Monday, November 13, 2006

Quick thoughts: Centralcasting, crowdsourcing and silencing gangs

Centralcasting, Telemundo style

With some of the discussion we've had here lately about changes likely coming to copy desks, universal desks, etc., it's worth noting our broadcast bretheren are struggling with some of the same issues. The latest reminder is the word that Telemundo is centralizing much of its newscast production at a studio near Fort Worth. Meg James brings the details in an L.A. Times story:

As part of a companywide, $750-million restructuring by parent NBC Universal, Telemundo TV stations in markets including San Jose, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas and Houston will no longer produce their own newscasts.

Instead, beginning early next year, local news for seven Telemundo stations will originate near Fort Worth. There, anchors and editors will produce three live regionalized newscasts using feeds from reporters and camera operators in the field.
Expect to see more of this. TV studios and newsrooms are expensive operations. The more you can keep them running, the better the margins. NBC's also doing it by bringing MSNBC in-house at Rockefeller Center. has a good archive article on "centralcasting," including the human toll involved when Sinclair centralized its news. And from that article, a thought:

"Until now, centralcasting has been an unqualified failure because most broadcasters went in with the primary motivation to save money. To be successful, centralcasting has to result in a better local on-air product, not just a cheaper one," said Steven L'Heureux, president of Denver-based automation provider Encoda Systems.
Another article, this one originally from American Journalism Review in 1993, touches on the centralcasting experiment tried here in Columbia. That station (WOLO) gave it up about a year ago and now has a small downtown studio and staff. The newscasts from Charlotte were so bad they were painful to watch. On the other hand, the move might have kept that news operation from going dark.

Election Day Crowdsourcing

Gannett followed its announcement of a week ago that it was blowing up its newsrooms, with a new emphasis on "crowdsourcing," with some examples in action on Election Day. I especially like the Cincinnati Enquirer's site for reporting voting problems. Nice Google map mashup, too, to make it easier to interpret. Other big-G papers had similar things, some linked to Gannett's national round-up site.

Yet, as I look at Cincinnati's offering, for instance, I find something missing. I find myself staring at all the blog posts and the neat map and muttering "what does it mean"? And that's the downside of this newfound enthusiasm for crowdsourcing (using the wisdom and expertise of a mass of people outside the newsroom to help ferret out information). The word is drowdsourcing, and we should't forget that. It's not "crowdjournalism," and that's why we have journalists -- to take disparate posts like those on the election-problem site and provide broader meaning and context.

Where is the story that tells me whether all these posts represented a real problem in Cincinnati and surrounding areas, or whether they were a random set of relatively insignificant things (not insignificant to those who had trouble voting, but still ...)? Ask an epidemeologist about the dangers that lurk in drawing conclusions from what appear to be clusters. (Clustering can apply to time as well as geography, and of course the concentrated nature of Election Day would tend to promote that.) And if a story was done, my apologies, but why is it not linked from this page?

While we are all agog about crowdsourcing, let's not lose sight of the journalism that's still needed.

Ganging up on Gangs

One of our local TV stations, a Gannett outfit, is trumpeting the fact that it no longer will "knowingly" show gang symbols or colors or gang members themselves. The station says it doesn't want to glorify gang members and wants to be "part of the solution."

Pardon me. If children are in the room hold their ears. This is a ^&#$%^*&(%*& STUPID MOVE that smacks of trying to grab brownie points rather than do journalism. Sure, gang members may be slimeballs, but you don't cut yourself off from any source in a story that is of central interest to a wide swath of your community. Of course you don't glorify them, but there will be journalistic moments when you simply can't tell a full, accurate story without them. They are a voice -- now silenced on your station, for good or evil. What is the next voice you're willing to ignore when the guv'ment suggests it might not be prudent? Got a mirror ...

Labels: , , , , , , ,


At 11/13/06, 9:26 PM, Blogger Murley said...

Doug, this thing with the gangs is not really something new. I remember the media in Austin (or was it San Antonio - I think it was Austin) doing this in the late 80s, early 90s, and it seemed to have been received favorably by the community. What was happening was that gang members were flashing the signs when they were arrested, thus earning them brownie points within the gangs.

I didn't know Columbia had a gang problem that was so severe. Of course, the other side of this would be for TV news to stop spending so much footage covering acts of violence.

At 11/14/06, 7:33 AM, Anonymous Media Blog said...

I always assumed Cincy would follow up with professional journalsim to put all those reports in context and determine if there was any there there. There's no point in collecting all that data if is doesn't lead to someting meaningful at the end of the day. Otherwise, to me, it's not crowdsourcing. It's just a message board. And message boards are a fine thing for UGC, but that doesn't strike me as crowdsourcing as I understand it.

Also, every paper I've worked at had policies (even as far back as the '80s) against publishing graffiti photos, for fear of giving taggers and gang members brownie points. The notion is ingrained enough in me now that I don't take photos for my own blog with visible graffiti in the shot.

At 11/14/06, 8:29 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Sure, you minimize it. My objection is to an absolute ban that silences any voice. As a journalist, you do not know when you might need to interview that person to get the full perspective (that is what we are supposed to be doing, right?).

Extreme case: Bin laden walks into the room tomorrow. You're not going to strongly think about the pros and cons of talking to him as one of the most important figures of this young century? He runs a gang ...
Yeah, yeah, the argument will go, that's different by an order of magnitude. No it isn't. Live in a neighborhood terrorized by gangs -- or a school with them (I have just a little experience with this where I grew up). You can't solve a problem unless you understand it, and understanding it may require sharing the gang leaders' views with the community. (Better analogy: No, I'm not going to put on the air the guy as he shouts "fire" in a crowded theater, but I may need to talk with him as a journalist -- and "talk" in TV means video -- to understand why he did it and gain an understanding so the community can prevent it again.)
I'd have much less problem if the station just said "minimize" it, but WLTX is promoting this as essentially a blacklist, that it will never talk to gang members or show gang symbols, and I think that is just pandering.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home