TV News

Posted on 6 Ιουνίου , 2006


Television news is awash in a sea of change brought about by disruptive innovations in technology. In order to see the real future, one must step away from the forest and get away from all the noise, because these changes are really all about people, and not merely the technology. Our culture is changing, and unless and until we can see that, any attempt to «correct» for change will ultimately prove to be shortsighted at best. But if we can see it, that knowledge will alter our plans — even those for tomorrow — because there is certainly a place for television and television news in a Postmodern world.

  • Premodern: I believe, therefore I understand
  • Modern: I reason, therefore I understand
  • Postmodern: I experience, therefore I understand

Postmodernism is the Age of Participation. Postmoderns distrust institutional authority figures and intuitively trust those who’ve actually experienced the things that Modernists only study. It is through these experiences — and to a great extent, shared experiences — that people are forming their tribes.

The television industry’s obsession with celebrity and the easy marketing thereof is meaningless in a today’s world that has demystified the industry and its hype, rejects elitism and doesn’t need its information spoon fed by good-looking faces anyway.

  • Firstly, time is precious to today’s viewers.
  • Secondly, viewers prefer to have the reporter who was there to give them his or her take on it than somebody sitting in a studio.
  • Thirdly, the only «personalities» viewers care about are those who share their beliefs and provide the arguments that viewers need to communicate with other members of their «tribe.»
  • Finally, viewers have little time or respect for people on pedestals, especially those who don’t have a clue as to what they are going through.

The pejorative term «media elite» is generally used by conservatives to slam those with a liberal bias, but, for today’s viewers, it goes way beyond that.  In a Postmodern world, where the power is with the information consumer, this elitist gap is a huge liability. Today’s viewers disdain for elites has little to do with counterculture energy, as some believe.
In other ways, the TV industry itself is guilty of erecting the pedestal that separates news people from viewers. For example, the TV news consulting firm, Audience Research and Development (AR&D) coined a phrase that has been used for years in positioning anchors with the audience — the Command Anchor. The talent side of what used to be AR&D is now called «Talent Dynamics.» Here’s what their marketing material says about the concept: «I will guide you through this newscast. You’ve been busy with your life all day, but you want to know what else is going on in your world. I’ve been here watching and investigating for you. Sit back, relax, watch and listen; I’ll see to it that you are brought up to date.» «Viewers form a relationship with their news anchors. The greater the perceptions of an anchor in “command» of the newscast content, the stronger the relationship and, therefore, the bond. Longevity in a market is a sure path to Command Anchor status, but we can speed up the process.»

In a passive audience environment, this is terribly smart. We build newscasts in such a way that the audience believes the anchor is in charge. Story intros and outros are crafted, so that the most important facts of the story are given to the anchors, not the field reporters. When there’s «team coverage,» guess who leads the team? Anchors recap or summarize big stories to further the notion that they are in command. They thank and congratulate people in the field, which leaves the impression that the work was done for them. People follow people, the old saying goes, and that’s a critical factor in the marketing of television news. Local television anchors are often the celebrities of the communities they serve. The more popular they are, the greater the likelihood the community will watch their newscasts. So what’s wrong with positioning them as such? The problem is the world is changing, and these strategies are actually driving people away. The audience is no longer passive, and the very attributes that help boost an anchor to Command status are those that create the air of elitism that viewers find so repugnant.

The video news people of tomorrow will be very different than those of today. They’ll write, shoot and edit their own material. The ability to write will be paramount, for — in an on-demand world — people will read the words before they watch the video. The compensation will be based on the work, not the appearance.

These are exciting, pioneering times for television news and for the people who work in it. What may appear on the surface to be a tragedy is actually a doorway to incredible opportunities, both for those who do the news and those who consume it. And as the consumer guides himself through the news of the day, reporters will have their stories all to themselves.

10 ideas for consideration

The traditional audiences share a universal faith in logic and science. Today’s audience sees the realism of limitations. So how does anyone «do news» for today’s audiences? The following ideas are open for discussion:

