Thursday, September 4, 2008

IN THIS ISSUE:

ANCHORS REINVENTING THEMSELVES, THANKS TO THE WEB
GUSTAV BLOGGERS BRING IN THE NEWS
FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM, GO TOTHE ENQUIRER?
MEDIA 2.0 101: IT’S TIME FOR A NEW ONLINE MODEL

ANCHORS REINVENTING THEMSELVES, THANKS TO THE WEB (Terry)
Sherri Talley of KTBS-TV in Shreveport and Amy Wood of WSPA-TV in Spartanburg are prime examples of a new breed of local media news personality that functions as a conduit between the newsroom and a web audience. Both Sherri and Amy are main anchors with tenure in their markets, so their faces are well known within the community. But it’s their willingness to stretch themselves and face the chaos of the Web that puts them in a unique position among television news personalities. Anchors, after all, are supposed to just read what’s on a well-organized script, and many have difficulty with real ad-lib situations, especially those that involve the general public.

But Sherri and Amy have no problem thinking and talking at the same time, and everybody in the media world should be paying attention to the trails they are blazing.

During marathon coverage of Hurricane Gustav in Shreveport, Ms. Talley spent long shifts live online via a webcam and chat interface from her desk. In some ways, she actually coördinated some of the station’s coverage by bringing in guests to talk about what was going on in the community. It was extremely raw and didn’t resemble anything like polished TV. Reporters, photographers, producers, and anchors all took turns joining Sherri at her desk and answering questions posed via the chat window. No teleprompter. No videos to throw to. No scripts. All just straightforward conversation with the audience.

Sherri live from her desk with Michelle Davidson of the Shreveport Red Cross
Sherri live from her desk with a guest from the Red Cross

At one point, a viewer even commented that Sherri’s co-anchor Gerry May seemed more comfortable in this environment than at the anchor desk. Others were quick with praise that a TV station would provide an open window into its newsroom during a crisis. “I feel like I know all of you at KTBS better,” one commenter wrote. “Thanks for doing this.” One thing I am constantly trying to remind people of is that the Web isn’t about content; it’s about connectivity, and this application did that beautifully. Sherri noted via email:

The people I interviewed in the community (Red Cross, Social Services, Fire Dept. officials) loved the casual element of the interviews and knew there was less of a chance what they said would be taken out of context. And they could elaborate more on what they wanted to convey to the public. They valued the immediacy and it was worth their time to come by when everything they said was broadcast instead of just a :12 second soundbite. This format also gave them an opportunity to connect and answer direct questions via the chat. No one I called refused to come by the station. When I called the fire chief at 6:45 a.m., he sent someone by.

The station is considering options for a regular feature with the concept, but it will certainly be a centerpiece of any wall-to-wall coverage.

Sherri Talley is in love with the Web and all that it can do to build community and connections with the newsroom. She’s found new inspiration for coming to work every day and is open to new ideas and experiments, which is an attitude necessary for innovation via the Web. She says she realized five years ago that things were changing, and she set out to reinvent herself.

The live webcam/chat experience made me fall in love with news again. This is by far, the most effective, fastest way of dispensing news there is. People needing information about Gustav, got it as we got it. They didn’t have to wait for the next newscast or even for someone to type it onto our website. Information was given out in the most immediate and personal way possible.

During this live webcam/chat experience, I discovered how much I love the immediacy of news in this format and how helpful it can be to people, not only in our area, but to those across the world who are concerned about people here. It was comforting to our audience.

Amy Wood at the anchor desk with her ever-present laptopAmy Wood of WSPA/WYCW in Spartanburg is likewise reinventing herself, but she says it’s more accidental than planned. She now anchors four shows a day (5, 6, 10, 11) and an interactive segment called “What You’re Saying” on a 5th show at 7pm. It is the 10 o’clock show on the CW station that includes live online chat. That’s right, she’s chatting while she’s anchoring the program and uses the feedback in a wrap at the end of the show. The chat is also open during live coverage of breaking events, like a recent round of severe weather in the community. Viewers fired in tips and interacted with Amy and each other as the storm went through.

She keeps up with four blogs, including one by her four-year-old-daughter, who has just started school. She blogs three or four entries a day, along with polls and does a franchise on cool things she finds on the Web.

I use Twitter, Facebook and Myspace to grow my online audience and connect with folks on an ongoing basis when they drop into Live Chat. I am constantly checking status updates on all the sites to see what people are talking about and saving the good stuff for the What You’re Saying segment. It’s allowing me to take the social networks mainstream on WSPA for first time. I am including not only wspa.com comments but also Twitter, Facebook and Myspace when relevant.

