Social Media Makes Local News Participatory, Provides Instant Viewer Feedback

Even in today’s digital era, television news remains the most prevalent source of daily news for Americans, according to the Pew Research Center. A recent Pew study shows that television remains the dominant source of news; 58% of Americans say they watched the news or a news program on television yesterday, a percentage that has changed little over the past decade. Even so, local television stations must be innovative to remain competitive and there are some interesting adaptations happening in the Phoenix market.

Local television stations across the country are utilizing social media and integrating viewer comments into newscasts, but some innovations unique to the Phoenix market are getting attention. For example, ABC 15 (KNXV-TV) launched its new “Now@9” show last August, a highly-interactive, live show that is a combination of news, talk, buzz and entertainment. Audience engagement is at the core of Now@9, which airs every weekday at 9:00 a.m. and streams live on ABC15.com. Viewers are asked to weigh in (via social media) on local, national and global stories and trends. Joe Hengemuehler, News Director at ABC 15 says

“We recognize that while people want to get the news of the day, they are also quite adept at multi-tasking with their technology. So, we’ve essentially invited them to literally join our conversation during the show. It’s really less about talking outward to the viewer. It’s more about making their voices a significant part of the show.” -ABC 15 News Director Joe Hengemuehler

In January, 12 News (KPNX-TV) moved to its new location at “200 EVB,” a street-side studio in downtown Phoenix where pedestrians can watch live broadcasts through large windows (similar to the Today Show studio in New York City), and even participate in the news when reporters go live in the Plaza for “man on the street” interviews. 12 News created the “LunchCast,” a daily noon show anchored by KPNX veteran Brahm Resnik (host of “Sunday Square Off”). LunchCast focuses primarily on political news and watchdog reporting. Resnik regularly moderates on-air debates during the show, providing the opportunity for different perspectives on hot news topics to be heard. Viewer comments are routinely featured in the LunchCast and Resnik often does opinion segments that share opinions posted on Facebook.

As television stations have embraced social media as an additional channel to deliver news and promote online content, a recent study shows a large majority of local journalists are using social media (particularly Facebook and Twitter) to interact with their audience, share news stories and get news tips from the general public. That study also found that most on-air talent at Phoenix television stations are encouraged to participate in social media, and some stations even require it.

Social media has also provided instant, real-time feedback for news and programming executives. For example, 12 News tried something interesting on Sunday night: the Reality Wrap, an on-air discussion and evaluation of celebrity performances on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” which was the primetime lead-in to 12 News at 10 p.m. Many comments on Facebook were critical of the entertainment focus, prompting a response from VP / News Director Mark Casey:

After seeing the lively conversation on the 12 News Facebook page, I contacted the station requesting a comment for this blog; News Director Mark Casey graciously took time to respond.

Q and A with Mark Casey, VP / News Director at 12 News
JoePRguy: Regarding Sunday night, there was mixed feedback on Facebook; do you think that viewers responded positively?
Mark Casey: “First, the Facebook discussion was and is extremely helpful. Lots of very good comments and the viewers did not hold back which we appreciate very much. It’s not quite a focus group, though there are a lot of similarities. Overall, we are happy with the overnights for the time period. 12 News is the top rated late local newscast and we’re thankful that viewers continue to choose us in a world that gives them many good options for news and information.” [Note: “overnights” refers to the nightly Nielsen ratings, which provide preliminary ratings information for local TV stations. The overnight numbers for Sunday night (May 15) do not show a large variance – either plus or minus – from the number of viewers who typically watch 12 News in that time slot. According to Nielsen data, 12 News is the most-watched 10PM news broadcast in the Phoenix designated market area (DMA)]

JoePRguy: Will there be similar broadcasts in the future?
Casey: “We’ll be trying a lot of different things in the future.  The really exciting aspect of news and information in 2011 – and I’ve been working in this field since 1975 – is the variety and diversity of stories available and attainable and desirable for our viewers. No matter what your preference for news content, it’s available to you and available to us.  Plus, the technology we’re working with is top notch, so news gathering is much faster, more efficient, and frequently involves working as partners with our viewers to provide some facts, insight, and even video. We have options we’ve never had and our broadcast facilities here at 200 EVB are unmatched in Arizona. All of those factors will lead to continued innovation at 12 News.”

JoePRguy: I noticed on Facebook that you said it is a work in progress – any insight on what other things viewers can look forward to?
Casey: “They can look forward to 12 News continuing to deliver on the major local, national and international stories of the day. That’s our core mission and we won’t stop the pursuit of so-called “real news.” Behind the scenes here at 200 EVB we are working on strong watchdog reporting that includes ongoing efforts to keep courtrooms and public records open and available to Arizonans as well as holding our community leaders accountable. Remember, we pre-empted portions of Celebrity Apprentice to carry the news of Osama bin Laden’s death – not a very popular move with Apprentice fans but one we’d do again because of the gravity of that story. This is all important work and we are increasing it daily.”

“We’re also committed to broadening our coverage range. The fact is that most people in the Valley are not directly connected to much of the traditional news that we’ve covered for decades. However, they are personally engaged in their communities, whether it’s coaching their kids or volunteering to help the less fortunate or aspiring to make their own lives better. As an industry, we haven’t done a great job capturing that aspect of life here so, we’re changing our approach. The results are some stories many of our Facebook friends see as too soft or too positive. We respectfully disagree.”

Casey concludes with: “When a local music talent hits it big internationally and wants to perform on the Plaza at 200 EVB, we welcome them. When our community needs a hero to help them through a tough time, we’ll help them find that person as we did recently with an East Valley mom who ran for 24 hours on a treadmill on the Plaza and raised thousands of dollars for Sojourner Center.  We’ll put our viewers in the moment and take them to places where they can’t normally get close access – like we’ve done with Mark Curtis (24 Hours All Access) in a maternity ward, the Phoenix Zoo, this week at Chase Field, and next week on the flight line at Luke AFB. We’ll step up for our community as we did in supporting Pat’s Run’s record-year in raising a million dollars for scholarships for our veterans and their families. That’s also important work and deserves a bigger stage and celebration. Bottom line – change is often unsettling but necessary. We feel it’s time to try some new things while staying true to our core mission as a news and information leader. And, all in gorgeous HD!”

Thanks for taking time to share this information Mark, and I hope you’ll let me know when there are new developments to share.

I want to now what you think; have adaptations at Phoenix TV stations affected your viewing choices? Have you noticed changes in news format at your favorite TV station? What advice or suggestions would you give television executives in the Valley?

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