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Hearst-Argyle Wants 'U' to Report

Hearst-Argyle Television this month is completing the rollout of its user-generated content (UGC) program “u local” at its 25 stations that produce newscasts, and sees plenty of opportunity to drive revenue with it. The u local program invites users to take part in newsgathering by uploading footage to the station site, while also bantering with the community about everything from programs to politics.

The program launched out of WMUR Manchester, N.H., in December. Station President/General Manager Jeff Bartlett says it has already emerged as a significant part of the newsgathering process—whether it's video from a 14-alarm fire on-air or, just last week, photos of a wild bear on the home page. “There's a lot of stuff we just would not have on the air if people were not there to witness it, shoot it and send it to us,” Bartlett says.

Do-it-yourself news

News outlets have increasingly looked to viewers to share the content-creation load since large numbers of Americans started walking around with camera-equipped cellphones in their pockets. At the network level, there is iReport from CNN and uReport from Fox News. Stations, many suffering from severe downsizing, have stepped up efforts to get users to help expand their reach. Broadcast Interactive Media offers the YouNews program to its partner stations, various Raycom stations employ See It Snap It Send It, and Gray TV's WITN Greenville, N.C., has Carolina Camera.

Just last week, Barrington Broadcasting inked a deal with Nashville-based Cell Journalist to provide a UGC platform in 14 Barrington markets. “Today's media consumer is more technologically savvy and seeks to be engaged in the newsgathering process,” Barrington Interactive President David Buonfiglio said at the time.

Hearst-Argyle has played in the UGC space for years. Its High School Playbook program, which debuted in the summer of 2007, encourages users to post school sports video, photos and commentary. Managed by Hearst-Argyle's Digital Business Manager Sam Young, u local is seen both as a Facebook-type forum for people to communicate, and a pipeline for content that can appear on-air, online and eventually on a mobile application.

Bartlett says user footage works its way into WMUR's news “all the time,” such as video of a massive fire that leveled dozens of homes and a conference center in Alton Bay last month. “Often it's the first—and best—footage,” he says.

Video of crushing snowfalls abounds in New England, while Hearst-Argyle stations in Midwestern markets might see front-line footage of tornadoes from users.

But u local isn't solely about hard news. A look at the 350-plus videos on shows everything from school plays to baby raccoons to a particularly picturesque sunrise.

WAPT Jackson launched u local a few weeks back as a partnership with a magazine called The Sporting Spirit. The joint venture is dedicated to youth sports in central Mississippi.

“We're tying into a very energetic viewer base—people with kids in sports,” says WAPT President/General Manager Stuart Kellogg.

Hearst-Argyle managers see considerable revenue potential in u local, which counts tens of thousands of registered users nationwide thus far. WAPT has a novel approach: Proud parents can purchase professional photos of kids in their Little League or youth soccer games, and the station gets a cut of the revenue.

The bigger picture

General managers say u local abets a larger strategy of boosting Web traffic, which makes it a more attractive buy for marketers. Some will also be drawn to sponsorship centered on certain events, such as a high school graduation. “I can see specific applications that [advertisers] would want to be associated with,” says WMUR Creative Services Director Alex Jasiukowicz.

Hearst-Argyle Director of Digital Media Jacques Natz says the connectivity u local fosters between station and viewer might also work between station and advertiser. “At some point, it can branch beyond news,” he says. “It's a tool that marketing and sales can use, too.”

As stations try to be more than simply local newscasts to their communities, GMs say u local is an effective way to not only give viewers a peek into the station, but give them a voice in the proceedings as well. WCVB Boston President/General Manager Bill Fine says he'll hear from viewers quickly—and in large numbers—about something they liked or took issue with on-air.

“It's an easy, extended way for us to make contact with viewers and encourage the interactivity that everyone wants,” Fine says. “It's more than just them sending an e-mail to the station.”

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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.