SAN FRANCISCO—With dozens of information platforms to choose from (and a proliferation of often-less-than-objective sources out there) how do modern TV news outlets plan to tackle the 2022 election this November?
For every station group and news broadcaster prepping for this year’s midterm elections, one fact stands immutable: Objectivity reigns supreme. Only second to that are the technology choices and newsgathering trademarks that a network will employ to better connect with viewers and strengthen that loyalty.
What sets some election coverages apart from others depends on the network’s core priorities.
From the Ground Up
For news network Newsy, the priority is about reporting and producing from the ground up. Rather than seeing itself as a bells and whistles organization, the head of the Scripps news group said her election coverage team is focused on contextual stories, solid reporting, deep dives into political profiles and live election news coverage.
“The hallmark of Newsy is that it’s a nonpartisan, news-driven channel focused on communicating with our audience through the visual medium, which means beautifully produced packages that appeal to viewers all over the country,” said Kate O’Brian, head of national network news group at E.W. Scripps Co., which produces the Newsy channel.
Newsy is unique, she said, because it provides a linear stream available in every possible distribution method (except cable) and is free everywhere. “For the consumer, no matter what story we’re doing, we bring something that others are not able to bring free: 24/7, live content,” she said.
That will dovetail directly into the network’s 2022 election coverage. The journalists within the network’s 14 bureaus are reporters and producers who are local to those bureaus, O’Brian said. In addition to a national producer and political reporter, the network has reporters across the country in places other people don’t—Phoenix, Nashville, Seattle, Denver and more.
“That creates a kind of coverage for us that is deeper and broader, which gives us and gives our audience an advantage,” O’Brian said. Newsy also has a partnership with 61 local Scripps television stations as well as an additional group of reporters providing additional political coverage.
When it comes to the visual look of the network’s November election coverage, Newsy will shortly roll out the “Inform Your Vote 22” moniker. The network also plans to differentiate itself by covering stories that may be passed over by other networks, O’Brian said. “It’s why we chose to put our bureaus in these random places—it’s not a random choice. [Those bureaus] represent the country.”
Intersection of Data and Graphics
Heading into the November elections, Telemundo finds itself faced with a delightful challenge: how to best cover a significant number of election races involving Latina politicians.
“One of the things that NBCUniversal has done is to make diversity one of its strongholds,” said Jeffrey Liebman, director of news operations for Telemundo. “This [election] year it’s important to be covering Latina races.”
Telemundo will work with the other networks under the NBCUniversal banner —including the NBC News Group, MSNBC, CNBC and others—by pooling resources when it comes to election data graphics. The network uses several Vizrt Engine graphics platforms for graphics creation; datamining for onscreen graphics and charts is handled through the NBC technology department. “We want the entities to work together so that our election environment is streamlined,” Liebman said.
As a news organization, Telemundo knows that much of its viewership is situated on the coasts, so the network is prepping for the ability to program news late into the night for West Coast viewers.
“What was very successful in the last election was the tremendous amount of data we were able to use to really tell stories and convey to viewers what the status of the election numbers were,” he said. Oftentimes, the minute-by-minute returns that were coming in were driven by augmented reality storytelling, he said.
This year, the Telemundo team has expanded that AR graphics team which plans to take advantage of the cavernous, two-story, glass foyer that hosts the Telemundo news space in Miami, which also serves as a production hub for other NBC properties. “That area gives us a lot of creative freedom that has proven ideal for things like AR,” Liebman said. “If a news program requires a camera frameup of a wide expanse, that open space offers a breathtaking background for any number of creative possibilities,” he said.
AR options may include an augmented reality version of Capitol Hill—appearing in the Miami building’s circular rotunda with its wide, winding staircase—in which the roof of the virtual Congressional dome flips open to reveal animated election numbers and statistics inside.
The network also plans to make prodigious use of LED flatscreens in its election staging. “They are wonderful for storytelling and can be used easily as touchscreens,” Liebman said. “The significant use of AR graphics and LED technology ends up being much less expensive than constructing a huge stage,” he said.
But even if you can put a lot of magic on the screen, the bottom line will always be about the content. “It’s about numbers and how NBC parcels out those graphic numbers in both English and in Spanish,” he said. “And it works.”
For Sinclair Broadcast Group, its 2022 election coverage will showcase its commitment to providing context that goes beyond a typical 15-second news sound bite. Its “Beyond the Podium” segments that will air as election coverage kicks off will showcase meaningful content that separates Sinclair from its competitors, said Scott Livingston, senior vice president of news for the station group.
“As it has done with previous news coverage, Sinclair stations will take advantage of social media platforms to gather our viewers’ questions for candidates, allowing for a more direct conversation from the local communities that Sinclair serves,” Livingston said. “We will also stream as many candidate press conferences and forums in real time on our digital platforms,” Livingston said, in an effort to provide unmatched coverage on every platform in every market.
Sinclair’s Capitol Hill bureau will provide daily stories on key topics and issues impacting the country while local resources will be leveraged to provide comprehensive coverage in important swing states. “We will also provide live coverage from Capitol Hill with our national interactive mapping to track the results across the country and the impact on the balance of power in Congress,” Livingston said
Sinclair will also continue its “Connect to Congress” series, a multimedia initiative that kicked off in February that enables members of Congress in Sinclair’s news markets to speak directly to their constituents on a regular basis through their local TV news stations. The program relies on broadcast, digital and social media technologies to get viewers answers to local issues.
Telemundo, Newsy and Sinclair share challenges facing nearly every news outlet come election night: breaking through the noise of so many virtual platforms. The way forward, each said, is to unearth fresh content for viewers and knowledgeably expand that news across platforms with the penultimate goal of helping the electorate make informed decisions.
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Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.