Dec 17, 2011

News Anchor or News Buoy: How G+ Hangouts “On-Air” will transform TV News

As you may already know, G+ has rolled out to a limited number of users what’s called an “On-air Hangout”. It is essentially a broadcast tower embedded within Google Plus, the world’s first face to face social network. 
The On-Air feature allows a Hangout to easily be broadcast (viewed) by the public anywhere in the world without having to join the Hangout. We TV News Buoys and Missouri Journalism School nerds who are using this new technology on TV on +KOMU 8 News & with the +Reynolds Journalism Institute are pretty geeked out about it. Here’s why. 
In the future, content providers could be able to use different circles as essentially different broadcast stations. Using livestream technology, we already have the ability to select who sees our Hangout through circles but this feature eliminates the need for live-streaming. 
Anyone could easily broadcast one Hangout just to the Australia circle, another to the England circle and yet another to the KOMU-Missouri circle. Catch my drift? It’s where TV meets GP. On this platform, people are already calling KOMU-TV…. KOMU-GP. h/t +Mike Downes GP is now a public broadcasting platform.
Just think about that for a moment………..anyone in the world, not just us TV stations with big sticks in the ground, with the ability to broadcast WITHIN a social network that oh by the way is a major crowd sourcing tool. Combine Hangouts, audience engagement on steroids, and you have something that could totally transform the way newscasters interact with their audience and the way TV stations do business. 
I wear two earpieces. One to hear my producer and another to hear the Hangout. For the first time in history thanks to Hangouts, newscasters can SEE their audience and even talk with them during a soundbite in a live newscast. When you’re spending an entire hour a day or more with a viewer during a live newscast, that’s a deeper level of engagement than you get with any non face to face tweet or Facebook interaction. When I read a story about a child who’s been murdered, I hear the Hangout sigh in my ear. +Kim Beasley +Kempton Lam
News Hangouts are like a kitchen table for a family. A family that eats together stays together. Some of our U_News co-hosts +Robert Redl call it the news campfire and we are all consuming the news together via Hangouts. Daily, our Hangout co-hosts break news to us. Since feeding the news beast now requires us to share content and interact on multiple platforms, our co-hosts routinely arrive more well informed about the day’s news than us. Yep. I said that. Out loud. More of us newsies need to own the fact that our viewers often know more than we do. But as +Joseph Puglisi points out, “citizen journalism” could increase the value of professional journalism in the future because people will still want “Facts at 11”. I don’t like the term “citizen journalist”. Those were finger quotes. Essentially, we are all journalists.
+KOMU 8 News is the broadcast lab for the Missouri School of Journalism. We’re building a hybrid news model called “U_News” that explores the future of news. +KOMU 8 News was the first news organization to co-host a newscast with a live #cybercouch via Hangout. In +Terry Heaton ’s book “Reinventing Local Media”, we are essentially driving the car while trying to fix it. At MU, we are also teaching others how to drive the news vehicle of the future. h/t +Jen Reeves +Stacey Woelfel +Reynolds Journalism Institute What will “broadcasting” in the G+ stream look like in 20 years? What is the longevity of that big stick in the ground called a TV tower when everyone has the ability to broadcast? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
News Anchor or News Buoy?With this new kind of “broadcasting” in Hangouts, our students are asking what to call this new kind of “broadcasting” in the G+ stream? Social-casting? Perhaps… incorrectly….I’ve been calling our G+ on-air Hangouts a “visual #backchannel ” where for the first time, newscasters can see their audience. One Plusketeer correctly pointed out, “Sarah, the word “back” makes it appear as it’s hidden some place out of view.” Isn’t it time to move our audience away from the BACK of the room? h/t +Michael TuckerRoger that skipper and speaking of names, I think this platform has the ability to sink News “Anchors” who refuse to do anything more than just read. Our content needs to bubble up to the surface. “News Buoys” as I call them need to float on multiple platforms and share their content.
Sure, we’re still anchored to the seabed of our TV station but much like a buoy, we are letting passing ships know where to find us. And if you think I’m making the analogy that TV stations are sinking ships, I’m not. You should know there’s a lot of buried treasure on the sea floor. And with Hangouts, we’re trying to help people rediscover us.
What should we call G+casting in the stream? Comment below or chew the news fat with me in one of U_News’ regular on-air Hangouts at 11:00 am CST or 3:30 pm CST M-F. Or, chime in on one of our impromptu recorded discussions about the day’s . You can watch U_News live here.

