the deal-making for broadcast stations heats up, groups such as Nexstar that
have been acquiring operations face the daunting challenge of getting those
deals to pay off. The operative question is a difficult one: How can you
strengthen your local news operations, which remain the key to boosting ratings
and ad revenue, and streamline operations so your costs don't eat up profits?
No one has found a simple answer yet. But Nexstar senior VP of operations Blake
Russell's efforts to crack that riddle by deploying systems to better share
content and to find cost-effective ways to ramp up local news production have
earned him a place on B&C's 2013 list of Technology Leadership Award
Russell grew up in a broadcasting family. His father, Jack, a radio pioneer
(known on-air as "Scott Blake"), produced some of the first jingle libraries.
Russell was drawn to the medium early, working at a local TV station funded by
the cable operator Heritage Communications.
During college at Arkansas State, Russell worked at ABC affiliate KAIT in
Jonesboro, Ark. After graduating from college in 1992, he moved into
operations, first at KASN in Little Rock and then KJAC Beaumont (Texas), which
was eventually bought by Nexstar.
Russell quickly rose through the ranks. He landed his first position as a
general manager of a Nexstar station in 2003 and moved to corporate as VP of
marketing and operations in 2006. He was upped to senior VP in 2008, with added
responsibilities for news and engineering. This year, he was given oversight of
the IT department as well.
Over the past several years, as Nexstar has expanded its news production and
acquired more stations, Russell has been working to develop innovative ways to
upgrade news operations and better share content.
Last year, Nexstar did seven HD upgrades; the group plans seven more this year.
As part of those upgrades, Nexstar has worked to centralize operations and set
up systems for better content sharing. Toward that end, Nexstar built an
extensive hub at its Little Rock facility for master control which allows
several stations connected to the hub to share content. "With the interconnect
between those stations, we can basically take any live shot from any of those
stations to any of the other stations," says Russell.
The group has centralized servers for its Avid iNews newsroom computer systems
in several markets, an effort Russell says is saving costs and improving
Nexstar's overall competitive position by making it
easier to share content.
And that's already paying off in group-wide coverage of such major events as
the 2012 political conventions and this past year's Super Bowl. During the
conventions, Nexstar sent four multimedia journalists, each of whom was
assigned to produce materials for TV stations in seven markets. The effort
produced more than 150 "tease" stories with a look ahead at the day's events and another 280 evening news stories
that were customized for each local market. The total cost: slightly more than
$200 per station.
"We have to produce and provide content that can't be seen anywhere else," Russell
says. "You can't depend on the news services for that. You can
go into a market and see the same kicker on two or three stations from CNN. In
my mind, that is the lazy way out. We have to find ways to create our own
content and share it if we want to take our news to the next level."