Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Snowden Talk to Techies Speaks to Journalists, too

-first posted at on March 10, 2014

Thousands filled three giant venues at South by Southwest Monday morning to hear from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as he joined the conference live from his hiding place in Russia. Snowden’s appearance at SXSW is seen as a coup, billed as Snowden’s first such appearance since he fled the United States. Politicians, like Kansas Republican Representative Mike Pompeo, called on SXSW to cancel the Snowden appearance. The fact it went on as planned shows not only the festival’s backbone to stand up for content it believes is important, but also gives journalists a good opportunity to hear what amounted to a list of story ideas to keep the Snowden and security stories moving forward.

images_snowden1_0Edward Snowden appears via Google+ Hangout at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas


Snowden began his address by recognizing the tech community gathered in Austin, Texas. He praised the group as the people who are working to protect privacy rights even as the government is failing to do so. His talk was tech-heavy, diving quickly into the steps individuals and groups can take now to protect privacy. But buried in all this tech talk was a message for journalists gathered to hear the address.

Snowden’s call to technology innovators also calls on journalists to do a better job going forward covering important security issues. This list isn’t a Monday morning quarterbacking job on what’s already transpired. These topics demand new reporting and new pressure on government and industry to play watchdog on just how both are handling private data. Those reporting initiatives, based on my analysis of Snowden’s notions, are:

— Snowden said sites that collect data should do so with the intent to use the data for a reasonable and manageable period, and then delete it. It should not be stored indefinitely. Journalists have a responsibility to do that story, pushing both private and public agencies that collect data to find out how long they keep it, when they delete it and what criteria they use to determine that storage period.

— There was agreement among the panelists as well as Snowden that there needs to be responsibility at the highest level to prioritize cyber security and hold those in power accountable for poor performance. As journalists, our primary role is to serve as watchdogs against those in power, whether they be government or private interests that hold the power. The Snowden affair highlighted just how little watching the media had done about many of these issues before they broke, leaving much more work to do.

A capacity crowd fills one of the three venues at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas.

— Snowden asked that there be a thorough examination of the fruit borne by mass surveillance programs and report to the public whether it works or not. Snowden himself feels the programs do not work because there is a lack of focus to spy on just the suspects instead of everyone, leaving the programs ineffective. This is an easy call to action for journalists: start and keep asking to see proof that surveillance delivers valuable information.

— The talk introduced an idea I had not heard from Snowden before: for a group of trusted public advocates to be an oversight force for security and surveillance operations. This board of known national leaders would have a role similar in my mind to those special commissions called into action after a crisis, like the Tower or Warren commissions. This idea needs a thorough vetting by journalists, checking to see whether such a group could gain meaningful access to information needed and whether anyone would listen to what the group had to say.

— Encryption research is key, Snowden said, to keeping the “dark arts” at bay. He called for a commercial and philosophical commitment to build tomorrow’s encryption efforts and to keep improving what is built. As reporters, we can put those who work on this sort of technology on our beats, checking in regularly and reporting stories on progress and obstacles in the road to better encryption in the future.

— Asked by a Twitter user what anyone can do now to increase personal protections now, Snowden went through a list of steps from full disk encryption to using Tor encryption on personal data. The conversation got a little thick for non-technical types, which tells us as journalists that we need to spend more reporting effort on explaining these steps to people so that they don’t seem so hard to do.

images_snowden2The Snowden event included on-stage participation from the American Civil Liberties Union

— Finally, Snowden warned that too much of government talk is about the security and safety of the state, rather than the security or safety of the individual. One of our major roles in public policy discussions is the ability to set the public agenda and say what matters in the public discourse. If we do this now, we can start the process to move privacy and security issues higher on everyone’s agenda. That will force the government to deal with public concerns, rather than be able to ignore lone media inquiries that fall too often on deaf ears.

Now, none of these stories is very “sexy” in the sense that they have compelling picture, video or characters to drive them to be more compelling to audience members. That makes selling these stories to editors really tough—and selling them to consumers even tougher. That, I suppose, is the last goal to come out of the Snowden talk on Monday. It leaves us a mandate to sell these stories as being as important as they really are to all of us.

avatar_646Stacey Woelfel is a 2013-2014 Donald W. Reynolds Fellow and the news director of KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate at the University of Missouri. As a Reynolds Fellow, Woelfel is wanting to add a richer experience to traditional linear television news consumption by developing and exploring second-screen engagement opportunities at KOMU. Second-screen viewing means audience members are using a mobile device to view content while watching news broadcasts. Click here to learn more.

From Grumpy Cat to Game of Thrones: Keeping News on the Consumers’ Agendas

-first posted at on March 9, 2014

Whether it was a disinterested cat trying to get some sleep on an oversized pillow, or a college girl in a too-blonde wig, people stepped on feet and threw elbows this weekend at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, all in an attempt to be in a picture with these two icons of media culture. Now, I cannot attest to the authenticity of Grumpy Cat (though he sure did look like the real thing), but I can guarantee that was not the real Khaleesi in that wig—and I saw no dragons around, either.

images_thrones_0Fans impersonate characters from HBO’s Game of Thrones at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas

The lure of an in-person encounter with even a weak facsimile of these pop culture stars is phenomenal. And it speaks volumes to the efforts journalists must take to carve out a niche for folks to spend some time consuming something that’s good for them, namely solid reporting efforts on important topics. To that end, here are five ideas culled from SXSW that might help make news part of the daily media menu for most.

1. Build the content to fit the form factor of the users’ devices. Ben Huh, CEO of The Cheezburger Network and the purveyor of more than a few cat pictures to hit the Internet, told an audience at SXSW that we are often stuck using content for other form factors on our phones and other devices. Huh asked the audience why the iPhone screen bears a 16:9 aspect ratio. It does, he points out, because that is the format of movies and TV shows—produced for movie and TV screens, not phones. But since we do use these phones for video, the device’s form factor has been altered to fit the content, rather than the other way around. News producers can learn from this lesson, building content to fit on the device on which it will be consumed. For instance, rather than using existing TV and Web content to post news for the phone, we could forgo some of that content and build an interactive map that geolocates to the user’s position in relation to the story. Sure, there are additional costs. But those who figure out a way to make this work will also be a long way toward making the next idea work.

images_grumpy_0A poster advertises dueling Internet cats at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas

2. Nail the consumer experience.
 Every year, I attend a few big trade shows or conventions. Some take place with massive show floors of hopeful companies looking for the next big idea. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention takes place next month. I’m going, and once again I’ll stand above acres and acres of exhibitors and ask myself the same question I do every year—how many of these companies will still be in business next year? The reason so many can’t make it is that they don’t develop an experience for the user that gives him or her a lot for the effort. Those who make it have a certain “it” that users will come back for again and again. The touch part is figuring out what “it” is. It might be the usability of the interface, the amount of content or the ease of acquisition. I can’t possibly give you the secret of “it” here. But I can tell you that traditional journalism relied for the last 100 years or so on being the only place to get content, so it didn’t matter what “it” was, we didn’t need it. That has to change.

3. Give people a reason to keep coming back. Closely tied to the above notion is that you have to give people more than one reason to come to get your content. Journalism geniuses Nate Silver and Bill Simmons made that point to a big crowd assembled to hear about building a personal brand. While each man has a considerable one, Simmons was quick to point out that his name being associated with the project meant people who knew of him would come to the site exactly once. After that, the site itself has to bring people back. Traditional media often count on their brands to carry them to the top of the competition because of familiarity and trust. But users who don’t find the content and ease of use they want in their news experience won’t be back just because of the brand name. They have to find repeated visits worth their time.

4. Deliver moments. Huh emphasized the need to reach audiences in a different way than before. He made the comparison by using pizzas to illustrate his point. He described the old media world as a thick, Chicago-style pizza, where one slice is a whole meal. Old media gave heavy, thick content to those with a lot of time to consume it. But Huh contends today, our media now have a thin crust. We take quick bites of this thin crust pie, quickly moving through a lot of different helpings. To make sure people remember what they just consumed, Huh says we have to create moments—small magic bits of understanding that stick with a person. The news media do that best with memorable characters, strong pictures, good sound—all quality tools we have used for a long time to tell our stories. But now—at a time when staff members are stretched as thin as they will go—is the time not to turn away from good storytelling techniques that create moments.

