Local TV station goes hyperlocal online

WNCN-TV in Raleigh, NC is in a tough spot. The CBS affiliate, WRAL, is about as dominant as a television station can get and WTVD, the ABC shop in town is no slouch either. So this Media General station is trying something radical – setting out to own the local Web audience – even at the expense of its TV product.

TVNewsday recently wrote about the station’s “hyperlocal” efforts, which are now just a little more than a year old. I had a chance to visit WCNC last year as they were just beginning to cover “stories down to the sub-neighborhood level.”  Here’s what I saw:

• The station hired a number of Community Content Liaisons and then assigned them a geographic or content area, tasking them with getting to know the “movers and shakers” in those arenas and encouraging those folks to share story tips or actual content on a series of “Web channels” the station created. You can check out those Web channels at myNC.com.

• The station hired multiple “embed reporters” – journalists who are expected to cover the news, again based on geographic or content beats, and file to the station’s home page as well as the online channels. Their stories may also appear on the air, but according to Director of Content Nannette Wilson, “The goal is Web first.”

• The station is still putting on newscasts, but the news team has been shifting the focus to breaking news and updating news online. A case in point, during a Hillary Clinton campaign stop last year, VP News for Media General Broadcast Group Dan Bradley visited the station and spent the day watching what he calls the “Journalist 2.0” covering the Clinton event. “During Hillary’s speech, the embed reporter must have filed four Web updates while the other local TV reporters just waited for the news to begin; it was amazing to watch,” said Bradley.

General Manager Barry Leffler says the efforts are starting to pay off.

“This is all brand-new revenue for our station. We’re able to provide such highly-targeted demographics that we can charge a slight premium,” Leffler says.

The article offers some interesting discussion on how the station is capitalizing on free, user-generated content.

Whatever happens in the long run,  it’s just good to see a local TV news organization trying to innovate online.