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Local TV news expands use of social media and apps

This week’s East Coast earthquake once again demonstrated the power of social media as a valuable tool for TV journalists, whose job it is to get the news out as fast as possible.

Andrea McCarren, a reporter with WUSA-TV (CBS) in Washington, D.C., quickly turned to Facebook to ask viewers for their feedback while anchoring live coverage of the quake. She later posted a thank you, noting to her followers that she used their information and many of their comments on the air.

In addition to breaking news, television stations have embraced Facebook and Twitter in recent years to keep viewers up-to-date with story developments between news broadcasts. Now, they are expanding to additional platforms to share content. WGCL-TV (CBS) in Atlanta, like many TV news outlets across the country, produces a mini-newscast each morning that is sent directly to viewers’ cell phones. Stories are about 15 seconds long and include the day’s weather and top stories.

Philly’s WCAU-TV (NBC) says it is working with Foursquare to deliver news in a new way. In a news release, the station says the newsroom staff will select one lead news story each day and assign a reporter to “check-in” on Foursquare when arriving at the scene and offer updates throughout the day using the location-based mobile platform. If successful, the station plans to expand the program to all of its reporters.

WESH-TV’s (NBC) recent all-Casey-Anthony, all-the-time coverage included an iPhone app which allowed Orlando, Fla. viewers – and beyond – to receive a play-by-play of the court proceeding on their smartphones, including text updates, video reports, photos and access to thousands of pages of legal documents. According to the website Lost Remote, the 99-cent app topped the paid news app chart on iTunes at one point. Meanwhile, New Orleans station WDSU-TV (NBC) is on stand-by with a hurricane app for its viewers. According to the station’s website, the free service available on iTunes and Android Marketplace allows readers to monitor the track of a storm, navigate evacuation routes and view disaster preparedness tips.

Social media and smartphones are making it so TV news no longer requires a TV. New distribution channels mean more ways to share information with the public, although not all of these methods lend themselves to additional pitching opportunities for the PR professional. For example, pitching a story for the Casey Anthony iPhone app would likely be unsuccessful. However, a PR agency with a client involved in emergency management may want to try offering content for a hurricane preparedness app. Thinking outside of the box, or in this case the television set, is key to taking advantage of these new forms of news coverage.

–Julie Holley

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