Monday, September 24, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Feast Or Famine

It's a truism of the news business (and a cliche as well) that it's either feast or famine. We've been following the story of the New England Patriots allegedly "spying" on the New York Jets during their season-opening game last Sunday.

NFL security caught a Patriots cameraman taping the hand signals one of the other team's coaches was making during the game.

Yesterday, we had some meat in that Pats coach Bill Belichick issued a statement apologizing to his team and others for the entire incident. It's amazing what you can do to stretch a two sentence statement into an entire story. I'm sure the Pats organization labored over it too.

Today, however, the station didn't do much to follow the story in the early hours and it was a relatively quiet news day. We were scratching around for some new content to post on the Web site, always a priority because the conventional wisdom and research indicates that people check the site all through the day to see if there are any new stories posted. We are constantly feeding a voracious beast that is never satiated. Then, at night when I go to the gym, all the TV sets are showing the "old" news of the day ... stuff we've given people all day long. And the TV folks are scratching their heads at why Nielson numbers show a declining television news audience all across the board.

Like the newspaper industry, television has to re-invent itself or die, or just do with a much smaller piece of the pie. Maybe at the network level they've been thinking about that, but I think they're eons behind where they need to be. It's intresting to be here in my industry at this place and time.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

'What a World, What a World ...'

We have transitioned rather easily to the new video capture system, but it only works for newscasts that have been pre-programmed. We do not have a solution yet for capturing live video or unscheduled video.

In the meantime, the technology continues to confound us all from time to time. Yesterday, a complete meltdown of our content management system (cms) left all of us across the network writing haiku poems to wile away the time until the techs could diagnose the problem.

Many were quite clever, along the lines of:

Blank blue screen sits mute
I can do nothing but wait
Phaedra you mock me

The cause of the meltdown remains a mystery, although all systems were up and running today. There are so many ways we can fail in this tenuous dance of connections. There can be disruptions within our station, if the line sending data becomes too clogged. (This is the layman's description, obviously.) There can be some kind of failure at the Hearst Service Center in Charlotte, N.C., where all of the information must go before it wends its way to the Internet Broadcasting servers in Minnesota. From there, it comes back to us, distributed through Akamai.

When looked at this way, it's amazing that the system works at all, much less as well as it actually does. I imagine this network is replicated in other systems nationwide.

What's more complicated, in many ways, is simply trying to maintain a balance as a "credible" news source. Stories published on our site about our crumbling infrastructure of fragile bridges and tunnels don't garner near the page views that a story about finger-painting gorillas at the local zoo does. Britney Spears stories are always traffic generators, whereas articles about changes to our auto insurance rate system fall short. Last week, we livestreamed both funeral services for two Boston firefighters who died battling a restaurant blaze. Both made the "Top 10" lists, but did not garner huge page views. (Even so, there were quite a few emails from people who were glad we provided the opportunity.)

All this constantly leaves me somewhat frustrated. OF COURSE people are going to eat junk food if that's all you give them. What kind of a service are we providing to the public, and at what cost? Do we even have a right to argue for the protection of a free press that doesn't provide much beyond titillating infotainment? More importantly, do we really have any other choice than to do so?