Like Sherri Talley, Amy Wood is unafraid of chaos. “I, of course, wish all shows would go smoothly,” she wrote in an email. “but the reality is they rarely do, so I have always kind of thrived on the challenge of handling the problems. Throw a live chat room or comments coming in on Facebook and Myspace and its really just a more intensified version of the same thing.”

Her favorite thing about the live chat is the humor and smarts of the chatters, and she thinks that the concept will take off, once Rick Sanchez from CNN begins doing it next week. “Be ready folks,” she tells everyone. “There is barely time to breathe when you tackle all of these elements and your anchoring. You’ve got to love it. And fortunately I really do. It’s my passion.”

Sherri says the same thing and is so energized by the possibilities (and the adrenalin) that she finds it more fun than work. And both Sherri and Amy are quick to point out how thankful they are to work for companies that allow them to experiment in such ways.

As I’ve written many times before, the biggest difference between managers and leaders is the leader’s willingness and ability to ignore chaos in the pursuit of goals. Managers need the protection of processes, but the Web views some processes as inefficient and impediments to action. I’ve seen this over and over again in working with clients on the Web, and it’s really satisfying to find leaders among station main anchors. I mean, who better to take the web leadership role inside a station than the face that the station’s image is built around in the first place?

DISCLOSURE: KTBS-TV and WSPA-TV are both AR&D clients.   Link>

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GUSTAV BLOGGERS BRING IN THE NEWS (Steve)
Gustav BloggersTerry and I have often written about how businesses can be news centers, too. I have to give a special hat tip to the people behind GustavBloggers.com. Who are they? Just a bunch of tecchies at the Zipa datacenter in downtown New Orleans. They’re there, they’re working, they had to keep communications flowing during the storm and they had some damn good insight into what was happening.

I want to get something straight from the start: the news organizations that I could see online did a terrific job with storm coverage. Clearly, we have learned our lessons from Katrina. Terry wrote above about how some anchors reinvented themselves and how it showed during the storm. Websites were more prepared and had better information. The online effort was remarkable and laudable.

I just want to point to one small piece of the Web to indicate the change that’s happening in how we get information. Part of the news river came from techhies. If you look at their blog, it’s every bit as good and useful as a “professional” news blog.

There’s also a lesson here about search: look for “Gustav Blog” on Google, and GustavBloggers.com — a site that didn’t exist a couple of weeks ago — comes up sixth. The techs secured their own URL, dedicated their own space to the site and other sites began linking in immediately. Because they used WordPress, the site “speaks” easily with search. From nothing to sixth in no time — impressive.

The entries are excellent — the folks at GustavBloggers posted 53 of them on Monday. They had an excellent view from their datacenter, so we see plenty of pictures including some pretty dramatic scenes and a strangely pretty one. When we talk about the shift to Continuous News — this is it.

It’s not a matter of Us vs. Them. We’re in it together, especially in a crisis. News stations are excellent at giving the big picture during storms. The GustavBloggers gave us a slice of life — and one that was equally newsworthy.   Link>

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FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM, GO TOTHE ENQUIRER? (Steve)
National Enquirer logoJohn Edwards’s infidelity. Sarah Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy. Two big political stories this summer. Both broken by a longtime media outlet. Who says experience doesn’t matter?

Yep — the National Enquirer is doing a heck of a job with its investigative reporting.

Can you believe this? The Enquirer is getting the scoops this year. Isn’t anyone embarrassed? There were thousands of reporters at the Democratic National Convention covering the Same Old Same Old. Did they get any exclusives? Any real news? No.

I suppose you can argue that it was The Enquirer that started this dirty business back in 1987 with its infamous picture of Gary Hart lending a lap to Donna Rice. But really — political gossip is part of our national DNA. And once The Enquirer broke these stories, the rest of the media jumped all over them. So it’s not as though we’ve above “dirtying our hands.”

What’s going on?

Our lack of commitment to investigative journalism is killing us.

I know the argument — The Enquirer will pay for interviews, it’s dirty journalism, etc. But really — hasn’t strong, ethical, investigative journalism broken some great stuff in the past? And hasn’t local — and national — news pretty much given up on it? It’s expensive to pay these people who only come up with a piece every few months.

But isn’t it expensive to send local live crews to two national conventions, out of which will come either A)No news or B) News that is easily covered from the feeds? When your sports team makes it to the first round of the playoffs in a city across the country, do you really need to spend all that money to have your reporter standing in front of their stadium?

Investigative journalism is now coming from the Web and the tabloids. That should shake us in our boots. We bemoan the end of journalism, but we need to do something about it. And that “something” is what can set you apart from the other stations in town: look into the news, don’t just report it.

