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Tweeting the news

CNN’s Rick Sanchez has almost 90,000 followers on Twitter, making him one of the top TV news Tweeters in the US. His frequent posts are a mix of requests for feedback on the news, commentary and personal observations like this one yesterday:

i got to go slap on some make-up. be back in a jiff. hate this part.

I follow Rick, but I confess that I rarely read what he posts. Maybe that’s because there’s so little actual news in his feed. CBS’s Mark Knoller, on the other hand, is an essential read for me, providing a quick update on what’s happening at the White House every day.

It’s easy to find other national journalists who use Twitter by checking MuckRack, but many local stations are using the service, too.

Allison Watts, executive producer at WHAM-TV in Rochester, N.Y., calls herself a “Twittering Twit.”  She posts updates on breaking news and says she often gets tips and feedback from Twitter users in her community.

Reporters at the station use Twitter from the field. Last week, Watts says that reporter Rachel Barnhart Tweeted from court on the sentencing of a former police officer convicted of hit-and-run.

In a span of 30 minutes and 40 tweets, she painted a detailed picture of what it was like in the courtroom. It included everything from emotional statements from family members to the judge’s decision.

Other local TV journalists using Twitter include reporter Jason DeRusha from WCCO-TV in Minneapolis and assignment editor Misty Montano from KCNC-TV in Denver.  Who would you add to the list?

By the way, if there’s an online directory of local TV Tweeters, I haven’t found it yet. Let us know if you know of one.

How TV news reports audience decline

Joe Flint of the Los Angeles Times posted a very short, but interesting tidbit yesterday.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication found that over the last nine years, newspapers and wire services wrote more than two thousand stories about the woes of print and television. Leading the way were the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Television, meanwhile, carried a total of 22 stories about the decline in news audiences.

Maybe TV has learned a thing or two from those sales guys who always say business is good – it’s certainly tough to foster confidence in an industry that’s routinely predicting its own demise.

Yes, the audience is changing its habits.  But what would be interesting to know is how much reporting has been focused on those changes and analysis of how traditional media can adapt. 

The more we can learn about serving today’s audience needs, the faster journalism organizations can rise to the challenge.  Let’s see more than 2,000 stories on that!

J-school requires iPhone

Why would the University of Missouri’s well-regarded journalism school make an iPhone or iPod Touch a requirement for all incoming students? My first guess was that Mizzou was making a new commitment to multimedia journalism and requiring an iPhone so students could learn to gather and post online news on the fly. But no.

According to the Columbia Missourian, the school has an entirely different motive: 

Brian Brooks, associate dean of the Journalism School, said the idea is to turn the music player into a learning device. “Lectures are the worst possible learning format,” Brooks said. “There’s been some research done that shows if a student can hear that lecture a second time, they retain three times as much of that lecture.”

Mizzou is going to record lectures and make them available free via iTunes  U. But students don’t need an iPod or any other Apple device to view them, so it seems the new requirement is basically bogus. And besides, the idea that students will use a smart phone or music player to review lectures has already been tried, with decidedly mixed results.

Five years ago, Duke University gave iPods free to all of its incoming freshmen to “foster innovative uses of technology in the classroom,” as Wired magazine reported. A year later, Duke scaled back the program.

Requiring J-school students to buy one specific brand of technology that uses proprietary file formats and is more expensive than many alternatives just doesn’t sound like a winning proposition to me. Requiring them to have a device that can capture audio and video for news gathering purposes would seem to make a lot more sense. 

New skillset for online reporters

No doubt about it. You need to be able to work fast and juggle multiple deadlines if you’re going to succeed in online journalism. But you also have to be adept at marketing, which used to be a dirty word in newsrooms–as Alan Murray, deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, notes in this interview with the Nieman Journalism Lab:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.

J-schools revamp

At long last, journalism schools are changing what they teach in order to better prepare students for the media world that awaits them.  This fall, the University of North Carolina will launch what it calls a “new curriculum for a new century.” Journalism majors will still take required courses in news writing, ethics and law, but they’ll also have to take a course in audio-video information gathering.

Current UNC student Andrew Dunn says that’s a great start but it’s not enough:

What’s more important is that online concepts are effectively integrated with the standard core courses. With what I’ve seen with the J-school, that won’t be easy. Only a few professors have any clue about the Interwebs.

Complaints about clueless professors are nothing new. But a revamped curriculum should put them on notice that they’d better get up to speed, fast.

Columbia’s J-school is also revamping this fall, amid what New York Magazine calls an existential crisis over a “digitally focused curriculum designed to make all students as capable of creating an interactive graphic as they are of pounding out 600 words on a community-board meeting.”

…the push for modernization has also raised the ire of some professors, particularly those closely tied to Columbia’s crown jewel, RW1. “F*** new media,” the coordinator of the RW1 program, Ari Goldman, said to his RW1 students on their first day of class, according to one student. Goldman, a former Times reporter and sixteen-year veteran RW1 professor, described new-media training as “playing with toys,” according to another student, and characterized the digital movement as “an experimentation in gadgetry.”

Sounds like the new media-old media divide is alive and well at Columbia. But as the magazine points out, “The real issue, of course, isn’t whether the school can afford to change, but that it can’t afford not to.”