Are Newspapers Poised to Replace Local TV Stations?

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.


19 responses to “Are Newspapers Poised to Replace Local TV Stations?

  1. But before newspapers can make this leap frog leap, they need to fire all those employees that work the press as well as cut off their paper and ink contracts. Lots of unhappy folks ahead in the newspaper industry. Lots of lawsuits and buyouts. Lots of lost money that they’d love to ignore but won’t be able to.

    Meanwhile, television continues to transition ahead of newspapers. Doing video better. Doing the internet better because television can actually sustain it’s internet side of the business while newspapers bleed cash and have an ugly future ahead and it doesn’t include survival.

    But keep dreaming Rosenblum. But don’t forget to include the entire reality to your dream of newspapers and television in the future.

  2. I agree that there are adjustments for both, but I have this deep seated feeling that papers will fare better because their cost structure is much lower than tv. I could be wrong of course
    I am reminded of a story that Mike Sechrist told me about hiring the best investigative reporter in town away from the local paper. The guy had won all kinds of awards, and Sechrist hired him to replace their on air reporter. His salary, tops at the paper, was less than Sechrist paid any of his reporters. When he told the guy he also got a car, he almost fell over.
    Papers have far lower internal costs and far higher per story productivity. I don’t think TV wil be able to unravel from their extremely high internal costs so fast – but I could be wrong.

  3. ROSENBLUM: I am reminded of a story that Mike Sechrist told me about hiring the best investigative reporter in town away from the local paper. The guy had won all kinds of awards, and Sechrist hired him to replace their on air reporter. His salary, tops at the paper, was less than Sechrist paid any of his reporters. When he told the guy he also got a car, he almost fell over.

    Gee whizz Rosenblum! How about telling the full story instead of just the half you like?

    The guy only lasted six months before he quit the station because in his very own words…It’s just been more difficult for me to adjust than I thought it would. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s just making such a move in the middle of my career. But I’ve been frozen lately, for lack of a better word: Not doing the level of work you deserve and, frankly, not doing the level of work that I’m proud of.”

    Yet another newspaper employee fails to make the transition! Not much of a surprise to many of us who know very well doing print reporting does not translate into knowing how to do visual story telling.

    Even the money and car weren’t enough to convince this reporter his future was with the Internet and WKRN.

  4. The point of the story was not about WKRN, it was to show the price differential (and I am sure you will not disagree here) between what journalists get paid at newspapers and what journalists get paid on television. While Katie pulls down her $14 million, I don’t think that anyone at the New York Times is getting anything near that, do you?

  5. OK, price differential. Which still doesn’t seem to mean much because no matter what the price, a well known newspaper reporter so happy to be making so much more and even with a car thrown in, could not cut it as a VJ.

    Got it.

  6. I think in one sense you are right Michael. The key to transforming any industry is hiring the right talent.

    Not the cheapest, not the guy who has been on the payroll for 5 years – and not the investment banker types lured by the “get rich quick” gobbledegook.

  7. One swallow doth not a summer make….
    Should you like to encounter thousands of swallows making the journey from newspapers to video, check out
    I think you will find it interesting.

  8. Pingback: The WEB FIRST Newsroom. « Local Media in a Web 2.0 World

  9. I think Bill Dunphy said it best in a recent thread on the NewspaperVideo Yahoo Group:

    video (producers) that was only a few short years ago the exclusive purview of a very tiny elite, and frankly I think it’s the loss of that priesthood status that scares many.

    That speaks volumes about the continued derision by detractors who stubbornly refuse to see the changes happening. I’ve seen better content coming from Travis Fox of The Washington Post (A Newspaper shooter FYI$) than from any so called established broadcast venue shooters.

    $ – You keep eluding to broadcast having the upper hand – So far what I have seen coming from mainstream broadcast shooters is the direct opposite.

  10. rosenblumtv said: “Almost every local TV news station starts its day by opening up the local newspaper. ”

    The idea that TV stations get their stories by reading it in the newspaper every morning is about as old fashioned as the thought that regular people still start their day by reading the paper. Newspapers can’t break news anymore in print. All the top stories are broken on the web, whether it be newspaper sites, TV sites, or national news sites. You can’t actually think TV reporters wake up every morning and rush to the newspaper to see what happened the day before? The real problem is that there a very few generation-Y people out there who ever pick up a newspaper anymore. Circulation continues to decline, and even website traffic is starting to slow for newspapers. On the other hand, thanks to professionally produced video stories on demand, Local TV websites are growing at record rates.

    rosenblumtv said: “Give newspaper reporters and photographers cameras, and what have you got? Local TV.”