A popular Tom Hanks meme

5. Add context where possible.
 Finally, keeping that thin crust pizza in mind, we now know there’s not much room to squeeze context into our content. Huh used the popular meme posted here to make his point. He said that, if you go in and ask your grandfather to tell you a joke, he’ll sit you down and go through a long story that sets the joke up by giving all the context you need to understand it—often trying your patience while you wait for him to get to the punch line. But the meme illustrates a truism of modern life—we get the punch line all at once with the rest of the joke. Why is it still funny? That approach wouldn’t have worked with your grandfather’s joke because the punch line wouldn’t make sense without the rest of the information he gave you. But the Tom Hanks meme works because we already have the context of both the movies Cast Away and Twilight, so our brains can laugh as soon as we see the punch line—the text written on the picture. The challenge to us as journalists is to get our audiences to be patient enough for us to give them the context so that the whole story makes sense. And the best path to making that happen is to use the four previous suggestions to make that connection and buy that time.

The convention so far has been a positive and optimistic outlook from my perspective. The talk is not about the death of the old media in a way that means everything from before goes away forever. Instead, people want to take the good work we’ve done and keep it alive and relevant to new audiences by changing our old-time approaches to fit the new age. And that’s an idea that could even please the grumpiest of cats.

avatar_646Stacey Woelfel is a 2013-2014 Donald W. Reynolds Fellow and the news director of KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate at the University of Missouri. As a Reynolds Fellow, Woelfel is wanting to add a richer experience to traditional linear television news consumption by developing and exploring second-screen engagement opportunities at KOMU. Second-screen viewing means audience members are using a mobile device to view content while watching news broadcasts. Click here to learn more. 

The Best or Worst of Times?

-first posted at on March 8, 2014

Arriving in Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest, I was curious about what to expect at the festival. Though I’ve never been before, the combination of music, film and interactive elements has drawn me for a long time. When the chance to represent RJI at the festival came up, I jumped at the chance. Since my plane landed fairly late on Friday, the sessions for the day were pretty much over. So I decided to immerse myself in the festival by walking the streets around the convention center and soaking up the Austin weirdness.

images_rjibestworstIs this the best or worst of times in media?

Strolling down Sixth Street, the scene that played out in front of me suddenly struck me as a microcosm of the state of media today. As throngs of people walked along the crowded street, some stopped to enjoy a bit of free entertainment. About every other block, street musicians sat in the street and serenaded the crowds with gutsy blues, pumping rock or fluffy pop. Passersby could stop and listen for free, take a picture or two, or—if they wished—make a donation to the tip jar sitting out front.
By contrast, lines stretched around the block for entry into private parties thrown by tech and media giants. Once inside the parties, convention attendees would be wined, dined and sold on the latest commercial offerings from the vendor footing the bill for the party.

These competing scenes playing out just a block apart could just have well been representing the struggle for the media attention of the public these days. Vast media giants once held a stranglehold over the entertainment available to the public. Production and distribution was expensive and took a huge brick and mortar infrastructure to operate. A handful of companies made that investment and reaped the rewards in massive profits.

images_rjibuskerA busker sings the blues on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas during the South by Southwest festival

Then the Internet arrived, and along with it, the democratization of media. People were able to share songs, videos and other forms of entertainment, bypassing the corporate source of media. So the companies that once had a guaranteed audience for their programming and the advertising that surrounded it now struggle to compete against what circulates online. And as big money media competed with lone buskers on the streets of Austin this weekend, Friday night revelers exercised their micro rights to consume just as we do on a macro level with our keyboards, mice and remotes.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This blog isn’t out to make heroes of the little independent producer and villains of the big corporate media monoliths. Both have contributed and are still contributing a great deal to our media mix. For instance, I’m a rabid consumer these days of what I consider to be some of the best corporate television ever made. The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Game of Thrones—these and more are all must-see TV for me. Even that phrase, “Must-See TV,” speaks to the change in the source of quality in corporate television. NBC used that slogan in the 80s and 90s to sell its quality TV lineup. Now quality is more often attached, not to traditional network TV, but to the cable/satellite channels that have put vast sums of money into making television that’s usually better than what’s playing in movie theaters. Sure, there’s plenty of crap on corporate TV—perhaps the majority of what plays there is garbage. But it is also the same place to find the work of the most talented writers, directors, and artists who have ever worked in the medium.

All that praise is not to say it takes big money and a huge marketing platform to deliver quality in media. Just a week ago, I enjoyed another round of documentary goodness at the True/False Film Fest in Columbia, Mo. Two powerful factors echoed there speaking to the excellence found in very small media enterprises. Many of the documentary films that brought the most acclaim were the work of a single person or small team working with almost no money. A hit of the fest was a film called “The Overnighters,” whose director worked almost exclusively by himself to make—including living in a shelter for homeless men for six month to capture his subjects there. That film has found an audience without any real corporate fanfare, reaching small venues at festivals to get word of mouth to carry it forward. Part of that word of mouth comes through social media sharing by those who have seen the film, bringing more like-minded people to look for it. Will it ever be booked in theaters nationwide or air on a major over-the-air network? That’s highly unlikely. But it is already finding critical success despite lacking corporate mass distribution.

images_rjicorporateCrowds line up to enter a party hosted by the A&E network on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas during South by Southwest

Likewise at the True/False fest, musical buskers play to crowds as they wait for the lights to go down and projector to roll. Being a regular at the fest, I look forward to seeing many of the same acts each year. And though you’ve probably never heard of The Toughcats, Dubb Nubb or Raya Brass Band, not only do I enjoy their music live each year, but I buy it online to listen to it those weeks they aren’t appearing at the fest. In this case, much as with the documentary scene, true fans of the art can spread the word through social and other means to keep these bands alive and coming back to play year after year. Will these talented artists earn millions and host the Video Music Awards some day? I suspect not. But that one definition of success at the corporate level does not define the quality of the music or how much I enjoy it.

So that scene that first appeared to me Friday night on Sixth Street here in Austin turns out not to be the epic struggle of the entertainment haves and have-nots I first thought it to be. Instead, big corporate TV and small independent artist existing—and even thriving—on the same street is a metaphor for the media mix we enjoy now. I don’t want to see corporate media “win” so I can get more shows like Game of Thrones at the expense of small, independent productions like “The Overnighters.” Nor would I want independent filmmakers to multiply at the cost of losing the big budget, high-quality television that enriches home entertainment. I guess we’re looking at the best of times as long as each can grow and succeed as a complement to the other.

avatar_646Stacey Woelfel is a 2013-2014 Donald W. Reynolds Fellow and the news director of KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate at the University of Missouri. As a Reynolds Fellow, Woelfel is wanting to add a richer experience to traditional linear television news consumption by developing and exploring second-screen engagement opportunities at KOMU. Second-screen viewing means audience members are using a mobile device to view content while watching news broadcasts. Click here to learn more. 

Being Where the Consumers Want Us

April 26, 2014 1 comment

 -first posted at on January 10, 2014

I usually spend time at the Las Vegas Convention Center in April to attend the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual convention and trade show.

A retailer shows tablet stands for bedroom use at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

In many ways, it’s much like the CES, with row after row of electronic gadgets lined up for inspection. At the NAB, those devices are focused exclusively on newsgathering and delivery. But I’ve been fascinated at CES to see all the additional tech and accessories aimed at the consumers themselves. And as I’ve stopped to inspect a lot of what’s on display, I’ve developed a content focus model that’s not strictly journalism, but would allow those of us who are content production experts to be more readily available for consumers—and right where they want us.
When I talk about “where” the consumers want us, I’m really talking most of the time in a literal sense. Many of the accessories on display are about taking mobile devices to places where they haven’t gone before. And if the devices are going to travel, their users are going to want content when they arrive. That’s where we come in.

