It’s 6:00 p.m. The din from the local news broadcast fills the quiet of coming home from work. But local television news is more than white noise. As the mode in which most Americans get their news, it informs and educates people about what’s going on in their community.
Local television news audiences, however, are aging and declining.
The problem? A lack of investigative and enterprise news, argues Mike Beaudet, a multimedia investigative journalist at WCVB-TV and Northeastern journalism professor, who, with Journalism Professor John Wihbey, launched the Reinventing Local TV News Project. While many stories get tagged with “investigative” labels, Beaudet says, this usually entails having an investigative reporter cover daily news. A more effective allocation of resources can help, but covering the latest investigative and enterprise stories takes time.
“To pull someone off the street and not have them reporting for a day or even a week requires a lot of commitment,” Beaudet said. And the audience of tomorrow—millennials and teenagers—aren’t “sitting down and watching the 6:00 news,” Beaudet added. “They’re getting it on their phones.”
Beaudet and Wihbey are relying on the help of 17 experimental video storytelling students, which Beaudet refers to as a “built-in group of experts,” to make the Reinventing Local TV News Project a success. Though still in its early stages — the project began about six months ago — the team is in the process of partnering with stations across the country. These stations, and the others the team plans to recruit, will give recordings from their newscasts to the experimental video storytelling class.
The researchers and their students will sit down and brainstorm how the stories can be presented in different and more engaging ways.
The student-centric nature of the project, Beaudet argues, means it has a lot of credibility. “It’s not just a bunch of academics saying, ‘Do this that way,’” Beaudet said, adding that the students are “in the trenches.” “These are the viewers of tomorrow,” he said. “They’re also the incredibly smart all-stars of the journalism program. I’m excited to get their opinions on why we’re telling stories this way.”
Already, the class has made some important identifications: Tapping into Snapchat and other platforms that allow for fun and modern modes of presentation can shake up the stagnancy of local news. (NBC’s Snapchat account is so successful that their Snapchat reporters are more identifiable to young audiences than their actual newscasters.) And, posting videos online that came directly from a television broadcast doesn’t pass for a digital strategy—a true digital strategy, the students argue, requires innovation.
“Stations need to be a little more daring and creative, and try things they might not have been trying before,” Beaudet said. “If you invest in doing things differently and uncovering stories others aren’t telling, that’ll attract the most eyeballs.”
To learn more about the Reinventing TV News Project, follow along at Storybench!