The mainstream payoff for listening

Later this month, WKRN-TV in Nashville will mark 6-months of involvement in the local blogosphere, a model that mainstream media entities everywhere should be following. The station began with the simple acknowledgment that local bloggers presented newsworthy discussions that deserved attention, and they set about to facilitate a goal of supporting the blogging community. I think Mike Sechrist, Steve Sabato, Mike Tarrolly and Brittney Gilbert all deserve a round of applause for blazing a trail that I hope many others will follow.

Since I was involved in the effort, I’ve fielded lots questions from people throughout the industry about the concept, and the first one is always, “Where’s the money?” This is, of course, the Achilles’ Heel of broadcasters (and other media) when it comes to understanding and participating in the personal media revolution. It’s not about them; it’s about this growing community. If there is any one thing that is truly innovative about the WKRN approach from a business perspective, it is that the station believes the payback comes downstream, in the form of community image, a better news product, and eventually, news ratings.

Six months into the process, my company sent a simple questionnaire to Nashville area bloggers to test their feelings about the relationship with WKRN-TV. 46 people responded, and the results strongly suggest that the payoff envisioned by the station in the beginning is starting to materialize.

54% of the respondents said their opinion of News2 had gone up in the past year. Most attribute their feelings to the station’s participation in the local blogosphere.

My opinion became more favorable after I noticed their involvement in the blogging world. They are on the cutting edge in the local media. I’d venture to guess that they’re sticking their neck out a bit more than even major market newscasts.

I see them as accepting innovation, willing to take risks, and putting new ideas into action.

I like how they’ve made themselves the hub of the local blogging community, and even when people made fun of it all, they kept their sense of humor about it and went along with it. Now they’ve established themselves and are building from that.

One-third of the respondents said they were watching News2 more today than they were a year ago. On average, the bloggers watched News2 1.7 times a week, up from once a week a year ago. There is a general sense among the bloggers than their efforts in the blogosphere make them more watchable.
I am sure that the fact that they reached out to the blogging community has a lot to do with it.

Seriously, having multiple interactions with WKRN (blogger meetups, video classes, visiting the weatherblog) helps solidify a relationship with the viewer that one doesn’t get with other stations.

82% of the respondents felt the station’s involvement with citizens media in the Nashville area would produce better newscasts. The reasons why varied, but centered on the idea of listening to the community.
Because you will get a better feel for the pulse of the community.

By involving citizens, WKRN-TV will have more information and that information will be more relevant to a larger number of people.

Because they will actually know first hand what the people who live in the community care about.

First, you will have a broader variety of stories to choose from. You have, and will continue to, do stories that aren’t on other stations. Second, you have opened up clear lines of communication between viewers and the newsroom. Best of all, the communication runs both ways. No more calling the station to complain to a voice on the phone that can’t and won’t do anything to voice concerns. This certainly will allow WKRN to refine its coverage and make it more useful to viewers. Finally, WKRN has proven its commitment to viewers by making significant investments of time and money to set up its blog presence and drive traffic there.

Respondents were given a series of agree-disagree questions to further explore the relationship between bloggers and WKRN-TV.

47% disagreed that the station helps them find information they can’t get anywhere else. 35% agreed. This isn’t surprising, given that bloggers are extremely Internet-savvy people who generally know where to get the information they want and need.

61% agreed that the station values their opinion, and 76% said they trusted the station. This is remarkable coming from a group of people with a great distrust of the media.

The group was split 46–43 on whether it would be easy for another station in the market to do what WKRN-TV has done. Those who felt it wouldn’t be easy generally said the other stations would appear to be playing follow-the-leader, but those who felt otherwise said the Internet is so vast that there’s room for more.

63% of the respondents felt that the station wanted their participation in the development of its news products.

32% felt WKRN-TV was their favorite station, but nearly six in ten (57%) said they plan on watching more of the station in the future.

While I’m sure there will be naysayers who argue that the sample size is too small or whatever, these findings ought to open a few eyes. Mainstream media that play in this space need to first understand that the blogging community doesn’t need them, and that humbling reality is what needs to guide strategies and tactics as they work to get involved. The Nashville blogosphere is now five times larger than it was when the station first began its involvement, and I think it’s safe to say they’ve played a role in encouraging that growth.

How? Simply by listening. Who knew?

Along the way, station personnel have discovered something they didn’t expect: getting to know the local blogging community is a lot more fun than you can possibly imagine up front. And frankly, folks, fun isn’t a word that’s been associated with local media for a long, long time. How do you put a value on that?

(Ongoing transparency: WKRN-TV is a client of mine)

Documentary crew launches blog

Remember BlogNashville? The documentary crew that was there taping, well, a documentary on blogging has decided to join the blogosphere. Welcome, Andrew et al.

