“TV news stinks”

Ellen Crooke, WXIA

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.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form, zero, zilch, nada. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

37 thoughts on ““TV news stinks”

  1. johnny

    WXIA ratings are up? Here’s a tough question for ellen, what is she smoking. WXIA has been trending down in every show and in fact they’re now fourth place at 11.

    Reply
  2. Phosphorus

    “We actually created the concept of the “tough questions” brand at my former station WGRZ in Buffalo New York.”

    Well that is almost as funny as Al Gore stating he invented the internet!

    And how hard can it be? All 11 is doing right now is copying, idea for idea, CBS Atlanta’s new & innovative ideas.

    Imitation is…

    But, having said that, I wish 11 would/could just get back to the great storytelling they used to do.

    Reply
  3. jillgirl

    so I guess CBS in Boston, CBS in Sacramento also followed Ellen and got the idea for tough questions from them?

    I’ve yet to see an original idea from WXIA since she arrived.

    Ellen – where’s the news?

    Reply
  4. live apt fire Post author

    Wow– tough crowd.

    Our commenters are overlooking the most interesting line in the post: “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.”

    Given TV’s competitive tail-chasing, what I’m reading appears uncannily refreshing coming from an Atlanta news director. I’ll take great storytelling over “this just in” anytime.

    And Crooke didn’t say that WXIA’s ratings are up. And Al Gore never said he invented the internet.

    Reply
  5. Jim

    “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.”

    For me, that’s the line that stood out. My wife recently changed our DVR so that we record WXIA both at 6am and 11pm. She’s always taped the 10 on WAGA, (I think she’s secretly crushing on Russ Spencer) but used to tape WGCL at 11.

    She said she got tired of having to sit through the five minute Attention Deficit Disorder cast before getting the details on those same top stories. It’s like GCL is asking everyone who actually wants to watch the entire show to waste five minutes per newscast just to accommodate viewers who won’t stick around.

    She really likes the feel the WXIA has. That, and she actually started couponing after reading ONE blog http://www.11alive.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=115698 She read this, said “I can do this too” and started clipping. I’ve now had to build an extra shelf in the garage because the pantry has overflowed, and it’s all name brand stuff we will use.

    Personally, I think that’s what has the best chance of helping WXIA-the fact that they’re connecting with viewers straight on, instead of preaching from on high. Sadly, I do share the cynicism we all have about viewers flocking straight to the apartment fire, but I really hope I’m wrong, I want this woman to succeed.

    Reply
  6. Mr. Bear

    So, what you’re saying is that we should pay attention to this program? I guess that means I’ll have to turn the television back on again.

    I’m ready for a change anyway, and in my warped mind, I’m beginning to think about a quote about the AJC from another blog: “I think they’re trying not to offend,” said Kenneth Edelstein, a blogger and former editor of Creative Loafing, an Atlanta alternative weekly. “It’s definitely a move to the right, and it’s a real change for a paper that was the most important progressive voice in the South for a long time.”

    Maybe that’s it, that because the liberal point of view is so pervasive, that the AJC is going conservative just to keep in the tradition of being an important progressive voice. Maybe WXIA is changing because everything else looks the same, with the same interchangeable anchors, the same interchangeable smiles, the same interchangeable happy talk.

    The focus groups keep reporting back that people want “Change”, but I don’t think that some people are aware of just how much change is going on right now.

    Interesting times.

    Reply
  7. tower child

    Have you watched wxia?

    They don’t cover news. I’m not talking about crime, etc – which they do their fair share.

    But they have no news in their shows. It’s filler, network packages and just junk. Yes, we have to change but change means covering content of relevance…a four minute interview with ted turner is relevant?

    Come on…Ellen…show us where you cover the news.

    Asking viewers to send in questions is just fill.

    Copying other stations – like the job of the day, good deeds, etc is just a rip off

    Reply
  8. Erik

    I can’t recall when these two things took place or who was in charge at Channel 11 at the time, but to me they are examples of impressive local TV news. First, Marc Pickard did a lengthy piece on how the metro area is rapdily being de-forested. It was in-depth, factual, and relevant. And altogether unexpected for TV news. Second, on the WXIA website, Jaye Watson did a “blog” entry about how it felt on a personal level to sit down and ask those typical TV news questions to the grieving family of a murder victim. She wrote eloquently and honestly–and in a way that is never hinted at when those pieces are actually broadcast.

    Ellen: Ted Hall’s folksy commentary is what’s insulting. More of what Marc and Jaye are capable of, please!

    Reply
  9. Tim

    Quick facts are a flip away at any given moment. Viewers want stories that educate, inform, and becomes meaningful to them. It’s that simple. They want value in return for time.

    It’s the job the reporter and photojournalist to work together in order to deliver a story that speaks to as many viewer as possible while providing the necessary facts through substantiated information, creative writing and intriguing images. It’s the job of a ND to allow them to do so.

    As one who spent many years with a front row seat to my world, Ellen’s words are refreshing. But it’s been said before. Her attitude is truly inspiring. I’ve seen that before, too.

    Actions dictated by principle, not ratings, will determine if it’s necessary to foam the runway.

    Oh, and Doug is right about the Al Gore thing.