Since my field is television news, let me start with a very simple example in that medium to show what I’m talking about. A company called CTA Digital used the show to roll out a whole line of products to take your iPad or other tablet to places in the house other than your lap. The company has a paper towel holder that grips your tablet at the top, a toilet paper holder that will hold your iPad next to the toilet (and yes, I know some of you are disturbed by that),

images_kitchen2_0A cutting board fits an iPad for kitchen use at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
and two different cutting boards that stand an iPad right above the cutting surface (and now that I know you are thinking it already, yes, there is a clear screen to protect the tablet from errant knife strokes). Let’s just focus on the cutting boards for this example. One could, of course, use them to watch streaming news while preparing a meal. That would require a television station to stream its newscast or a consumer to have a personal streaming option like Slingbox. Those are a couple of hurdles for a television news provider to overcome—not insurmountable—but still hurdles all the same. That person could probably much more easily watch Netflix or Hulu on the tablet, as well as going to non-video options like recipes.

But what if local broadcasters used their brand name and power to program precisely to that iPad-owning chef with knife in hand? We’re already the local content experts with a name our viewers know and trust far higher than any non-local media brands. So let’s combine the convenience of the having a media player right in front of this consumer, a desire to have cooking-related media, and our knowledge of the local area and video production skills to produce downloadable recipes from the chefs at the best restaurants in our viewing area. Is this journalism? No, not at all. But our television stations have been more than journalism to our viewers for as long as we’ve been around. We’re community service, public safety, entertainment and more to our audiences. There’s no reason they won’t put us at the top of the list to get video cooking and food information. That is, if we provide it.

So why should we? It’s not journalism. Providing a hot, new way to cook salmon will not make the democracy run better. We should consider doing it for two far less lofty goals—to strengthen and maintain the brand, and to make money. That brand strengthening is no small mission. We have the sturdy brands we have now as local broadcasters because we built them day by day over the last 60 years. It took a long time—and that was when it was a lot easier. My station, KOMU-TV, was the only channel broadcasting when it began in 1953, one of only two for nearly twenty years, and still had very little competition until cable TV arrived. We have lots of competition now, and new consumers won’t turn to us automatically as their parents and grandparents once did. In terms of this micro-“broadcasting” being a moneymaker, we’re going to have to work at that. We are used to smaller audiences now and have done a good job making an advertiser-funded model hold up under those downward pressures. That’s probably not exactly the model that will work with the kind of programming I’m talking about, but some sort of advertiser/subscriber/user-generated model probably would work (though this is not the space in which to work that out now).
Where else might this approach work as a way to support and strengthen our brand? Walking the floor at CES, it was easy for me to see a product and start to think about how we would adapt what we do to capitalize upon it. Here are a few:

images_car_1The touchscreen dashboard of an Inifinti sedan downloads consumer entertainment content
  • Most of the luxury car makers are showing models that have built-in tablet-like interfaces that allow owners to download content to supplement manufacturer amenities and apps. Why not produce one-day trip travel “stories” families can download and view while traveling to their destinations? (Drivers, please watch the road and not the video screen.) And that sort of content need not be limited to luxury car owners. Several other accessories manufacturers were showing tablet-mounting systems to put a tablet in the driver cockpit even if you can’t afford a Tesla.
  • Outdoor activities were a big deal at the show, with everything necessary to take your tablet along with you on your biking/hunting/camping/skiing trip. We could produce a video tour of the best local biking trails that highlights where to start, the best places to stop and see the view, plus historical and natural interest. Whether that iPad goes mounted right on the handlebars or just slips into a backpack to view during a rest stop, our brand would still be there.
  • The wireless fitness market had aisle upon aisle of devices to measure a user’s health and fitness efforts, lead them through a new exercise routine, or help them develop better sleeping habits. One of our main strengths—a stable of news and other on-air talent—could bring a celebrity touch to fitness efforts done with the help of mobile technology. Local talent could lead exercise efforts, narrate fitness routines, or share health and fitness information to consume while working out. Again, this approach would tap our own unique position of having local celebrities to carry forward the brand into these new content areas.
images_stand_0Another iPad stand on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

Now, most of you reading this are journalists, I know, and the idea of your being involved in producing cooking segments if probably getting lukewarm reception at best. But, as a media branch that has made its money being all things to all people for so many years, is this really so far away from what we have always done? As long as we keep the journalists working on important, local, enterprise reporting, we can build the business models for these new content channels to employ those who want to produce just that kind of content.

As the CES wrapped up this year, I was back on the floor for its final day. Looking across literally thousands of companies—many of which I had never heard of before arriving in Las Vegas on Tuesday—I wondered how many of them would still be in business for CES 2015 in 12 months. Many of them lack the good ideas, the capitalization, or just the plain old momentum to keep moving forward. We, as local broadcasters, have the momentum of decades of good work to keep us moving—for now. We just need to find those little pushes that will keep us moving forward, reinventing as we go.

avatar_646Stacey Woelfel is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. He serves as the news director of KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate at the University of Missouri. In addition, Woelfel has previously held the position of national chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

Woelfel’s project is intended to add a richer experience to traditional linear television news consumption by developing and exploring second screen engagement opportunities. Second screen viewing means audience members are using a mobile device to view content while watching news broadcasts.

Rethinking Second Screen Size

-first posted at on January 9, 2014

Deep into my project as a Reynolds Fellow to find a local news workflow and approach to providing “second screen” content during newscasts, I was keenly focused as I walked the floor at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, keeping my eyes peeled for any technology that might make me think differently about just how people will use the content we distribute. Tablet technology, perhaps the most common way people access second screen content when watching first screen television programs, is in abundance at the show. The industry leaders have all their best on display–Samsung, Panasonic, Lenovo—and all have impressive models out for 2014 with sharper displays, lighter weight and bigger size, and better software options. Those size and software changes aim to increase the usefulness of the devices for a wider array of tasks, including losing what has been a staple for many of us. Samsung’s Anthony Wilkerson said of that company’s tablets, “People are really looking for the laptop replacement experience.”

Users try out the new Galaxy Note Pro tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

For Samsung, that comes with the Galaxy Note Pro and Galaxy Tab Pro, 12.2-inch tablets that carry an Android-based productivity suite as a replacement for your laptop’s Microsoft Office. The Hancom Office tools look so much like their Microsoft competitor that it is hard to tell which software you are using when on the device. Wilkerson touted the size of the device as being perfect for its virtual keyboard, lining up with the size of my hands pretty well. But should you like the tactile sense of typing, Samsung has a Bluetooth keyboard and even a mouse available to help the tablet seem more and more like the laptop that’s been replaced.

If Samsung has a tablet that acts like a laptop, across the convention center, competitor LG wants its tablet to come off a bit more like your phone. The LG G Pad 8.3 sells itself as a tablet with a bezel so small it allows you a one-handed grip with fingers on either side of the device—much like you use when holding your much-smaller phone.

The LG G Pad 8.3 fits easily in my grip at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

LG’s massive and ultra-sharp televisions have been a hit of the show, but the corner of its display with tablets and phones is crowded all the time as attendees weigh options for next generation tablet devices. Both the Samsung “we’re more like your laptop” and the LG “we’re more like your phone” approaches will undoubtedly win over large groups of users who expect a certain form and function to meet their needs. But my wheels about the best second screen tablet device really got turning when I visited the Sony area to see—not its Xperia line of tablets—but the company’s VAIO Tap touchscreen PCs. Available in sizes up to 21 inches, the Tap models are desktop computers that incorporate the best of a laptop and a tablet in one. More on those features in a moment, because it’s important to note at this point my wheels were turning in a different direction than they had at Samsung or LG. For me, the best second screen experience might come from not from having your tablet act like it’s your laptop or phone. The best experience might come from having your desktop act like it’s your tablet.