Gun control and Grokster

Politics, as I’ve said before, is all about the whacking of fatted calves, and there’s a sad, albeit humorous, bit of hypocrisy underway in the Senate. These guys are about to pass legislation that would prevent people from suing gun manufacturers when their weapons are used in the commission of crimes. I’m all for this bill — and not because I’m a member of the NRA. I think people kill people, not guns. But here’s the hypocrisy.

Just last month, the right won a victory when the Supreme Court ruled that the RIAA and the MPAA could sue Grokster and others when people used their software to download pirated products of the copyright industry.

So let’s see. It’s good thing to sue private companies whose products may be used by people in the commission of copyright theft but not murder. Somehow, that doesn’t make sense to me.

The values of politicians are determined by the fatted calves they represent and little else.

The OJR’s hatchet job on VJs

Mark Glaser’s normally astute and insightful series of articles for the Online Journalism Review (OJR) is interrupted this week by a hostile, opinionated, and outrageously inaccurate wiki treatment of the most divisive issue confronting TV newsrooms — the idea of using Video Journalists (VJs) instead of all two-person crews. This is beneath the quality of that publication, and I sure hope the finished product turns out to be a little more balanced than this hatchet job.

But, hey, it’s there, so here’s what I submitted in response to the ongoing saga:

In the BBC model, the newsrooms are hybrids with VJs and two-person crews. Why the either/or mentality exists is simply a matter of ignorance and fear.

The term “one-man band” is exclusively pejorative when used by anybody at the worker level in TV newsrooms. It doesn’t belong in this discussion, because the baggage implied doesn’t apply.

The argument that two people can “do better” than one is specious and irrelevant. The same two people — WITH TWO CAMERAS — can outperform any crew with one. It’s a matter of splitting roles and teamwork.

The arguments about two-person crews working better in the current news environment presupposes that this is the way it “should” be. I would add to the argument that viewers have been voting with their remotes for the past decade that this ISN’T the way it “should” be. Talk to people who don’t watch anymore. Not only don’t they give a shit that you’re using two-person crews, they can’t stand what you’re doing with them. Everything about our systems is designed to create a consultant-driven homogeneity of a “scare the crap out of ‘em,” run and gun, spot news frenzy that people see right through for its marketing realities. Arguing that what we do is what a shrinking audience wants is ridiculous.

The argument that greedy management is obsessed with making money is a little like arguing that a robin is obsessed with worms. Like, welcome to the planet, man.

Finally, the people who shout the loudest about Michael Rosenblum have never met the man or heard his vision in its entirety. The vilification of this guy absolutely amazes me, especially coming from people in a newsroom, for crying out loud. If there is a place on earth where ideas can and should be discussed, it’s a newsroom. It’s truly sad.

I know everybody involved in the wiki, so I’m very interested in what they have to say. It’s interesting to note who’s been excluded from the conversation, however, the VJs! Or how about somebody from the BBC?

And finally, I haven’t a clue as to the purpose of including the Travel Channel show in Mark’s original “story.” WTF does that have to do with the idea of VJs in a newsroom? Nothing. It’s just another vehicle for taking a cheap shot at Rosenblum, and he doesn’t deserve it.

(Ongoing disclosure: WKRN-TV is a client of mine.)

Attention readers

I’m knee deep in client stuff and travel this week and won’t be blogging much. I will have something pretty exciting to share in the next couple of days, so watch for that. TTFN

Kenealy repeats an old rant

IDG’s CEO Pat Kenealy apparently got the ear of Adam L. Penenberg at Wired, and the result is an exercise in wishful thinking. Kenealy is saying that the “free” content that dominates the Web today will one day be gated, and that everybody will get used to paying for it.

“In 1955, TV was free,” Kenealy said, “and two generations later most people pay for it. There was a built-in reluctance to pay for TV until it got so much better than broadcast. That’s what I think will happen with the internet.”
This is nonsense gone to seed. First of all, Kenealy is the chief among all keepers of gated content, even going to the extraordinary length last year of refusing to let writers deep link to stories on IDG sites. Users who clicked on one of these links were sent to a page that basically said, “Sorry, you don’t have the authority to link to this page.” The guy is obsessed with modernist notions and doesn’t wish to play with others. That’s certainly his prerogative, but let’s not be too quick to give a lot of credence to his opinion about gated content.

Secondly, people didn’t start paying for TV because it “got so much better.” They paid for the variety and choice that cable made available. That has evolved to digital and now we have broadband and telephone services combined. It’s just a poor analogy.

I don’t doubt that people will pay for restricted content that they can’t get anywhere else. That’s always been the case, but not in the broad, sweeping manner that Kenealy forecasts. Let’s all remember the Encyclopedia Britannica. They went to a free, advertisement-driven model before the bubble burst and saw their traffic skyrocket. When the market crashed, they returned to a paid model. And then along came Wikipedia.

People everywhere just gotta be free…