1. Firstly, there are no news except television (better: «video») news. Viewers want to see and hear for themselves, not read about it from a distance.
2. News must be available 24/7. Gone are the days when people will tune in at a specific time to be «given» the news.
3. There’s no such thing as a newscast in a postmodernist world. Stories must be available simultaneously, with the viewer able to select at random. Viewers don’t believe they should have to wait for anything.
4. News must not be afraid to present the absurdities and contradictions of life as parts of the reality of a multi-cultural, diverse world.
5. News must include everybody’s perspective, identify the organization’s own perspective, or give none at all. The artificial journalistic hegemony known as objectivity is dead. It never was real and TV viewers see through it.
6. News must give up its obsession with stardom and celebrity. Today’s viewers reject authority and elitism (newscasters and reporters) in favor of participation and the knowledge acquired therein.
7. Reporters could and perhaps should represent the various tribes. This would provide sort of a global view from which viewers could pick and choose. «Now what?» is an important question for the viewers, but only insofar as they can make up their own minds.
8. «Live» is hypercritical, for the viewers wants to participate more than anything else.
9. News must be interactive, but the goal is participation, not driving viewers to goals or solutions.
10. It’s time for TV stations to spin their news departments out as wholly owned subsidiary companies and permit them to seek their own distribution outlets. Create a licensing arrangement with the parent company for broadcast rights, and let the laws of the market determine who continues and who doesn’t. Despite their similarities, broadcasters are not Web people, because their interests conflict. Consequently, TV stations only play with the Internet, and in so doing, they miss the point of the technology. They also deny and ignore the primary conduit to the whole postmodernist movement. It will stay that way unless the news becomes its own master, complete with the option to decide how best to distribute its product.

10 things that can be done in accordance with the above considerations: 

1. Get off pedestal. The anchor-in-charge-of-everything image is offensive to viewers, who shun authority as nothing special. Elitism is fingernails-on-the-chalkboard to viewers. We’re just not as important as we think we are, and climbing off the pedestal helps us view our audience with the respect they now demand.
2. Get out of the box, and let people get out of the box.
3. Get relevant! And start by defining relevance. There are a lot of reasons young people don’t watch the news, but the biggest one is there’s nothing on that’s relevant to them. Today’s viewers have information needs. What are they? How do you meet them?
4. Get involved in the community. Why are we so afraid to take a position on an issue and go after it? Today’s viewers see through the artificial journalistic hegemony called objectivity, so why can’t we? They like a little argument with their information, as evidenced by the variety of information portals Internet users seek to develop their own opinions. Local news Websites aren’t among them.
5. Get local! Forget about what «worked» in other countries or towns. The homogeneity generated by news consultants has taken the local out of local news and replaced it with franchised fear.
6. Empower your viewers to participate. Get your audience involved in what you do day in and day out. Today is the Age of Participation.
7. Rethink and reinvent the art of the tease. You can’t force people to move from one daypart to another anymore. It’s insulting to viewers, who want what they want when they want it, and you’re pushing people away while trying to attract them.
8. Seize control of the Website. The technology exists to do quality Video News on Demand online.
9. Think multi-media at all levels in the news gathering process. TV News and Newspaper news are converging online. The greatest future threat is not the television competitors, but the local paper, assuming they’re actively pursuing an online business model.
10. Embrace electronic news gathering by putting small cameras and laptop edit systems in the hands of journalists. Stations that embrace the technology will find new opportunities and a staff more inclined to reporting than entertaining.
New Contemporary Ideas

Dan Gillmor, blogger and tech columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, writes, «OhmyNews is transforming the 20th century’s journalism-as-lecture model — where organizations tell the audience what the news is and the audience either buys it or doesn’t — into something vastly more bottom-up, interactive and democratic.»

OhmyNews may not be THE model for news in the 21st century, but it bears consideration for an industry that’s going nowhere fast. It’s a simple and relatively inexpensive concept for TV stations to try. Somebody’s going to do it, soon. Here are five suggestions to jump start the idea.

1. Create a reality show wherein viewers «compete» to be citizen reporters. Make a big deal of it. Winnow the field down to, say, twelve finalists, and build the show around them. Let each go out and do a story and have your audience «vote» on the five or six that will become your citizen journalists.
2. Equip them with consumer level digital video recorders and laptop editors. Give them the training they need and turn them loose. You’ll obviously want to maintain editorial control, but give them as much room as you can to report stories their own way. Pay them a stipend for each piece they generate.
3. Mix their stories into your news with or without fanfare. You could flag each story for what it is, or let it stand on its own. If the OhmyNews experience teaches anything, it’s that the professional will be surprised by what these people turn up.
4. Make one newscast a ‘citizen’ newscast. It doesn’t have to be in some highly visible daypart. People will find it. Stream this program and make it available on your Website.
5. Get them together as a panel to comment on news regularly. Let these people represent the folks on the other side of the glass. Put them in a studio setting and roll tape. It would make a great Sunday feature.

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