Stand Up For Innovation

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Have you seen The Six?  It’s our new 6:00 newscast, with anchors who stand, and a style that’s a lot less formal.  It has some people talking, more people watching, and a few feeling a bit uncomfortable.

It’s an attempt to respond to our audience, break away from the standard style of traditional newscasts, and break down the stereotype that all newscasts are basically the same.  It’s a way to make the newscast more interesting, informative and entertaining, and fortunately, it’s already paid off with better ratings.

Standing For Something

So why are the anchors standing? Some people think we’re just doing it to be different, but we’re really trying to create a more informal look and feel for the show, and encourage more informal communication between anchors and reporters.  It’s not just window dressing.  And I think it’s been effective.

Others disagree, though.  One viewer complained that they look homeless.  Another said they must be angry about losing the desk.  And MinnPost’s David Brauer wondered if we actually sold the furniture.  Funny stuff, but I hope one cosmetic touch isn’t overshadowing an innovative attempt to change the style and substance of our newscasts, and turn them into separate, unique, stand-alone broadcasts.

Look-alikes?

We’ve heard the criticism for years, “all newscasts look alike.”  And in some ways that’s right.  In general, we’re all covering the same stories, using similar techniques, and relying on similar research.  So, we often end up with similar stuff, the same way Time and Newsweek often end up with similar covers.  And it makes even more sense that our 5:00 and 6:00 newscasts, products of the same newsroom and editorial leadership, would seem similar.

So, when people said they weren’t watching at 6:00 because it felt like a rehash from 5:00, we listened.  We’re done being Time and Newsweek at 5:00 and 6:00.  Instead, how about Time and Esquire?  Or, maybe Newsweek and Newsday?  We’re trying to tell the 6:00 stories in a different way, avoiding overlapping stories whenever possible, and when a story is big enough to be in both shows, we’re trying to take different angles.

Storytelling Techniques

The whole approach is different on The Six, with anchors and reporters talking to each other, rather than at the viewer.  The goal is to be more conversational, ad libbing whenever possible, to let the information and personalities shine through.

That’s why we have a feature called, quite simply, “Need to Know.”  When was the last time you heard an anchor say “here is what you need to know?”  Why sugarcoat things?  Why get caught up in flowery writing and fancy terminology?  Instead, we give you the information you want, and the important facts you need – what you “Need to Know.”

We’re also trying to bring extra context to The Six, with a project I’m leading, called “The Flip Side.”  Again, it’s a simple concept: take a story that might appear in any newscast, present those basic facts, and then look at “The Flip Side.”  On the day that gas prices peaked, we looked why high prices are actually  worse for gas stations than for drivers, and when a new LRT line was in the news, we looked at more efficient ways to spend transportation money.

We’re still working on ways to pick and present these stories, but none of them would make it on an old-fashioned newscast, all of them are (hopefully) interesting, and they definitely give The Six some extra depth.

We’re also finding ways to use The Wire, our interactive website, to get the audience more involved in the on-air product.  And we’ve got some other projects that are ready to launch.  But we don’t want to go with too much too soon, because we don’t want to jar our audience.  It’s a fine line, delivering new stuff to attract new viewers, while moving slowly enough to hang onto the old ones, and so far it seems like we’re pulling it off.

Immediate Success

The May ratings are out, and The Six not only won in total viewers, but the prime demographics that are the lifeblood of  TV advertising.  That means we kept most of the old viewers, folks who expected to see a traditional newscast, and we recruited some of the new viewers that we targeted.  That’s amazing success for one month of work, and it certainly bodes well for the future, because word will spread, the new projects and storytelling techniques will become part of the audiences expectations, and we’ll have more of a chance to promote the product.

But we still need your help.  Watch the show, and let us know what you think.  If you like it, let your friends know.  And if you don’t like something, let me know.  This is a unique project, trying to mold a newscast based on audience feedback, so we want as much input as possible.

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  1. First of all, kudos on a job well done. I like where you’re headed with this work. The criticism that follows — and I suppose it’s relatively minor — needs that bit of context. Onward…

    The new anchor arrangement — standing, talking to each other at least as much if not more than they are talking at us — is nice but occasionally comes off as awkward and forced. But only occasionally, and I’m sure that will fade as they get more comfortable with it and we get more used to seeing it.

    I understand your point about working to improve upon your 5:00 broadcast and make the 6:00 (sorry: The Six) a unique work. But if you succeed, you’ve created another problem: What about the 5:00? If you’re making The Six better, why leave the 5:00 in the dust? If you soon start to make similar changes to the 5:00, you’ve lost the differentiation, and in a way, you’re right back where you started with apparently redundant back-to-back broadcasts, no?

    All in all, I like where you’re headed and, even more so, I like that you’re actively and obviously working to innovate and improve. We can’t ask for much more than that.

    • MIKE: As usual, your comments are dead on. You’re absolutely right about the temptation, and even the need, to use successful styles – as we develop them – on other newscasts. We owe it to the audience to put our best foot forward on every broadcast, and we will. But as we improve all of them, we also need to keep looking for ways to keep them different, and relevant.

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