Dec 5, 2011

U_News #UonTV hits 50 Show Mark

Originally published December 2011

Reynolds Journalism Institute Q&A with yours truly

RJI: Now that the show has passed the 50th show milestone, what have you learned thus far?
One thing I’ve learned over the last few months is the need to equip our current and future newsies with digital and social media literacy, the need to know how to report on their smart phones, how to live stream from their phones using technology like Bambuser, how to do mobile Hangouts, and how to crowd source on digital platform.
The days of vertical, one to many communication, are nearing an end. We’ve got to connect with viewers horizontally, one to few, knowing viewers now have multiple platforms on which they can share our content. The old means of communication was to sit there and shout down headlines from the mountaintop. Now, viewers have TV stations in their pockets with the ability to consume and generate content themselves on their phones.
We need to teach students how to vet user generated content like this. Journalists need to know where to find it. They need to know how to marry it with their own content. Al la carte news is upon us and the menu is being posted on social media. If our students don’t have that digital literacy, it doesn’t matter how well they write, report or investigate….fewer and fewer will consume their content if it doesn’t live on multiple platforms in this digital world.
U_News newsroom
What has the overall reaction been from KOMU viewers?
The response to U_News depends on the age of whom you ask. Our future audience (younger people) say they love the ability to interact with an anchor during a live newscast. They love the unprecedented access U_News gives viewers to our airwaves. They like that we give a platform to their comments. They like that you don’t have to have a PhD to have your comments aired on the news. They like that we play local music and music videos. They like that we air a large amount of viewer photos and videos.
In contrast, our older viewers, many of whom watched Oprah and do not use social media, have commented they find the show difficult to follow. They do not understand Facebook or Twitter nor do they care what the future audience has to say about the day’s news. I had a nice conversation with a woman in her 50′s who said people her age “just don’t care about what other people think about the news”.
It’s a difficult fence for a content creator to straddle: Do you innovate and try to build an audience with your future viewers? (Some of whom have totally abandoned local television news as their source of information). Or, do you do it like we’ve always done it and hope that the people, formerly known as the audience, will somehow magically return to watching local television news? We straddle this fence every day. As our traditional TV viewers age, we will undoubtedly find ourselves on the other side of the fence. With U_News, I’d say we have one foot firmly planted on the other side.
U_News newsroom
What are some opportunities or news coverage U_News has made possible that wouldn’t have been a reality without viewer interactivity?
U_News’ interactivity and live cyber couch have enabled us to bring our viewers stories that go beyond the traditional sound bite. Google Plus is essentially a free satellite truck attached to a crowd sourcing tool.
  • In the aftermath of the Penn State riots, we were able to bring a Penn State student on our live Google+ Hangout to talk about what had just happened. While most media did story after story about the violence, KOMU had a perspective about a peaceful protest that also took place during the riots that few media outlets reported.
  • When the mainstream media reported that the Occupy movement started on #Wallstreet, our international viewers correctly pointed out that Occupy originated in Spain….not the US.
  • After our football coach was arrested for DWI, Mike Alden held a live news conference to announce the consequences for Coach Gary Pinkel. MU fans, alumni and sports bloggers watched that live news conference on our cyber couch and thousands more watched on our live streaming page. After the news conference ended, our cyber couch viewers immediately reacted live during our 4pm newscast to what they’d just witnessed.
No need to drag out gear and get person-on-the-street sound bites. The viewers came to us via our live cyber couch (G+ Hangout). The new POS (Person on the street) interviews are now “person on the stream”. Inviting viewers in as the news happens, fast forwards your content. In the old days, you’d report what happened at 6 and then the reaction at 10. With an interactive newscast, you’re reporting the news event and the reaction simultaneously.
