News Not to Lose

It’s the morning after the evening news. I thought I’d try to remember what I saw. Very little was “new,” in the original sense. Cash for clunkers; the Jackson custody verdict; health-care protesters—stories already digested by Google spiders. Two stories did stand out. Both demonstrated what differentiates TV news from online dredgers à la Google.

NBC News correspondent Jim Maceda joined 300 Marines near an Al-Qaeda stronghold in remote Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He filed two minutes and 40 seconds of what could become a compelling documentary.

As far as I know, Serge and Larry are not sending reporters into Afghanistan. Maybe someday Google will send bloggers or vloggers or sloggers or boondogglers, but bona fide hacks are unlikely.

The other story that stood out was local and a bit ridiculous but train-wreck fascinating. The CBS2 helo team did a crack job following a woman driving an SUV trying to evade police on the 405 Freeway. She was weaving through traffic at nearly 100 miles an hour. The chopper stayed on her. The videographer was smooth as glass. It was captivating… and eminently newsworthy. The 405 is never, ever that clear.

I rather doubt aggregators will put a chopper in the air anytime soon. The world is not rife with adept helo pilots desirous to risk their lives for TV station wages.

Broadcast news has resources that no other outlets have, and therefore the opportunity to create something no one else can. Yet broadcast news organizations give it away online, having learned nothing from the print industry. Print executives seemed to believe that people who read words on paper could not read them on a screen.

This turned out to be a miscalculation.

Content could have been platform tailored from the start. E.g., The Wall Street Journal is definitely not its progeny, AllThingsD And WSJ, still standing amid the billowing dust clouds of the newspaper industry implosion, does not give it away. WSJ content dug up through search engines contains sticky, floating ads. The franchise may not be an online hit factory today, but it may very well be the model news outlet of the future.

No similar strategy has emerged in broadcast news. Most stations have just added bells and whistles to the traditional, three-part format. The made-for-HD sets are great, but who doesn’t have one? TV news needs something radical to break out of the bedlam, like news, for example. News that can’t be obtained anyplace else. And car chases.

-- Deborah D. McAdams