How to save the news

newser.comThe news as we know it is ending but technology might save it, Michael Wolff writes in Vanity Fair. He points to the research we’ve all seen: under 30s have no “news habit.” When they want information, they don’t browse for it on a news site–they search for it. “The news business—our crowd of overexcited people narrating events as they happen—is going out of business,” he says. But it may still have a future, shaped by software engineers who are trying to “get the algorithm right.”

…these incredibly unresponsive people may well possess untapped magic that, if they wanted to, could make for all sorts of wondrous tricks which might save the news.”What about a sliding bar?” Mike Wu, a software engineer, offers just a little grudgingly. “Like from hard to soft news. So you can set it where you want to?”

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People Meters: Coming soon to a market near you?

By the year 2011, Nielsen Co. plans to triple the size of its National People Meter (NPM) TV-ratings panel.  By that same year, the company says it will have Local People Meters (LPM) in 56 markets and those sample homes will be integrated into the national sample.

According to an article from Multichannel News, the company is trying to “increase the accuracy of its numbers and to provide more flexibility for measuring non-traditional television viewing.”

Why is this important?

It will help Nielsen accomplish many of the objectives of its Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement (A2/M2) initiative, which seeks to measure televised video as it moves beyond the television set in the home to the Internet, hand-held devices and to platforms outside the house.

Imagine, your station might one day get credit for the video it posts online, sends to cell phones and other delivery systems not yet conceived.

Right now, Nielsen’s schedule for LPM expansion is “three more markets in 2007, five in 2008, 12 in 2009, 12 in 2010 and 14 in 2011.”

Video driving clicks

A new “clickmap” tool is making some ask whether video may be a bigger driver of clicks than previously thought. According to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, a researcher at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) has developed a new tool for tracking where Web users actually click on site pages in close to real time.

In a test of the tool, the DR found “…users click the picture 2-3 times more often than the headline. It seems presenting a video still with a YouTube-style play arrow changes viewer habits instantly.”

The post by the DR’s Ernst Poulsen goes on to offer the following:

Of course, this tool can’t indicate whether users read headlines before they decide to click, or if they decide based on the picture alone. However, it’s fairly clear that even if users are relying at least partly on text headlines to decide whether to click, the headline need not be the only entry path to the article.

It may also be that a site like YouTube has changed users habits: training people to click video stills when they want to watch video and headlines when they want to read text.

Hyperlink to keep stories alive

Hyperlinks aren’t just a simple way to add interactivity and context to a Web story. They could also be a way for news organizations to keep users apprised of what’s new on a story without having to update the original. Robert Niles writes in the Online Journalism Review that hyperlinks could be particularly useful in crime and court stories.

If reporters at your publication routinely assigned case numbers to crime or legal beat stories, then readers could click a link from that page and access all the publication’s other stories on that case…Today, many jurisdictions post case files online, too. And that provides a way for readers to learn the resolution of cases that reporters might drop.

Even if the files aren’t online, Niles points out that including the case number or just its title will let users do the research themselves to find out what happened, even if your newsroom doesn’t track the story through to the end.

FCC News: VNR fines and minority media-ownership

Here’s another good reason to avoid using a Video News Release (VNR) without proper attribution: You could be fined!

According to the Hollywood Reporter, for the first time ever, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau is calling for a $4,000 fine against Comcast for showing a VNR without telling viewers they got paid for it.

Comcast says that airing parts of a VNR for a homeopathic sleeping aid within a newscast does not violate FCC rules. A spokesperson for the company says cable programming is not covered by the relevant statue and that Comcast did not receive “consideration or benefit by using the material.”

In another development involving the FCC, Broadcasting & Cable reports that three members of Congress are calling for the FCC to create a minority media-ownership task force.

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Owning the first 1:00

For the past several years, a trend has been developing in the production of television newscasts.  Producers are being charged with the goal of “owning the first minute.”  In the September 2007 issue of RTNDA’s Communicator magazine, writer Paula Pendarvis puts it this way: 

Today’s newscasts don’t simply start, they sell, with custom-crafted elements designed to keep the viewer glued to the news.

The two most prevalent kick-off methods are:  heading straight to the top story, or inviting viewers to stick around with a slickly produced “supertease” that features sound bites, action video and reporter standups.

The article goes on to quote Paul Greeley, vice president of marketing and promotions for Nexstar Broadcasting, who compares the supertease to a “movie trailer, a highlight reel of your own show.”  Greeley says several things are important to create a good supertease:

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Lists as sources

Sometimes good story ideas fall in your lap (or show up in your email). The following is a post from the Criminal Justice Journalists listserv on Friday, 9/21/07:

If all goes according to plan, the FBI will put out its 2006 crime stats on Monday, 9/24/07.

Criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis is working on using these stats to do an immediate ranking of metro areas.

He hopes to have this by midday Monday if the FBI puts out its stats first thing.

Those of you who might want to cover this for Mon. night/Tues. should watch this list for a link to his material. This should be much better than the Morgan Quitno rankings that compare central cities and other not-very-comparable areas.

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Do your homework

How can you avoid being suckered by sources or stampeded by the competition? Do your own homework. That’s the advice from Stuart Taylor of the National Journal. His book about the Duke lacrosse case, “Until Proven Innocent,” says the news media blew it. “Read the damn motions,” Taylor–who is also a lawyer–told American Journalism Review:

If you’re covering a case, don’t just wait for somebody to call a press conference. Read the documents…We should never take a prosecutor’s word as fact…Yes many defense lawyers will say almost anything to get their clients off most of the time, but don’t just ignore what they say. Look at what they’re telling you. And do they have the evidence to back it up?

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Use a voiceover, already

Why do so many news Web sites use full-screen text instead of voiceover narration for video and slide shows? Angela Grant, multimedia producer at the San Antonio Express-News, believes “producers are afraid of using voiceovers because they are ‘like TV.'” Her rant at is right on the money. “For god’s sake,” she writes, “don’t let a fear of ‘being like TV’ stop you from telling your stories in the most effective means available.” Responses to her post raised other reasons producers avoid VOs: lack of audio skills, no quiet place to record, and not liking the sound of your own voice. My answers: learn, find one, and get used to it.

Natural sound matters

Natural sound makes stories come alive. It lets viewers experience something close to what it was like to witness a story in person. A story without nat sound is flat and dull. Want proof? Watch this video from former TV reporter Mark Poepsel, who now teaches at the University of Arizona: