Local TV news profitable on air, online

There’s certainly no reason to rest on your proverbial laurels if you work in TV news, but neither is it time to call the undertaker. The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey found that 2015 marked another strong year for the TV news business.  Nearly 60% of TV newsrooms reported that they made a profit on local news and just 3.7% reported a loss. (To put this in perspective, according to the researchers, profits peaked peak in 2013 at 65.7%.)

Courtesy : RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey

Courtesy : RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey

The news is not all good, however.  According to the lead researcher, Bob Papper, on average, the amount of station revenue generated specifically from news slipped for the first time in the last 3 years, dropping to 47.7%.  Median revenue also fell from last year’s 54.5% back down to 50%.

“But there’s a caution in the numbers.  As I’ve pointed out before, a high percentage of news directors say they don’t know the answer to this question,” wrote Papper.

It’s also important to note that, once again, station websites are contributing to the overall profitability of stations.  Far more stations indicate their online efforts are making money than draining dollars.

Courtesy: RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey

Courtesy: RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey

What’s particularly heartening in the research is that at least some of the profits are going back into newsrooms.  Nearly half of the stations (48.3%) report budget increases in 2015.

All of this should be good news to the thousands of broadcast journalism graduates hoping to enter the workforce.  The industry is evolving but not dying, yet.


TV anchor/reporter sees advantages in live streaming

KFDM-TV in Beaumont has close to 140,000 page likes on Facebook and that makes up a sizeable instant audience for the station’s live streaming efforts.  KFDM anchor Tiffany Murphy found out herself just how much reach Facebook Live can have when she was sent to cover a fire at the local Humane Society.

MurphyFBLive“I only have 2,700 followers, however, the live video was shared 166 times and seen 42,000+ times with a lot of engagement,” said Murphy.

In fact, that story generated 59 comments with lots of interaction between Murphy and her audience.

“After reporters get the basics down, I think it’s important to show viewers that you are a real person and interact with them,” she said.

One of the reasons Murphy is so effective with live streaming (in addition to the time she’s spent in the field as a reporter) is that she is also an old hand at Periscope.  She routinely used the app to multitask when she was reporting solo in the field.

“Let’s say you’re at a news conference; you can set up your iPhone on a tripod and the producers will watch, and they’ll know immediately what you know. You won’t have to stop down to communicate with them,” Murphy said.

For anyone going live, whether it’s with a truck or through social media, Murphy has some good advice:

  • Don’t try to memorize a script, use bullet points to guide the flow of the information you’re delivering and practice before you go live.
  • Make a game plan for the live shot.  Will you be moving around, showing the audience something or doing something on camera?  Be sure you think it through.
  • Whatever you do, be honest.

“It’s OK to say you don’t know something and to say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to find out.”


What makes people trust the news?

trust-headerYou’ve heard, no doubt, that Americans have little confidence in what they see, hear or read in the news media. Last year, according to Gallup, trust in media set a new low with just 7% saying they have a great deal of confidence in the news. What’s to be done?

A new study offers some clues. The Media Insight Project asked people why they rely on certain sources of news and information as opposed to others. The results show that consumers make decisions based on specific factors, and those factors vary depending on the topic and the platform.

The number one reason given for trusting a news source is accuracy, with 85% saying it matters most. Having the latest details was cited by 76%, and being concise was valued by 72%.

The study found that people who follow different types of news value different factors. Political junkies trust news sources that emphasize experts and data (79%). Consumers of lifestyle news say they want their news source to be entertaining (53%). People are much more likely to want their source to be concise and get to the point for national politics (80%) than sports (61%).

And platform matters when it comes to trust in news. Just 12% of Facebook news consumers have a lot of trust in the news they see there. LinkedIn ranks highest among social media, with 23% saying they trust news they encounter there.

Digital news consumers decide whether to rely on a specific news source based on additional factors, mostly having to do with presentation. Load time matters a lot to 63% of consumers, as does not having ads interfere with the news. For 60% of consumers, having content that works well on mobile phones is important.

It should be obvious that news organizations and journalists want and need the public’s trust. If a news source isn’t trusted, why would anyone turn to it (supermarket tabloids aside)? So credibility is often tied to the bottom line: a trusted news organization is more likely to enjoy economic success. The study offers this confirmation:

While most people report all of the trust‑related factors are important, some people place a higher value on them than others. And those news consumers especially concerned with trustworthiness are also the most likely to report that they take valuable actions — such as paying for news, spreading news to friends, and following the source on social platforms.

One more thing:

About 4 in 10 Americans (38 percent) can recall a specific recent incident that caused them to lose trust in a news source. The two most common problems were either instances of perceived bias or inaccuracies.

That may not seem like a big deal, but consider this: participants in focus groups said that a bad experience with a news source left them feeling like they had been personally wronged, taken advantage of, or fooled. Earning trust is difficult enough. Rebuilding it once it’s lost is even harder, something all journalists and news managers would do well to bear in mind.




How much effort should journalists put into Twitter?

If you’re strapped for time, a Facebook post will likely do more for your website than a tweet.  That’s according to research released on the NiemanLab website by Parse.ly, a social analytics tool used by hundreds of news organizations.  The key finding from monitoring traffic referral sources for about 200 of Parse.ly’s client sites?  Just 1.5% of traffic for typical news sites comes from Twitter.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.45.16 PM

The graphic above shows Facebook and Google as the big dogs when it comes to traffic drivers.  However, Parse.ly maintains Twitter does play an important role in the news ecosystem.

“Though Twitter may not be a huge overall source of traffic to news websites relative to Facebook and Google, it serves a unique place in the link economy,” the report said. “News really does ‘start’ on Twitter.”


Want a TV job? Think about station websites

Raycom regional exec Brad Conaway (center) talks with students interested in digital content careers. Photo by Ji Hoon Heo, April 4, 2016.

Raycom regional exec Brad Conaway (center) talks with students interested in digital content careers. Photo by Ji Hoon Heo, April 4, 2016.

Got news judgment, curiosity and energy?  Raycom’s Brad Conaway wants to talk to you.  The corporate digital content manager says good decision-making is essential when you’re running a TV station’s website and social channels.

“A lot of the job is news judgment.  You have to figure out, ‘Is this a web story? An app alert? Facebook?  What picture can I legally use? How do I make this interesting?'”

Conaway describes today’s digital jobs as positions that put audience first.

“You want to talk to your audience; meet them where they are.  You can do an exclusive investigative story with the most in-depth analysis, but if no one is interested, then why do it?”

Instead, Conaway says stations need to work with their digital content managers to find the interested audience wherever that may be.  He says Facebook is the primary mechanism for finding the digital news audience Raycom stations are after, and here’s his best advice creating strong Facebook content.

  • You have to ask interesting or provocative questions in your posts.
  • You need to read user comments, respond and keep the page dignified.
  • Link posts are the industry standard right now, but Conaway likes picture posts better.  He writes into the links on the station’s website to drive traffic there with a cliffhanger or an intriguing contradiction between the visual and the text.

“Clickbait is a bad word, but that’s what we’re trying to do, get people to the web.  The problem is, if what you’ve posted is a ruse, it is clickbait in the negative sense.  If you tell people you have something they need to see or read, you actually have to make it worth their while,” says Conaway.

For journalism and communication students about to graduate in May, the good news is that Raycom stations need you.  Conaway says they are open to hiring people right out of school, if they have the right skill sets.  So, what do you send on a resume or in a portfolio?

“I’d like to see their personal social media accounts and they can catch my attention with social media skills on a resume,” Conaway says. “We get so few applications for digital jobs at a station level that, unless you have zero relevant background, I’ll definitely follow up with a phone call.”

Salaries for these positions average around $24-26,000 a year but can vary depending on market, according to Conaway.  That’s about the same as a entry level TV reporter or producer position.

“It’s one of the areas of the broadcast industry where you can easily find employment and then work your way up.”



A social media ethics code you can support



If you’re a journalist and you use social media, you’ll want to read this.  And if you work for a news organization — from student media on up to the top markets, you’ll want to read this, too.

According to the Online News Assocation website, “The ONA Social Newsgathering Ethics Code is a document that is intended to gather the support of news and journalism organizations of all sizes around the globe to endorse a set of standards and practices relating to the gathering and use of content created by members of the public.”

Here’s an abbreviated list of the standards and practices:

  • Endeavor to verify the authenticity of user-generated content before publishing or distributing it, and be transparent with the audience about the verification status of user-generated content (UGC).
  • Consider the the emotional state and safety of contributors, including the risk inherent in asking a contributor to produce and deliver UGC and how you might technically ensure anonymity of sources when required.
  • Seek informed consent for the use of UGC through direct communication with the individual who created it and be transparent about how content will be used and distributed to other platforms.
  • Give due credit to the owner of the content providing that consideration has been given to potential consequences, including their physical, mental and reputational well-being.

