Will TV News Learn Anything From Newspapers?

Decades ago, there were cracks in newspapers' dominance fueled by cable TV and the Web. Instead of acting on those cracks, they were in denial, assuming their greatness could never diminish. Fast forwarding to the 21st century; there's panic and massive change all at once, partly due to the failure to address problems early on.

TV news is in the same boat.  Stations will likely be sitting around in 2020 wishing they had addressed the issues aggressively instead of hoping that "tweaks,  critiques and another research project thinking" will solve the issues facing TV news right now.

The solutions are not difficult, but are undermined by denial within the walled-in TV world, where inertia trumps looking at the big media picture and aggressively adapting to now. The entire TV industry seems to be on creative auto pilot opting for a new set,  a new anchor or some triple Doppler radar as their answer. Don't blame the Web.  TVs are in literally every home, with sound and picture quality improving every year -- and the opportunity to stimulate eyes, ears and minds has never had more potential.

We're living in the Google/Apple era, and TV news is stuck in some mid-1980s focus-group time warp. If you are No. 1 and making a lot of money, good. If not, the answers are to be found in having the courage to make some dramatic changes in thinking, content culture, M.O and actions.

The solutions are deep, although there are a few key areas that if addressed and executed on can lead to a positive revolution in local TV news that can potentially change the game. Here is a top-level and over-simplified look at some of those regions of change:

*Modern storytelling.  Most TV news is one-dimensional. Anchors handing it over to reporters standing in front of a scene cluttered with hyperbole and hype. Imagine using every imaginable resource to tell a story -- retro, viral, natural sound, music, UGC. It would be a tour de force of television magic.

*Inspiration. There is more inspired content on YouTube than on the TV news competition. Stop looking at the competition from a content/creative viewpoint. If you want to aggressively reinvent, reference to the competition is toxic.

*The BS factor.  Maybe it worked in the '80s, but Best, First, On It, Off it, We Believe in You is just not going to cut through. People's BS radar is set too high to effectively slogan your way out of trouble.

*The Sameness.  Is there an FCC law that states every station needs a desk, a standing weather person, a cadence, a style that every station uses? It's material for parody. The entire "rulebook" is dated, tired and keeps stations anchored to the past

*Overproduction.  Usually pompous, slick and reeking of some New York agency rather than the streets of the community. An anywhere USA packaged feel is soulless and manufactured.

*Celebrating fake.  Whether it's fake syrupy sincerity, a fake skyline behind the set, a bad toupee or whatever,  the fakeness and plasticity is self-defeating

*The Barbie & Ken factor.  Mattel has introduced a Barbie News Reporter. Okay -- cuteness is fine, but way overrated, as are big booming voices. Very '80s.

*Screen clutter.  A reporter standing in front of a 7/11 that was robbed 12 hours earlier. Beautiful photography framed by TV "stuff." Photojournalism is beautiful, yet photography is hidden by anchors, non-informative text and graphics or just about anything that clutters what's really important: the picture.

*TV Sound.  News themes that electronically mimic a teletype or Bruce Lee jar swooshes between every photo. Okay -- Fox started that, but why does everyone copy it?

*TV-ization.  A disease where every idea goes through the TV production filter and ends up more of the same.

*Balance.  The structure of TV newsrooms hasn't changed in decades, but the world has. News operations need to be rethought for 2010 -- and that includes liberating creatives instead of keeping them addicted to the tired TV news playbook.

*Celebrating shallowness.  Dumbing down by design. I always felt that on one hand, newspapers believed in this holy religion of elite journalism while TV operated on the other side of the spectrum. The middle ground is a zone of mass appeal intelligence that TV sorely misses the target on.

I'm sure the reaction from some to these points will range from laughing to denial to blowing them off. But these points, in my opinion, are just the tip of the iceberg of the dramatic rethinking necessary to prevail in a world that's more competitive by the second.  Imagine a TV station that balances brilliance in revenue, operations, technology and creative. That station will win. It takes courage -- not money



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