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)


  1. #2 tv didn’t call me about blogs?
    But between Franklin and Nolensville two bloggers are getting it done. Franklin blogger… Years ago tv2 sent teams into many local small towns..did interviews…really worked well for both parties…maybe do something like that with 38 bloggers in Williamson county alone. Check out the blog sites noted above…Nolensville is surrounded by 5,000 homes being built…Mayor and Aldermen under pressure and are breaking being part-timers and all. Nolensville blogger keeps people SANE.… JOEL.

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