Please Stand By……
Its called ‘leapfrog technology’.
Its the ability to bypass an old infrastructure completely and go immediately to what the newest technologies can create.
Vietnam’s adaptation of mobile phone technology is an example of leapfrog. Rather than build landlines and a landline phone system, Vietnam has opted to go directly to mobile, even for online service.
Local TV stations are in trouble. They are losing viewers and they are big, ungainly, inefficient and not cost effective. They are the children of what is now an increasingly archaic technology. Local stations in major markets employ upwards of 250 people or more to put 8 or 9 camera crews and reporters on the streets every day to gather ‘news’. Is this cost effective? Does it make sense?
Suppose a local newspaper had a staff of 250 people and was only able to field 8 reporters to cover a city. Would the paper even be worth reading?
Fortunately for local TV news stations, newspapers have published in print, and TV has published in video. They two were separate entities.
Not any more.
Newspapers have moved to the web and the web has moved to video. Hence, local newspapers are now starting to ‘publish’ in video. Web service comes with your home cable service, so web penetration is about the same as TV penetration – or will be in some time. Newspapers are increasingly becoming direct competitors to local TV news. They share the same beats, they share the same stories, they share the same reader/viewers and they share the same advertisers.
What’s the difference?
The job of the journalistic organization is to go out into the community, find stories that are of interest or importance and publish them for the community and sell advertising against the readership/viewership. Same business.
Give newspaper reporters and photographers cameras, and what have you got? Local TV.
The relationship is even more incestuous. Almost every local TV news station starts its day by opening up the local newspaper. That is where TV news gets its stories from. They let the local paper do the hard work, and they simply lift the results. Its’ understandable – if you’re only fielding 7 or 8 crews to cover a city, you can’t take a risk of having an assignment not work out – so every assignment is guaranteed. Its guaranteed by the fact the story already happened. How do you know? You read it in the paper!
As papers move to video, they may be drawn toward replicating the Local TV news model on their own. An anchor, a story run down, a ‘show’.
Don’t go there.
Time for Leapfrog Technology.
Newspapers, ironically, are the original non-linear product.
You read the stories you wanna read, when you wanna read ’em. Now you can do the same with video. But we’re also in the world on online – where people expect instant news. When the WTC was hit by planes, we tuned into CNN because we wanted to find out what was happening now! Well, there is a room in your city where people are working around the clock trying to find out what is happening. It’s called the newsroom of your local paper. Open it up. Embrace video and let people into this fantastic service that you are already doing! Advertise it, publish it, produce it.
You are covering the city with reporters – good reporters, who know their beats. Who know City Hall backwards and forwards. Give them video cameras and let them tell their stories in text and video.
Sometimes a story is best told in print. Sometimes its best told in video, Sometimes its a combination of the two. Create a new grammar for the web that combines the best of both worlds. Not print, not video – something entirely different yet compelling.
TV news is a guy at a desk with a box over his shoulder. A City Room for a newspaper is a living, vibrant place where some of the best informed people in town gather to exchange information and ideas. Best movies, best restaurants, best plays, what happened on the subway today. How come the mayor is in such trouble. Who is going to get the nomination.
Ask yourself. Where would you rather be? Which is the more interesting location? Where do you want to ‘tune into’ to find out what is happening? Who do you trust more?
Newspapers have a great moment of opportunity here to seize the ball from local TV news and run with it. To capture the power that was once a city paper and translate it to video for online and perhaps even broadcast. But they have to be prepared to think differently. To leapfrog the current model and embrace all the new technology has to offer.
After all, if Vietnam can do it, I think the local paper can as well.