted online ads. Television stations have held their own, especially in election years, but station managers know this won’t last much longer. They’re looking for new sources of revenue, beyond 30-second commercials. That means developing and promoting new ways of storytelling that will attract new media advertisers. Many stations, including the one I observed, now air shows in the midday or early afternoon, where sponsored content airs alongside news and entertainment segments. But all stations need to think beyond just TV. Likely candidates include selling ads in daily newscasts produced for smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa. Podcasts also have the potential to be a new revenue stream. Instead of providing “news of the day,” they could take the form of advertiser-friendly features like “this day in local news,” “where are they now?” or sponsored segments on local businesses. The growth of streaming video on demand also could be the future of local TV. Following the Netflix model, viewers may be willing to pay a monthly fee for premium services, like early access to the news, video of high school sports, or coverage of specialized topics, like local business, politics, or entertainment. There’s no guarantee any of these ideas will work, but it’s important for everyone in a newsroom – from seasoned pros to new graduates – to think creatively about the business side of journalism, so stations won’t end up in a financial crisis like so many newspapers are now facing.
Bogardus shares his lessons from WTNH in New Haven. Are you an educator who has recently returned to your local newsroom? Let us know what trends you noticed.