Kristin-Cam Connects KATV Viewers
Little Rock station puts reporter on camera—all day
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/23/2008 7:00:00 PM
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Every young reporter aspires to more face-time on camera, and KATV Little Rock's Kristin Fisher has gotten that wish—and then some. As the November sweeps progress, Fisher's every move at work—or at least the large majority of them—is followed by Webcams located both at her desk and in her car, giving viewers a real-time peek at how stories are built before they air on the evening news.
Watch the 'Kristin-Cam' video feed below:
Fisher also Twitters and blogs to offer more insights into her workday—and provide a wider opportunity for viewers to interact with her. Viewers are also invited to vote on which of three stories Fisher is to chase the following day.
KATV News Director Randy Dixon said the idea for the Kristin-Cam project, officially known as “Choose Your News,” was hatched a few months back. The Allbritton station was testing various technologies to stream digital content to the Web, and Fisher seemed the ideal candidate to be the face of the project. “She can shoot, she can edit, and she loves new technology,” Dixon says.
KATV is not the first media outlet to give viewers a peek into its processes, or offer them a say in story selection. KNBC Los Angeles, for one, streams its morning meetings on its News Raw digital channel, while cable channel New York 1 lets viewers program its The Call newscast.
But KATV has long been an innovator, Dixon says. Years back, reporter Kate Sullivan, now at WCBS New York, spent a month holed up in an “e-partment” for a social experiment that peppered KATV newscasts, where her only contact with the outside world was through the Web. “[KATV] has always pushed the envelope in terms of new ideas,” Dixon says. “I think that's why it's No. 1.”
The station of course suffered a terrible loss recently when 26-year-old anchor Anne Pressly was murdered in a home invasion last month; the culprit remains at large and the motive unknown. That compelled KATV management to move the Webcam experiment back a week and reevaluate security measures. Fisher is always accompanied by another staffer when she's in the field. She acknowledges initial concern with giving viewers such an unfettered glimpse into her routine, but says she feels perfectly safe in her day-to-day. “I'm not doing anything different from other reporters,” she says. “The only thing that's different is that people see me do it.”
KATV uses a mix of Slingbox technology and a cellphone-to-Web program called Qik to help viewers follow Fisher about. The footage ranges from the mundane (ordering lunch: “A cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard…No mayo please!”) and the more compelling (Fisher ferreting out a story on a shortage of air traffic controllers at Little Rock National Airport).
Fisher says she was initially self-conscious about the ubiquitous cameras, but—like a reality TV vet—quickly learned to ignore them. She has a mute button at her fingertips, though salty language does occasionally slip through (she quickly followed a “Now she's really pissed!” with an “Mmmm…she's very upset” while schmoozing with a co-worker last week).
Fisher says she abides by a simple rule: try not to do or say anything she wouldn't do in front of her mother. (Mom is, in fact, watching from Houston most days.)
Dixon says Choose Your News remains a work in progress, and admits it's hard to measure its success. But he points out that between 1,000 and 2,000 people are voting on the story of the day each day. “It keeps building and feeding on itself,” he says.
Web consultant Mike Sechrist, who oversaw an ambitious digital strategy while running WKRN Nashville a few years ago, says the concept of revealing the newsgathering process to the public has value to viewers, and such interactivity can drum up story leads. He's not sold, however, on the notion of audience voting.
“Anything that offers transparency, in terms of how we do our jobs, is terrific,” Sechrist says. “But I'm not sure voting on stories works—we work in the business and we have a pretty good idea of what works [on air].”
Dixon likes that the Choose Your News idea has flipped the script on the TV station axiom about using on-air to promote online. “For years we've been using our newscasts to drive people to the Web,” he says. “This drives people from the Web to our newscasts.”
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