The value of instant news
Veteran anchor decries the 'profit motive' that limits Internet offerings
By Russell Shaw -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/21/2001 7:00:00 PM
In addition to being able to parse trends from a decimal-laden ratings book, Terry Anzur is one of those veteran broadcast journalists who knows how to interpret an Internet ratings report. First, though, I'm jumping off the page and into your head, because I know what you are wondering.
Yes, that Terry Anzur-former co-anchor of KTLA-TV Los Angeles' News at Ten, and a former anchor for KCBS-TV Los Angeles, WCBS-TV New York, WBBM-TV in Chicago, and several other blue-chip news operations.
Anzur, who now teaches broadcasting at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, is fearful that the same "profit motive" mentality that has been squeezing many local-broadcast-news operations is finding its way to broadcast-television-news Web-site management.
Anzur cites some depressing trend lines that magnify the deleterious effects of treating your station's Web site like a forgotten stepchild.
For one, there's the "96-8" gap. Those numbers sound like one of those early-season girls' high school basketball scores when a AAAA division team plays a tune-up game against a tiny, A division neighbor.
No, "96-8" is a finding from a survey by Audience Research & Development/Interactive, released at the RTNDA 2000 convention. The numbers stand for the calculation that while 96% of Web users have heard of local-TV-news Web sites, only 8% visit one or more on a daily basis.
Informing the "96-8" gap, Anzur thinks, is the trend at too many television stations where anchors are fond of saying "check out our Web site." But the viewer doesn't "find a reason to bookmark the site."
In Anzur's ideal scenario, more stations would hire journalists assigned to the Web site and would no longer withhold online versions of fast-breaking news stories. Often, stations don't want the piece on a Web site until it's been reported on the air. But with a news Web site, a breaking news story is the ideal place to use streaming video in an impactful way.
Holding back online updates is a big bone of contention for Anzur, who is certainly no stranger to fast-breaking stories.
She points to the example of a viewer hearing "a big explosion," and not wanting to wait until the news broadcast to find out what caused the blast and what the impact was. "Sometimes they get an article [on the site], but most of the time, they get no [streaming] video at all. It's a frustrating experience," Anzur says.
"When it comes to posting news updates on your site, I would think more in terms of a deadline every minute," she adds.
As to the streaming video itself, Anzur recommends posting clearly marked, selected highlights, as opposed to just shoveling the whole news broadcast up on the site.
And yes, there's the e-mail contact problem. Pointing to some of her own experiences, Anzur notes the breakdown of viewer-anchor communication that happens when a station does not post the e-mail addresses of its on-air journalists.
Too often, she feels the breakdown occurs because of what I call the "feedback" or "info@" problem. I am talking about the type of site that posts generic contact info, but fails to route the message to the right person because the Webmaster is too busy on other matters, or is not endowed with the viewer-communications gene.
"I want to know what viewers think," she declares.
The lack of universal dedication to making local-TV-news Web sites more newsworthy or attentive is borne out in a recent study by the Washington, D.C.-based Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The canvass found that 46% of 178 local stations received no new funding to enhance their sites in the last year, and that any improvements needed to come out of newsroom budgets.
Anzur, the news anchor-turned-academician sees a classic chicken-egg dynamic at play here. Local stations don't want to spend significant money and mindshare on their Web sites until the sites turn a profit. But it is hard to turn an overlooked stepchild into a profitable one.
Anzur likens this conundrum to "the early days of transitioning from radio to television news, when no one perceived television newscasts could make any money. They did radio on TV, with minimal visuals, until they finally realized your newscast can make money and brand your station."
Anzur intends to hammer this point home in Strangers in the Living Room, a book she is writing about the history of local television news.
Russell Shaw's column about Internet and interactive issues appears regularly. He can be reached at email@example.com
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