So all this make sense, let me give you a bit more about how the VAIO Tap 21 works. It uses an all-in-one form factor, with keyboard and mouse attachment optional. Human interaction comes through a touchscreen and the Windows 8 operating system, already giving the user a tablet feel when navigating through the device. “It can fit into anything you need on a regular basis through your daily life,” said Sony’s Yuji Hamada. About the size of a cafeteria tray, the computer is light and boasts portability through a quick-disconnect power cord and a built-in stand that adjusts at infinite levels from flat to practically vertical.

images_sonySony shows off its new tablets and computers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

And it was that unique stand approach that really gave me the idea of its value for second screen use. Because, when I shifted it to the flat mode (which just took a hand on each side and a push backwards), I ended up with what then appeared to me to be the world’s largest tablet. Compare it to the already-big Samsung Galaxy Note Pro and its 12.2-inch screen. That one totals about 75 square inches of screen space. But the VIAO Tap 21 comes in at a whopping 244 square inches of screen space. With the computer folded flat, it would fit comfortably on your lap (though Hamada looked at me pretty strangely when I suggested that).

So, what would a giant tablet in your lap allow you to do in a second-screen world? Imagine that square footage right at your fingertips. Much of our discussion around the SIDE (Simultaneous Interactivity Display Engine) project at RJI has centered on just what we can fit into the design for our second screen news experience. We are building it for optimal use on a tablet-sized device or a laptop, rather than a phone. We ruled out phone use rather early because of the design limitations involved. But a screen more than three times larger than the biggest tablet would allow a much richer user experience. Consider this: our current focus is on a “center stage” area on the user’s tablet where the bulk of the interaction with newscast content would take place.

A spokesman highlights the features of Samsung Galaxy tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show 

That center stage will be surrounded by a number of side experiences, like polling and socials media interaction. But imagine the multiplying effect we would receive with much more space. Not only could center stage grow, but the number of side experiences would expand to allow users to have greater choice in how they interact and to multitask across several functions—all while still watching the main program on their traditional televisions.

But why limit a device this size to being the second screen? With a large surface, we could move the main “broadcast” to one corner of the screen, allowing it to be the conduit for both the linear and interactive news content from the station. No longer would it be the second screen. In that scenario, it becomes the first and only screen, and surpasses the current models of multiscreen viewing.

These are next steps, but still fascinating to contemplate. I know that not everyone will go out and buy a Sony VAIO Tap 21. I know that not everyone wants a busy, moving, multi-focus experience when watching the news. And I certain know that a giant PC/tablet in the lap won’t be ideal for everyone. But these explorations at CES help underline a sentiment I’ve held since beginning this project, that we are not developing the one and only path down which news distribution will go. Instead, we are trying to invent one of many paths along which consumers can travel. All the tablets on display here in Las Vegas, from companies as diverse as Polaroid and Intel, mean the technology will continue to diffuse across the landscape in many different forms and functions. Early innovators like Apple and Samsung made their mark in determining the basic style of much of what we see now—even generations later. But just as I could see a Sony desktop machine and picture it as a tablet, millions of users will take those protean designs and adapt and alter them to their ultimate desired function. The challenge for us as news content producers is to figure out how to be where the consumers are, and arrive about the same time they do.

avatar_646Stacey Woelfel is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. He serves as the news director of KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate at the University of Missouri. In addition, Woelfel has previously held the position of national chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

Woelfel’s project is intended to add a richer experience to traditional linear television news consumption by developing and exploring second screen engagement opportunities. Second screen viewing means audience members are using a mobile device to view content while watching news broadcasts.


Get Ready for WNG

-first posted at on January 8, 2014

Television journalists who first cut their teeth with film cameras, processing runs, and moviola splicing tables welcomed the advent of ENG in our newsrooms as a great step forward. If you don’t know the term, which dates back nearly 40 years, “ENG” stands for “electronic news gathering.” It describes the tools used to move television news from film to video, including portable video cameras in the field (first called “minicams”), tape-to-tape editing equipment, and live broadcasting through microwave or satellite transmission. Much of this technology still exists, though cameras have gone digital, editing has gone non-linear, and live broadcasting has gone cellular.

Evident on the floor of the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is the next wave of newsgathering gear, something I like to call “WNG” or “wearable news gathering.” Wearable technology is a big part of the show this year, from the health and fitness market to the gaming industry. But much of this technology we can now don has promise for journalists in the field—and not just those working in television.

Clearly the biggest entry in this market is the wearable HD video camera.

A vendor explains the latest GoPro camera at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada

It seems like a strange term to use for a company that has only been selling its popular line of “Hero” camera for four years, but GoPro is the venerable leader in the market, setting the standard for all others to follow. The tiny HD Hero cameras can be worn through standard head or chest mounts, and have become ubiquitous for action sports and adventure seekers. Most news use of the cameras has come with mounts on cars, bikes, and other moving vehicles. The cameras record on micro SD cards and, while they don’t provide live video in any easy-to-broadcast way, they can produce recorded HD video and quality audio quickly in breaking news events. Prices start around $200 for the cameras, putting them in reach for most journalists who want to strap one on and shoot. Already the market leader for this type of video capture technology in the HD market, GoPro is soon launching the Hero 4 model with full 4K video (four times the resolution of HD video) at a 30 frames per second recording rate. 4K won’t see much news use in the near future, but the pending release of the camera means GoPro will continue to lead the wearable camera market.

But having a strong leader in the market doesn’t mean other innovation won’t happen, and the CES floor shows evidence of several manufacturers looking to copy or improve on the successful GoPro Hero design. Electronics and music retailer Monoprice has aimed to undercut GoPro on price and developed the

Monoprice MHD Sport Wifi

MHS Sport Wifi camera that shoots 1080p/30fps video like GoPro, but does it starting about $25 less in price. And the MHD cameras come with another piece of wearable technology—a wristwatch-style remote control that connects by WiFi to the camera for operation. The camera has almost the same form factor as the Hero from GoPro, meaning it also wears best on forehead or chest.
Elmo’s QBiC hands-free camera looks to outdo GoPro by going wider, with a remarkable 185 degree view (for comparison, GoPro’s Hero cameras have a 170 degree view). The QBiC uses a fairly low-tech mounting system for wearing, a cloth elastic belt that can go around arms or other body parts. Similarly, the Muvi line of camera from Veho goes for wearability through an ultra-small SD camera that’s about the size of a large paperclip, as well as a more standard HD model with a somewhat sleeker form factor than the square-ish GoPro and its imitators.

Moving away from the strap-on design with some of its models, Liquid Image builds its cameras directly into ski and sport goggles, putting the lens right above and between the wearer’s eyes. The company also has an entry in the market of the small, square camera with its Ego line, which boasts similar wearing options as GoPro, and also delivers video via WiFi to allow remote control and viewing via smartphone or tablet as GoPro does with its WiFi capabilities.

With the prices on many of these cameras as low as $100 or less, just about any journalist can look at them as a tool—even for smaller blogs and projects that aren’t broadcast television. But that WiFi connectivity in some models may be an important specification to take the cameras from smaller scale recorded stories to real newsgathering tools for broadcasters.

Panasonic HX-A100

The Panasonic HX-A100, which features perhaps the best option for wearing a camera–an over-the-ear harness that puts the cigar-shaped camera right out alongside one eye for easiest pointing, offers what the company calls “live broadcasting” to the internet through its WiFi connectivity and the use of a third party host, in this case, Ustream. Since the connection for this and other cameras requires WiFi, there is no direct cellular connection as with many of the popular ENG backpack solutions like LiveU or Dejero. Live broadcasting the field away from WiFi would require tethering to a phone for that last link.

Will reporters for TV stations, newspapers, online sites, and other journalistic endeavors be wearing cameras to all stories? Probably not any time soon. Innovators like those behind Google Glass predict a world with wearable tech for everyone—not just journalists. That level of tech diffusion is probably inevitable. But the high prices of the tech—like Google Glass’ current hefty retail cost—mean it will be a while before everyone is wearing a wire of some sort. But the democratization of cheap, easy to use, and high quality video cameras any journalist can wear now means there is a revolution just around the corner. The WNG revolution won’t fully supplant the ENG generation as ENG itself once did to film technology in news. More likely the two will exist side by side, mating technology where possible to ease workflow. The connecting of WiFi from small wearable cameras to existing cellular live remote news gathering would be one way to do that. A WiFi connection, for instance, from a Panasonic HX-A100 to a TV station’s live celluar backpack rig could put the video back to go on the air live as part of the regular broadcast. The marriage of ENG and WNG should be a happy one—after some initial awkward moments of how to work with one another.

What’s the next step after WNG? Clearly the evolution of hold-able technology led to wearable technology. So wearable tech should evolve to implanted tech a journalist never needs to take off, charge, or remove—call it “ING” or “implanted news gathering.” An implant camera in one eye, with headphones built into your tympanic nerves, perhaps? If that tech is here, it’s still a secret. But soon, we may all have to start looking more closely at the eyes and ears of the reporters we meet.

avatar_646Stacey Woelfel is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. He serves as the news director of KOMU-TV, the NBC affiliate at the University of Missouri. In addition, Woelfel has previously held the position of national chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

Woelfel’s project is intended to add a richer experience to traditional linear television news consumption by developing and exploring second screen engagement opportunities. Second screen viewing means audience members are using a mobile device to view content while watching news broadcasts.

– See more at:


The Whats and Hows of Teaching Broadcast Journalism

-first posted at on June 23, 2010

Broadcast journalism education has long been defined by two questions:

-What do we teach?

-How do we teach?

For many years, the easier question to answer was the first one.  Broadcast news—and I’ll focus my thoughts primarily on television here—was a closed system.  There were a finite number of skills to be learned that earned entry into the system.  To be a TV journalist, one had to learn the basic who, what, why, when, where, and how of journalism, learn the technology of film (and later, video), and learn the rhythm of the daily newscast cycle.  This skill set was a reasonably small target to find and hit.  And it had its roots in teaching history that went way back.  The 5 W’s of journalism can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, who worked to classify the search for knowledge through inquiry.  Literally millennia of teachers and professors had perfected the approach to questioning before it entered the field of modern journalism.  And journalists and journalism professors alike made quick work of incorporating into the reporter’s craft.   Camera and editing technology, too, were borrowed from a related field—in this case the motion picture industry.  The film cameras and editing equipment first used for television news had been the tools of the newsreel cameraman for decades.  Again, it was easy for the industry and academia both to adopt the knowledge that already existed to teach this part of the discipline.

The structure of the newscast day was one part of the old school mix that didn’t come from another source.  Sure, newspapers had their daily deadlines.  But the TV news cycle was unique.  It focused not only on the publication time—newscast time—but also on all of the absolute deadlines leading up to that one.  News managers had to account for travel time to shoot stories, processing time for film, the time to write and rip scripts, and time for directors and other technical staff to get up to speed on the newscasts themselves.  It was a more complex deadline system than had come before, but was also fairly set in concrete for newsrooms to operate and professors to teach.

And teach they did.  That skill set answered the “what do we teach?” question completely, outlining a curriculum for nearly every broadcast journalism educator to follow.   The “how do we teach?” part of the equation was not so easy to fill.  The world’s first video news camera (remember when we called them “mini-cams?”) was the RCA TK-76.  The one I used in Florida in the early 80s cost $50,000 when it was new.  Colleges and universities could hardly afford to buy a dozen of those to put in the hands of students.  Beyond that, most could not simulate the daily news deadlines of the newsrooms for which they were preparing students.  The staff size and real-world pressures didn’t exist on most college campuses.  Without these tools at their disposal, most schools turned toward home video cameras and laboratory newscasts to train their students.  That left a gap between what students knew and were prepared to do and what their first employers expected of them.  That gap was often closed quickly through the necessity of swimming rather than sinking once thrown into the new job.  Those of you reading this article survived.  But some did not.  And they may have been worth saving.

Today, broadcast journalism education has flipped from what it was when many of us first learned this craft.  The democratization of broadcasting equipment has answered the “how do we teach?” question.  That same $50,000 used to buy my TK-76 back in Orlando could now literally buy 500 small, handheld HD cameras like the Kodak ZxD.  Multiple edit decks costing thousands themselves can now be replaced with a $1000 laptop and software.  Schools can equip their teaching newsrooms to the hilt—or even require students to buy their own camera and editing gear just as they would textbooks.

But the “what do we teach?” question, the one that was so easy to answer before, has become impossible to answer correctly.  Sure, the 5 W’s are still worth teaching.  But what about the value of social media posting, crowd sourcing, audience comments, and more?  The news cycle in the newsroom is no longer built for the evening newscast.  Morning casts mean just as much, if not more, than their evening counterparts.  And the web has made us all continuous publishers anyway.  Even the need to learn certain technical skills has been blurred by the need for everyone to be a reporter/photographer/editor/poster.  Journalists find it hard to specialize in what they love most and stick to it.

Journalism professional and journalism professors face a perilous time now where they may not be able to match the other’s needs enough to meet in the middle.  Newsroom managers need to figure out the new news cycle of their newsrooms and the roles each member will play in them.  I’m not saying it should be set in stone—I’m not sure anything in our industry will ever be permanent again.  I’m talking about a somewhat definable expectation of what role each journalist has in the newsroom.  I took a stab at that a few months ago by suggesting a series of tiers through which journalists could work in the newsroom (  Under the system I laid out, schools could prepare students to enter that first tier and they’d be ready—for any market in the country to matter how large or small.  That’s not the only system that would work, but it does give schools a fighting change to prepare people for work.  The biggest question in that are remains whether to prepare people to be Jacks and Jills of all trades and do a little bit of everything in the newsroom, or whether newsrooms will keep specialists in certain areas and hire the best-trained college graduates for those specialties.  Until that question is resolved and as long as stations do it both ways, many good people leave college with too little—or too much—training to match with the jobs out there.  And that’s a waste.

For their part, academics need to be sure they’re connecting with the industry and teaching what the professionals say they need.  It’s very tempting these days to take your students and experiment with the latest in social media, alternative delivery, and more.  In fact, colleges should be experimenting and even inventing the future.  But that can’t take place in exchange for all connections to the real world.  Individual educators enamored of the bright lights and unlimited promise of the changing media world need to keep one hand firmly on the reality rail.  Academic experimentation can’t entirely replace practical journalism education.

The old ways were comfortable and, I would argue, actually hold the key to figure out where we are headed now.  Keep in mind that old focus on the rhythm and routine of the news day.  Things are not as static as they once were, but the old focus on regular and reliable delivery is still as sharp now as it was then.  Educators should build this sense of reliability into their students.  And professionals need to communicate with educators just what students will be doing so that they can push them in the right direction.

“What do we teach” and “How do we teach” should now be joined with a third question of “Why do we teach” to fill out the equation.  That missing element of why we train students to do what they do—for what purpose will they work—is key to schools remaining relevant and professionals finding who they need.  Those three questions will carry us through a lot of change ahead.

The Millennials

-first published in RTDNA Communicator magazine, September 2007

J. J. Murray has a battle on his hands.  It’s a battle of wills and a battle of wits.  And he fights it constantly with every job seeker he encounters as news director at KIMT-TV in Mason City, Iowa.  Murray hires a lot of entry-level talent straight out of college.  Those young journalists are part of the Millennial Generation, and it’s a generation different that Murray has seen in his years in news management and teaching.

“Some on the first week on the job have battled me on what they think is right and wrong, instead of being here to learn,” Murray says.  He tells the story of one reporter who wanted to argue the finer points of copy editing in the middle of Murray’s review.  The reporter put a person’s name before his title.  When Murray told him he preferred to have the title precede the name and that was common style for script writing, the reporter continued to disagree.  “This was the person’s first or second week on the job,” Murray says.  “He wasn’t open to learning.”

