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: www.gplus.to/komusarah They are watching our newscast online via our streaming page and chatting with us behind the scenes of our live show.www.komu.com/streaming-newscast. 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.