Doing more with less

Almost every broadcast newsroom in the country is facing the same challenge. How can they continue to produce quality journalism on more screens with fewer people?

“It’s a struggle but we’re doing it as a team,” said Dan Salamone, news director at WOIO-TV, Cleveland, Ohio, at an RTNDA panel I moderated on Tuesday. His newsroom has shrunk from110 people two years ago to 70 people today, but digital technology has helped to fill some of the gap. The station uses Skype for live shots and shares video with a competing station, WKYC-TV, to save on costs.

Staffers who used to do just one job at WOIO now do several. Newscast directors, for example, help out on the assignment desk after completing their duties in the control room. As Salamone put it: “Versatile is valuable.”

At WFIE-TV in Evansville, Indiana, general manager Debbie Bush no longer has a news director; instead, a content manager is responsible for all news and production. The station reviewed all positions and eliminated some in order to put more journalists in the field. They hired some VJs and cross-trained other staffers to make them more productive. Now, news people may run studio cameras while production staffers may shoot news. It’s not only more efficient, “it breaks down walls,” Bush said.

Veteran anchors at WFIE have new duties as well. They’ve been assigned to mentor individual reporters and to approve their scripts. Everyone on the staff is expected to be on Facebook and Twitter, to push news out on multiple platforms. And everyone contributes content, Bush said, even the sales department. That sounds like an ethical quagmire, but the example Bush gave was of a sales person taking pictures of a breaking news story and sending them to the station to post on the Web, just as a citizen might.

One consequence of layoffs and budget cuts is that “the top performers are the ones that are left,” said Steve Jones, vice president and general manager of ABC News Radio, New York. The downside is that many of them are working in fear that they might be the next ones laid off. So managers need to make an even bigger effort to communicate openly with the staff, Jones said, being candid about what the future might bring and offering regular, positive feedback.