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Ray Heacox: ‘King’ for a Year

With the horrific rain flooding the
region last month, perhaps "perfect
storm" isn't the best choice of words to describe
KING Seattle's fortunes this year. But it's apt: A
longtime power in DMA No. 12, the NBC affiliate had the Super Bowl, a Summer Olympics
featuring several local athletes and an unprecedented
batch of prestigious industry awards
for its standout on-air product, including a Peabody,
a pair of national Murrows and no fewer
than 27 regional Emmys-the latter more than
double that of anyone else in the area.

It has been a fantasy year for Ray Heacox,
president and general manager at KING-and
station group sage and digital doyen at parent
Belo. "Ray is a thinker," says Peter Diaz, Belo
president of media operations. "He's constantly
thinking about our business, how it is changing,
and what media companies need to change."

Heacox shared his thoughts at a group level
until recently, regularly flying to Belo headquarters
in Dallas to serve as corporate digital VP until
the new digital hire got up to speed. But now
that he's focused solely on Seattle-he also oversees
independent KONG and the NWCN cable
channel-he's putting some space between
KING and the top-flight Seattle competition.

Heacox spearheaded an internal project
dubbed JAWAT-Journalism Anywhere, Any
Time-that was designed to keep KING content
lively and timely on every last screen the user
might choose to be staring at. He tapped a veteran
writer and producer to be KING's full-time
social media manager. The word "engagement"
is held in high regard at KING, which aggregates
Facebook "Likes," Twitter retweets and other social
media mentions to measure its relevance.

"We look more at engagement than anything
else," Heacox says. "It's taken us from
a one-dimensional type of megaphone to a two-way conversation with users that results
in better storytelling."

Storytelling is key at KING-KONG, which
produces 8½ hours of news a day, among the
most in the country. KING has perhaps the most
decorated investigative crew in the business-the key to all those awards, which included a
2011 Peabody. A seasoned I-team is a big drain
on the budget, and many stations felt such a cost
didn't fit their right-sized structure during the
recession. But KING never wavered in its commitment
to deep, hardball reportage, such as
the "Their Crime, Your Dime" report on welfare
scams, which sparked legislative change.

A KING report might have 40 installments,
ensuring digital platforms are replete with content.
"Ray is in the top tier of general managers
who understand the digital side as well as the
on-air side," Diaz says. "He's a technology geek."

KING was awarded an Olympic "Gold" by
NBC for its digital performance during the
Games, best in class in terms of page views
and video views. Blessed with a large number
of Olympians in the DMA, including soccer
standout Hope Solo, KING's Olympics coverage
started a year in advance, with regular packages
about the Seattle-Tacoma stars. When the
Games began, KING sent a crew of three to London,
where it produced packages for Belo's NBC
affiliates in Portland, Ore., and Boise, Idaho, too.

"We had all the stories in the world to tell," he
says, "and tried to tell them all year long."

For all its technological chops, KING-KONG
is something of a throwback. There is the 11
a.m. New Day Northwest, a nightly sports program
and a gardening show. KING has aired the
7 p.m. Evening Magazine for more than a quarter
century. When ratings started to sag, Heacox
hatched Evening Magazine 2.0-an initiative focused
on tweaking the local lifestyle program to
build ratings. That led to new graphics, a faster
pace, a mix of long and short stories and more
face time for reporters. Viewers responded, and
Evening Magazine jumped a spot in the time slot.

Heacox, who hails from the outskirts of
Tacoma, also oversaw a food bank project called
Home Team Harvest that until recently averaged
a million meals a year for the needy. Heacox
challenged his crew to raise it to 2 million a few
years back, which it did. This year, he set the bar
at 3 million. By early December, Home Team
Harvest had already produced more than 3.3
million meals for Seattle's hungry.

Seattle may be the finest TV news market in
the nation, with savvy viewers and Cox's KIRO
and Fisher's KOMO, among others, fighting
KING for every ratings point-and for those
national awards. All three have won national
overall excellence distinctions from the Murrow
folks in recent years. "That tells you how hard
people here work," says B&C's GM of the Year.
"It absolutely makes you sharper."