Why You Have to Do More Than a Police Blotter Newscast

CJ&N shares tips for covering law enforcement

The “best practice” in this case comes not from a TV station but from local police and fire departments and their ability to get news and information quickly and directly to the public. And they’re getting very good at it. At the same time, users are figuring out they don’t have to wait for a media organization to publish/broadcast/distribute the information. Times have changed. “Bigly.”

People are getting it real time from the source. Why should they wait until it shows up in a station’s push alert, Twitter feed or the station’s Facebook page?

I follow several law enforcement agencies here in Sarasota. It’s how I learn about road closures, accidents and local events that may impact me. I also follow the NYC police department – my hometown. They’re all getting really good at getting information out quickly on Facebook and Instagram and especially Twitter. They may start on Twitter but as part of the story develops you will find their copy along with pictures and sometimes video on their Facebook and Instagram pages. Some are now playing with Snapchat. Often, these are the stories that will later show up in local newscasts with the same facts I read hours earlier directly from the source.

The point is that people no longer need to watch newscasts for stories about crime, traffic accidents and fires — the things that not long ago were a TV station’s bread and butter. Users are getting it first hand in real time. Some police departments have more folks dedicated to digital than do TV stations in the market.

In some cases, I get information that may be relevant to me that didn’t even make the local newscasts.

For example, here is a series of tweets alerting me to a local fire, with info about road closings and how long it may go on. These are relevant to where I live and helped me plan alternate routes. There were valuable details I never got from local station push alerts.

Here are a few social media shares from a recent FDNY event. They provided a tweet with photos which then linked to their Facebook page with pictures and an extensive story – a story that may not have been covered on-air by all the local stations.

And they have also figured out how to bypass media organizations and provide more than just information about local crimes. In this case they not only used Twitter but also YouTube. For this department it’s about relaying any information it thinks can keep families safe.  In this case they can talk directly to parents. And it’s more than that. On weekends they tweet, Facebook and use Instagram to provide real-time information about community events including traffic and weather.

It’s clear: local TV news needs to move beyond the police blotter or fire department calls of the day. Station and news managers need to come up with a deep, viewer-focused content strategy. This is more than throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s not about creating viral content or a local version of TMZ. There’s no evidence that has worked anywhere. It’s about being honest with ourselves that the world is really changing.

We encourage station management to take a step back and truly understand the potential audience for what they want, beyond what they find on the myriad of social media platforms.

This starts with fully accepting that the newscast content must change and focus on what viewers say they want, not what we think they want. There are stations actively researching these questions – and they may be the best positioned for the local news 3.0.

Steve Schwaid is VP of digital strategies for CJ&N, a media research and consulting firm.

This blog was originally posted on CJNI.com.

(Photo via G20 Voice's Flickr. Image taken on April 28, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)