It’s been a remarkable year so far for this veteran of almost 35 years in television broadcasting. A year to discard old notions and learn new things and realize that none of us really knows exactly what lies ahead in this business.
Exhibit number one: the Big Powderhorn ski resort fire. WLUC had no one available to get to the fire immediately, and in fact, we didn’t make it there until at least four hours after the fire started. No problem. Regular folks–TV viewers and website visitors–sent us video, photographs and on-the-scene reports of what was happening.
The result? Huge website numbers, great video for our newscasts.
The lesson? We–the professional journalists–weren’t really needed. Yeah, we probably would have done a better job and provided better, more balanced perspective, but regular folks did a pretty damn good job while we were trying to get our news cars pointed toward the fire.
Exhibit number two: the NMU security scare and shutdown. We got the news out immediately on the air and online and we hit a record number of page views for the day–over 200,000. But the most extraordinary figure? We picked up 3500 Facebook followers on that day, more than doubling our previous number. New people, young people found us that day, and they didn’t necessarily do it by turning on the TV or going directly to our website; they went to Facebook, where we posted regular updates, and then many of the Facebook followers also went to our website.
The lesson? TV and newspaper news departments have to figure out what Facebook means to us and how we can exploit it, because that’s where so many of our young people–tomorrow’s adults–are now getting their news, whether we like it or not.
Exhibit number three: the President’s visit. Again we were all over the story with numerous break-ins to programming, carrying the President’s arrival and departure along with his entire address live on the air and on the web. And again, enormous numbers. People tuned in and logged in in huge, maybe unprecedented numbers. But we offered something new this time–a live web chat. People on our website from all over the UP and beyond were invited to take part and exchange observations and opinions on the President’s visit.
The result? Fifteen thousand people logged in to view the wide-ranging conversation, for an average of 31 minutes per person, and 1700 individual comments were logged over an eight hour period. Were there any brilliant insights or startling observations among the comments? Not many. Were there inane banter and silly insults? Yep, absolutely.
The lesson? Although the live chat was not particularly high brow and didn’t advance the story journalistically, it did provide an outlet for citizen discourse. People got to speak their minds, and that’s something that we–the classically trained journalists–have never fully appreciated. Yeah, we do the obligatory man-on-the-street interviews from time to time, but for the most part, we like to tell people what WE think and what WE’ve seen and heard.
I think there are some real risks to exploding our long trusted and cherished journalistic models, but the fact is, a brave, new world has arrived and we’ve got to adjust to it, and hopefully, help re-shape it so that it allows for real, honest-to-god journalism while also serving the wants and demands of a public who are now captive to a revolutionary technology.