Two more elements of the code involve helping journalists understand the potential dangers involved with engaging sources through social media and helping journalists cope with graphic/disturbing content.

ONA welcomes news organizations that want to be listed as a supporters of the code, if they send an email with the organization’s name to socialnewsgathering@journalists.org.

This new code is a good conversation starter for any newsroom or any classroom.


1 in 5 journalism students have no interest in journalism

As a journalism educator, I can’t say a recent study came as a real surprise to me, but it is good to have data to back up perceptions.  A group of 11 researchers from eight countries, including the United States, sought to learn about journalism students’ motivations and expectations of their work.  The entire paper published in Journalism and Mass Communication Educator is compelling, but here are some highlights from what 285 U.S. journalism students had to say.

More than half of students entered school with an interest in soft news, about a quarter found hard news most compelling to cover and slightly more than a fifth had no interest in any kind of journalistic work.  Interestingly, students’ interest in producing hard news increased during their time in school, as did the number of students who decided journalism wasn’t right for them at all. (Click on “End” on the graphic to see the change.)

So, why do journalism students sign up for their degree programs? In the U.S., the number one reason is “talent or a liking for writing,” with more than 39 percent weighing in with that response, followed by respect for the profession, a chance to change society and a chance to meet interesting people.

Happily, less than 1 percent of respondents said they were studying journalism because it was “easy to finish,” but 4.3 percent admitted they selected journalism for the “possibility of becoming famous” (sigh).


3 most common journalism ethics questions

Journalists must make tough ethical decisions almost daily.  There are lots of tools to help guide those decisions, including the Radio Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics and one from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).  In addition, SPJ has long had an Ethics Hotline, which fields hundreds of questions each year.

QuillIn Quill magazine, SPJ recently reported three of the most common ethics calls received and their corresponding responses from the society’s experts:

  1. When do I have to attribute information in a story?  If a person needs to question whether they should attribute information to someone or someplace, it’s better to err on the side of caution and attribute.  Attribution is crucial to all media types.

  2. Am I allowed to cover a story about something or someone I’m affiliated with outside of my professional life? In general, journalists shouldn’t write about topics in which they have a vested interest.  Instead, let someone else in the newsroom cover the story.  Or, if a journalist is on the fence, they should explain their involvement in a note or somewhere in the story.

  3. When can I grant anonymity to a source? Anonymity should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances.  In general, it’s used too much in news stories.  Journalists should ask sources who request anonymity about who or where else can provide the information on the record.  When anonymity is granted, the terms should be spelled out about what is expected of each party.

Understanding the issues around attribution is critical in a world where so much information is shared without any sourcing at all.  As journalists continue to try to stake their claims as providers of accurate information, appropriate attribution is essential to that effort.  Source anonymity is related to this issue because it’s the antithesis of attribution, and it requires a tremendous amount of trust between the journalist and the source, not to mention the journalist and the audience.  As the SPJ piece says, this should be reserved for “extraordinary circumstances.”

Finally, with so much more “journalism with a point of view” showing up in the media marketplace, the idea that journalists must be transparent in reporting their relationships to the people and the issues they cover is one that can serve to strengthen the credibility that we need to do our jobs.  If you’re going to write about people you know or ideas or organizations for which you have passion, you have to remember to let your audiences in on it.



Top 5 strategies to create better mobile video

There is plenty being said and written about the explosion in video consumption on mobile devices, but very few local news organizations seem to be producing content specifically for mobile viewing.  Resources are definitely an issue, but the time is coming when reporters may no longer be doing a “Web version” of their stories, rather they will produce a “mobile version” — or maybe both.  So, here are my Top 5 findings from lots of reading about this topic.