    This is just not the case, bottom line. The day of newspaper reporters and photographers producing video content as professionally, and more importantly, as entertaining as Local TV, is just not here yet. I have seen the news/blog videos coming out of newspaper websites, and they are simply boring and not worth watching(with few exceptions). The thought of giving a print journalist a little Sony handy cam to film him/herself and parts of their story will fix this is just wishful thinking. Newspapers need to stick with what they do best, and capitalize on that. If I ran a newspaper, my number one focus online would be opinions, blogs, forums, comments, community thoughts, community involvement, etc. Get people involved! They don’t want to watch 10 minutes of a journalist sitting at city hall preaching about what happened that day. They want to tell the journalist what they think about it. The last thing I would try to do is copy Local TV, especially since you just told us that Local TV isn’t cost effective. Well neither is buying 250 unprofessional cameras and trying to train 250 journalists to use them and edit video. You can’t teach 250 old dogs new tricks.

    rosenblumtv said: “TV news is a guy at a desk with a box over his shoulder”

    This is just nonsense, and sounds like someone at a newspaper who is bitter and unhappy. The whole idea that a TV newsroom isn’t working just as hard to find good stories and report it to the community is just not true. I’ve been in both newspaper and Local TV newsrooms, and they are both very hard working people.

    rosenblumtv said: “Newspapers have a great moment of opportunity here to seize the ball from local TV news and run with it.”

    Your ideas sound good on the surface, but the fact is, both newspaper and Local TV are not very cost effective at the moment. Neither side will ever win this battle 100%. Eventually they will have to work together, or both sides will lose. In ten years, there won’t be a newspaper with a circulation high enough to support a staff of 250, and there won’t even be a difference between TV and Web. TV will be the web, web will be TV, and everything will be on demand; including stories written by newspaper journalists.

  11. TV will be the web, web will be TV, and everything will be on demand

    That pretty well sums it up – I think though that Internet content distribution will up the ante by removing the barriers of entry for so called “Professional News Organizations” to dictate what news is broadcast – in a way, that called selective disclosure – something todays information junkie culture won’t stand for. So in a sense, your statement is true, but it needs to be expounded upon with the paradigm shift that the techniques for better story telling will happen at a fairly rapid pace – those who can’t seem to or refuse to grasp the techniques for transitioning to quality VJ’ism will fall by the wayside due to attrition.

    Personally, if I had my way, I’d still be shooting 35mm film and manual focus cameras. But that’s a pipe dream and I for one have made the uncomfortable decision to adapt instead of perish – I know others in the photojournalism profession are making the same decisions as well – with various levels of uncomfortability being felt according to ones own perspective – Video is not easy. It requires alot of someone to practice effectively and professionally. It all stems on ones willingness to apply themselves to the craft. But I personally feel photojournalists have the upper hand in that they have been visual story tellers in still form – they can apply the same concepts to video and bring a fresh new vision to what has really been stale and dead in its visual creativity for a long time.

  12. Cliff,

    Your wholesale derision for ALL broadcast news renders your message hollow. Switch to decaf.

  13. Lenslinger – I haven’t had coffee in months – preferring to drink decaf herbal tea and practice yoga.

    I deride ONLY what I have seen up to this point – prove me wrong.

    So far no one has done so.

  14. This is uncanny– just wrote a piece on this today, in the context of political campaigning in Indiana:

    I think especially for live, this is a huge opportunity.

  15. Cliff,

    Unlike yourself I can’t count the number of news stories I produced on one hand. Neither can my buddy Weaver, who just shot, co-wrote and edited this two parter on teen pregnancy.

    PART 1

    PART 2

    Take a look at it, list all the reasons wh it doesn’t live up to you new world standards and then turn around and kiss my ass. Read my well-traveled blog and you’ll find I’m no wholesale defender of TV news. I am however one of thousands of television news journeyman who earn a decent stipend producing solid, punchy and occasionally gripping video news.


  16. I thought of an analogy that I’ll try to use.

    The web and it’s content, including and especially video, is like the cable access shows of the 80s.

    When the cable companies started laying cable and towns and cities starting signing franchise papers part of that deal included public access channels where everyone had to be given access to produce their own program if they wanted to.

    Everyone with Hollywood aspirations and the muscle capacity to pick up a camera and point it the right direction thought they were the new Alfred Hitchcock or Francis Ford Copola.

    The problem is, there was little or no training required and some horrendous programming resulted.

    Now that’s transitioned to the web and there is again horrendous programming to be see. (Don’t believe me …CLICK HERE)

    There will always be horrendous programming…either on TV or on the Web. There will always be great TV…quality TV….well put together TV.(even on the Web)

    Where the economy is taking the world of TV and Video, who knows. I’m poised to do whatever brings home the bacon.

    I’ve done plenty of shoots with my $300 mini cam for an interational cell phone company for delivery straight to cell phones.

    I’ve shot corporate video with mid level equipment.

    I’ve shot high quality SD.

    I haven’t shot HD yet..but will this year.

    I’ve shot by myself…all alone…alot.

    I’ve shot with a reporter.

    I’ve shot with a full crew.

    It all works…depending on the situation.

    I second Stewart’s seniment Cliff….put your money where your mouth is….show us one of your self generated assignments.

    Here’s another one of mine…shot tounge in cheek…very on the fly…casually if you will…with my $300 camcorder.

  17. put your money where your mouth is….show us one of your self generated assignments.

  18. Hey Cliff the freedive story was head and shoulders better than the Jazz singer.
    What an improvement you are obviously learning, congratulations.
    You still have a long way to come but it’s good to see.
    Now you need to show you can keep improving and daily turn out stuff better than that, for pay, for over a year and then you might have something to say that is worth listening to.

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