Ellen Crooke, WXIA
Last week, WXIA News Director Ellen Crooke spoke to a class of journalism students at Georgia State University. During a powerpoint presentation, she displayed a slide that read: TV news stinks. Intrigued, we asked her to respond to a few e-mailed questions.
1. You told the GSU students that “TV news stinks.” Please elaborate.
Local television news everywhere needs to improve. Words used to describe it all over the country are boring, repetitive, irrelevant and too depressing. At 11 Alive we are committed to trying to break away from doing the same type of local news that has been done for years. We will serve our community with great journalism… journalism that inspires, enlightens and holds people in power accountable. When was the last time you watched an entire half hour of local news and said – wow that was great? We’re working to change that. I just read a great quote from a Business professor at Notre Dame: “If we fail to change, the world goes on. We just become increasingly irrelevant.” While it may sound crazy (and many people think I am) for a local News Director to bash local news I think it’s a lot like a form of an addiction. Local news producers and crews are addicted to a certain formula that is not working anymore and we can’t break ourselves from the habit. We have to first admit we have a problem, and then we can begin healing ourselves. Local Journalism is so important to the health of a community, I feel so passionate about it. It is my crusade in life to prove ….if you give them great journalism they will come!
2. Atlanta’s most successful stations, WSB and WAGA, play up crime and “breaking news.” Won’t the audience always buy into that formula?
What I do know is that local news viewers are smart, well informed citizens and they will definitely buy into a local news formula that does not insult their intelligence. People will respond to great story telling, great pursuits of the truth, holding people accountable and giving helpful information and solutions. Most people’s lives do not revolve around police reports and court room hearings. We can’t be afraid to try different things and see what the people of Atlanta want. Great innovation and change comes from not being afraid to fail.
3. You’ve been at WXIA since September. Have you gotten any encouragement from the ratings since you’ve been here?
To quote President Obama we are starting to see “glimmers of hope”.
4. WGCL has been very aggressively promoting its “we ask tough questions” premise. Thoughts?
We actually created the concept of the “tough questions” brand at my former station WGRZ in Buffalo New York. I was surprised to see the concept we came up with in Buffalo started here a few weeks before I arrived. We’re flattered to see our brand has been duplicated in the Atlanta market. The concept of tough question journalism was started in Buffalo due to the specific problems facing that city.
5. WXIA is the only station in town that lacks folks it calls “investigative” reporters. Is that a weakness?
Stay tuned… we’ve just hired an investigative team from Washington. D.C. They’ll start this summer. I don’t know if the word “investigative” is overused in our industry. We like to call it within our newsroom a search for the truth… and it is a mission for our entire newsroom not just a few members of the staff. Bringing in this new team will help push us in that direction. The key will be to search for truth within issues and stories people really care about.
6. WXIA was the first station in town with a top-notch web site. Will the web do to TV what it’s doing to newspapers?
http://www.11alive.com is a great website! Using our website to help improve our television content is our mission. Our ability to get immediate feedback from the people we serve on the web is making our television content better. Our users and viewers are part of the process. We can see what stories are popular, we can invite users to be part of our stories, and we can see what questions they want answered. Using the web to improve our television product will help save our industry… and help fix that pesky statement in your first question, that local television news stinks!
7. Any general observations about the Atlanta market?
Atlanta is the coolest news market in the country. It is filled with so much news, great history, unbelievable arts and pop culture events. Many of the people who live here are not originally from Atlanta and we find people are hungry for local news that informs them about their community… what’s happening and what it has to offer. The great thing I’ve learned about 11Alive…the reporters and photojournalists at 11Alive are absolutely the most talented, passionate, committed journalists I have ever been honored to work with. Letting this great group of people do what they do best will be remarkable to watch.