October 15, 2009
/ by Gina Joseph
It’s no secret the broadcast news industry has taken a hit since the recession began. Large networks and small news stations alike have seen cutbacks, layoffs and buyouts in order to stay afloat. However, it was these challenges that might have sparked the recent popularity of local news services, or LNS.
“We’re basically a pool service,” said Los Angeles LNS managing editor Kris Knutsen. “We run around and pick up content all day long and distribute it to the three partners.”
Knutsen oversees the local news services for the FOX affiliate KTTV-TV, NBC affiliate KNBC-TV, and CW affiliate KTLA-TV. She is in charge deciding which stories the LNS covers each day, organizing the photographers and videographers shooting those stories, and then bringing them back for all three stations to use.
“Ninety percent of what we shoot is prescheduled press conferences, but we also do breaking news,” she said. “You find that the partners actually like it, because it supplements their coverage.”
Local news services began in Philadelphia, when Fox Television Stations, Inc. and NBC Local Media decided to create shared video news coverage in order to reduce costs and become more efficient. Instead of multiple camera angles of the same story, just one shot is shared by multiple stations. This idea then caught on in other regions around the country.
In Chicago, LNS managing editor Tony Capriolo oversees the CW affiliate WGN-TV, CBS affiliate WBBM-TV, FOX affiliate WFLD-TV and NBC affiliate WMAQ-TV. He explained that the service allows his team to focus on the stories that would typically be covered by all four stations, leaving the individual stations to use their resources on other events.
“They can say, ‘LNS is covering these stories, we don’t need to worry about them,’” Capriolo explained. “Then they can go about planning the other stuff that they want to cover—what will make them unique and different from the other stations.”
The creation of local news services in not necessarily new. News pools have been around for a long time, but were only used for large events like a visit from the president. However, it was only recently that stations began to utilize them on a daily basis. They are now found in many cities including Detroit, Phoenix and Tampa. While the local news service is now running smoothly in Los Angeles, Knutsen said at first, it was a hard sell.
“LNS was not welcomed so much with open arms in Los Angeles,” she said. “There was a little bit of tension. No news operation likes to give up total control.”
Capriolo agreed, but said he has seen the service flourish in Chicago.
“One of the initial concerns coming into this was well, it will make everyone look the same,” he said. “What we’ve found is that’s not the case at all. What it does is allows stations to say ‘We’re going to create our own personality by using the talents and our photographers; we have to do different stuff.’ And in fact, as stations have gotten comfortable with it, it’s given them the ability to differentiate themselves more, as opposed to the fear of looking the same.”
As far as what the LNS can cover, Capriolo said it can sometimes be a challenge to find a balance that will satisfy all four stations.
“Our role is minimal when it comes to breaking news,” he said. “In fact, probably one of our biggest challenges each day is finding stories that are important and newsworthy and good, but don’t rise to that level of [ being] clearly a story that stations are going to cover.”
In Los Angeles, Knutsen said, often the LNS will report to the same event as the local stations, but will serve as a command post. She used the example of the recent California wildfires.
“We’re brushfire country,” she said. “We would go set up a camera as a command post, allowing the television stations, if they want, to be up in the neighborhoods where the story’s actually happening, so they don’t have to worry about staffing the press conference. It’s about maximizing your crews.”
So, even though the current economic climate may have been the driving force behind the creation of local news services, Capriolo believes they are here to stay.
“The economy obviously forced all business to think in ways they wouldn’t think otherwise,” he said. “There were already pool services out there. But what if we did that more often? I think what they found was it just made a lot of sense. It’s gotten to the point now, where if the economy turned around tomorrow, I don’t think this would go away. It just makes too much sense.”
Making the pitch:
Both Capriolo and Knutsen agreed that e-mail is the best way of contact regarding pitches and press releases. But make it stand out, they say.
“Spin a story with something unique about it,” Knutsen said. “Use a creative tag line. You’re going through a thousand e-mails, so you’re going to look for the off-the-wall.”
Follow-up calls are also preferred.
“We get a lot of e-mails day in and day out,” he said. “What some of the more affective PR people are doing is, they’ll send the initial e-mail, and they’ll follow up with a phone call. But we’re like everyone else—if you call us every single day we’re going to go crazy.”
Knutsen advised, “If you’re going to pitch me a story for Friday, I don’t like the phone call on Tuesday. If you’re going to pitch for Friday I want to hear from you on Thursday.”
She also said that her local news service in Los Angeles is always on the lookout for quirky features.
“Even though we do hard news, we look for those feature pieces that supplement news casts,” she said.
Capriolo summed it up by reiterating the benefits of a local news service.
“I wouldn’t discourage anyone from pitching to us,” he said. “I think what PR firms and media relations folks are finding is we are a great one stop shop. If you get your event on our schedule, and we shoot it, you have instant access to four stations, and that’s a pretty good deal for a PR person.”
KNBC-TV 3000 W Alameda Ave Burbank, CA 91523 www.nbclosangeles.com
Kris Knutsen, local news service managing editor 818-840-4522 firstname.lastname@example.org
WBBM-TV 22 W Washington St Chicago, IL 60602 www.cbs2chicago.com
Tony Capriolo, local news service managing editor email@example.com
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