The TV Revolution Is Upon Us — According To The Tribune Co.

walter-cronkite331249584506The TV anchor newscast format has been around for a long time, actually since Jack Parr had his morning show back in the 1950s.  So I concede, maybe it’s time to consider changes, and shake up the news format a bit.  But I think that the Tribune CO. is swinging the “pendulum” to its extreme with their plans for an anchor-less news show.

I cannot imagine a TV world without the likes of Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, et al, and before them Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and still before, the legendary Walter Cronkite.

Ok, I get it.  The shake up is aimed at local news, for now…

I cannot blame the Tribune Co., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008, to search for innovative ways to boost the under-performing stations.  But I can blame them for brazenly calling it “A TV Revolution,” when their plan to roll out a radical anchor-free overhaul newscast called NewsFix, is still just a prototype and plans are for it to roll out only on key stations that need a rating boost.

What is puzzling is that the push for NewsFix comes as Tribune’s stations are on track to generate more than $1 billion in operating revenue for 2010.

The NewsFix format will apparently be geared to  “infotainment.”  In the Tribune’s attempt to shake off the traditional format to imitate the Web browsing experience on TV, NewsFix will rely mostly on pre-packaged stories with off-camera narration as reported on ReadWriteWeb, and offer it all “in a glib conversational style that takes an irreverent, at times even snarky, tone in describing the details of news stories.”  Of course it will add graphics and soundtrack.  A former KIAH producer who blogged about the program at TVNewsCheck told Poynter.org. that “the new format sounds like it will go for shock value – arguably the worst quality in the TV news legacy.”

Indeed.

Abrams, who developed NewsFix in his role as Tribune’s senior veep and chief innovations officer, said, “We’re trying to get away from Barbie and Ken sitting behind a desk chit-chatting with each other with their nice teeth.” Abrams emphasized that the NewsFix push is not driven by cost-cutting concerns but by the desire to shake up what he sees as an ossified format for stations that don’t have a strong history in local news.

OK, but I remain suspect as to their intentions..

Just look at who the company is recruiting to staff their NewsFix.  Their job listing calls for a “solid team of anti-establishment producer/editors, “preditors”, to collaborate on a groundbreaking morning news/infotainment format.”  It goes to say that they don’t care about any solid newsroom or exclusive, breaking news coverage experience. Nor excellence at writing readable copy for “plastic anchorpeople.”

So who are they interested in to run this “show?”

Apparently they are searching for “an earbud wearing, app downloading, rss reading, podcast playing, text messaging, flip-flop wearing professional of any age or sex, with a real-world education, interests that are anything but mainstream, and the ability to translate your bent outlook onto the TV screen.”

Well, there goes the neighborhood — er, news, as we know it.

It is a sad commentary on our times, that the reporting of the news needs to be entertaining in order to grab attention from locals and investors.  I get it.  It won’t happen in our major cities as yet, but just consider that, what should instinctively be of concern and interest to all of us on its own merit, can only prosper when “sold” in a culturally relevant and entertaining way.

Look, news is news.  I am confident that it can survive and remain profitable through more in depth news coverage, better reporting that includes relevant national and international news that affect a community and impacts audiences no matter what locale they are in, and with less of a focus on the latest accident or crime.  Maybe it’s just too much effort, but if that level of reporting remains consistent, then there will be no need to turn local news into infotainment. For that there are other formats like The Daily Show, et al, or, for that matter, the Web.

A note of irony: it’s been reported that younger viewers say they prefer their TV news with anchors.  It’s a mentor thing, I guess…

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