Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Tale Of Two TV Shows

To get a partial look at the future of tv journalism take a look at Washington Week http://www.pbs.org/weta/washingtonweek/ on PBS. It looks at the major Washington news stories of the week. Within the framework there is a surprisingly wide variety of stories ranging from legislation to elections to scandals to the economy to foreign affairs. There is usually a panel of four journalists and a moderator. The journalists may be from a newspaper, a news magazine, an ezine, tv or radio.

The show lasts for 28 minutes and has a webcast extra lasting for 8 minutes. Viewers may email any questions they may have and at least some will get answered on the webcast extra. They also have a weekly blog written by the moderator, Gwen Ifill, and an online archive of previous shows. This allows people, like me, who prefer to watch the show online or can't watch it at the time it's on to do so. As if this isn't enough there are backgrounders on each of the panelists, plus Ifill and the show itself and a segment called "On The Radar". These are links to news stories and video of upcoming and past stories.

It may not be perfect in terms of interaction with the viewer, but it's A LOT better than CTS's Behind The Story http://www.ctstv.com/bts/, which is a bit like going back in time. Behind The Story takes a look at the week's major and not so major stories. They run the entire gambit from religion to politics to the environment to human rights and everything else. There is usually a panel of three print or e-journalists and a moderator, but sometimes the moderator goes one on one, which is interesting. In contrast to Washington Week, their panelists chiefly come from a newspaper, magazine or ezine.

This show lasts for about 48 minutes. There is no webcast extra and no way for viewers to ask any questions of the panelists. They used to have a weekly blog written by moderator Richard Landau and they used to have backgrounders on each of the panelists. However, once they started putting the show online with an archives of previous shows (which was long after Washington Week had done so), this got dropped. In contrast again to Washington Week there are no links to news stories and video of upcoming and past stories being discussed. They do give an email address to send in comments and recently added a send a comment section to their website. I occassionally sent in comments until I finally gave up on this and the show as I felt I was talking to a brick wall.

That isn't to say that Washington Week doesn't have room for improvement. One thing I'd like to see is a viewer's forum where viewers could comment and interact with each other on the week's stories, with occassional input from Ifill and the reporters.

While making tv journalism relevant to the audience is especially challenging in today's world, Washington Week has a much better grasp on how to reach out to viewers than Behind The Story. That's a shame as they both have moderators who are intelligent, knowledgeable and professional and there's no reason why Behind The Story couldn't be just as good as Washington Week and no reason why Washington Week couldn't be a whole lot better.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Newspaper Web Sites

If your house needed a major overhaul to update date it and reduce costs would you just paint and wallpaper it and leave it at that? I wouldn't and neither would you so why do newspapers do it? Time and time and time again I see newspapers revamp their website only to basically rearrange the furniture and paint it. Whoopee! What's really needed is a major overhaul.

The Hamilton Spectator did an article and a video on the Friday the 13th motorcycle rally at Port Dover in August. The video just showed motorcycles passing by on a highway. There was nothing special about it. There was no voice-over to tell you why it was important. The short article basically said it's Friday the 13th and motorcyclists from around Ontario and parts of the United States are once again gathering in Port Dover. Where was the link to the history of the event? It didn't provide an answer as to what they do there or the impact of the event on the community.

Again with the Spectator, they've done several articles on the proposed light rail line. (Light rail is something I have a great interest in.) There was no map, no table showing cost comparisons and no intereactive graphics so you could see the potential impact of light rail in various locations. It just lay flat.

And it's not just the Hamilton Spectator that does this sort of thing. Take a look at any major newspaper in Canada or the United States and you see the same thing. The Buffalo News, for example, recently revamped its web site and, like the Spectator, basically just did window dressing. The basic problem remains. The smaller papers are far worse. Their design screams out that they don't care. At least with the big papers they're making some effort to care.

Ironically newspapers were among the earliest businesses to embrace the Net, but they have failed to grasp that, unlike print, the Net is multi-dimensional. Unless they learn that before it's too late, the newspaper industry will likely go the way of the horse and buggy. That's a shame because we need a healthy newspaper industry.