More on reinventing News on TV…or any screen


The strengths of television: Pictures, Graphics and Visuals: In a visual environment, it’s hard to beat TV for the eye.  It’s everywhere.  Big screens, Small screens, tablets, HD and TV by design, make TV the potential powerhouse source for eye stimulation.

The problem: The eye is over focused on sets, flash, focus group slogans and cute people instead of what really can turn people on: taking the magic of the world onto your screen, visually and sonically. Sexy can work of course, but there are far better places to get it than on TV news.  News photography is often unimaginative or cliched.  The problem is that every station/source seems to follow the same path.  Change is usually so subtle and still within the “80’s focus group” M.O. that it registers as more of the  same.  There are very talented cinematic thinkers people out there, amongst those hopelessly addicted to the good old days.  My concern is that the brilliant ones so framed within the 80’s ‘Ultra  Action Super News In It For You At 10 On your Side’ thing that they and the  news itself are undermined.  If a station is #1 doing this–please disregard for now.  If not #1…there lies the issue: Missing the opportunity to lead.

The solution: Treat news like a movie with the story line being the news of the moment. Sexiness can be an ingredient, but the whole show is focused on visual stimulation which is a  timeless characteristic of anything on a screen.  And thinking!  If a story really  doesn’t have a strong visual component, create one!  A chart, a map, a retro piece, a cartoon, a photo gallery.  Do any of these instead of going into autopilot.  My “favorite” is airport delays.  Every station has the same reporter in front of the arrival screen talking to a  disgruntled traveler in terminal A.

Point of View: Fox seems to be the only one with a POV.  Maybe that’s a reason they’re #1.
The problem: PC hell. Vanilla in an era of cultural debate.

The solution: Tell the stories straight of course, but at  the end of the news show, open it up for commentary from the station and the  streets.  Open the debate to the public.  The video blogosphere.

Innovation: Movies live by innovation.  The web lives by innovation.  TV Sports is innovation city. Television news hasn’t truly changed in 40+  years.
The problem:  Deep roots, not unlike newspapers.  A way of doing things that’s engrained but not  necessarily right anymore.

The solution:  Courage to be the ones that challenge the playbook.  What you learned in school or in the trenches might have been good grounding but I seriously doubt it is the answer in 2011.   In fact, it probably is a career killer simply because we’re in a  completely new era.

Writing and Inflection: They can be so powerful.
The problem:  What happened???  Other than 60 Minutes and a few others, writing has dissolved into silliness.  Same thing for radio, and it’s magnified by an inflection and style that defines insincerity.  It’s like the time I showed a News Director an Onion TV newscast and he commented on how the lighting was bad,   completely missing the parody.

The solution: Address it aggressively. Some reporters may be incapable of escaping news speak/inflection which is why I’m down on “critique and tweak.”  It’s generally a waste of time.

The problem:  One dimensional. “TV Sound” usually pre packaged percussion to create “immediacy” that’s as fake as a skyline backdrop on the 10pm news.

The solution:  Think movie.  Hire a sound designer.  Most stations have licenses to use “real” music to tell a story.  Use it.  Imagine using MUSIC as an ingredient in story telling.  And not “Born in the USA” every time a flag is shown.  It can be everything from Classical to The Blues to add a completely new dimension to the experience.

The problem: Stories being told by “some on every station” anchor people with TV101 on-the-scene reporters in a stiff slick environment. In fact, “storytelling” is rarely a factor because it’s so predictable and old school.

The solution: Re-thinking and AFDI the way the stories are told.  Just as with the above points.

The point here is simply going supersonic on the  inherent strengths of a screen with speakers, and eliminating the weaknesses.

The Web:
While we need to be tied to the hip with the web, I don’t think TV should emulate it.  Migrating TV content to online and mobile without considering the opportunity to create FOR that environment.  There’s a lot to learn from the free form imagination of the web, but sometimes TV uses webisms as quick fixes.  Yesterday I saw a newscast that had “trappings” of the web:  PC at the anchor desk, a 50 something talking about “Twitter” (probably in an effort to sound hip which creates an ouch more than a wow) and things that  struck me as missing the point. Trying to be web cool, yet the whole newscast was framed with old school techniques.  A train wreck between old baggage cars and a “let’s look web hip” caboose.  From a personal viewpoint, it’s like 1970.  Emerging FM stations created content for FM instead of simply putting AM thinking on a newly emerging band.

Tired thinking on a new environment is pointless. There’s a demand for new thinking….and more importantly execution without barriers.  Don’t get fooled again.

–Lee Abrams, former Tribune Chief Innovation Officer