Back in May, NBC Local Media announced that WNBC would be overhauled into a 24/7 “content center” operation that would provide coverage around the clock on multiple platforms, including a digital all-news channel. Instead of organizing around newscasts, the newsroom would focus on content. As you might imagine, such changes have prompted quite a few questions and concerns from the WNBC staff. Here’s a quote from Crain’s Business:
“The great initial concern, unanswered by management, is what happens to the quality,â€ said a station insider.
But what is “quality?” The Emmy and Edward R. Murrow awards have a largely traditional view of quality, especially when you consider the regional Emmy’s are judged by peers — people who usually have worked in the TV news business for years. I have a few of these awards, and I’m proud of them. But I think they’re not adapting quickly enough to a broader definition of quality.
I keep using it as an example, but let’s take the hyperlocal news site, West Seattle Blog (forgive me, Tracy.) Here’s a site that has all but replaced the community paper in a large Seattle neighborhood with a steady stream of unique, original stories and a community forum that breaks plenty of news on its own. But the stories wouldn’t win any Emmy or Murrow awards (even if there was a category for it). Some are only a few sentences long. The photographs don’t come close to the newspaper. The video isn’t broadcast quality. And the site design certainly wouldn’t win a Webby.
But thousands of people in West Seattle read the site before they read SeattleTimes.com or any other traditional news site. Traffic is skyrocketing. A week doesn’t go by without a TV station or newspaper running one, two or even three of the West Seattle Blog’s exclusive stories. Because it has original, relevant, unique content. Because it’s a community connecting point. Because it covers the neighborhood like no one else.
These should all be components of quality in today’s times, especially as the internet becomes the primary platform for news. Not everything has to be polished, in-depth, well-designed, beautifully-shot or even well-written. It just has to fill a need with content and community you can’t get anywhere else.
I’m not plugged into the changes at WNBC, so this broader definition of quality may or may not have any application there. But I think it’s worth considering as the local TV news industry continues its sometimes painful transition to an anytime, anywhere resource.