Changing channels: Broadcast journalism’s continued embrace of New Media

It was Tuesday night, and I was watching the returns for the three Presidential election season contests that quickly merged into a collective Rick Santorum tsunami, as the former Pennsylvania Senator defeated presumed GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. While I had my TV tuned to CNN, I noticed that I was getting most of my information via Twitter and not from Anderson, Wolf, and co. Faster than CNN’s producers could cue up their “Breaking News” graphics, 140-word comments and complaints flooded my iPhone’s tiny screen as journalists, pundits, and political junkies alike shared their thoughts on the night’s events. While I certainly enjoyed listening to the banter and observations of CNN’s on-air team (who didn’t smile when Wolf Blitzer said “OMG” upon looking at Santorum’s surge), I was getting most of my immediate election updates from social media, underscoring the changing face of news.

This kind of commentary certainly isn’t original or new. Media watchers have been looking at this for years now –– from the rise of radio to television, from “the big three” to cable, from cable to Youtube and Twitter, etc. The way news has been delivered continues to evolve, but I think it’s always interesting to take a look at how the standard-bearers of news decide to embrace these shifts. Do they remain the same, and hope their audiences remain loyal? Or do they broaden their reach, molding themselves to fit into the fractured media landscape? Some media organizations certainly do better than others.

A different way to look at CNN

In with the new
One of the most successful broadcast outlets to embrace the broader possibilities that come from an embrace of New Media is ABC News. With regular news broadcasts airing since 1948, ABC has long been an icon of American broadcasting, in many ways driven by the appeal of its strong on-camera personalities like Barbara Walters, Peter Jennings, and Diane Sawyer. While NBC News still dominates the ratings with “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” and the venerable “Today Show,” and CBS News’ evening and morning newscasts are perpetually stuck in third place (but “60 Minutes” does remain the highest-rated news program on TV), ABC has found a way to integrate their broadcast and online content, effectively expanding its audience online.

Back in October, ABC announced a partnership with Yahoo! News that linked the broadcast giant with the widely-visited web resource. Besides integrating “Good Morning America’s” homepage with Yahoo!, the deal provided an online home for popular ABC anchors and correspondents like George Stephanopoulos and Christiane Amanpour. So far, the merger has paid off. On Tuesday, TV Newser reported that ABC Digital streamed more than 100 million videos in January –– a first for the news organization. The article cites that this is a direct result of the Yahoo! partnership, suddenly making ABC a fierce competitor against CNN on the Web. For comparison, CNN.com averaged 101 monthly video streams in 2011. And ABC isn’t just stopping with Yahoo! As reported by the Wall Street Journal, ABC News’ parent company, the Walt Disney Co. and Univision Communications are now in talks to start a new English-language 24-hour cable news channel, adding another alternative to the triumvirate of Fox, MSNBC, and CNN.

Moving to smaller screens
As ABC transitions to the brave new world of New Media, one of its former correspondents is using the Web to tell stories that are of particular importance to him. Stone Phillips, a former ABC newsman who left the anchor desk of NBC’s “Dateline” in 2007, recently started his own website, “Stone Phillips Reports.” Using the site as a way to profile issues important to him, Phillips –– a former starting quarterback at Yale –– made youth football injuries the topic of his first report. A comprehensive, broadcast-style piece, Phillips’ investigation is just as comprehensive as anything found on traditional TV formats. While he may no longer be a network news anchor, Phillips has been able to take his skills as an interviewer online, and his latest (and rather surprising) career move might be something some of his Old Media peers should take note of.

HuffPost reinvents TV
While stalwarts of traditional broadcasting like ABC and Stone Phillips take their reporting chops to an iPad near you, one dominant leader of New Media is looking to reinvent the broadcast news model. For after all, these Old Media figures present their New Media content in a very traditional style. The Huffington Post looks to shake that up with the HuffPost Streaming Network, planning on offering live online broadcasting content for 12 hours a day, five days a week. As reported by TVNewser, the network will be a “cache of of videos for viewers to watch any time if they miss the live stream.” The aim is to make TV more like the internet, and the internet more like TV. In the near future, there probably won’t be much of a difference between the two.

Our favorite grouch: Andy Rooney (1919-2011)

-via The Hollywood Reporter

“Not many people in this world are as lucky as I have been,” said 60 Minutes commentator and resident grouch Andy Rooney at the beginning of his final appearance on the weekly news magazine. “I had an English teacher who told me I was a good writer,” he said, “so I set out to become a writer myself.” In his own eyes, Rooney was less TV icon than wry editorialist commenting on the mundane things that so often preoccupy all of us in our daily lives. But, for the millions who tuned in each and every week to hear his grumblings over the absurdities of modern life, Rooney was more than just a “good writer.” He was in many ways the stand-in for his viewers, complaining about and questioning the things that many who watched him didn’t think to examine. Of course, Rooney’s career full of bluntness and bluster was not without controversy –– according to The New York Times, he was suspended by CBS News in 1990 for some controversial comments he made about African Americans and “homosexual unions.” If legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite became America’s “Uncle Walter,” Rooney’s public image was more akin to that of the grumpy, opinionated (yet insightful) neighborhood grouch.