    Reply
  10. newzfinland

    Her assumption that local news viewers are smart and well-informed is a joke. In my experiences, the truly intelligent people (non-Newsies) around here barely watch TV. As for running stories that are relevant, offer solutions, pursue truth, and hold those in authority accountable while still telling good ‘stories’… it’s been tried before and failed miserably. See ‘Clear News’ circa 2000-2002. It didn’t work, although keep in mind it was WGCL that tried it and not another station. One of the others with more resources and a longer tradition might have been able to pull it off, but not bloody likely. The big 2 (Okay, 1.5) have been running the show for so long that current viewers practically have a Pavlovian response to “live apartment fires”, home invasions, bad wrecks, and severe weather. I’m not going to pooh-pooh the weather stuff, but you can take the rest. Oh, and Atlanta is NOT the coolest TV market in the country. She obviously doesn’t get out much.
    Okay, my fingers are tired so I’m gonna go ‘Twitter’ now.

    Reply
  11. AtlBigEar

    “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.”

    What about the rest of the staff?

    Reply
  12. scott hedeen

    Man… I love all this attention given to my former place of employment. Seems it’s almost like WXIA actually matters now again. With all the waves of “industry collapse” going thru that newsroom… a bright beacon of reason is well overdue. Huzzah.

    Reply
  13. Tony

    1. I’m intrigued and encouraged by the courageous act of rebellious individualism and creativity taken by 11Alive to provoke a true shift in the tired, decades-old formula of Atlanta’s local TV news.

    Cue the applause light.

    However, when I hear Ted Hall take precious TV time to answer “viewer questions” (how do I safely dispose of mercury?) that I can find myself in 10 seconds on Google, I have to wonder how long it will take WXIA to bury the actual news with new fluff. I will be watching to see what’s next.

    2. Crooke’s comment about 11Alive’s Web site indicates that she may be paying too much attention to her TV news format and not enough attention to the local news long view. “Using our website to help improve our television content is our mission,” Crooke said.

    I wonder if she is aware that either this year or next, Comcast will be offering interactive TV to its customers via the Internet?

    I wonder if Crooke understands that in a very, very short time, perhaps as soon as 10 years, we will be watching all of our local “TV news” ON THE INTERNET — not on cable TV.

    Ms. Crooke, it’s likely that your Web site soon will be WXIA’s main broadcasting platform and “channel 11″ will be an anachronism.

    I hope you realize that your Web site is more than just a place to post your lists of recalled consumer products and where you host live blogging with a handful of viewers.

    I hope you’re hiring Web-savvy staffers and treating them nicely, because the Web is about to rock local TV to its very foundation.

    Reply
  14. Ben

    My God, I didn’t think there was anyone else in Atlanta who remembers Linda Faye. Those were the days–when fine legs were the main qualification for “weather girl.”

    Reply
  15. Ex-Producer

    As opposed to the “killer rack” that is the main qualification these days? I’m asking the tough questions….

    Reply
  16. mike daly

    I’m curious to know Ms. Crooke’s thoughts on the one-man-band, or “Backpack” journalist. Is it truly possible for even the most talented to keep their minds focused on the line of tough questioning when they also have to think about white balance, sound and lighting and whether to use a tripod and how much battery power they have, etc. ?

    Yes, there are those who are succeeding – Mr. Carnes, Ms. Wolfe.

    Ms. Crooke has some interesting insight. What are her thoughts on the one-man-band wave? I mean, if LAF has a list of follow-up questions for her.

    Reply
  17. kiddo

    What I don’t understand is how Ellen says she wants to reinvent news.

    Yet watch some of their shows.

    There’s no news.

    They fill with viewer questions.

    Many nights they do stories the other stations did bthe day before.

    You know they’re having a tough time when they have their weather guy working as a photog shooting news press conferences.

    Reply
  18. Don B

    Geeeee, I thought things might get better at 11ALIVE after they moved off of the Confederate army burial ground the old station was built on. I guess all the ghost moved with them to the 36 building……

    Reply
  19. John the Firefighter

    I grew up with Channel 5 and CBS, even though Dad worked at WSB (long story…), and Channel 11 was always the butt of jokes in our house when it came to “serious” newsrooms. In the late 1970s and early 1980s they were most decidedly in the “if it bleeds, it leads” category, and seemed to relish that particular style of “news.”

    My wife came from heathen stock, grew up with a station in Albany that made 11 look positively uptown (they actually had a sports anchor whose main claim to fame was that his name was “Ducky”), and as a result, we have watched the Channel 11 morning news since we were first married, 26 years ago. In that time we have seen that newsroom go through a number of changes, both good and bad, but, mostly out of inertia, kept to our morning routine. This changed a few weeks ago, with this new format that Ms. Crooke seems so proud of. Our tolerance for fluff and happy talk is now grossly exceeded in the first 11 minutes of their new show, and this time they cannot blame the bugs and problems from transferring over to an all-digital format (which they claimed in a reply to us was their source of problems the last time we bothered to contact them).

    At 5 AM, I am interested in hearing the weather and traffic, any significant local news stories, and can put up with the sports chatter. The very last thing I need or want to start off my day is listen to (and watch) a bunch of braying hyenas giggling their way through what passes for “great journalism” in that sorry, overgraphiced spectacle of glitter, flash and massive display of overbleached teeth. I was never on the Guy Sharp or Johnny Beckman fan bandwagons, and never thought anything would make me prefer their styles of weatherguessing, but the triad of Steve Adamson, Orelon Sidney and Chesley McNeil made me reconsider. And reach for the remote, for good.

    Reply
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