Critics of TV news often cite sensationalism, lack of substance and a preponderance of crime stories as characteristics of many nightly newscasts. Veteran news director Forrest Carr says, in some cases, the critics are right.
“Local TV news in general is infamous for a condition similar to attention deficit disorder, characterized by stories that are reactive in nature, and that are here, then gone,” Carr said.
Carr, who is working for the second time at KGUN in Tuscon, Ariz., says his station is taking a very different approach. Case in point, a story they’ve been following for more than five months involving the firing of a local superintendent.
The head of the school board refused to give a reason for the firing and KGUN refused to let the story rest. They’ve recently published Douglas Stonewalling Day 129 on the station’s Web site.
“This series is an example of a station with modest resources (66th largest TV market) attempting to distinguish itself (in other words, get away from a slavish devotion to event-driven stories such as crime) through enterprise reporting, commitment to follow-ups, Web-exclusive content and a particular style and philosophy of journalism,” Carr said.
So, how is KGUN doing it? They’ve been cross-training photojournalists to report and reporters to shoot, just like many other stations, but Carr is also trying to produce more enterprise for the newscasts and more exclusive Web content in a couple of innovative ways.
“We’ve trained our assignment editors to be Web contributors. They are driving the vast majority of our Web content in fact,” Carr said. “We have one assignment editor, a former newspaper reporter, who is a slightly different model. On the weekend, she runs the desk and contributes Web content as outlined above. During the week she organizes viewer tips, does research and helps coordinate the efforts of our enterprise reporting team. But last week she researched, did an interview for, wrote and posted her first Web-exclusive story, exactly as if she were writing an article for the morning newspaper.”
Carr says the station is using its radio partner to develop Web stories, too.
“This week we hired a somewhat experimental position, a journalist who will write and present radio newscasts for one of our co-owned radio partners within the building (104.1 “The Truth”) and also help drive content to the TV station Web site.”
Carr says the innovation has to be ongoing.
“It’s all a metamorphosis; some areas of the newsroom are progressing more quickly than others but there are not many people who won’t be touched by some aspect of it,” Carr said.