Wednesday, April 8, 2009
It’s the Devil You Know
Quietly local television stations KTBC (Fox), KXAN (NBC), KEYE (CBS), and KVUE (ABC) have been sharing news video of what are considered routine events for around a month now. News managers have a quick five-minute conference call in the mornings to decide which news conferences or events could merit coverage with one camera.
I noticed one obvious instance of shared video a week or so ago. It was a news conference at the Austin Police Department. More than one station used the same sound bite, probably because it was the most interesting thing said. The camera angle for the shot was the same. It was shared. Of course, news conferences and events are edited at each of the station, so no two stories should look exactly the same.
Interestingly, only one news director will talk about it. More than one person told me that news managers were cautioned or told not to talk about their arrangement with “News McNabb” or, presumably, any other reporters. “Given the proprietary nature of your question, I will respectfully decline making a comment,” said Michael Fabac, KXAN News director. Earlier confirmation of their participation in the video sharing arrangement did come from Eric Lassberg, station president and general manager.
I find it interesting, even amusing that people who are so used to asking questions and expecting answers are now on the other end of the questions, and the managers who would be outraged by a “no comment” will not talk. Please know that I am not calling out Michael Fabac; he did answer my email. Further, Fabac is a good guy. This video sharing arrangement, I think, so runs against the grain, there is no happy answer. No news manager who was an idealistic journalism student “back in the day” would have ever dreamed that video sharing with competitors would be part of the daily routine. To be fair, there is precedence. Pool coverage of major events is normal. On those occasions all of the stations work together to make it happen for the benefit of their viewers. No one, however, would have thought that this would the daily norm, however.
Frank Volpicella, KVUE TV news director, is willing to talk about the arrangement. “It seems to be working very well. Really, no complaints,” Volpicella says. “We’re getting video that we wouldn’t have been able to shoot before. Too many news conferences are held at the same time of day. No station could possibly shoot them all.”
“The pool evolved from one station being pool for the day, to every station shooting one or two stories a day. That seems to work well. It doesn’t burden one station with the daily pool, and it allows us to share more video.” Volpicella says.
One could make the argument that the video sharing could lead to shallow coverage. Certainly, if a station relies on the pool to fill the news hole, the stories will be wallpaper—ugly wallpaper at that. It is also true that participation in the pool can also allow stations to better use their limited resources, resulting in stronger stories for the audience. That may have been the case when KXAN chose to send its satellite truck and reporter Shannon Wolfson to Laredo to cover the murder of an Austin priest. KXAN owned the story. Other stations relied on telephone reports and affiliate video.
Is this collaboration only the beginning? No. I don’t think so. In other markets, TV stations are teaming up with local newspapers, even to the point of combining newsrooms. “I’m sure this consolidation will continue industry wide. Stations are sharing helicopters and other resources, so it will evolve as well,” Volpicella says. For years, the KVUE weather staff has presented the weather forecast in the Austin American-Statesman.” It is part promotion and part shared content.
It should be noted that Univision and News 8 are not participating in the pool. News 8 News Director Kevin Benz is not sold on the concept. “I’m not sure that there is a benefit to us,” Benz said. News 8 has more cameras on the street than any other newsroom in town, Benz says. Never say never, however. “I’m leaving the door open,” he said.
As households using television (HUTs) go down and profit margins narrow, media, broadcast and print, will continue making deals. When the audience does begin to sense shallowness in the stories, the audience will render its decision in the ratings or in circulation.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Posted by NewsMcNabb at 4:01 PM