Commentary

BBC, Newsy: 2 Sizes To Every Story

Combined, the BBC and Newsy -- two presenters at NewFronts on Tuesday -- have nearly 104 years of experience in the news business. That’s 95 for the BBC, and (nearly) nine for Newsy.

For BBC.com, the digital offshoot of the staid old Beeb, the message for Americans at its first-ever NewFronts, was its tradition for accuracy, its deep bench and its quality.

To American fans, it might also be its foreign-ness.

Fran Unsworth, director of BBC World Service Group and deputy director of news and current affairs, chatted with anchor (OK, presenter) Katty Kay and remarked that she watched election returns from France on Sunday on U.S. networks — and the tone of relief that Marine Le Pen had been soundly defeated was “palpable" over here.

On the BBC, where she said an old joke is that a new hire was sent to the basement to have his opinions surgically removed, she implied impartiality is as much a part of the culture as the funny way Britons say “schedule.”

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That BBC is removed a bit from the madness of U.S. media has appeal. Unsworth said the BBC was surprised to learn 60 million unique visitors watched BBC in the run up to U.S. elections, possibly for that same kind of observational perspective.

It is usually above the fray in the U.S vis a vis fake news and the insidious liberal conspiracy folderol. It is also as BBC speakers like to point out, about as brand safe as a digital content player can be.

And it’s fascinating, sometimes just a step ahead.

Coming from BBC.com, for example  is a new project called “D:Signed,” a vertical about fashion, art and architecture how tech affects all of them, seemingly a kind of TED talks version 2.  Likewise, “Grand Challenges” has world leaders in health, tech, science and business make educated guesses about the problems of the world and the solutions.

That’s pretty ambitious, but of course, BBC News has 2,000 or so employees and bureaus all over the world.

“We don’t do ‘fly in’ journalism,” Unsworth said, referring to news divisions who jet into the world’s hot spots only when the blaze is rekindled.

Then there’s Newsy, which by the end of the year will employ more than 90 staffers. It is staffing up, though, and at its NewFronts, it took a giant step forward, announcing a new two-hour nightly newscast, “They Why,” that it promises will take deeper dives into the issues and news stories of the day.

That’s a big jump for Newsy which, more than some news operations, aims a lot of its efforts at OTT (and lately, also cable) viewers rather than Facebook friends or mobile-first strategies.

Newsy general manager Blake Sabatinelli and VP of news Christina Hartman say “The Why,” hosed by Chance Seales, will go for “deep storytelling,” just like BBC.com touted a similar “slow news” approach, taking time to report fully.

It’s doing something right, where it wants to be. On Roku, it’s in the top 15 of downloaded apps. Newsy says on average viewers stay for 34 minutes per visit. That’s major. This summer, Newsy is also linking with Nielsen and Truoptik to give advertisers the specific audiences they want.

Based in Columbia, Mo. (Newsy started as a part of the University of Missouri’s well-known journalism department) and in Cincinnati, Scripps-owned Newsy likes to zig when others zag.

It defines itself a bit by accenting its Midwesterness.

A lot of its film packages attempt to tell the stories of the little people behind the headlines. Newsy has a kind of charming power to the people who vibe that way.

Three upcoming are “Sold in America,” an investigative piece on human trafficking and how a lot of it happens at the sites of the nation’s most well-known events; “Dirt Rich,” which explores how ordinary blue-collar Americans are enthusiastically joining in on renewable energy trends, contrary to common views that they’re automatically antagonist toward tree huggers. “Varsity Games” shows how esports is finding its legitimacy in classrooms across the country.

Newsy is not very much like the BBC, except in one regard.

Both do their own thing, out of vastly different circumstances. Sabatinelli told the crowd Tuesday night: WWe think the traditional newscast is really truly broken. It’s awful!” He was speaking about the big cable news operations here. But Newsy and BBC.com really exist as stark alternatives to them.


pj@mediapost.com

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