Brittney Gilbert, formerly the face of the progressive Web strategy at WKRN Nashville, is moving next week to the Bay Area to head up a new blog effort at KPIX. Perhaps the only fully professional local TV blogger in America, Gilbert will scour the San Francisco market's numerous Web logs, highlight and comment on the more salient posts, and eventually oversee a blog aggregator representing what is typically a wide array of Bay Area passions and interests.
“We were talking internally about how to create content that helps separate us on the Web,” says KPIX Director of Internet Operations Jim Parker. “We were looking for a signature blogger who would make us unique from the other stations in the market.”
KPIX President/G.M. Ron Longinotti says Parker's idea to hire Gilbert has his full support. “If we're to be a serious online player, we need to be represented in all relevant areas,” he says. “This didn't take a lot of sell for me.”
Stations across the country are trying to figure out how best to tap into the blogging trend to boost traffic on their Websites, and stay relevant with younger viewers. Several stations have their anchors blog regularly; the better ones build a connection with users, while others offer sporadic posts about decidedly mundane aspects of life in the newsroom.
The more comprehensive blog aggregators around the country include WHBQ Memphis's “On Memphis” and KING Seattle's “Citizen Rain” (Oct. 8, p. 13).
Gilbert, 30, leaves the Music City Nov. 11 for her new home in Berkeley, and is scheduled to start work at the CBS O&O Nov. 19. Nashville born and bred, she was a vital player in the digital strategy of Young Broadcasting's WKRN, a plan orchestrated by former G.M. Mike Sechrist. Author of the local Nashville blog Sparkwood & 21 (brittneygilbert.com), Gilbert was hired by Sechrist to run WKRN's blog aggregator Nashville Is Talking, which launched last February, and inject her personality and local cred into the Web platform.
Nashville Is Talking took off, with traffic from unique visitors growing some 40%, according to station sources, but things quickly unraveled at WKRN after Sechrist resigned in April to consult on new media at other stations. Two deputies soon followed him out, and Gilbert stepped down in June, blaming nasty comments from users about her corporate status and a lack of support from new management.
Parker said he followed Gilbert's work at WKRN, and when he heard she was leaving, reached out to gauge her interest in moving cross-country. “If the concept can drive traffic in Nashville, which has a much smaller blogger community,” he reasons, “it can certainly work here.”
His objective for Gilbert is “community outreach”—stoking dialogue with the Bay Area's wired masses, bringing users to cbs5.com who perhaps wouldn't otherwise visit a station Web site, and breaking down the perception that television is a one-way street with no input from the community.
For a strong station in perhaps the country's most progressive market (the DMA is comprised of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, and covers Silicon Valley), KPIX's blogging efforts strike some as perfunctory. The Blog link on the station home page is near the bottom, a political blog had no new posts between Aug. 22 and Oct. 10, and user comments are extremely rare.
Station consultants see bringing Gilbert on board as a big step in the right direction. “Hiring a full-time blogger shows me that KPIX gets it,” says Gordon Borrell, CEO of media research firm Borrell Associates. “I really want to see it be a two-way street [with users], not just, 'Here's what our station people think.'”
Bruce Northcott of Crawford Johnson & Northcott agrees. “Everybody's wondering, how do we make the connection between the Web and local television?” he says. “They're trying to tap into a group of people who are hungry for information, but don't necessarily watch local TV newscasts, which seems like a good thing to be doing.”
Gilbert's first priority will be to reach out to San Fran bloggers, such as the creative types behind SFist.com, DailyNugget.com and Scripting News (www.scripting.com). Early in 2008, the station plans on launching the aggregator, corralling hundreds of the market's blogs to highlight the most insightful posts about nightlife, antiques, poetry or politics.
Parker does not envision Gilbert appearing on-air, though he won't rule it out. Gilbert did do about 20 on-air segments for WKRN. And while she will be part of the station's Web department, not its newsroom, there will be a lot of interaction. “She'll operate separately,” Parker says. “But what she does could lead to tips for stories.”
With such a rich blogger community in tech-savvy San Francisco, some wonder why KPIX went outside the region to find its blogmeister. In fact, Gilbert raised the issue with Parker before taking the job, and was told that the market is full of transplants and a San Francisco birthright was not required to succeed in the market.
Parker liked that Gilbert—unlike virtually anyone else in the blogosphere—had actual experience with bringing community bloggers into the station fold. “With her, there was a track record,” Parker says. “She's probably the first sole blogger to work for local TV. Brittney's a trailblazer.”