While once it was journalists who defined the generations in which we lived, be it the Viet Nam Generation or the Watergate Generation, it now appears the moving force has shifted to the generations themselves as they shape the newsrooms they’ll populate.  The current crop of young twenty-somethings is part of a generation researchers say is unlike any that preceded it. The steadfastness to a learned set of rules Murray has observed is just one element of the differences in this generation that news managers will need to recognize.  Generational researchers say news directors have a lot to learn about what attracts and motivates most of the applicants they will see in the coming decade.

The Millennial Generation is a controversial one—even in its naming.  Trend watchers first referred to it as “Generation Y,” connecting it to its predecessor, Generation X.  Gen Xers—born in the 20 years following the Baby Boom—were characterized as pessimistic, cynical, self-centered individuals with a mistrust of values and authority.  But this new generation—born starting in around 1982—was far from an echo of dark Generation X.  Research pegged Millennials as accepting of authority, craving feedback and constant positive reinforcement.  That 180-degree difference from Gen X—along with a strong objection from Millennials themselves to be named as a follow-up to the previous generation—left researchers struggling for the right label for the group.  Terms such as “Generation Next” and the “Internet Generation” showed up in research and popular media.  But seminal researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss called the group “the Millennials” in 1991 citing its difference from Generation X and its looming impact on the 21st Century.

Howe and Strauss characterized members of this new generation as making an about face on nearly every expectation America had grown to have of its teenagers and young adults.  Surveying the generation in 2000, Howe and Strauss found lower teen pregnancy rates, less violence and gang activity, lower drug use, and higher SAT and other academic test scores.  The researchers said Millennials were avoiding trouble and achieving more because they respected and admired their parents, trusted the government and respected the rules, and were optimistic about the future they would help shape.

Fast forward half a dozen years or so, and the oldest Millennials had graduated from college and entered the workforce.  How would these idealistic high schoolers react to the stress of a full-time job?  Molly Epstein, an associate professor at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta, says the same optimism still pervades the attitude of young, Millennial Generation workers.  Epstein describes the working Millennials as employees who see themselves as special, expecting to get individual attention for the work done in the course of each day.   Credit an older generation of parents for imparting this sense of entitlement to the Millennials.  Often called “helicopter parents” for the way the hover over their children, these Baby Boomer parents focused so much attention on their kids, the children feel special and expect close relationships with elders.

Remember the “Baby on Board” signs?  The Millennials were the tots on the other side of that warning.  Parents sheltered these children, stressing restrictions and boundaries to stay safe and steer clear of trouble.  As a result, Epstein says, Millennials play by the rules and expect those rules and the authority behind them to keep everything in check.  “The Millennial Generation really feels comfortable approaching adults and asking for advice,” says Epstein.  They trust authority figures and expect those in charge will always do what’s right.

Finally, Epstein paints Millennials as a confident bunch.  Their comfort around those older and in authority, coupled with the mentality that they deserve special attention, allows them to ask for help—and expect it.  Millennials are optimistic about their future and the world they’re building, and confident that can achieve much in life.  They expect parents, bosses, and peers to share that optimism and confidence.

That’s what the researchers say about members of the Millennial Generation, but what do they say about themselves?  Those studying journalism in college now and those who’ve just entered the field of broadcast news are members of this group.  Many at least partly accept the labels placed by academics looking to place them among the other generations.  Jordan LaPier is a senior at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.  “The characterizations of the generation are somewhat true.  We were raised to not be personally responsible and to feel entitled,” says LaPier.  “A lot of people my age struggle with.  Those who don’t just don’t realize it yet.  I want to hear form somebody I’m doing a good job.”   But LaPier argues that he is a self-starter—which goes against type for his generation.  After working as a supervisor for the school’s broadcasts, LaPier spent this summer as an on-line reporter at Phoenix’s Arizona Republic newspaper.  “It was exciting for me to take something I don’t know about and start learning about it,” LaPier says.  “I’ve picked up so much of this on my own.”

That confidence, of course, rings true with Epstein’s model of his age group.  But a strong sense of personal worth is often a ticket to disappointment for Millennials.  “I had my expectations way to high,” says Lauren Williamson of her reporter job search.  Williamson graduated from the University of North Texas and began looking for work.  “The pay was lower than I suspected,” she says.  Williamson said a trip to the RTNDA convention in April set her straight on what she could expect to make, as well as where she might earn that paycheck.  “I had worked in Dallas (while in school) and thought I should be able to get into a top 100 market,” Williamson says.  “The convention showed me that was not the way it works, and that it’s good to go smaller.”  She is now a reporter for KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi, Texas and says the station gave her what she wanted—that all-important opportunity for a Millennial to find mentors.  “I wanted good coworkers, not all recent graduates,” she says.  “I needed some role models who I could find to be mentors.”

That need for a close, nurturing relationship with the boss is echoed by Jackie Cutler, a graduate of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.  “I think, for the first job, I am pretty much looking for an environment that is mentoring—a chance to learn about reporting,” says Cutler.  In fact she found a way to find that sort of feedback-rich environment before she even began her formal job hunt, first earning an Ed Bradley Undergraduate Scholarship from RTNDF in her senior year, and then taking a spot in an NBC News Fellowship program through the summer after her graduation.  For Cutler, that permanent employer will have to earn the right to be her mentor, being “flexible, open minded, and not stuck in their ways.”  Cutler wants an employer who is, “open for the perspective I could bring to the table.  My future boss must be a good resource, have connections, and have lived a life their asking their reporters to live,” she says.

More than just mentors, Millennials crave that security and safety their parents provided them as children.  Rachel Gartner, a master’s graduate of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, says that’s one of her main needs at her first job.  “I’m looking for something that is very secure,” she says.  Gartner says her station needs to have already made the transition to digital to secure a technical future.  And she wants financial stability for the station, too.  “A job where they are secure in the market—known for professionalism,” means a great deal to her.  And that financial security must extend to her salary and benefits.  Says Gartner, “Something that has a good base salary and benefits is important.  I know the salary is gong to range from market to market, but I’m looking for $25,000 starting out.  And health insurance is right up there for me.”

Financial security is often a turning point for many Millennials who are trying to decide if a career in broadcast news can provide everything they want.  For some, like Williamson, the money takes a back seat to the other aspects she needed finding a job.  “Pay was kind of disappointing,” she says.  “I thought that ‘Maybe I don’t want to do the news business.’  I looked at some PR jobs and the pay was about $15000 more than I ended up getting,” she says.  Williamson says she considered an offer from Shell Oil to do corporate communications, but came back to a love for news.  For Angela Smith, a reporter/anchor at “St. Joe Live” in St. Joseph, Missouri, the bottom line played a large role in her decision to stick with news.  “I also had a minor in public relations, so I started to look at a lot of different things,” says Smith.  Living in St. Joseph is relatively cheap, so Smith had to decide if she would relocate for a job.  “I had a job in Kansas City that was offered to me.  It was a marketing and PR job.  Six days a week, 70-80 hours a week.  No extra pay.”  And there would be the expense of moving away from home and renting a place in a big city.  Says Smith, “The cost issue was a big one, too.”

Financial security, strong mentors, a feeling of being someone special—Millennials have brought needs to the job hunt that are new to those who’ve helped place graduates in their first jobs.  Phousavanh Sengsavanh runs the placement efforts at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  She’s noticed some common traits in many graduates seeking work.  “Students are individuals, of course, but a lot of them have unrealistic expectations.”   Says Sengsavanh, “This generation seems to have a sense of entitlement.  They think that a degree is enough.”  That sense of entitlement, believes Sengsavanh, often leads students to be surprised by the realities of pay and job conditions, as do the secure homes from which they come.  “Higher pay is the real desire the students want.  They are accustomed to having more,’ says Sengsavanh.  She says the graduating broadcast students want a state of the art newsroom with all the latest technological advancements.  When they find stations that lack the most modern tools, it shocks them.   “Some are surprised at how low things are,” says Sengsavanh.  “Some are pretty realistic, they know this is the route, but some can’t believe it’s that way after 20 years.”

