The Web is the top guy’s job

In TV newsrooms, that’s the news director.

The most common mistake I see in media company (mostly television) newsrooms as they address this thing we call “Media 2.0” is to treat it as just another production system that must be defined and managed. As Emily Bell would say, “it’s ‘yet another thing’ for a working journalist to understand. The answer to who writes for the Web is different in almost every shop, and in many places it’s generally considered a pain‐in‐the‐butt. The idea that anybody can write for the Web is universal, and it’s often treated as an entry‐level task. A good grasp of grammar is a bonus, but for the most part, the answer to “who” is “anybody.”

Reporters write “their” stories. Producers add elements when they’re not writing for their shows. Production Assistants and Associate Producers (where those positions still exist) are called upon to add fresh material when they can. Anchors are forced asked to create content for the Web in between reading and editing copy written by others. There are no bylines; it’s a team effort. It’s XXXX-TV’s Web effort, and expediency and efficiency are its goals. As the old saying goes, “It’s better than good, it’s done.”

In shops that function this way — that is to say most shops — the Web is an extension of the main product, an online replication of what you’d expect to find in the 6 o’clock news. Even in newsrooms where the Web is a genuine priority, the matter of who does the work is generally the same. At a time when stations are economically challenged, the idea that there should be resources dedicated exclusively to the Web is generally unrealistic, so what’s a well‐intentioned news director to do?

In two highly successful shops that we’re involved with, the news director him or herself runs the online content show. They try to turn administrative tasks over to others and run the Continuous News content themselves, both on the Web and via social media. The news director, you say? Yes, the news director, and it really makes a difference in their online products and services. Why? Because the news director is often the most experienced news person in the shop. They understand the nuances of the news and especially how it all fits with the marketing goals of the station. This can’t be overstated.

Bruce Carter, News Director, WLEX-TVBruce Carter of WLEX‐TV in Lexington, Kentucky is one such news director. He told me via email that the days of putting together a newscast and waiting until 6pm or 11pm to put news on‐air are a distant memory. Instead of questions like how do you find the time to run the online ship, his response is how can you not be involved in this age of instant news? We agree.

Everything we do has an immediate real‐time effort. When storms enter the viewing area we not only crawl information on‐air and have live cut‐ins but we also engage our online and Facebook loyal to help us gather information. We handle breaking news the same way. The content management center is the hub for our news managers, including the News Director. When news comes to us via scanner, phone, email, news source, Facebook, etc. it is instantly communicated to every news manager and immediately decided upon on what to do with this information. The decisions are swift and immediate. It is imperative the News Director be part of the process.

The ease of today’s web content management systems allow anyone to post stories and information to the web or through social media. The key to making it work for a station is having strong managers that direct the flow of content and oversee focus and branding. There has to be a method to the madness and a purpose to what you do online just as there is to your on‐air product. Have a plan, have a strategy and stick to it. When it comes to online content, be tenacious. Post frequently, post immediately, update constantly and don’t be afraid to try new things in the continuous news stream. We do all the time.

Letitia Walker, News Director, KATC-TVLetitia Walker, news director of KATC‐TV in Lafayette, Louisiana agrees and adds that it’s all about leading by example.

Why should I expect anyone in the newsroom to do something I’m not willing to do myself? The running joke is that if I were ever involved in a horrible accident or tragedy, I’d be taking a picture to send to our site before the ambulance takes me away. I take that as a compliment.

I’ve always been one to be passionate about my work, and I try to make my enthusiasm rub off on others. When the decision was made to switch to our continuous news format, the goal was to incorporate the entire newsroom in the process. Posting not only on our website, but our social media sites, texting campaigns, crawls, etc. If I’m in the room, I’ll take the lead in making sure all formats get information as soon as responsibly possible.

And that, I think, is the key to solving the question of “who.” It must start at the very top on everything, because it’s our future. To assign it to others and walk away is to leave that future to happenstance. The online effort of a TV station is every bit as important as its newscasts. Every bit! The bastard step child will, sooner than you think, inherit the throne, and the time to prepare for it is now. As a news director, if you don’t have a hands‐on leadership role in this, I strongly recommend you re‐examine your priorities.

Comments

  1. Great article. I read a quote on “Overheard in the Newsroom” about the current state of web content producers in lots of shops‐ “You’re kind of like a fancy meal. Everyone likes the idea of it, but nobody wants to pay for it.”

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