Plus ca change…

Photo from Feeding the News Beast.


The news business may evolve, but certain truths remain constant.  A TV newscast must have stories that are timely, relevant and interesting.   Important stories are a plus.

When news is done well, it helps viewers.  It doesn’t help them pay their bills, necessarily, or win grievances with their landlords.  Instead it helps them become informed, which helps them make decisions about their own lives, and function knowledgeably in society.

But viewers are leaving TV news in droves.  It’s because TV news, especially the locals, hype stories that seem important.  But when viewers see the actual product — “breaking” news, breathlessly told and promoted, about low-grade tragedies or garden-variety mishaps — they lose interest in the story, and in TV as a local news medium.  Except for viewers who may be affected first-hand by such stuff, those stories help nobody.

They’re also leaving TV news because they’ve become accustomed to cherry-picking news from web sites.  It saves them time and allows them to steer clear of news crapola.

How does TV news save itself?  I’m not sure it can, frankly.  But let’s suppose it’s possible.

One answer:  Do the basics well, as described in the first paragraph.

Another answer:  Innovate.

Bosslady Maximus

Ellen Crooke, the news director at WXIA better known in this part of cyberspace as The Bosslady, would be the first to tell you that her TV station has a hit-or-miss history with the basics.  Although the stories that regularly appear in WXIA’s newscasts are generally interesting and well-crafted, her newsroom doesn’t break enough news.

Recognizing that, she’s begun regularly scheduling reporters a day “off the board” to work sources and dig up stuff that hasn’t surfaced before.

She has begun scheduling large chunks of 11pm newscasts devoted to one topic.  Viewer feedback has been very encouraging.

She’s also devoted to the notion that a newscast can “help” people, in ways that extend beyond the broadcasting of timely and relevant information.  Her hiring and promotion of John Gerard, the Commuter Dude, is a result of that thinking.  Subsequently, WGCL devoted Harry Samler to its Pothole Patrol, touting it as a way to help viewers.

Valerie Hoff’s Ways to Save franchise is another example.

WSB and WAGA also have franchises that “help.”   WSB’s Mark Winne does pieces that spotlight cold-case crimes.  WAGA’s Doug Evans does Georgia’s Most Wanted.  WAGA also does Wednesday’s Child, which helps adopt foster children.

WXIA’s newsroom is full of traditional news folk.  Some are a bit skeptical that a newscast that “helps” people can lure viewers.  They’ve seen WXIA’s promotional campaign about changing local news.  They fear that folks targeted by that campaign may have already given up on TV.

On the other hand, they receive an eye-opening e-mail each morning that reveals the overnight ratings.  WXIA is solidly in third place in a four-station market (though its morning newscasts are showing signs of competitive life).   WXIA would like nothing better than to leapfrog WAGA in at least some of the ratings.

We also know that the fourth-place station is very aggressive, and is doing some good work.  (Thankfully for WXIA, WGCL’s incessant “tough questions” drumbeat is becoming a bit of a civic punchline.  But don’t tell them that.)

Feeding the beast, post-Murrows

So even the skeptics at WXIA cheered a little bit last week when Gannett gave Ellen Crooke its “Innovator of the Year” award.  It’s an award that spans all the company properties, including its newspapers.  As corporate awards go, it’s decent.

They cheered a bit more when WXIA won eight regional Edward R. Murrow awards, a “stunning achievement” according to a publicist who sent an e-mail to the LAF tip jar.  The Murrows come from the group formerly known as the RTNDA, now called the Radio Television Digital News Association.

WSB won two Murrows.  WAGA won one.  Anybody who’s been around the news business for any time knows that awards are nice, but commercial success is better.

Nonetheless, the WXIA pieces that won are impressive.  Jaye Watson’s piece on a teenage cancer survivor isn’t just a tear-jerker, but is packed with amusing surprises.  Watson helped the kid get backstage with Stevie Wonder.

