July 12, 2012
/ by Gina Joseph
In many markets, local TV news is losing resources and facing a dwindling audience—people under 30 no longer rush home to watch the five o’clock broadcast the way they used to. New platforms are bringing in the younger viewers, yet monetizing those platforms has been a challenge. So how do the news experts in Chicago feel about the changing landscape? At the most recent Publicity Club of Chicago seminar, panelists from five of the major television stations offered their thoughts and insights into the future of broadcast news.
“Perhaps this is unique to Chicago, that we’re still investing in people and resources,” said Greg Caputo, news director at WGN-TV. “But making the best use of it is the most important thing. We’ve always needed to define ourselves and redefine ourselves, stay relevant to the viewers we have, and figure out how to grow that audience.”
Much of the sentiment was positive. The panelists all agreed that the city of Chicago has more local news viewers and more loyalty than many other markets. Phyllis Schwartz, vice president and news director at FOX Chicago, said when she previously worked in San Diego at KNSD-TV, viewership was on a downward trend.
“I still follow the ratings in San Diego, and it’s really interesting as far as the question ‘Is TV dead or not?’” she said. “They had a big falling out [in viewers] in the last few years—no one’s really watching news there anymore. People still watch news here, in great numbers still.”
But what keeps viewers interested? Frank Whittaker, station manager and vice president of news for NBC 5 Chicago, explained that seeking out the unique stories and angles is what gets noticed.
“There’s so much that goes into what makes a brand, from talent, to storytelling to graphics and sets, so I think it’s all part of the equation,” he said. “We’re all going to cover the top three or four stories, but it’s the other kind of stories, the more discretionary stories you pick, that help distinguish you from you competition. I still think that’s alive and well in Chicago.”
Schwartz added that competition helps boost viewership as well.
“We have two very competitive newspapers here, and we have one all-news radio station,” she said. “I think as a result of that there’s a real competition to do some excellent writing, to do some excellent story telling. It’s a challenge, but it’s probably one of the best places in the country for the writing and storytelling.”
The answer of where broadcast news is headed is a more difficult one, however. Jennifer Graves, vice president and news director at ABC 7 Chicago, said the future is uncertain.
“The big question is what else will we be doing in 10 years?” Graves said. “I don’t know if any of us know when the time will be that we’ll pull the plug on the linear newscast that starts at 5 or 6 or 10. But we’ll continue to evolve on all these different platforms and we’ll continue to figure out what our voice is on all these platforms. Because you don’t speak the same way on Twitter as you speak on Facebook as you speak on air.”
That experience of watching a broadcast on television is the difference for many people, and the panelists agreed that the medium is what keeps people coming back, ultimately.
“There’s nothing like the shared experience of watching a live broadcast,” said Caputo. “And that’s something that we’re always going to have going for us.”
“It speaks to the emotions,” Graves said. “When you get a person who can really sell a story and hit on that emotion, you’re not going to find that on Facebook, you’re going to find that on the broadcast side.”
Jeff Kiernan, vice president and news director for CBS 2 Chicago, said being adaptable is the key to a successful newsroom.
“There’s not a business that hasn’t changed and evolved in some way,” he said. “And we’re going to continue to evolve and change as people’s demand for information and consumption of information changes.”
Making the Pitch
These news experts agreed that pitching a unique, thoughtful and relevant story is the best way to get a client noticed.
“You’ve got to write like you care,” Schwartz said. “You have to be unique and interesting. Just like we have to grab your attention at the top of our shows, I think the writing is key and making sure it’s clear to us why the heck we should care.”
Caputo added that knowing the people behind the newsroom is what gives you a leg up.
“You really have to do your homework to know who the right person is in the newsroom, and what the pitch needs to be for that person,” he said. “There are a variety of people in the newsrooms that are very specialized in that regard.”
“Build relationships within the newsrooms,” She said. “I think you’ll get your message out there if you know the person on the other side. At least you’ll have a better shot.”
WGN-TV 2501 W Bradley Pl Chicago, IL 60618 773-528-2311
Greg Caputo, new director
WFLD-TV FOX Chicago 205 N Michigan Ave Chicago, IL 60601 312-565-5532
Phyllis Schwartz, vice president & news director
WLS-TV ABC 7 Chicago 190 N. State St Chicago, IL 60601 312-750-7777
Jennifer Graves, vice president & news director
WBBM-TV CBS Chicago 22 W Washington St Chicago, IL 60602 312-899-2222 Jeff Kiernan, news director WMAQ-TV NBC 5 Chicago 454 N Columbus Dr Chicago, IL 60611 312-836-5555
Frank Whittaker, vice president of news
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