Cross-ownership means better TV?

Here’s the headline: The audience gets more news from TV stations owned by companies that also own a newspaper in the same market. According to an article in Broadcasting & Cable, research done at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that “cross-ownership of broadcast outlets and daily newspapers in the same town has a positive impact on the quality of local news coverage.”

Professor Jeff Milyo’s study compared the local news content of cross-owned TV stations to other network-affiliated stations in the same market and found:

  • Local TV newscasts for cross-owned stations have on average one to two minutes more news coverage than non-cross-owned stations, or 4-8 percent more news;
  • Cross-owned stations have 7-10 percent more local news than non-cross-owned stations;
  • Cross-owned stations offer 25 percent more coverage of local and state politics than non-cross-owned stations.

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Suspended for what?

Two high-profile anchors were taken off the air temporarily this month after making offensive comments–one on the air and one off air. Now their employers’ actions in suspending them are drawing criticism, too.

Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman said during a tournament that the only way to beat Tiger Woods was to “lynch him in a back alley.” Bad choice of words, to say the least; Tilghman apologized to viewers and to Woods a couple of days later. ESPN2 anchor Dana Jacobson was suspended after using vulgar language at an off-air, company-sponsored roast. “Foolish and insensitive,” she said later.

But the Golf Channel waited several days before taking disciplinary action against Tilghman, and ESPN didn’t act for a week; both networks decided on suspensions only after they came under pressure from interest groups, according to columnist Tom Hoffarth of the LA Daily News, who then raised this question:

So is today’s climate enough to have a chilling affect (sic) on other TV reporters who must now think twice about making any off-handed remarks, no matter what the context?

Seems to me the remarks in question weren’t merely off-handed; they were inappropriate no matter what the context. And broadcast journalists should be the first to know that what you say into a microphone will get around, whether you’re on the air or on the dais at a company event.  Something to keep in mind when you’re in a high-profile, public job.

Quit yer complainin’!

Two recent developments in the print world are worth a closer look. The Newspaper Association of America says online audiences for newspapers grew by about six percent in 2007. According to an Associated Press article:

Web sites run by newspapers had an average of 60 million unique U.S. visitors per month in 2007, up from 56.4 million the year before, according to data released by Newspaper Association of America and compiled by Nielsen Online, a Web audience measurement agency owned by The Nielsen Co.

That translates into about 38% of all online users visiting newspaper sites. What struck me was one line in the article which called the data “a rare bit of good news for an industry struggling to adapt as readers and advertising dollars continue to migrate online.”

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Pros and cons of social network reporting

The list of online tools you can use in reporting keeps growing, along with the benefits and pitfalls of relying on social networks for information. Jennifer Woodard Mazerazo, associate editor of PBS MediaShift, says her latest favorite tool is Twitter:

The service acts as what some call a “gate jumper.” Because of the way it’s set up — open communication in real time — it’s quite easy to add someone “important” (say, a tech business executive who might not give you the time of day in another context) as a “friend” and just ask him or her a question by writing “@username.” You might be surprised how open people are to communicating on Twitter, even if they ignore emails.

Mazerazo also explains in detail how she uses Facebook, YouTube and Flickr in her reporting on Latino issues. But she cautions that while it may be tempting to run with what you find, doing so can backfire. Case in point: reports that surfaced after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto about the views of her son:

Several big news companies — among them London’s Telegraph and Agence France Presse — lifted quotes about Islam from her son’s Facebook profile. The only problem was that the profile was fake. In this case, traditional media in all its experience didn’t know that social media sources can be a minefield, and it exploded in their faces. Had the “joke” not been discovered sooner or the fake quotes more inflammatory, this could have had serious political implications.

No kidding. As a journalist, you have to apply the same standards to what you discover through social networking as you do to any other information. Practice skepticism and verification at all times.

Who’s watching what online

According to a new study by Burst Media, Web users would rather watch professional video than user-generated content.  And the most popular type of online video is news.  The study found that almost 60% of users view online video at least once a week, and almost half of them (44%) cite news clips as their favorite content.   Music and comedy videos come in next, followed by TV shows, entertainment news and sports.  User-generated video trailed the pack at 15%.

Online video doesn’t just appeal to younger users, either.  The study says almost two-thirds of users over 65 have sampled online video.  But the most frequent viewers of online video are young and male, and their preferences are different.

Music videos literally rock with respondents 18-24 years, as over half (53.1%) say they seek it out online. Music is followed closely comedy video (46.9%), TV show video/clips (44.4%), and movie trailers/advertising (43.0%). Entertainment is also the most popular video content viewed by respondents 25-34 years. Beyond the age of 35 years, respondents clearly make news their leading choice of video content.