What do you need to get to the next level?
The ability to clone myself and my social media ninja Jen Reeves. Technology is a beautiful thing but people don’t like to interact with technology. They want to interact with a person. We’ve found it difficult to keep up with the fire hose of emails, tweets, Facebook and Google plus posts from viewers. If you invite them to engage, they will not only engage during the newscast, they will seek you out first as a resource for any information need. Why was there a police car in my neighborhood at 2:00 this morning? What’s the number to Hot Box Cookies? Why can’t I get my Facebook stream to load? Where can I find a pet sitter for my dog? All of those are real viewer questions we happily answer. Here’s why. As an interactive newsie, you take on the role as the station’s information operator. When you answer those questions, viewers repay the favor by sending you story tips, watching your newscast and more importantly, sharing your content on their personal social sites.
How do you plan to measure success?
Traditional Nielsen ratings may not truly reflect your reach in this digital world. If I had to guess, I would say U_News @ 4 would not be a ratings winner when the November book is released. I hope I’m wrong. But in my opinion, traditional Nielsen ratings for a program like this are an insufficient barometer because you’re not measuring all of the platforms where the content is consumed. Yes U_News @ 4 airs on TV and that’s what Nielsen measures is TV consumption. However, there’s also a “back channel” where viewers are consuming KOMU content. Viewers are watching our show via our “cyber couch” on a Google Plus Hangout: They are watching our newscast online via our streaming page and chatting with us behind the scenes of our live More than 130, 000 people consume our content on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Google Plus. Since we started U_News, the number of people consuming content on my KOMU social media sites has more than tripled. I get 100 Facebook Friend requests each week. In the last four months, KOMU has amassed nearly 110,000 followers on Google Plus, many of them international followers who aren’t in our viewing area and therefore aren’t measured via Nielsen. In fact, Nielsen doesn’t measure any of those people who consume our content outside of our big stick in the ground. Perhaps with a hybrid newscast comes a time when a hybrid ratings system is needed. The traditional news, sales and promotion beats have changed. We walk the cyber streets now.
New media director, Jen Reeves, reflects on analytics since the start of U_News:
“Two of the biggest standouts in a review of our analytics since the U_News show started is the increased use of our streaming newscast page and the amount of traffic we’re bringing to our website from Facebook. There have been a couple of major sports-related breaking news stories that drew massive traffic to our website and streaming news pages. Those events often happened around the time U_News was on the air. The show itself helped our newsroom gear up and manage a huge amount of traffic to our website.”
KOMU news director Stacey Woelfel says success to him is whether the show can be replicated in other markets: 
“We have taken the show on with the goal of creating a model other stations around the country can look at and adopt. We know what we do will change and evolve, but at all times, we want it to be able to be replicated in other markets. To that end, we have been careful not to throw dozens of students at the program. While that “free” labor can be a great boost, it’s not realistic in all markets. So we have tried to build a show that anyone can build–both in terms of the number of employees dedicated to the show, as well as the other physical resources needed to pull it off. So we will also measure success if other stations can take our model and adopt it. And we have already had some interest.”
RJI and the Center for Advanced Social Research will conduct research to measure several aspects of U_News @ 4 and its impact for KOMU. Research will look at viewership and website traffic, before and after the show existed, most popular topics, and what viewers like and dislike about the show. Preliminary results are being shared with KOMU with deeper analysis available in early 2012.