His absence has certainly been felt since he left 60 Minutes last month, but after death, his legacy will live on. CBS has compiled some of his most memorable commentaries online at 60 Minutes Overtime, and the irreverent “Andy Rooney Game” has become a popular Youtube meme. After decades on-air, Rooney will be immortalized by the digital age, sharing everyday wisdom, and grumbling away while he does it.

In a bad economic climate, who can we trust? The Muppets!

The Muppets make sense of the economy. -via ABC News

On my Twitter feed today, I found this vintage Nightline video posted by ABC News. Originally aired on December, 6, 1987, the Ted Koppel-hosted special was designed as a town hall meeting of sorts to try to make sense of the economic recession of the day. Joining Koppel as special correspondents are none other than The Muppets. While it’s a funny video in which everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic Jim Henson animals define terms like “bull and bear markets,” it’s also an interesting time capsule of sorts. By watching the video, one can easily draw parallels between the kind of late-80s news coverage this exemplifies, and the headlines we all see today when we turn to our current 24/7 online and cable TV news sources. It’s also really interesting to look at some of the facts presented in the report, especially when Kermit mentions that the national debt is at “2.4 trillion dollars” –– today, our current national debt is roughly 14.9 trillion dollars. In one funny portion, Kermit, our ever-trusty anchorman, asks Fozzy to stack up in dollar bills our national debt. “If you stack up this money, how tall a stack is it going to be?” Kermit asks. “130,000 miles,” Fozzy replies.

With Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy, and co. releasing a new film later this month, perhaps The Muppets can come back to our evening newscasts and help make sense of today’s often-gloomy headlines? Check out the ABC clip here.

Long live the television news magazine

via TV Guide

Last night, NBC News debuted Rock Center with Brian Williams, the network’s younger, hipper answer to CBS’ venerable 60 Minutes. As far as first episodes go, the new program was a solid success, showcasing the wry humor and authority of its anchor, while giving corresepondents like Kate Snow, Richard Engel, and Harry Smith (former anchor of The Early Show on CBS) a chance to shine with long-form features and in-depth interviews.

It’s the kind of journalism I personally enjoy watching and working on –– when a reporter spends a sustained period of time with his or her subject, giving the audience the opportunity to really feel invested in the personal narratives that fuel the story. As opposed to the traditional evening newscasts on ABC, NBC, and CBS, or even their cable news cousins, long-form broadcast news magazines like 60 Minutes are so fantastic in their ability to avoid the desire of a tweet-fueled modern news cycle to send out information immediately before journalists really have time to fully get to the heart of a story. It’s kind of like deciding to sit down with a good 500-page book over watching its hour and a half film version. While the acting and visual splendors of a film might offer more immediately-satisfying entertainment, it is never as enjoyable for me as sitting down on a lazy Sunday afternoon and getting lost in the detailed world described by the book’s author. I find that, generally speaking, a novel will dedicate more time than a film will in revealing the characters’ back stories and personal motivations.

I think the same is true of news magazines. Whether profiling a war criminal, politician, movie star, or the average American struggling to search for employment, or heading to the scenes of natural disasters and war zones, these kinds of programs devote more time to communicating the realities behind the news of the day. Obviously, I’m not alone in my appreciation of this kind of programming. According to The Hollywood Reporter, this past Sunday’s edition of 60 Minutes –– featuring a much-publicized interview with Bernie Madoff’s wife and son –– attracted its highest overall audience in a year. Similarly, ABC’s late-night news program, Nightline, routinely does better in the ratings than both Leno and Letterman.

As far as whether Williams’ new show can live up to that kind of success and the gold standard of 60 Minutes, the verdict is still out. However, what we have seen so far is promising. While the show did not light up the ratings (it performed worse than the canceled Mad Men wannabe The Playboy Club), it presented some compelling stories and a funny (if a little awkward and out-of-place) live interview with fake anchor Jon Stewart. The show still needs to find its footing, but I’ll be watching next week.

Koppel and Huffington: Old vs. New Media

The other day I stumbled across this really great Google Zeitgeist panel conversation between two media giants both representative of the differing Old and New Media ethos. Moderated by The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson, the meeting between long-time television newsman (and new “Rock Center with Brian Williams” correspondent) Ted Koppel, and web maven Arianna Huffington, is a fascinating collision of opinions between two journalists whose beliefs in what are the appropriate channels to relay news and information to a mass audience greatly differ. While The Huffington Post‘s editor-and-chief stated that in today’s world, there needs to be the “constant repetition” of stories and media content in order to affect social and cultural change, Koppel stood by the kind of longer-form documentary work that defined his own career. “People are being fed the news they want instead of the news they need,” Koppel said of a current media landscape entranced by Casey Anthony and “Balloon Boy.” For Huffington, the future of journalists can be summed up by this: “you are going to be at the table in New Media, or you’re going to be on the menu.” Perhaps the best way to be relevant is to combine the multimedia savvy of Huffington’s aggregators and bloggers, with the tirelessly high standards of someone like Koppel.
The full conversation is below:

Google Zeitgeist: Koppel and Huffington

via Google Zeitgeist