ABC 10 News San Diego: New Owners, Big Investment in Homegrown Programming
Journalism 640 News Business Models–Final Project/Analysis
By Sylvia Mendoza
In January, the E.W. Scripps Co. bought ABC 10 News San Diego and eight other television stations from McGraw-Hill Broadcasting for $212 million. According to Price Colman of TVNewsCheck, “Scripps will morph from a newspaper company that owns television stations to a broadcast company that owns some newspapers.”
The mission is to rebuild the stations’ cash flow margins and to invest in “homegrown programming to reduce its reliance on syndicated fare; bulking up investigative news efforts; reorganizing and centralizing digital operations.” The annual broadcast revenue will jump 50% to roughly $450 million. Publishing will contribute about $400 million.
J.W. August, managing editor for ABC 10 News, has been with the station for 30 years. He feels Scripps will be a great fit. “Though they’re based in Indiana, they have deep family roots here, and think local, local, local.”
There are 75 on staff. There were no layoffs during the recession or buyout. Those who have since left or retired have not been replaced. “Scripps is not about stripping down and selling it,” said August. “They’re actually building up the station.”
A consumer reporter was just hired as part of the investigations team. All new hires must be trained as backpack journalists. “It’s the only way to survive in this business now,” he said.
Fifteen years ago a Seattle paper had started posting articles online, explained August. “We thought, ‘How’s it going to affect us?’ But we saw the writing on the wall.” Back in the day, Internet Broadcasting Systems designed their website. “Early on, our I-team was blogging, but it took up too much time. We’d get hundreds of hits, but our goal was thousands. So we stepped back.”
They were one of the first in the U.S. to try backpack journalism. They were flown out to observe a Memphis station, which had gone completely backpack. However, August believes it had made the transition for the wrong reason—they cut bodies for profits.
“We knew we had to feed the beast, but we did it to increase content. We had photographers learn how to be reporters and reporters learn how to be photographers. We were the laughing stock of this market for about two years.”
Now backpack journalism and multimedia is the norm. Reporters have laptops, cameras, wifi and Twitter accounts. Producers set up robot-run cameras so they can pre-program a news broadcast in advance. Email alerts, cell phone access, apps, and Facebook are all active. The website was reconfigured to make it more user-friendly. Accessibility and posting is constant and competitive.
Sometimes a well-oiled machine can have glitches, however. “Even with a bigger team, there is a chance for more mistakes because everything’s going up so fast,” August explained. “I wrestle with that.”
Gravic, however, amazes him. This is a measurement tool that gives feedback on programming, minute by minute. “It keeps track of how a story plays, how many hits it gets, when viewers change the channel, how the headlines play, what commercials are run,” said August. Its analysis can cause a dramatic shift in content—and keep the audience planted for the entire newscast. It helps them schedule topics, breaks and headlines better, for example. “We can see if we did the story wrong, but it can also help us produce better content.”
The Internet is bringing in more advertising income in three main areas: 1. News/broadcast (Television)2. Website (Streaming, written product, trending topics)
3. Azteca (Spanish language)
“Three years ago, we saw that 40 percent of the market is Hispanic and we wanted in,” says August. It’s been slow to assimilate them. One reporter has one or two-minute cut-ins for the regular broadcasts every hour. There’s also an Azteca page on the website. It is a start for a very lucrative target market with buying power.
ABC 10 News has a partnership with XETV Channel 6 for video sharing and Sky 10 (helicopter) is shared with Channel 30. Sometimes investigative teams collaborate.
A “newsroom of the future” is being built. The news hub will be in the center of the room and the “spokes” lead to reporters’ and editors’ desks in an effort to be more efficient and interactive.
August wants to figure out a better way to better shoot photos and videos for iPhones if the majority of the population will be getting its news that way. He also sees custom newscasts somewhere down the line. “You’ll be able to pick the subjects that interest you, build your own newscasts, and have that delivered to you in your preferred format.”
No News without Journalists
There’s a limit to technology, said August. “Someone’s got to write in the field, someone has to do the quality work.” Even though the goal is to deliver more product on different platforms, quicker, a gatekeeper is needed, no matter what medium is used. August seems to look forward to the challenge. “We have a good parent company that supports the big J, and is dedicated to quality content on any platform.”
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