Friday, May 21, 2010

Going, Going...

UCal-Berkeley Journalism professor Alan D. Mutter tells us something a lot of us TV news people already know: the Internet is catching up with us, and with our viewers, and we need evolve or die:
As broadcast audiences shrink, ad revenues will tumble. As revenues recede and profit margins are challenged, it is all but inevitable that most local broadcasters will reduce the resources they devote to covering local news.

A contraction in local TV news coverage, combined with the recent curtailment of newspaper coverage in most communities, will deprive our society of even more of the authoritatively reported information that is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. I have seen nothing yet to convince me that crowd-sourced websites possibly can fill the void.
In other words, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other homebrew 'net outlets aren't a substitute for people who are paid to go get you the news. But, it costs money to do news right, money newsrooms don't have as viewers head for the web. It's a vicious cycle.

Mutter says broadcasters need to be doing more with their extra digital channel capacity. Many are, including KOLD, where we run a 24-hour news and weather channel on 13.2. But beyond that, he doesn't offer any suggestions. And what's troublesome, he suggests the FCC "ought to give them (broadcasters) a nudge."

I don't have a lot of suggestions myself, but I know that more regulation isn't the solution. Government regulation mandated the switch to digital broadcast TV in the first place, an unfunded mandate that is costing stations across the country millions of dollars in equipment upgrades. On top of that, many of these new digital signals aren't reaching all viewers, forcing them to shell out money for new antennas, cable or satellite TV hookups.

So what do TV newsrooms do? I still think we're working out solutions. Forcing entire newsrooms to convert to the VJ model -- where everybody learns how to write, shoot, and edit their own material -- has been filled with challenges and several disappointments. Ask somebody at KRON in San Francisco or WKRN in Nashville.

Stations could've gotten a jump on the revolution years ago. But years ago, even as late as 1999, they didn't have the motivation to change. They were still making gobs of money. Web news was still in its infancy. Broadband was pricey and sparse. Previous online news outlets, such as those with pay services like CompuServe, GEnie, and Prodigy, didn't get a lot of people excited. Teletext -- a rudimentary, one way form of the Web delivered via TV signals -- never caught on in America.

TV news isn't going away. Radio news didn't go away when TV came along. It adapted. Newspapers didn't fold because of radio. They adapted. Right now TV is in the adaption mode, still trying to reformulate the model in a way that's going to cost both the fewest jobs and money.

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