I’m headed to Nashville tomorrow morning for a visit to WKRN. That’s the station, along with KRON in San Francisco, putting cameras in the hands of some reporters and microphones in the hands of some photographers. It’s called the “vj experiment”, which has been covered both here and on other blogs, as well as a fine article in Business Week online.
Much is being made about how vj newsrooms will double their news content, but I think there’s something even more interesting going on here. At WKRN, and probably KRON, the vj experiment allows newsrooms to rediscover “beats”.
That used to be the norm. Reporters covered specific territory and subjects. There were health reporters, city hall reporters, school board reporters, consumer reporters. There were reporters who covered specific cities and towns and, in Huntsville for instance, reporters who covered NASA.
The beauty of reporter beats was that few things made the papers before they made the news broadcasts. Reporters stayed in touch with the newsmakers on their beats. They developed leads and sources. They learned what was making news from the source, rather than in the morning paper.
Most newsrooms today react to the morning paper. Take a story from the front page and advance it. Morning meetings generally wind up with reporters pitching stories they’ve read in the paper. Assigned a story, they xerox the newspaper article and try to develop something fresh. The few stories in the broadcast that were not in the newspaper that morning are stories that happen during the day (notice how many “breaking news” stories are actually just stories that DIDN’T make the paper that morning?)
Sadly though, most newsrooms don’t have the luxury of assigning beats to reporters because many times those beats don’t turn up a ‘ready-for-tv-story” every day. With only 6-10 reporter/photographer crews every day, every crew has to turn a story for a newscast every day.
WKRN putting more reporters on the street in the form of ‘vjs’ allows reporters to cover their beats, develop their stories and air maybe 3 stories each week as opposed to 5-7 stories.
I like the idea a lot and am anxious to see how it affects the markets and the ratings. I have noticed that the stations that try the vj concept are typically the #3 station in town, in terms of ratings numbers.
Tip: WPTY in Memphis, (a #4 station if you count FOX 13’s late night numbers) might want to try the vj concept instead of it’s current gameplan of having it’s anchors use street language and having it’s reporters chase people down on the street to get our attention. I’d watch 24’s news more often if they covered more news than the competition in a straight forward way.
This will be my first time in a newsroom in more than a year. I’m curious to see if I miss it.