With far more than 20 years of news management experience, Dave Vincent says he’s staying positive about the changing nature of people seeking their first job with him at WLOX-TV in Biloxi, Mississippi.  “There are lots of good people out there.  You just have to look,” says Vincent.  His take on the Millennials he’s interviewing is that they have some sense of entitlement, most often exhibited in the belief that a degree in journalism or communications is enough.  “I like to make sure they’ve had an internship or some practical experience,” says Vincent.  “They have degrees, but it’s all theory.  They have not had practical experience.”  He also sees too many who want to anchor first, feeling the right to do right out of school, rather than earning a spot on the desk.

Millennials love for predefined rules and procedures might also, in Vincent’s view, be chipping away at one of a journalist’s most prized traits.  “I don’t see enough people that really are as curious as I would like,” says Vincent.  “I don’t think this generation is as curious as the last couple of generations.”  That lack of curiosity is something Vincent finds hard to teach to his news recruits, as is passion for the profession.  “It’s more a job than a calling.  For my generation, it was something we really aspired to do.”  Vincent says, for many of the folks he interviews now, journalism is “just a job.”  Jill Jensen at KQTV in St. Joseph, Missouri has seen the same trend.  “Newborn broadcasters seem so timid these days and not so curious, as back in my day,” Jensen says.  “I’m closer to fifty than I am to forty, but still seem to have more passion and zest for this job than some of the recruits who come through the door.”

Another long time news director, John Petersen at KOTA-TV in Rapid City, South Dakota has seen that growing need among his Millennial employees to hear how they are doing.  “These kids want instant feedback,” says Petersen.  “They want to know every week.  Which is good.  I try to take the time to do it.”  Petersen says.  His counterpart at WBOY-TV in Clarksburg, West Virginia agrees.  News Director Aaron Williams says he wants coachable employees, and the Millennials are certainly that.  “I think we get a good amount of people that have a lot to learn, know it, and want the coaching,” says Williams.  “I’m surprised.”

As news directors recognize the differences in the next generation, so too, they say, should students and young journalists recognize the weaknesses being a member of that generation brings.  Scott Nichols, news director at WETM-TV in Elmira, New York says there are still a lot of people coming out of college who want each job that’s out there, and the sense of teamwork Millennials feel may not serve them well.  “People in college who are reading this now should look around and see that they are better than the competition.”  Epstein tells us Millennials are often more about group, rather than individual, achievement.  So that spirit of competition may not be terribly strong in them.  Sengsavanh has seen it too in her placement efforts.  “Some students are still a little more casual in their approach to the job search.”  She and many news directors urge them to be more active and aggressive in the source.  And that’s a lesson their teachers can learn as well says News Director Nic Moye of KOHD-TV in Bend, Oregon.  She wants early mentors—college professors—to be honest with the students who’ve given them their trust.  She says the best applicants she’s seen putting together a brand new newsroom are the ones who know where they stand.  Moye says, “Teachers who are brutally honest with students have done them a favor.”  She’s interviewed some applicants after a trusted professor has told the person he or she does not belong on the air.  “I appreciate that honesty,” Moye says.

And for news directors and other managers who’ll have to develop an army of Millennials to staff their newsrooms in the coming decades, honesty is a starting point.  Epstein suggests those managers begin with an honest assessment of their own traits.  Most news managers, she points out, are members of Generation X.  And Gen X and Millennials do not mix very well, so the relationship can be strained at the start.  “There is a real disconnect between the two groups,” Epstein says.  The need to set up mentoring relationships may be one of the hardest differences to bridge.  “Gen Xers do not have a lot of faith in anyone.  So when a Millennial employee comes to a Gen X manager and starts to ask for personal advice, the Gen Xer instantly wonders ‘why would you trust the organization?’” Epstein says.   She says Gen Xers want portable skills independent of their organization, while Millennials want to be part of that organization.  “They crave that sense of loyalty and connection and group,” Epstein says, and the Gen X manager must provide it to help the Millennial succeed.  And even with the potential for conflict, the process can work.  Jim Flink’s day job is as an anchor and reporter at KMBC-TV in Kansas City.  But he moonlights as an instructor at Park University and has witnessed successful relationships between young Millennials and older managers.  He cites Jill Jensen in St. Joseph.  Flink describes a partnership that set up a mentoring system with results.  “Jill was interested and engaged in her interns.  She wasn’t hands-on with them every day, but she made mental notes and passed those on (to me),” Flink says.  “I was able to create a master plan for each student.”   Building that sort of system to mentor Millennials is important, says Epstein—particularly where one may not have existed for the older generation.  Epstein says Gen Xers look at the needs of Millennials and often question the need.  “’No one did it for us’ is often what Gen X managers think,” says Epstein.  “Gen Xers have huge chip on their shoulders.  There is anger.”

Working through the innate conflict between Gen X managers and Millennial employees is important, says Epstein, so that managers can then focus on the basic needs those employees have.  Epstein says managers have three steps to succeed in leading Millennials.  First, set up a system that makes it possible for new Millennial employees to set up a personal relationship with those in authority.  If Millennials feel they can have a meaningful connection with the boss, they will react with zeal for the position.  Second, develop a regular input, feedback, and recognition system that gives new employees daily or weekly ideas on how they are doing.  Epstein suggests station look into the “360 Degree Performance Review” method, which brings all employees into the evaluation process, not just the immediate supervisor.  Finally, Epstein recommends stations develop clear rules and paths, which the Millennials can use to perform daily duties.  The comfort level that have with following the rules and meeting guidelines will help them excel in this sort of rigidly-defined framework.

J. J. Murray has found a way to put that comfort with order and instructions to use in screening his new applicants.  He has a 50 question written test he gives each one before he’ll continue the hiring process.  “Some don’t know the senators in their own home state,” Murray says.  “Some news directors have given up on this.”  But Murray hasn’t.  He says the employees that get past the test and do well in an interview get a very clear message from him regarding what their workload will be and what skills they will have to use on the job.  Once working, they have writing and stories scored on an objective scale.  And they get one more thing that any Millennial would find to be vital.  Murray promises to teach them and mentor them on a job they’ll find challenging.  By doing so, he’s begun to bridge the latest—and perhaps greatest—Generation Gap local newsrooms have ever faced.

What TV News Can Learn from “Lost”

-first posted at on May 25, 2010

Don’t fear TV news professionals, this will not be a long rant about the last episode of Lost, what the numbers “4 8 15 15 23 42” meant, or whether Ben Linus is really an on-the-beach news director (though he does seem to have the right personality for it).  But in the wake of the series finale, I did want to muse a bit over television success and what we can all learn from J.J. Abrams and his cohorts about how to make our medium shine.

As you probably can tell from that opening paragraph, I’ve been a fan of Lost for its entire six-year run.  Sure, it’s stumbled from time to time.  But in the end, its 120 episodes continued to engage us week after week, bringing us back for fear we’d miss something unforgettable.  I don’t know about you, but I want my newscasts to do the same for my viewers.  To that end, I’ve analyzed the success of Lost and have these elements that we all can use to make our newscasts just as enthralling.

First and foremost, Lost continued to surprise us.  The show meandered down a path that did lead, more or less, to its conclusion.  But oh, what a trip it was to get there.  No one watching the first episode could have predicted what was coming in the second, much less seasons later.  Part of what brought viewers back week after week was the unpredictability of the show.  It was magnetic.  Now think of your newscasts.  How predictable are they?  “Well,” you might say, “they change all the time, depending on the news.”  Do they?  Or is it the same litany of crimes, news conferences, and politicians, all processed and delivered the same way?  I’m not saying we should never cover any of subjects listed above, but should we cover them as much as we do?  I’ve been outspoken when it comes to finding resources to put toward more enterprise reporting in our newsrooms, and surely Lost tells us that viewers like to be surprised.

