The State of TV News: Annual Meeting Focuses on Tech

Apr 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Elizabeth Jensen

Special to TelevisionWeek

News directors will have no excuse for not being up to speed on the technological changes roiling the business after attending this week’s annual convention of the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

The gathering, which was scheduled to open Sunday and run through Wednesday in Las Vegas, is held concurrently with the National Association of Broadcasters convention. This year’s RTNDA event is focused on “translating the digital revolution and the impact it is having and going to have on newsrooms,” said RTNDA President Barbara Cochran.

Despite the fact the May sweeps ratings period starts Thursday, advance registration was running on pace with last year and organizers were expecting about 1,000 people to attend, Ms. Cochran said.

The technology is “ever-changing,” said Angie Kucharski, RTNDA’s chairwoman-elect and VP and station manager of WBZ-TV/WSBK-TV in Boston. “There are constantly new ways to gather news. We hope to address not only teaching people the technology but what we do as journalists: how do we apply the news decision-making to that technology.”

In a reflection of the changing technology, said Ms. Cochran, representatives of the Internet companies Google and Yahoo and the digital cable channel Current TV will appear on panels.

A theme running through the technology sessions is gaining control of the vast amount of video that is starting to come into newsrooms thanks to more transportable equipment, she said.

“How do you sort through all the information coming into the newsroom? It probably means assignment desks need to be redesigned and reconfigured to take into account if you’ve got all this stuff coming in, including stuff that stations are soliciting from viewers. How do you assess it, verify it, use it?” she said.

Such “citizen journalism” is the topic of a Tuesday morning program, which will include exclusive research on what audience expectations are for participating in news programming. Panelists include Neil Budde, general manager, Yahoo News; Laura Ling, supervising producer, vanguard journalism, Current TV; and Adrian Van Klaveren, controller of production/deputy director of news, BBC News.

Other sessions will look at how stations are using their Web sites-after many years when newsrooms resisted them-and the varied strategies companies are using to deliver news programming over broadband. A Wednesday session on transparency will examine how to let the news audience see more of what’s going on in the newsroom, whether through blogs or by inviting the public into news meetings. And for the truly tech-challenged, there is a Monday session that is a basic primer on new technology, from podcasting and RSS to video logging, also called vlogging.

“We’re trying to teach news professionals not to be so intimidated by the new technology and acronyms,” said Rick Osmanski, RTNDA VP and the staff person in charge of the convention.

Leadership Sessions

In addition to technology, conference planners organized a Sunday opening session on the lessons learned from last year’s Hurricane Katrina, “clearly one of the biggest stories of recent years,” said Ms. Kucharski.

To end the conference as the keynote speaker at the closing session lunch on Wednesday, planners turned to Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

This year’s Paul White Award, given to honor a distinguished career in electronic news, will be presented to ABC News’ “Good Morning America” co-anchor Charlie Gibson at a dinner Monday.

In a joint session with NAB on Monday morning, CBS’s Dan Rather, NBC’s Tom Brokaw and (posthumously) ABC’s Peter Jennings were to be honored for their tenure at the helm of their networks’ evening newscasts. Later that afternoon, Mr. Rather was scheduled to join a panel to talk about the future of news, moderated by NBC’s John Siegenthaler. Others on the panel are Tom Curley, president and CEO of The Associated Press; Marissa Mayer, VP of search products and user experience for Google News; Harvey Nagler, VP of CBS Radio; Jorge Ramos, co-anchor for Univision; and Fred Young, senior VP of news for Hearst-Argyle Television.

As in recent years, RTNDA is offering a number of sessions devoted to leadership and management issues. Often, said Ms. Cochran, “News people do a great job as a journalist and then you are promoted into management, but they forgot to give you the management manual. People like being able to get together with people in the same situation and share notes about what works and pitfalls to avoid.”

Among the leadership sessions, a Monday program is devoted to the issues of “leading and motivating Gen Y journalists,” the under-30 generation.

Several sessions are devoted to original research on how consumers actually use the media and what they want from it. Ball State University Professor Bob Papper and two of his colleagues will discuss new research on media use from their Middletown Media Studies, said to be the largest media observational study ever done, on Tuesday morning.

That afternoon, Peter Hart and Dan McGinn of the McGinn Group will discuss their research and tools for figuring out what audiences are expecting from news organizations.

Mr. Papper will return Wednesday morning for a session on how market forces are affecting electronic journalism. The Radio and Television News Directors Foundation will release research on the business pressures facing journalists, and how the public perceives the quality of local news content, journalistic independence, advertiser influence over content and promotions and teases.

Finally, Ms. Cochran singled out a Tuesday afternoon session, led by Strategic Insights partners Lillian Dunlap and Sujatha Krishnaswamy, that will discuss new ways for media organizations to think of diversity, encompassing audiences that aren’t just diverse in composition but “global in perspective,” and the way they use media outside of traditional boundaries.