The traditional media industry is taking a Web 2.0-style step as it attempts to maintain relevancy in the changing information era.
NBC is rolling out a “link out” policy with its owned affiliate stations starting today, The New York Times reports. Starting with Chicago station WMAQ, the network will attempt to recreate its local Web sites as “city guides,” with ample links to third-party sites. A beta version, The Times says, featured links to local papers as well as USA Today and TMZ — and, perhaps most notably, there’s no difference in branding between the internally created and externally created content. As an executive explained to The Times:
“If we can provide them great content, that’s wonderful. If it comes from somebody else, that’s fine, too.”
While the stations are working hard to spin the shifted focus as a fresh change that’ll “provide a destination” for its audience, we here in the modern Web community know the concept is far from new; it’s just thus far been resisted (or ignored) by traditional media. There’s another side of the equation not being touted, too: cost-cutting. Local television stations are scaling back like you wouldn’t believe. Smaller staffs are doing more than ever, and typically, these added online duties are being done by the same people already performing the equivalent of two jobs for the on-air product.
A Matter of Math
Now, to be fair, in NBC’s case, the network says it’s hired about 50 people to help power the expanded online operation. But what it doesn’t say is how many others it laid off in the time leading up to then. At Gannett, for another example, the nauseatingly overpromoted “Information Center” notion attempts to give viewers the impression that TV stations are a central source of information flow in and out, and that the news teams are everywhere, bringing you the latest information on whatever medium you need.
The impression you don’t see is that within the same company, producers — who are responsible for shaping a newscast, writing its content, and conceptualizing all of its graphics and visual elements, among other things — are also about to start having to edit video for their shows as well. (That’s something that one or two dedicated and trained video editors used to do.) Many of them are also now finding themselves overseeing two newscasts rather than one, as positions are being eliminated. Oh yeah, and those are the same people bringing you those “24/7 information updates” online at the same time, too. And that’s just one example.
The Final Word
The efforts to evolve, even if overdue, are a positive step. The underlying problem, however, remains constant. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The broadcast news industry cannot grow and expand into new media while concurrently cutting back its staff and resources in record numbers. The math just doesn’t add up.