Beyond surprises, Lost had great characters.  I personally see Ben as perhaps the best TV villain of all time.  His particular role on the show doesn’t have a TV news counterpart, but many of the other characters do.  Looking back at the first episodes of the show, the characters instantly drew us in.  Sure, Jack, Sawyer, and Kate were designed to be the main characters and we were interested in them from the start.  But look at the others.  Hurley seemed to be there at first just for comic relief.  But there was much more.  “The Others” provided a whole new panoply of players just at a time when we thought we knew who were watching, and still we wanted more.  Our news stories are often built with the dullest of characters.  We use the same old PR hacks, politicians, and experts because they’re easy.  Lost could have been built around the same five or six main players.  But because it wasn’t, because we met juicy characters like Mikhail for only a handful of episodes, we had to have more.  Our stories need more Mikhails.  They need more unexpected people.  Call it diversity of sources if you wish, but we need to find a way to have our newscasts bring in new faces and voices.

Finally, Lost respected its audiences’ intelligence.  The show made you think, made you discuss, and made you wonder about what was going on.  Abrams loves his “mystery box” concept (if you’re not familiar with it, see his great speech to TED at  The show didn’t always spell it all out for us, instead leaving some of it a mystery for us in the audience to ponder.  Perhaps that’s what I respected most about Lost and what Abrams, Lindelhof, and Cuse did.  They treated me the way they would want to be treated by a show—as a smart, thinking person.  Now, I’m not saying our newscasts should be mystery boxes of their own.  We’re obviously in the business of answering all of the questions. If a polar bear shows up in Times Square today, we’d better say why.  So we’re not to leave any mysteries untold.  But that doesn’t mean we have to treat our audience members like they’re less than us.  I know I’m personally guilty of focusing on the lowest elements of our audience and wondering why we bother with doing anything beyond their level.  But that’s exactly the approach that’s put news into the ratings position it’s in now.  Our striving to be all things to all people, along with our lowest common denominator approach to story selection, has driven away what our newscast used to have—smart, thinking people as viewers.  We can bring them back if we do stories that matter to them.  Important investigative, political, economic, or policy stories treat our audience members with respect and show them we value the time they’re giving us.  We owe them that.

So today, I don’t mourn the end of Lost, but instead celebrate what it was.  For all the reasons above and many more, I count watching it as among the best uses of my valuable time over the past six years.  And I’m planning to keep working as hard as I can to see that people see my newscasts the same way going forward.

You’re Cooler Than You Think

-first posted at on April 14, 2010

Over the last year of these chairman’s blogs, you’ve probably become used to my rambling style of writing.  So it will come as no surprise to you as I begin my last blog as chairman, coming to you from the floor of the RTDNA convention in Las Vegas, that I begin at my daughter’s middle school back in 2001.  Her assignment back then was to come to class to talk about what her parents do for a living.  This wasn’t one of those “have your father/mother come to class and make a talk” days.  For this, the kids had to do research and present it themselves.  Talking with her for the assignment, I was feeling pretty confident that no classmate would be able to top her tales of my journalism adventure in what had to be the best job of any parent in the group.  I would soon find out to the contrary.

Picking up Lauren after school, I asked her how the presentation went.  She said it was “fine.”  Hoping for get a glimpse of the awe with which her peers must have viewed my job, I decided to get right to the point.  “I’ll bet no one has a cooler job than mine, right?”  Her eleven-year-old brain didn’t pick up on the answer I was seeking, so she cheerily replied, “Yeah, Brighton’s father does.”  I was stunned. How could that be?  After a moment, I was able to sputter out another question.  “What does he do?”  Lauren replied, “He owns Shakespeare’s.”  Now, Shakespeare’s is Columbia’s legendary pizza parlor and there’s no doubt I’m a fan of its food.  But had all my exploits and excitement as a TV journalist really been bested by a pizza maker?

This humbling event has stuck with me these past nine years, reminding me when I get too cocky that there is plenty our viewers (and their children) find more central in their lives than journalism.   But as I walk the halls here in Las Vegas, listening to the sessions and talking to the attendees, I’ve decided to take my—our—coolness back.

You see, the convention is oozing coolness this year.  Part of it comes from the technology (something I’ve always liked, of course).  It seems the software and hardware tools we’re seeking to transition into a one-man-band/mobile/handheld newsgathering future have really matured since last year.  That technology is giving us this James Bondian air when we pull out our small devices and start covering stories.  Looking back on what first drew me into the broadcast side of journalism, I’ve always credited the technology. In the late 1970s, TV stations had much of the cutting edge technology out there.  We lost that edge in the PC revolution of the 80s and 90s, but we’re regaining a part of it now with the push to make handheld newsgathering devices as powerful as possible.  I know that’s already sparking new interest from the technology set in joining our ranks.  Partnerships between journalists and computer scientists like those at convention presenter Reynolds Journalism Institute are putting that cool back into news technology as a career destination that matters.

But I would be missing the more important part of the coolness trend if I just focused on technology.  There’s a palpable air of optimism and excitement here this year.  People are smiling.  I can’t say the same was true the last few years.  Everyone I’ve talked to is looking at the bright side, trying to find the new opportunities to win, and encouraged in the prospect of increased relevance through the use of the new technology that’s showing here.

Now, if you’re not in Las Vegas now, you might not be convinced that this pending coolness I’m describing is real.  I know the last couple of years have been tough.  We all have our heads down trying to keep up with more and more demanding jobs.  So let me make the case for our newfound value even if you’ve not been able to attend the convention.  And I’ll base my argument on what I’ve witnessed in my year as chairman.

First, you’re excited about what you do.  That’s a core component of being cool.  My travels as chairman have taken me to Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and other places to stage small gatherings to train journalists.  Every single person there was giving up weekend or evening time to learn something new, get better at something old, and meet with peers who have the same interests they do.  That excitement is contagious and I know it reaches the audience.  Here at the convention, we’re adding more seats to rooms so people can get in to learn these skills.  No one can mope through their jobs and still look cool doing them.  The excitement factor is definitely a plus here.

Beyond that, you’re connected with each other.  The same devices you’re counting on to improve your product are connecting you to online information to gain new skills. went mobile in the past year, and that site has been a way for news managers to literally have us in their pockets at all times.  But more than that, you’re connecting with each other.  Social media are great reporting and publishing tools for our newsrooms, but their often even better tools for us to connect with one another.  If you haven’t already done it, set up a Twitter client like TweetDeck to keep an active monitor on those you follow and on the subjects that interest you.  Make sure you get connected to some young journalists who’ve embraced that technology.  And once you do, you’re going to watch a flurry of activity—smart journalism discussions really—when hot topics pop up.

As you ponder these more serious reasons, don’t forget another important one—we’re still celebrities.  I know that sounds shallow, but the millennial generation has redefined the word “celebrity” and created a new level of celebrity worship.  The most visible figures of our industry have stepped up to help RTDNA over and over again during my year as chairman, with names like Brian Williams, Russ Mitchell, Cokie Roberts, and more appearing to help us improve journalism.  These faces are the faces the public adores, responds to, and keeps track of.  In your cities (unless you work in Hollywood), your on-air people are the biggest celebrities.  That fame isn’t just on the air, it translates to the web and mobile devices, too, if the talent takes part fully.  And I don’t see that changing anytime soon as young people grow more and more obsessed with celebrity.

These examples and more convince me we’re rebounding to a level of hip we have not seen in a very long time.  Sure, we’ll have competition for coolness from those doing similar work to what we do—bloggers, citizen journalists, and those thrusting themselves into the new media mix.  But we’re got experience in the spotlight and know how to take a passing interest and turn it into a lifetime interest.  We know cool.

So, looking back on losing out to the pizza guy, seeing that momentary low, I find a parallel in the depths to which our enthusiasm may have dropped last year.  It was my lot to end up taking the helm of RTDNA at a time when spirits were quite low in our industry.  But I always describe myself as an optimist, and I approached the last year’s challenges as nothing more than a better chance to make a difference than my predecessors had enjoyed.  Through the work we’ve done, be it local training, web content, First Amendment fights, a new convention, or even a new name, we’ve been optimists who see it all making a difference.  Thank you for reading what I’ve had to write in these weekly musings, for staying supportive of RTDNA through all the changes, and for sharing your ideas for how to make it better.

Take it from me—each and every one of you is cool.