What has made some blogs great is their ability to go the extra mile — they analyze the news. Blogs — and yes, The Enquirer — dig around. Dirty? Perhaps. But that’s in the eyes of your editorial judgment. Do the digging in the first place. Certainly, we have no right to call “sleaze” if we run what the tabloids are running once they break it.

Use the Web to dig. It’s a great tool. Have people on your staff who know how to mine the Internet. Have reporters who will investigate, not just get two soundbites from either side of a story and call it a day. Break the mold. Break the news.   Link>

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MEDIA 2.0 101: IT’S TIME FOR A NEW ONLINE MODEL (Terry)
The earliest iterations of online media were all text-based, because that’s all the bandwidth could handle. This suited the newspaper industry, and it’s the principal reason that the presentation of information online follows a model that is essentially a newspaper. Content is presented on “pages.” The idea of a “home” page — front page — that serves as a doorway to everything inside IS a newspaper. Online advertising is the same. Display ads, artificial page folds, value based on page placement and so forth are all newspaper concepts.

Most importantly, the portal model of organizing information is very much built on this foundation. In many ways back in the ’90s, AOL was a glorified online newspaper. Inherent in this model is an advertising ecosystem that is limited by the “walls” of the portal, its URL.

Even television stations have been dragged into this model, and understanding this is critical, if you wish to understand the disruption of Media 2.0.

A few years ago, Gordon Borrell’s company and the Harvard Business School created the illustration below. I’ve altered it a bit to make a point, but what we have is essentially a enlarging circle that I’ve labeled “Media 2.0” moving into the circle representing Media 1.0. I think it’s farther along today, but the message that both Gordon and I were trying to deliver five years ago was that opportunity was within the expanding green circle, not the blue. But here’s the point: generally, what we see today from media companies is the gray area — Media 1.0 disguised as Media 2.0.

The Media 2.0 disruption

Another very important point to understand is that the green area is not being created or funded by the traditional media of the blue circle. Consequently, it doesn’t give a hoot about what the blue does, and the view from the green is very different than the view from the blue. And the view from the green is finding its way into publication with increasing frequency, and it is apparently not even read by those coming from the blue. That’s a shame, for how can you truly enter the disruption unless you’re willing to accept its point-of-view.

Here’s what I mean. The Inquisitr is a popular tech and pop culture online media company featuring some of the best and most tenured writers in new media. A few weeks ago, Duncan Riley began looking at television and wrote a chilling entry called “Television Will Fall.” I don’t agree with everything Duncan wrote, but I’d be a fool to dismiss it as ignorance. Riley’s article was followed this week by one by JR Raphael called “Could Television’s Fall Be Closer Than We Thought?” Understand that when the tech media writes about traditional media, it does so from its place within that green circle above. Raphael’s article is about new media efforts by Gannett, and it contains a really important observation.

Another trend you’ll notice is Gannett stations heavily promoting a new concept branded as the “Information Center,” which is basically just the idea of their local Web site combined with the broadcast news. It’s really the same stuff with a new name and new promotional push. (emphasis mine) Ironically enough, most of the stations are operating with far fewer people, so while the Web sites have a slightly updated look, their resources are not as robust as one might be led to believe. In actuality, most modern mainstream journalists just do double duty, splitting their time between broadcast and online work. Still, the notion highlights the industry’s attempt to at least outwardly rebrand itself away from its long-standing primary interest.

So what Raphael “sees” (and frankly, what others in the green see) is questionable strategy in the “Information Center” concept that Gannett is following. It’s just another version of the old newspaper portal idea that’s been around since the beginning, another effort that lies within the gray zone.

This does not go unnoticed by the venture capital community that is funding the disruption. Rockefeller family investor Rich Moran told Beet.tv a few weeks ago that the best media companies could do was “bolt new ideas onto the old,” and. as a result, online video was in danger of passing by traditional media completely. This is the kind of thing that happens when you insist on maintaining your view entirely from the blue circle.

I’m passionate about this, because after I left television in 1998, I spent three years inside the green circle running an internet start-up. It was an amazing crossover experience, and it keeps me encouraging others to examine the view from over “there.” It’s why I think the way I do and why my RSS reader is likely filled with feeds that you don’t read.

Local media needs reinvention, not just new ways of doing old things. Why everybody in media sticks to the online newspaper model is the biggest mystery of all to me. Just because it’s safe, everybody else is doing it, and it “seems” to be working (much of the online revenue growth in recent years has more to do with newness than sound strategy, IMO) doesn’t mean it’s good strategy for the future. At AR&D, we recognize that media companies must operate in both circles, which is why our strategic thrust is Simulpath™, but you’d be amazed (perhaps not) at how hard it is to move minds into the green.   Link>

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QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“The webcam is the coolest thing ever.” Sherri Talley, KTBS-TV