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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Last night I attended the launch party for the new web video channel “Lives with Meredith Vieira”. I previously posted about the channel when it premiered on YouTube.

Launch party for "Lives with Meredith Vieira".

Meredith Vieira, Sarah Bernard and Jessie Cantrell at the launch party for “Lives with Meredith Vieira”

I had the opportunity to speak with Vieira about her new project. Our conversation focused on the differences between working in new media and traditional media. This is a topic I hope to return to often in future posts.

I asked Vieira if she thought web video channels are the wave of the future and she told me, “I still love traditional media and I think it has a role. But I can’t ignore this anymore. I was really kind of being prehistoric about it and it’s there. And I’m meeting some women who have huge footprints in the internet world and I didn’t even know they existed.”

Meredith Vieira

Meredith Vieira

You can see the full conversation here. (My apologies for the less than stellar video. Hildy must fix this problem stat!)

I also spoke with Mary-Liz McDonald who is the Executive Producer overseeing “Lives”. McDonald started her career in traditional television and in recent years made the switch to digital. “I don’t think there has been a day in the last year and a half when I haven’t learned something new because the landscape is constantly changing”, she told me. ” There are new platforms and new devices and learning how to drive an audience to the content.”

Meredith Vieira and Mary-Liz McDonald, EP "Lives with Meredith Vieira" / photo: Luis Antonio Ruiz

Meredith Vieira and Mary-Liz McDonald, EP “Lives with Meredith Vieira” / photo: Luis Antonio Ruiz

McDonald says web video channels don’t have the same limitations as traditional broadcast channels. “There’s not a big price to admission in digital because you can fail. You can try things in digital and if it fails you can scrap it and move on partially because our costs are lower and partially because things can come and go in digital. It’s not programatic yet in the way I think broadcast television is.”

Hildyshub will continue watching where “Lives” is headed. As they say in the business, “Stay tuned!”.

 

Look!

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I’ve been doing a lot of this lately. I look back on my 25 year career as a television producer and wonder has my work made a difference? How do I keep up? Is there a place for a middle-aged woman like me?  I look at female colleagues, those who have stuck it out and those who have moved on. Why did they stay? Where did they go? What can they teach me? I look at young female interns filled with enthusiasm and remember when that was once me. What’s their future like? What wisdom can I impart on them? What questions do they have for me? I look at television news, newspapers, websites, blogs and social media and wonder what influence will women have on this industry as it evolves? I hope other women will join me as we look to each other to find answers and make our way forward.

 

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