Sep 5, 2011

Broadcasting Within the Google Plus Stream

Jan, Marcia, Cindy, Greg, Peter and Bobby may have been on to something when they appeared Hollywood Square style in multiple boxes in their ending show credits. At KOMU8, we call Google Plus Hangout “Brady Bunch Boxes”, except Marcia lives in Tunisia, Greg is a freelance artist in Serbia and Alice is a news anchor.
She had big hair, after all.
It’s a strange feeling to be anchoring a live broadcast in Columbia, MO and video chatting with someone in East Germany. Over the last couple months via Google Plus Hangouts, KOMU8-TV has used its sound bites and commercials to chat with local, national and international viewers in a group setting. From a laptop and webcam streaming on the KOMU8 news desk, I’ve watched a Jefferson City father make tacos in his kitchen, witnessed a California man do a flip off his diving board, got a tour of a New Zealand man’s bathroom, and had the pleasure of cyber-soaking up an evening streetscape in Paris. As I was talking with a man from Pakistan one night during a commercial about power outages in Lahore, it occurred to me that what’s going on behind the scenes on my laptop was indeed newsworthy. Could I put that on TV? My news director, Stacey Woelfel said yes.
Jesse Smith Hangout with Sarah Hill
“Part of the new transparency we’re seeing these days comes from news organizations pulling back the curtain on how they choose, report, and edit the news. We have always operated with the understanding that we don’t do anything “secret” here. We are open about our news decisions and the processes behind them. Now that technology literally lets people peek behind the scenes to see what happens when the TV cameras are elsewhere, I can’t think of a better way to expand that transparency.”
With the green light…or the green box as it’s known in G+ circles, our social media ninja Jen Reeves got to work inviting people to the Brady’s even if they don’t have internet access. “KOMU8 is partnering with area libraries to install webcams so anyone can join in on sharing content. The project is thanks to a grant from the Reynolds Journalism Institute,” said Reeves.
Robin Greenbaum joins Hangout
Inside Google Plus, a new face to face social networking site, is a news gathering goldmine that holds huge potential for us news miners. “Hangout” is a 10 person video chat room that is already transforming viewer interaction in mid-Missouri. I describe a Hangout as a free satellite truck attached to a built in crowd sourcing tool. After the Oslo bombings, KOMU8-TV, on a horse farm in the middle of Missouri, was able to gather a group of Norwegians online to personally share their experiences shortly after the attacks. Hangout is connecting broadcasters with viewers globally. It’s letting them see behind the scenes of a live newscast, warts and all. Essentially, Hangout not only allows us to communicate with viewers during breaking news, it enables us to have sources on video speed dial, enabling them to go “live from their living rooms. “ Beyond Skype, Hangout allows stations to gather viewers together to discuss important issues in a 10 person group setting.
Expect to see a lot of Hangout use during the political season. CNN is also sticking its toe in the water using Hangouts to discuss sports. KOMU8 has recorded group discussions on everything from international rage about the debt ceiling to local reaction to the latest Harry Potter movie.
Terry Heaton wrote a couple forward thinking books on how viewer interaction and the “Age of Participation” is reinventing local media. I was halfway through his second book when I stumbled upon this little gem.
“News IS a conversation, and the pros have two missions in the conversation. One, somebody has to start it. Two, we can advance it, but to think we are the only people capable of delivering “the news” is to assign ourselves to the tar pits before we even take a step. “
—Terry Heaton, Senior V.P. Media 2.0, , A.R.D.
“Reinventing Local Media-Ideas for Thriving in a Postmodern World Volume II”
Allowing viewers to have a voice in the news conversation is the ultimate experiment with viewer engagement, an experiment that has left the laboratory. On Sept 12th, KOMU became the first local television station in the world to co-anchor a live television newscast with viewers in a G+ Hangout. This interactive news hybrid, U_News #SarahHill, will not only allow viewers to see a large number of their tweets, texts and posts live on the air, U_News will also display a Hangout chat room in a large touch screen monitor next to its hosts. “If you would have told me last year that I would soon be directing a show every day with ten live guests from around the world, I would have said you were crazy!” said U_News director Lindsey Tyler. Our 4pm producer, Nathan Higgins has ensured the guests on our cyber couch will have elements in our headlines, will cold open and close the show. “On a day to day basis, we might honestly not know what we’ll cover because we want our viewers to drive the content and the discussion,” said Higgins. Hangout guests will also have a role in our recorded news updates before the live 4pm CST newscast.
With U_News and our new cyber co-hosts, we’re are one blended TV family….and that’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch….
U_News airs at 11:00 am CST in Columbia, MO.  Watch it live here.