  1. Shooting Techniques. Focus on tight and medium shots to ensure that the viewers see the intended subject of the frame. Wide shots make the subject too small for most mobile devices. According to research done at the Reese News Lab at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, visual diversity also becomes a challenge when you can’t incorporate a lot of the environment in a shot.  For example, let’s say you switch from a sound bite that obeys the Rule of Thirds to a shot of a different person that also obeys the rule, the similarity can make the transition jarring. Be conscious of the script so as to make sure similar video portraits won’t be edited back-to-back. Be obvious! On a mobile screen, subtle motion ends up looking a lot like a freeze frame.
  2. Audio Challenges. There are two big issues here: 1) Content produced for mobile needs to “work” without sound and 2) Mobile is more sensitive to sound quality than the desktop or TV. It may sound perfect on a desktop, but if a crossfade is missing or levels are all over the place, the problems are more noticeable on mobile. Consider stacking several of the same audio clips on top of one another to create a richer sound without distorting the levels to the point where you can hear white noise.
  3. Graphics Redo. When it comes to thinking about whether a video works with the sound off, strong visuals really do matter, and that includes graphics. Using images sized for phones is essential to making your content useful to the mobile audience, as outlined by Steve Schwaid at CJ&N. You should consider these questions:
  • Do you have to subtitle the video in order to keep the audience retention high?
  • Do you need to use big fonts?
  • Do you need to use color blocking in order to make words pop and make things stand out?
  • Is there too much information for such a small screen?
Steve Schwaid of CJ&N points out that many weather graphics create an experience like trying to read "an eye chart:" when you look at them on a mobile device.

Steve Schwaid of CJ&N points out that many weather graphics create an experience for viewers that’s like trying to read “an eye chart:” when they look at the content on a mobile device.

  1. Timing. The first :05 are critical. That’s about how long you have to convince someone to stop and watch. (Branded pre-rolls may not be a good idea for this reason.) In general, mobile video producers suggest that shorter is better when it comes to mobile video, but viewing patterns can vary significantly among platforms (YouTube vs. Facebook) and devices (phone vs. tablet), according to some of the things Jigar Mehta, has learned working for the app-based news organization AJ+.
  2. Vertical Viewing. According to analyst Mary Meeker, users use vertically oriented devices nearly 30 percent of the time, up from just 5 percent in 2010. And more than 7 billion videos are viewed each day on Snapchat, which is specifically designed for vertical consumption. In a piece published at Nieman Lab, Mashable’s creative director suggests that, “In terms of quality, and for the content to live on in as many forms as possible, shooting it on at least a 4K camera horizontal has proven to be the most efficient.”  Two more pieces of advice:
  • When shooting interviews, frame the subject in the center of the frame so the video can be easily readjusted to a vertical orientation. (Some video producers are marking their view screens with white tape outlining the various orientations for Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube, so they know what part of the image is in or out of frame for each platform.)
  • Using center-focused shots allows you to adapt graphics to the orientation of multiple video versions.

Of course, this may sound obvious, but checking the video you produce to make sure it looks good on mobile is a must.  And if you shoot a lot of video and you think we’re missing a key point here, please share your ideas.  I’m working on some research with millenials to determine what they want from mobile video providers and will be sure to post the findings here at Advancing the Story.



Social media puts pressure on journalists



It’s one of the finest of lines to follow — be “real,” interesting, personal and engaging on social media, but keep your journalistic principles intact.  Now, research suggests that the pressure to create a personal brand means that many journalists are finding it harder to have a personal identity online.

Communication professor Avery E. Holton of The University of Utah and journalism professor Logan Molyneux of Temple University interviewed 41 reporters and editors from various U.S. publications to write Identity Lost? The Personal Impact of Brand Journalism.”

According to a piece from Journalist’s Resource, the study’s key findings include:

  • Reporters are increasingly focusing their attention on developing their professional identities on social media rather than their personal identities.
  • Reporters have been asked to make changes to the way they present themselves and their content on social media, including adding their news organization’s logo to their social media pages and providing fewer links to news items that were not published by their employers. They also have been asked to help promote events and partnerships that might cast their news agencies in a positive light.
  • Reporters struggle with balancing their professional and personal identities online. They “feel pressure to stake a claim on their beat, develop a presence as an expert in their profession and area of coverage, and act as a representative of the news organization at all times. This leaves little room for aspects of personal identity such as family, faith, or friendship to be shared online.”
  • Many reporters said they see social media as a way to demonstrate that they are true experts in their field or subject area of coverage, which they think helps differentiate them from wire reporters and other reporters who do not have as much experience and subject-area expertise.
  • There still is uncertainty among reporters and editors about acceptable practices on social media, especially as they relate to personal branding and company branding.
  • Reporters are being asked to read and respond to social media posts at all times, which they view as an added burden among a long list of job responsibilities.
  • Editors said that they are sympathetic to the branding-related demands being placed on reporters but feel “hamstrung” by the policies and expectations of their news organizations. Few said they monitor their reporters’ social media activities but acknowledged that their news agencies “made examples out of individuals who were not falling in line.

Clearly, the fact that there is still “uncertainty” about acceptable practices on social media adds a tremendous amount of stress to an already difficult job.