Marc Pickard’s piece on home foreclosures was stunning.  He was with sheriff deputies as they evicted families from their homes.  It was timely and relevant, plus expertly written and shot/edited.  (If for no other reason, click one of the links to see the goofy twenty-second commercial for an uplink provider that precedes each piece.)

It’s the kind of stuff that WXIA does well.  It’s the kind of stuff that folks who’ve turned away from TV news might want to see, if they were to come back.

Maybe the bosslady is onto something.  For the station’s sake, and the medium’s sake, I hope so.

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This entry was posted in WAGA, WGCL, WSB, WXIA on by .

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. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

14 thoughts on “Plus ca change…

  1. rptrcub

    As much as I think WXIA’s staff does great work and as much as I have respect for the storytelling, I am a bit unnerved by the whole “we actually help you” promos that air every 5 minutes. Yes, journalism is supposed to help people but that is secondary to the basics: reporting the news as objectively as you can. In practice, you guys are doing a fine job but the promos are a tad irritating.

    Every station has its trademark. WSB’s is that it “swarms” over breaking news that’s worthless 10 minutes from now, including every breathlessly reported gas main break. WAGA has its I-Team. WGCL asks the Tough Questions (TM). So, I guess it’s natural for WXIA to have its own.

    Reply
  2. Jim

    Doug,

    When the change first started, I applauded it, and I do still see it as largely positive. However, it’s like anything else. Too much of a good thing is still too much.

    On one hand, we have the WSB morning show, where there are blue lights to be found on ever corner, and one would thing that Jesus himself would likely be mugged if he dared set foot in Atlanta.

    On the other hand, we have WXIA, where nothing ever catches fire, police are only there to give you directions, and every pothole is magically filled by the magic guy in the red vest. Oh, and you can go in Publix and get everything you ever wanted for free, as long as Valerie gives you the secret code.

    Y’all need to find a middle ground. One (true) example I like to use is of a dangerous intersection that resulted in 8 fatalities in three years. The local tv station just decided to cover every single wreck there that resulted in an injury, even though many of them really didn’t reach the level that justified coverage. After one particularly nasty week that saw 8 wrecks in 7 days, and five people sent to the hospital, the intersection magically jumped to the top of the DOT repair list, and had a light installed and working 5 weeks later. Turns out the DOT commissioner got tired of seeing the intersection in the A block, and made a phone call.

    While it really does me no good to know the exact details about every single mugging/stabbing/shooting in Atlanta, I, as a viewer still want (and need) to at least know what’s happening.

    Perhaps taking away a bit of the time that might be, for example, devoted to some obscure sale somewhere that’s not likely to help many of your viewers, and using it to at least give a broad overview of overnight spot news happenings would be a good idea.

    You could even do it in one segment. Just call it “overnight” and give a 45 second rundown of what happened, WITH (and this is what WSB misses) enough background (how many robberies that month at that apartment complex-things like that) to make the info useful

    Reply
  3. Jim

    Sammy, LOL on that one…It’s always okay to pat the boss on the back though.

    Seriously, it is nice to see somebody trying something different. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that “real” news still matters.

    Reply
  4. I am Woman

    I believe Ron Bilek was an innovator too.
    As in, ” Sorry Pruit ole boy, your time has passed, Bob Sokoler is the future of local news in Atlanta and we here at WXIA are glad to have him.”

    Reply
  5. thruthelookingglass

    The efforts of The Bosslady WXIA to swim against the increasing shrillness of news is appreciated in my household. It’s often as simple as remembering what makes a “story” as opposed to slinging repetitive factoids grafted onto the best available footage.

    Hope that with the increased professional recognition for WXIA, some newsrooms and viewers will give new ideas and different styles of news/reporting a chance.

    Reply
  6. Mr. Bear

    Going back to the 1960’s, the railroads were in a state of disarray. In part, it was caused by a combination of heavy regulation (by the late ICC), competition from trucks using Federally built Interstate highways and changing popular passenger travel choices (cars, airplanes), but what really sealed the deal was that railroad management always thought of themselves in terms of being “railroaders”.

