We interrupt this blog…

The big news story in my world is that I started graduate school this month at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. So for the time being this blog will expand beyond issues about women in media and instead I’ll be using it to reflect on the coursework and classroom discussions from my Introduction to Digital Communications class.

Our first topic out the gate is digital convergence. The part of our class discussion that I would like to focus on is the effect it has had on television news media. Digital convergence changed everything from the technology used to report a story to how the actual news is being reported.

Imagine a newsroom with people banging out scripts on typewriters and ripping copy off of newswire machines. Yes kids, that’s what a newsroom looked like thirty years ago when I started my first job at ABC’s Good Morning America. While my career began at the tail end of the IBM Selectric phase, it was not long before the first computers were introduced into the office. These machines mostly functioned as word processors and we had to share them.

As the years went on there were more technological developments with fax machines, email and even early cell phones which were about the size of a brick. All of these devices made our jobs easier and delivered the news more efficiently, but did it make us better reporters?

Part of our class discussion touched on the advent of the 24 hour news cycle and the effect it has had on in-depth news reporting. Some said they no longer trust broadcast news organizations and that the public now needs to do a lot of the digging in order to get the full story.

This made me think about how my job as a producer changed overtime. In the early part of my career as an associate producer, we often took weeks to research special series. I recall spending many hours on the phone talking to experts and sources to research and set up stories. It was not uncommon to be sent to the town or city where the story was taking place to do some of this research in person before shooting any footage.

All of this dramatically changed in the mid 1990s when the internet made its way into the newsroom. Suddenly there was a trove of information at our fingertips. This instant access accelerated the speed at which we turned stories and reported the news. But while the internet made us feel more globally connected, it also seemed to keep us tethered to our desks.

The new century brought with it new competition. Networks and cable stations not only had to vie for viewers with other broadcast outlets, but also on the internet. Consumers were looking elsewhere for their news including online media outlets and social media. The popularity of smart phone technology led to a whole new dynamic in the flow of information and diminished attention spans. The industry turned to talk-oriented shows filled with opinions and commentary and wall-to-wall coverage of big news stories to grab the attention of viewers. Today “breaking news” is the mantra of the broadcast industry, but I think some in my class would say “broken news” is a more accurate description.

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Al Jazeera America launch: 3, 2, 1… Liftoff!

Kate O’Brian has a daunting job ahead of her. She’s at the helm of Tuesday’s launch of Al Jazeera America, the latest entry into the 24 hour news market. O’Brian, as I previously posted, is one of two women recently named president of a television news organization. (The other is Deborah Turness at NBC News.) Unlike Turness,  O’Brian is tasked with introducing an American audience to a whole new brand of news which will include 14 hours of live programming.

NPR’s “On The Media” spoke with O’Brian and other members of her team about the new channel’s programming and the hurdles it will have to overcome in order to gain an American audience. The network plans to focus its reporting on under the radar stories here in the United States. At the moment, budgetary costs do not appear to be of concern as the new cable news channel is financed by the government of Qatar.  O’Brian says,  “We will be able to tell stories from places that our competitors will not be able to.”

We will see in the coming weeks and months how the new network will differentiate itself from other cable news channels. There already is one notable difference. In addition to O’Brian,  Al Jazeera America has hired several women for key positions including Marcy McGinnis as senior VP of news gathering, Shannon High as senior VP of documentaries and programs and Kim Bondy as senior executive producer of the network’s flagship prime time news magazine show “America Tonight”.

Stay tuned…

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