Monday, January 29, 2007

Program your local TV station

Is this the forefront of something new or just some off-the-wall idea that comes from the desperation of a struggling independent TV station?

Either, way, most interesting developments at KFTY, Channel 50, in Santa Rosa, Calif.

The station has done away with most of its news programs (basically, two nightly newscasts, according to this story from the Press Democrat), laid off 13 people and intends to use the Web to let the public help direct its programming.

A few excerpts from the story, quoting General Manager John Burgess:

"We are no longer in a position to access the advertiser base required to maintain two long form newscasts," he said.

Burgess said the changes were pushed by forces that are roiling most of the media industry, primarily the availability of free and alternative sources of news and entertainment on the Internet, as well as innovations that make it simple for people to post their own opinions on the Web in print, audio and video format.

"In my opinion, we're all looking at better ways of truly touching our customers and I think for the television industry, if you're not engaging your viewers and Web site users in two way-interactivity, you're not going to be growing, especially over the next three to 10 years," he said.

A public affairs program will debut in February and each week its topic will be determined by viewers, he said. Other planned programs include segments on which video footage from community groups and others will be aired.

That's the model of the future, Burgess said.

He said the station plans to work closely with area nonprofit and other community groups, and he argued that while the North Bay will no longer have a TV newscast dedicated to its issues, it may find it replaced by better local news coverage.

"Typically, news is decided by a news department, not by a reader or a viewer. We're saying we're going to flip that model," he said.

"We want viewers to tell us and supply us with the content that they want. It's much like having a bunch of citizen journalists. Frankly, I think we're going to do a much better job of covering local issues than we are doing right now."
Journalism on the cheap, or a real attempt to mainstream citizen journalism? It will be interesting to see. This, after all, is a Clear Channel operation that's on the block, so it's hard to see it as a generalizable model. Still, while a lot has been written about newspapers' woes recently, TV has yet to get the full monty. Might this be the start?

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