    Once management got beyond that limited view, along with deregulation and the gradual attrition of managers who had always worked in a heavily regulated environment, the railroads realized that they were in the transportation and delivery business. A few lucky breaks along the way helped, such as higher fuel costs, which played to the railroads’ ability to move freight more cheaply. Computer technology helped too, with more than a few new managers becoming very savvy about customer needs.

    It all comes back to the customer.

    Reply
    1. Mr. Bear

      If you think that you’re just in the television news business, you are limiting yourself in relation to the viewing market. The viewers have become more sophisticated. A garden variety television news watcher knows what packages are, bumpers, whatever. They may not know the names of the things, but they recognize them when they see them.

      There was a piece in last week’s WSJ about the fact that online news is very powerful if you are looking for specifics about a particular news area. If nothing else, Google will find it for you if you want to know about yak fat pricing. Or about your specific neighborhood. What is missing is editorial guidance, providing news consumers with information that they might not have otherwise known about. The random discovery. Everybody with a camera and an online outlet can do the news; what’s needed is the next notion of news coverage.

      If you view yourself as being in “TV news”, you’re still doing things the way that they’ve always been done. Meanwhile, the viewers have moved on.

      Reply
      1. Mr. Bear

        You always think of something after you log off…..

        A lot of people in the traditional media are currently spooked by the change in how people get news and information in general. Atlanta’s a competitive market, but at some point, there’s a lot of “traditional” thought in any business; you do things the way that you do them because that’s what everybody else is doing. So, you tune in to see what color Monica’s hair is, or you tune in with the hope that Linda Faye has come back. So a lot of it is hide bound and traditional.

        But there’s a learning curve operating here, too, and the viewers are catching on. This blog’s name is a riff on “If it bleeds, it leads”. And, yes, some of the current WXIA things are odd, but at least there’s an effort to keep relevant. I’ve seen enough breaking news; I’m hoping for relevance and the possibility that there’s an intelligent person standing there with a microphone.

        Last week, the AJC ran an article about a recent ruling by the insurance commissioner concerning the denial of participation of a provider in an HMO by Blue Cross / Blue Shield of Georgia. There was a lot of information about how was is a wonderful thing for Georgia, but the article never stated the original reason that Blue Cross wouldn’t let Northeast Georgia Cancer Care into the HMO.

        I emailed both the editor and the writer of this story, to gain more detail. After some back and forth, I got the official statement from BCBS:

        “In 2007, Northeast Georgia Cancer Care, LLC (NEGCC) voluntarily elected to terminate its HMO provider contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthcare Plan of Georgia, Inc. (BCBSHP) during a reimbursement dispute. As a result of NEGCC’s abrupt contract termination and subsequent request for significant increases to reimbursement, BCBSHP negotiated an agreement with the largest oncology provider in the State to ensure that continuous cancer care could be provided to Athens’ area patients at a reasonable cost. In the intervening time, NEGCC contracted to participate in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia’s (BCBSGA) Indemnity and PPO networks. Despite having terminated its HMO provider contract, soon thereafter, NEGCC sought to re-enter the HMO network it chose to leave upon the realization that these services would be provided by an alternative practice in Athens.”

        Why did I have to go hunting for this? If TV news is going to survive against the online hordes, it will need to be more intelligent than just covering yet another minor car wreck. That costs money and that takes time, but that’s what the market expects.

        Reply
  7. Pingback: WXIA-TV dominates local Radio Television Digital News Media Association regional awards | Radio & TV Talk

  8. KP

    I’m a big NBC fan and consequently have always been partial to the local affiliate wherever I lived…before Atlanta, it was WALB in Albany. Prior to that, KPRC in Houston ….. One thing I think WXIA should do is aim for the grassroots and, yes, social networking. I don’t think there’s a WXIA FB page … I get updates from the Washington Post, NPR and even Creative Loafing and often share the stories with my FB friends. This is a great way to get WXIA’s story out. I know some of the ‘talent’ have pages, but it would be great if the station did. Just my two cents … keep up the good work!

    Reply

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