Lee Meredith, VP/general manager of WAFB Baton Rouge (La.), saw more than a year’s worth of news packed into a few months last summer.
It started July 5, when Alton Sterling, an African-American, was shot and killed by police officers, which was followed by protests and the killings of three police officers. For Meredith, the key to covering such a high-tension string of events was making sure not to further inflame the situation.
“We were cautious not to use information that hadn’t been confirmed,” says Meredith. “It was a significant amount of coverage, but it was handled sensitively and in a way that the community respected.”
WAFB hosted a town hall meeting that featured law enforcement, community leaders and citizens. “We brought people from all sides together to have a dialogue,” says Meredith. “That made for a good television program for people to watch, which has the effect of facilitating the dialogue for the whole community.”
Before they could catch their breath, a massive flood hit Baton Rouge in August, affecting more than 100,000 homes, including “about 20% of [the WAFB] team’s homes,” Meredith recalls.
“Sometimes you’ll go a long time where you don’t have a huge opportunity to show what you’re made of, but we had several opportunities in a very short period of time.”
In response, the station—with help from owners Raycom Media—held a flood relief concert featuring Louisiana musicians that raised more than $800,000.
The station’s digital efforts have played a key role in its coverage. According to Meredith, “in the third quarter that encompassed these events, we topped more than 100 million page views of digital content. That is a way people are consuming a lot of news, and we’re meeting them where they are.”
Meredith championed the flexibility technology and digital media has afforded the station’s news coverage, allowing it to reach viewers throughout the day and when they are at work. “We can be live in the field with a backpack doing Facebook Live to a group of folks,” the GM says. “So much of our business historically was a one-way communication, with a few letters and phone calls we’d get. It’s not now. People can react in real time, and they do.”
Though the station shined when it mattered, Meredith sees WAFB’s community involvement as a year-round imperative. “It’s great to show up after a big event. But if you don’t have credibility for having a year-round presence in your community, you’re just not going to have the same impact. It’s a 365-day commitment to be engaged with our community.”
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