Television news is a conundrum. The process to select the stories that are broadcast is a picky one. Not picky in the sense that the stories have to be just right, but picky because of the sheer quantity of what is available.
In a network operation, a local station's selection of news items stems from previous assignments that reporters were sent out to cover, along with those stories that came up unexpectedly. They cover local interests, concerns and amusements and don't hesitate to break away for an occasional freeway chase. The network coverages a tiny selection of the stories, with a focus on the content that the network itself has originated. International stories tend to be only those that involve Americans' lives, giving us a pretty narrow-minded view of the world around us.
At the alternate networks, CNN has developed a fabled reputation for coverage of, particularly, international events. Today, in a crisis, many people will turn to one of the cable networks for the earliest — if not the most in-depth — coverage.
The most interesting news phenomenon this year is the broadcasting of “fake” news. Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is on the right channel — comedy. But, despite its comedic tone, it has become a major political force, attracting guests of all political backgrounds.
Apart from CNN, FOX and Comedy Central, the broadcasting of news has, in general, become a staid repeat between channels with highly similar formats. Many, however, are missing major opportunities to further inform us, creating untapped revenue streams. Organizations will do whatever they can to protect their main “property” which, in the case of the television news operation, has been the broadcasting of their product. But according to a study by Ball State University for the RTNDA, 91.7 percent of all TV stations in the United States have a Web site that also carries news. That's about 25 percent more than radio stations. Of the top 100 stations, only five did not have a Web site at the time of the survey.
Those Web sites generate more e-mail complaints than the stations get for any other area of their operations. Readers complain of typos, illiteracy and plain dumb errors. The news sections on the Web sites often also contain unremoved coding; strange mixtures of upper- and lower-case lettering; fragmented sentences; and quotes, often without quotation marks, from sound bites that are badly transcribed — or plain misquoted. Sources are identified incorrectly or not identified at all.
You'll find that many Web site operations are a one-person show. Whereas management will approve on-air scripts at warp speed, it doesn't want anything to do with the written scripts for the web. And, although the reporters who originated the broadcast story would be the best source to modify it for HTML reading, they're already off onto the next assignment.
No one would attempt to succeed in the print news business without people to check stories and determine priority and location according to house rules of importance and significance. The same should be true of an online version. Go look at Google's news service and you will see what happens when there is no human making decisions about what are top stories and how to classify the publications they mine.
The Web can be a source of revenue for a news operation, but stations need to recognize the link between using resources and success. No publication will survive without quality content, streaming or not. That's true of the medium we work in, and it's true of the online medium, too.
Paul McGoldrick is an industry consultant based on the West Coast.
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