RTNDA Faces Revolution

Apr 16, 2007  •  Post A Comment

By Elizabeth Jensen, Special to TelevisionWeek

From the opening panel on the next generation of news to the closing speech by the Microsoft executive who oversees gaming gadget Xbox, the Radio-Television News Directors Association’s annual convention this year is designed to help attendees stay ahead of the technological changes roiling newsrooms.

“The digital revolution is really hitting home in newsrooms, we find this year, even more than in previous years,” said RTNDA President Barbara Cochran.

If the marketing of the convention played on some of the newsroom’s technology fears with its slogan “Don’t let the digital revolution leave you behind,” Bill Roswell, RTNDA’s chairman-elect and convention producer, has a more embracing outlook. “There’s a brave new world out there that is very exciting,” he said. “We’re not just radio or television stations anymore; we’re information providers.”

RTNDA@NAB runs April 15-18 at the Las Vegas Hilton, concurrent with the National Association of Broadcasters convention. It is a member-driven event, said Mr. Roswell, who is the director of digital news and media at Philadelphia news radio station KYW-AM. And this year, the topics of interest that came up over and over were such technology challenges as the conversion to high-definition, deciding what material to make available for podcasts or cell phone-casts, how newsrooms can best use Web platforms, the impact of one-person newsgathering, how to bring the audience into the newsgathering process, even the thorny legal issues raised by repurposing material for outlets other than traditional radio and TV broadcasts.

Putting together the convention lineup is “much like putting together a newscast,” Mr. Roswell said. Each topic, like each story, “is waving its hand saying, ‘Pick me, pick me to be the lead.'”

With this year’s conference, technology figured heavily into the decisions.

“At times [technology] seems like a tsunami,” said Mr. Roswell, who slated the tech-heavy “News 2.0” as Sunday’s featured session. “How do you, as a journalist, succeed in this world of new technology and what are the tools that are out there, and how do you get people to use those so they can do their jobs better?”

The opening panel is filled with faces that have only recently come onto the scene, such as ABC News video blogger Amanda Congdon. The session, said Ms. Cochran, is meant to examine “what the next generation of news will look like. [Almost] all the people who are on that panel … come from media organizations or are doing jobs that we wouldn’t have imagined three or four years ago.”

Joining Ms. Congdon at the session, moderated by CNN’s chief technology correspondent Miles O’Brien, will be Zadi Diaz, new-media producer and co-founder of Smashface Productions; Terry Heaton, senior VP, Media 2.0, audience research and development; Elizabeth Osder, senior director of product for Yahoo News; and Michael Rosenblum of Rosenblum Associates, a pioneer in the single-person video journalism world.

“None of these people are the people you might ordinarily expect to see on an RTNDA panel,” Ms. Cochran said. “I think it will be eye-opening. People will see what the future looks like.”

A Monday afternoon panel on the 2008 election will be moderated by Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” and produced jointly with the NAB. The panel also has a technology slant, reflecting the new ways in which candidates are embracing their newfound options, from announcing their candidacies on Web sites to putting ads on YouTube.com.

Tuesday afternoon, BuzzMachine.com media blogger Jeff Jarvis will delve into the increasing interactivity of media, from user-generated video to social networks, as moderator of the panel “Get Your Audience Involved.” Ms. Cochran said it will examine “What’s the role of traditional media and how are you going to use the new platforms to engage the audience further?”

Panelists include Scott Bomboy, executive producer of user-generated content for Internet Broadcasting; Sandy Malcolm, executive producer, CNN.com video; and Mike Sechrist, general manager of WKRN.com in Nashville.

This year for the first time,

RTNDA is offering customized coaching sessions for attendees who want feedback on their leadership skills. A team of some 20 radio and TV news directors will evaluate those who sign up for the individual events.

“Any time there is major change, leadership skills are tested,” Ms. Cochran said. The various leadership sessions on the schedule are designed to help participants learn how to “lead through change,” she said, adding, “How do you introduce change and innovation and still keep a strong team spirit?”

Just one panel this year is devoted to the video news release, an item that has been of particular concern to stations in recent years. “Stations are on high alert; everybody has adopted a very strict policy to guard against using material that isn’t identified,” Ms. Cochran said, noting the Federal Communications Commission still has an investigation pending.

For radio news directors concerned about Arbitron’s move into Portable People Meters and the impact of the resulting second-by-second ratings, a Monday morning panel is expected to include some early data from the Philadelphia and Houston test markets, said Mr. Roswell.

Global Gathering

More traditional sessions on newsgathering have a particularly international flavor this year, examining the intersection of local and global security issues, as well as how to explore increasingly important global stories using a local slant. The Paul White Award on Monday night will go to CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

Closing out the event on Wednesday is a luncheon speech by Peter Moore, corporate VP of Microsoft Corp.’s interactive entertainment business, entertainment and devices division. His presentation, which Ms. Cochran promised will be “highly interactive,” will look at how gaming and the Internet are transforming TV into a two-way, interactive medium.

Gaming might not be immediately applicable to a newsroom, but the technology, Ms. Cochran said, is not just for video games anymore. Moreover, said Mr. Roswell, newspeople need to be aware of “what else is out there, or might be out there, diverting attention away from us.”

Mr. Roswell added, “It’s a whole new vista out there, pardon my pun. It’s really tough to put fences around what newspeople need to know about.”

What: The annual convention of the Radio-Television News Directors Association
Where: Las Vegas Hilton
When: Through Wednesday, April 18
Details: www.rtnda.org/conv07

Radio-Television News Directors Association’s 2007 Convention