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’Scoping Out the Next Newsgathering Trend

Tech trends zip into and out of TV newsrooms with some regularity, but local TV newsgatherers are increasingly enamored of the live-streaming apps—such as Periscope and Meerkat—that they believe may end up a force multiplier in the content world. When Chip Mahaney, senior director, local operations for Scripps, visited KGUN Tucson, four staffers approached him to discuss their early adventures with live-to-Web streaming. “They said, ‘We’ve been Periscoping—is that OK?’” recalls Mahaney. Indeed it is: “It’s a lot of fun to see people working on it in our newsrooms. It’s, look at what I’ve done, what I’ve tried. We’re real excited to see that.”

While some remain apprehensive about the platforms’ potential (see related story on page 12), many reporters have moved past the experimental stage in terms of Periscope. KGUN morning anchor Liz Kotalik uses it to give viewers a glimpse at the anchor team between and during news segments. KNTV San Jose investigative reporters Vicky Nguyen and Tony Kovaleski use Periscope to engage with users about the stories they’re working on. Representing what may be its best usage, others deploy Periscope from the field, offering users a front-row glimpse of breaking news when a live truck or even a backpack rig may not have made it that far.

Users are almost as engaged with the new platforms as reporters are. Kotalik tallies as many as 10,000 followers during a typical Periscope session in the morning news. “There are so many ways to make this work for us,” she says.

Sturdier Than ‘Glass’

Content producers are constantly pushed to figure out the difference between the shiny new object in newsgathering, and the one that may truly change the game. Some local TV talent was intrigued by Google Glass a few years back, only to find the wearable computer to be more fad than function. Meerkat was the toast of the SXSW festival in March, but Periscope’s arrival for the iPhone a few weeks later made a bigger splash. Both apps vaulted from early adopter toy to something close to mainstream during the recent title fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, when they were used to skirt pay-per-view fees by people sharing the live transmission with followers.

Owned by Twitter, Periscope’s newsgathering potential was the focus of one PromaxBDA Station Summit seminar last week. WCAU Philadelphia recently started teasing its Periscope efforts on the air, where it offers users a glimpse at the a.m. news set from the perspective of the talent, and allows for two-way conversation. Rich Kiss, executive producer on the morning show, says the interactivity is a hit. “With Periscope, the anchors are not just someone you wake up to,” he says. “They’re someone you get to talk to as well.”

The station’s reporters also experimented with it out in the field, such as at a local protest related to the recent violence in Baltimore. “It’s a live look from the ground when we’re not on the air,” says Sarah Smith, WCAU social media editor.

Offering a unique glimpse at breaking news or severe weather is way more valuable, says Steve Schwaid, former news director and VP of digital strategy at consulting firm CJ&N, than watching an anchor prepare to go live. Reporters have, in the palm of their hand, what used to require a live truck and transmitter, he says. “Everybody has the ability to broadcast live now,” says Schwaid.

Perils of Periscope

But with live, unfiltered video comes some obvious risk. Traditional broadcasting involves a system of safeguards to protect the station from the wrong things making it to air, with a constant effort to provide context to video. In local TV, Periscope successes and failures are typically learned at the station level, without a whole lot of input from corporate. (Meredith, for one, is said to have issued Periscope guidelines to its stations.) “Stations can’t let their people go off and do this willy-nilly,” says Schwaid. “There has to be structure—here’s how we do it, what we say about it.”

Still, station reporters increasingly are viewing the live video apps as a key aspect of the future of broadcasting. Local TV is rightly obsessed with connecting with the next generation of consumers, and these platforms may offer a channel into those hearts and minds. “People tell me they normally wouldn’t watch news if it wasn’t for [Periscope],” says KGUN’s Kotalik. “It’s a whole mix of people, a lot of whom had no interest in news before. That’s what’s been fascinating to me.”


KWEX San Antonio has expanded its news presence in a significant way. Coinciding with the station’s 60th anniversary celebration, the Univision-owned outlet reopened a downtown studio in the city’s historic market square. The bureau facility, which had been sitting dormant for years, is a joint venture between the Univision station and Texas A&M-San Antonio. KWEX began airing its 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts from the downtown studio June 26. 

“It was redesigned to make itdaily broadcast-ready,” says Chris Morris, VP and general manager. “It’s an attractive, comprehensive broadcast facility.”

The studio is also equipped for radio; besides its two local TV stations, Univision owns five radio outlets in San Antonio.

KWEX is wrapping up a month of celebrations tied to its anniversary. It’s more than simply 60 years on the air; KWEX was the nation’s first full-time Spanish-language TV outlet, according to Univision. The station has been sharing clips of past anchors and programs the last few weeks, and welcomed network notables to San Antonio this past weekend, from both news and entertainment (including Carlos Calderon, cohost of Sal y Pimienta, and Maria Antonieta Collins, senior correspondent of Noticiero Univision), for a series of celebrations.

“It’s an honor to be a part of it,” says Morris. “We owe all the credit to [KWEX cofounder] Emilio Nicolas Sr.” 

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.