Breaking News

About 10 years ago, when The New York Times was first starting NYTimes.com, most of the newspaper’s senior staff were nervous about the web. They did not feel anything should appear on the website until it had already been published in the paper. Of course, the paper only comes out once a day, and that is directly antithetical to the notion of ‘immediacy’ for an online site. It took the newspaper years to come to accept that the web came first, the paper followed.

Newspapers were the first ones hit by the impact of the web, but now it is coming to television as the web goes to video. Yet even among our own clients, some of whom are local TV news stations; they can only see the web as a place to put stories after they have aired on their programs.

Does this make sense?

We love to run BREAKING NEWS across the bottom of the screen, but in point of fact, what kind of breaking news is it that waits until 6PM to be broken? If it actually ‘breaks’ at 1:37 PM, then that is when it should be posted online. The website runs 24-hours a day, and that is where viewers will go if they want to find out ‘what is happening’. Why should anyone wait unitl 6? Or indeed, why wait until 6:30 for the network Evening News? News organizations should be publishing on their websites all day long, and updating all day long. That’s really what ‘news’ is all about.

If that is the case (and it would seem to make sense), then what is the ‘show’ for? What do we do at 6:30 when everyone already knows all the ‘news’ already?

Well, there is a case to be made for making this a place for discussion, analysis and opinion. And in fact, Fox News gets pretty good ratings doing this now. Image what would happen if you were to merge the two – that is, to make the website work not only in concert with the show, but to drive it, instead of being a place for fallback and leftovers. Who wants to watch leftovers?

And this is not just for news!

Last year we started to produce a series for The Travel Channel called 5Takes. (www.5takes.com). In the first series, we sent 5 kids to Europe on $50 a day, and had them blog and vlog to a website while we followed their adventures. We turned the show in 6 days (more on this another day), and so the show and the website were pretty closely tied to real time.

When the first show aired, a funny thing happened. Viewers started to comment online that they did not like the narrator. So we changed the narrator, and told them we were doing that. The next week, more viewers came online and said they didn’t like that narrator either, so we changed the narrator again.

We discovered something very interesting. We were actually talking to our viewers. In real time! We had, in a sense, created a full time, real time, 100% focus group for the show, as we were making it! (This is a whole lot better than running some focus group with 25 people in Las Vegas on a Tuesday). The web allowed us to find out what our audiences were thinking and listen to them and then fine tune the show as we went. What a concept!

When we air a news show, we have a website that could allow us to ‘talk’ to our viewers as the show is on the air. And more to the point, it could allow our viewers to ‘talk’ to the show, as the news is unfolding. Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we really bind the show and the web so they are one and the same thing? Why don’t we allow the website to, in fact, drive the show? We pay thousands and thousands to consultants like Maggid to read the tea leaves and interpret what ‘the audience wants to see’. (more weather, more traffic, different anchors). It’s all poking about in the dark. And all unnecessary. The truth is that the audience is right there, at the other end of your server. All you have to do is ask. They’ll tell you.

So maybe, as the web goes to video, we have the whole relationship backwards.

A lot of broadcasters are today agonizing about putting clips from their TV shows on Youtube, or their own websites. Maybe the right thing to do here is to turn the whole thing on its head; to put the website on the air.

3 responses to “Breaking News

  1. i was about to write something like “how timely”, but since this has been going on for the past 20 years, so i guess any time would have been timely.

    there was another multiple homicide in the murder city on monday, only this time it involved two teen age victims.

    while the reporter-on-scene went on to explain the mess he mentioned an important briefing the Police Chief herself would be holding at 9am the following day, “and we’ll be there and have all the breaking news for you on action news…

    AT NOON”

  2. When 25 (or 250) people with intenet access and the wherewithal to complain, say they don’t like a narrator, you must have a very tiny total audience if you accept their posts as being a representative sample of the viewers’ opinion.

  3. Bob
    You would be surprised at how small a percentage of television viewrship can shake a newsroom to its roots. Here’s a small experiment you can try. Get 50 friends all to call The CBS Evening News at the same time to complain about .. oh, say Katie’s dress color. Pick anything you like. Fifty people represent less than a hundreth of one percent of the viewership. Make the call however, and you ‘ll see a major review of Katie’s wardrobe. Trust me.

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