Five steps to improve a TV newsroom’s online output

Rich Murphy WTTGDespite the importance of the Web to all news organizations, many of them still treat their online teams like poor relations: Stick them in a corner and feed them scraps. But senior web producer Rich Murphy at WTTG-TV in Washington has worked hard to change the way his newsroom deals with the Web.

Step one: Almost as soon as he arrived at the station, he pushed to move the Web desk close to the assignment desk. It’s now in the middle of the action, although Murphy says the Web team still needs “newsroom ears” to stay on top of what’s happening day-to-day.

Step two: Educate the rest of the staff about the importance of the Web. TV newsrooms may be used to dealing with breaking news, but in most cases they still operate on a “next up broadcast” timetable. Murphy’s mantra: “I don’t have two and a half hours [until the next newscast]. I have now.”

Step three: Train the staff how to file for the Web. Murphy has developed “how to” tip sheets to make it easy to remember the basics. For example, he wrote up the steps to follow to convert a TV script in all caps to upper and lower case, and showed reporters how to send in photos from their cellphones.

Step four: Encourage reporters to file their own Web stories instead of expecting online producers to do it for them. “Your name is on it,” Murphy tells them. “You’ll know if it’s correct. You can make it look better.” It takes constant reinforcement, he says, to get online contributions from the non-Web staff. “When someone sends us a picture or a link, I send a thank you email that goes to the whole staff.” It’s paid off, too. The station was able to post the first photo from the recent shooting at the Holocaust Museum because someone on staff actually thought about feeding the Web.

Step five: Make smart decisions about Web video and other elements. With an online team that’s been cut from four people to three, Murphy says he has to make a judgment call on every long video or project. “If it takes X amount of time, is it worth it or should I do something else?” he asks.

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