Jul 272010

For all the talk about the need for innovation, most local television newscasts still look almost the same as they did decades ago. Even some of the makeovers attempted in the past year or so haven’t amounted to much more than tweaking. Some stations have integrated social media and more graphics into their newscasts or liberated anchors from the news desk, but the overall approach hasn’t changed substantially. Better get ready.

The Tribune station in Houston is planning a total overhaul of its newscasts changes this fall with a new format it calls NewsFix. “The core concept is to focus more on storytelling by allowing those in the story to tell the story and to place video and audio at the center of all that we do,” KIAH general manager Roger Bare told the Houston Chronicle. Translation?

Say goodbye to traditional anchors and on-camera reporters. Most stories apparently will be fast-paced, told with lots of nat sound from the perspective of those involved. As a station employee who didn’t want to be identified told the newspaper:

“It’s not going to be as much of a newscast as a collection of stories that will roll into each other,” the employee said. “There will be natural sound, and you won’t see the reporters. It will be news for people who don’t watch news, which sounds a lot like opening a bar for people who don’t drink.”

KIAH is now advertising a job opening for an “executive producer and imaginator” to oversee the newscast and it’s an eye-opener.  They’re looking for someone “with a fiery passion to help re-invent the 80’s rooted, focus grouped, yuppie anchors and a news desk, super doppler ultra weather style.”

Experience in running a TV Newsroom is not necessary and might actually be detrimental, as this position requires someone with no traditional TV News baggage, because there’s little tradition involved in this idea.

KIAH probably isn’t risking much by trying something totally new. Its two daily newscasts get the lowest ratings in town, drawing less than a .5 rating. But other Tribune stations could be in line for a similar “fix.” The company plans to roll out the NewsFix at some of its other 23 stations “that don’t have a strong legacy news product or where the local news tradition may not be as strong as it is in other markets,” says Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman.

This is hardly the first time a news organization has talked about getting rid of anchors. I seem to remember discussions along those lines at CBS News back in the 1980s. As I recall, some experimental newscasts were even produced, with each reporter tossing to the next reporter in line. The idea never took hold.

One reason may be that many viewers decide what newscast to watch based on who the anchor is. What television news has that print doesn’t is personality. Stations have tried to capitalize on the personal connection viewers feel to TV journalists by making sure they’re not just heard but also seen. Reporters who resist doing stand-ups are inevitably told that they must appear on camera regularly because viewers want to see the person who’s telling the story. Was that just a myth? I doubt it. But if the Tribune experiment succeeds, a lot of TV managers will be proved wrong.


  7 Responses to “Radical ‘fix’ for local TV news”

  1. This experiment will not succeed. People watch the news because they want to hear what’s going on from a friend that they invite into their living room. With no anchor there…

    Nobody wants to invite the criminals that make up so much of the local news into their homes.

  2. If they have any prayer of pulling them off, I hope they spend the money to hire good photogs who can turn spectacular natpaks that can hold the audience’s attention and not just hand babycams to the former reporters.

    Shooting a standup is easy, learning how to turn a good natpack is another ballgame altogether.

  3. Sorry, Amanda, but natpacks aren’t the answer.

    To turn a ‘spectacular’ natpack requires an intensive and consuming effort by a shooter/editor. I doubt they will have the time.
    To watch a natpack demands too much attention on the viewers’ part.
    Unfortunately, most of them do not think like photographers, nor do they appreciate the nuance you would hope to include.
    They do not watch a television news stories the same way we do. Never have, never will.

    Integrate some true storytelling elements into a simple narrative, and you will attract and hold viewers.

  4. NewsFix is the brainchild of ex-radio consultant and wacky memo writer Lee Abrams, whose innovative ideas helped make the Los Angeles Times the dog trainer it is today and contributed smartly to the current bankruptcy of parent company Tribune.

    An example of his earlier thinking:


  5. The future of Newsfix is in Tribune’s recent past.

    A couple of years ago Tribune hatched a newscast in South Florida that was supposed to revolutionize local news in the morning.

    The 4 hour show is the most painful and horribly conceived program that I have ever viewed. The ratings most often show a zero audience. The show is a financial drain. But Lee had high hopes at one time.

    Abrams: WSFL Morning Show Will Revolutionize TV

  6. A twist on Second City’s line: If it’s news today, it’s news to us!” Now it fits the old newsroom joke: When news breaks, we fix it! Boy, are we in trouble.

  7. Sooooo tired of the same old local news. I hope they they pull it off. Good luck NewsFix, be prepared for all the haters to come out. Oh wait, they’re already here…………….

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