One other point about younger viewers of online video: they’re more tolerant than their elders of pre-roll ads.   More than half of all users dump out of a clip before the pre-roll is over, compared to about a third of 18-24 year olds.

Flash map brings story to life

Lebrew Jones (Times Herald Record photo)The Times Herald-Record posted an amazing investigative package this week that combines excellent use of Flash with top-notch video to bring a compelling story to life online. Multimedia producer John Pertel and investigative reporter Christine Young collaborated on the story of Lebrew Jones, a man who may have been wrongfully convicted of murder 20 years ago. One of the most engaging features of the online package is the interactive map of the crime scene, created in Flash.

lebrewmap.jpg

Users can click to see photos of the scene, descriptions of evidence, and video interviews with a forensic analyst.

The videos throughout the package are excellent and that’s no accident. Pertel and Young are TV news veterans, and it shows. They’re comfortable constructing stories with narration and on-camera segments, so the pieces are easy to watch and understand (if you can call any stories about a brutal murder easy to watch).

The team also took advantage of online’s depth to provide more details and data than they could in the paper. In addition to the obligatory timeline, Lebrew James’s original videotaped confession is online, as are the autopsy report and evidence list.

NBC’s “digital correspondent” makes air

Twice this week, NBC Nightly News has aired reports from Mara Schiavocampo, a 28-year-old solo journalist who’s just back from reporting in India. Hired last October, Schiavocampo’s primary responsibility is to produce content exclusively for the Web. But last night she was live on the set with Brian Williams, introducing her story about hair imports. And here’s the really interesting part: the story was a slightly different version of one she’d already filed online–a week earlier.

Schiavocampo tells mediabistro.com that’s all part of the plan.

It’s really cool that you have items that are Web exclusives that are intended for the Web that then the broadcast uses afterwards. I think that’s huge. That says a lot about what NBC thinks of the Web. Because its not just, “Let’s use the Web to repurpose stuff which is posted after it airs,” or it’s the stuff that wasn’t good enough for air. It really is to build its own thing there.

As a solo journalist who shoots and edits all of her own material, Schiavocampo says she can fly “under the radar” and get stories others would miss. “I get a lot of access because one woman with a camera is easily ignored, easily missed.” But she doesn’t operate entirely alone: Schiavocampo says she always contacts the global networking site Lightstalkers, which bills itself as a discussion tool for professional travelers and media workers. “I recommend them to everyone I ever talk to,” she says. “Just to have some back-ups in case something goes wrong, it gives you who to call on for help.”

A young journalist’s to-do list

Learn Arcview. Refresh statistics knowledge. Produce more multimedia. Just three of the ambitious goals on newbie reporter Shannan Bowen’s list. Bowen’s been out of college a little more than a year and works for a small paper in North Carolina, the Wilmington Star-News. On her personal blog, she’s tracking her progress as a young journalist.

It seems like I’m always working on something. If I’m not working for the paper, I’m working on learning new things and, well, just being a journalism nerd.

It’s both inspiring and a little intimidating to read Shannan’s plan for “getting on track.”

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Web jobs open at TV stations

Broadcasting & Cable has a compelling article about TV stations and station owners re-thinking their Web strategies. The article points to multiple examples of news organizations shifting resources to the Web through new hires and job restructuring.

To find ample resources for the Web, some managers are converting broadcast positions to Web ones. When a sports reporter gave notice at WMTV Madison, Wis., the position was turned into a Web producer. LIN TV, meanwhile, cited a 50% increase in online staff in 2007 as head count stayed flat.

What’s behind the change? “According to Borrell Associates’ 2008 Outlook: Local Online Advertising, $8.5 billion was spent on local online advertising in 2007, and that is projected to jump to $12.6 billion this year…” – so the bottom line? There’s money to be made on the Web and that means there’s an opportunity to add staff.

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Primary colors

Here’s a new wrinkle on an old dilemma. When Michigan voters go to the polls in their state primary today, they can vote in either the Republican or Democratic race. But under the law setting up the primary, voters have to write down which ballot they want and that list will be given to the two state parties. See the problem?

Journalists have wrestled for years with the question of whether taking a political position in the voting booth compromises their effort to be objective on the job. Some prominent journalists like Washington Post editor Len Downie say not voting is a matter of principle:

I have not voted since becoming managing editor in 1984 because, as the final gatekeeper for all coverage in the Post, I do not want to make up my mind, even in the voting booth, about candidates or issues. I would be pleased if none of our political reporters or editors voted, but it would be unreasonable to ask for that (and I remain the final gatekeeper for all they do). We prohibit all staff members from engaging in any political activity except voting.

Most journalists don’t go that far. Voting is their right as citizens, and they believe they can exercise it in private and still be fair in their coverage. But what happens when the party they voted for could become public knowledge?

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