It was a heck of a challenge. Could we create a new workflow for news gathering and dissemination that would increase quality, speed-to-air, and dramatically – I mean dramatically – reduce costs? Yup. We did.
Using emerging technology, and creative uses of automation that nobody had ever used that way before, we created what I dubbed the Next Gen Newsroom. This video shows how it all worked.
From a single studio, we produced and created newscasts for six stations in different markets in English and Spanish, mixing and matching live and recorded segments for playback. The height of the madness was at 6pm when three separate live newscasts aired at the same time with live and taped segments, all triggered by automation and a single master control operator – one for the Santa Barbara, CA market CBS affiliate, another for the Monterey/Salinas, CA market CBS affiliate, and a third in Spanish for the Salinas Telemundo station.
A multi-market morning newscasts combined live anchors in multiple locations that split off for local content seamlessly, then joined back together for statewide, regional, national news and franchise segments. The anchors were physically separated by about 200 miles, but you’d never know these two weren’t sitting side-by-side, would you?
It was a significant culture change and it took a lot of discussions, meetings, and rehearsals with the Staff. To be frank, not everybody liked it. But in the end, we built one heck of a news gathering machine.
Since reporters gathered news and sent it back to the news hub wirelessly while moving on to the next story, we dramatically increased the amount of news we gathered – by more than double. It was enough so that we could create a network of 20-some local neighborhood websites, each self-sufficient. Together, they generating more than a hundred thousands dollars of revenue each year.
By reducing the number of anchors and inside staff, we were able to expand our outside staff (aka reporters) and gather more news.
The results? We reduced news operations costs – BY MORE THAN A MILLION DOLLARS – across our station group and saw INCREASED RATINGS after the transition. By having fewer anchors, we were able to increase the quality of talent (and even pay a little better for key roles) and eliminate much of the turnover that causes audience erosion. At the same time, we reported more news and added more newscasts.
Each of the streams to each of the stations was unique. No one newscast aired on more than one station at any time. A typical newscast might start off with a local story of significance, join together live for statewide news, split off for more local content then rejoin for shared segment, mixing live and tape – all with the same anchor teams.
While the hub was in Salinas, CA, we had redundant facilities in Santa Maria, CA which allowed us to go completely local in either location in case of emergency situations, or split up duties on election night.
Much of the magic happened outside of the newsroom and control room in the Digital Operations Center (aka Master Control) using Wide Orbit playlists and layers of secondary events to time live and recorded events with frame-accurate cuts… often adjusted on the fly by producers and operators.
This also allowed us to developed 24/7 live streams of newscasts that aired in multiple markets on websites and apps, with 11 hours of original news programming daily.
Why would we do all of this, I mean besides saving money and increasing ratings?
It allowed us to create a new model for news gathering and distribution. I’d been around too many newsrooms that had a couple dozen anchors, producers, and managers… and yet only a small handful of reporters. Not much news happens inside a newsroom and yet we had the fewest number of people actually out gathering news. I was at a seminar when someone from Frank Magid showed me a graphic similar to this one.
It got me thinking about all those people back at the station who weren’t gathering news and how the bulk of our budget was tied up in anchors. What if we could figure out how to flip the triangle – especially as we transition to a mobile, digital world – and put the bulk of the resources into gathering news instead of reading news. So that’s what we did.
In one station, we went from an average of 19% of the news staff out gathering news to an average of 80%. By using automation and consolidating functions across geographic areas, we cut the overall news staff by 58% and yet increased news gathering by more than 200%.
The automation became the backbone of our 24/7 mobile local news channel – one of the first of its kind in the country.
While we did this, we actually increased ratings a bit… and we also became the market leader in revenue in both the Monterey/Salinas and Santa Barbara/Santa Maria/San Luis Obispo, CA markets. But that’s a different story.
The experiment ended when after several years the Cowles family sold the stations to News-Press Gazette, which changed to a different model for news.