Getting more local with coverage

Six of the 10 television stations Bill Peterson oversees as senior VP for The E.W. Scripps Company television station group are launching high-definition local news. That, combined with his long history in the broadcast industry that began as a news photographer and reporter, definitely make Peterson qualified to offer insight into where TV news is headed.

Peterson, who has been a news director at five stations and a VP and general manager at four others, including WRAL-TV in Raleigh, NC, will present a keynote speech at the Broadcast Engineering/Broadcasting & Cable News Technology Summit in Chicago.

Q: How will Scripps approach local news going forward given the high degree of flux in technologies, delivery platforms and audiences?

Bill Peterson: Clearly, the path to success when it comes to these changes is to be adjusting with them, and we're going to be driven more and more local. That means we're going to be producing more material and probably gathering more material.

Our strategy is to be where the viewer is and to provide content when they want it, where they want it. I think most of the big players in our industry realize the same thing and are headed in the same direction.

Q: From a tactical point of view, can technologies like file-based workflows help your stations deliver more local news where and when viewers want it?

Bill Peterson: There will have to be more people who go out and gather news, so we'll have to find efficiencies in the way we do that. There's also going to have to be more people out selling advertising.

We will have to adjust our staffs and probably increase them to accommodate those needs, but obviously the first place you turn to is to see if technology can allow you to redeploy human resources.

Q: How are your news organizations responding to new technologies?

Bill Peterson: The people in the field seem to be adjusting faster than those of us in the corner office. There was a big accident on I-95 in Baltimore. WMAR literally got it on its Web site almost instantly because a photographer snapped a couple of shots with his cell phone, sent it to YouTube and from YouTube put it on the Web site.

Q: What role do you see for citizen journalists in the future of news?

Bill Peterson: They fit in. There will have to be some people in the newsroom who vet that material to make sure that it is what it appears to be and that it's legitimate.

Even now, I look out from my desk and watch some of the CNN coverage. If there's a big breaking news story, often some of the first video it will be using is from people in the field who happened to snap off a few digital images and send them in.

Q: Do you think there will be stories that get told better with HD or stories that would not have been told at all without it?

Bill Peterson: I don't know that they will be told better, but I think from a viewing standpoint, there are stories that can be more compelling. One always pops to my mind. I can remember sometime in the spring after WRAL introduced local HD news, there was an average story being done; it would have been two-thirds down the list in the morning meeting. The state government was making an effort to acquire and fix up some historical buildings near the capital. They were originally residences. It was a fairly vanilla story.

Well, the video of these grand old homes in high definition was just amazing. You became so interested in the video of these structures that a story that in standard definition would be interesting was simply jaw-dropping in high definition.

Q: What tips can you offer others as they plan for the future?

Bill Peterson: There still is so much happening that to be drawing a line in the sand in mid-October 2007 and be saying that this is where the future is and this is where we're going, that's trying to be clairvoyant, and that's pretty dangerous.