Feb 24, 2011

A Call to Arms: Ronald McDonald House Charities

While you’re reading this blog, please raise one of your hands.
OK, come on. Indulge me.
Raise your arm high. A little higher. Like you were in 1st grade and knew the answer, but the teacher wouldn’t call on you.
You’re not raising your hand……………..
That’s better. Keep your hand up and keep reading. I promise to make it worthwhile, if you keep your hand up.
One of my favorite comic strips is by Isabella Bannerman. The cartoon shows a woman with her arm in a sling. In that broken arm, she’s clutching papers that say “PTA”, “Girl Scouts,” “March of Dimes.” The caption reads, “Oh, that’s my volunteering arm. My family wants it kept tied down for six weeks.”

Regardless of how many activities you’re involved in, I think we all can find the humor in that cartoon.
Don’t lower your arm just yet.
First, let’s talk about that “volunteering arm.” How many times have you been in a meeting where someone asks for volunteers to do something? What happens? The chairman asks for a volunteer. There’s a long, uncomfortable pause. Everyone at the table looks down, trying not to make eye contact. Finally, one person in the room raises a hand.
What would happen if no one volunteered?
Keep your arm up. I’m almost done.
At Ronald McDonald House Charities of Mid-Missouri, a home-away-from home for families with seriously-ill children, there are 606 volunteers. Without them, the Ronald McDonald House would have to hire two full-time employees. These people have logged more than a million volunteer hours in the house’s 27-year history. Unlike the Isabella Bannerman cartoon, their volunteering arms never get tired. Why is that?
You can rest your arm now.
I’d like to share a few stories from some of the families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House…stories that have kept so many hands raised for so many years.
This one comes from a grandmother. She writes:
“Here we are at the Ronald McDonald House again. My grandson came to University Children’s Hospital after a semi-tractor trailer rig hit my daughter’s car. It left my 2-year-old grandson a quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator. We’ve been here six weeks. If not for the Ronald McDonald House, we would have had to sleep in the hospital waiting room…or our car.”
Here’s another journal entry from a mother:
“Tomorrow is Halloween. My baby won’t be able to go trick-or-treating because she’s in the hospital with cancer. The doctors have been so nice not to come out and say she’s going to die. The Ronald House is such a magical place for so many families. It’s a constant symbol of the love and caring that strangers can have for one another.”
And finally, this one from a woman grateful for volunteers:
“My doctor came in the middle of the night and told me my baby needed to be airlifted to Columbia. I was in shock. They took him in a plastic incubator. I couldn’t ride with him. It was as if my heart had left my chest and was put in that box. My doctor said my daughter might have cystic fibrosis. Our world stopped and the tears wouldn’t stay back. My precious little girl might not get to have tea parties, ride a bike or go to prom. The hardest thing was seeing my husband stare down into her face and his tears fall down on her. This man who I married was never so beautiful as when I saw him hold our child and weep. My prayers go out to all who visit this wonderful room, and to the tireless volunteers who made us feel at home. God bless you all.”
The Ronald McDonald House has had its hand up for 27 years…answering the call of more than 10,000 families in crisis.  RMHC now needs your help to finance a new House.  Recently, it had to close for several weeks to make repairs to the aging structure.  Before the House was built, families slept in their cars in the hospital parking lot and ate out of vending machines for sometimes months on end.  If we sit on our hands, who will help these families? 
As cartoonist Isabella Bannerman knows, your “volunteering arm” is not attached to your hand. It’s attached to your heart
The publication date of her cartoon was not lost on me.  It appeared in newspapers on September 10, 2001…the day before the 9/11 attacks.