Several of the veteran TV journalists reporting from the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping trial in Salt Lake City these days are very familiar to local viewers, even if their current employer may not be. About a dozen established reporters, including Dick Nourse, who fronted KSL for four decades, and husband-and-wife team Terry and Susan Wood, late of KTVX, now ply their trade for the online news start-up Salt TV Network.
SaltTVNet.com is in beta, with an eye toward officially launching around the new year. Patrick Benedict, who describes himself as “ad hoc news director/pseudo general manager,” believes Salt TV’s dream team will help it break through the cluttered news pack. “We’ve got the best-known talent in the history of the market,” Benedict says. “It’s Old Home Week here.”
Salt TV is a product of the new local-media economy, which pairs the relatively cheap start-up cost of a Website with TV talent looking for something to do after massive downsizing. Benedict had been working toward a Nov. 1 beta launch when a July story in the Salt Lake Tribune shone a light on Salt TV— and brought “a gazillion eyes to the project,” he says.
“Local TV Dream Team Launches Indie News Site,” trumpeted the headline. Before they were truly set, the Salt TV principals had to get the site ready for its close-up.
Benedict, a former producer and news director in Salt Lake, says longer-form journalism, such as the 30-minute candidate specials on the site around Election Day, along with the household names in its stable, are Salt TV’s points of differentiation. While its broadcast rivals are attempting to fill growing content needs with fewer and less experienced reporters, Salt TV has savvy to spare, Benedict says.
“Our [talent] knows how to get information from people, with the sensitivity of what this market is about,” he says.
Salt TV’s backing comes from private investors and the production outfit Digital Bytes; Benedict describes the funding as “well over six figures.” Some talent is paid (“not like the glory days, but not bad,” he says), while others receive sweat equity. Salt’s principals are still figuring out the revenue model; the site is ad-supported, and content may be a mix of free and paid.
Salt TV’s traffic numbers are unspecific: Benedict says unique visitors total several thousand a month, and page views are in the hundreds of thousands.
The competition in DMA No. 32 suggests Salt TV is not yet a player. Rival reporters wonder how much digging the Salt anchors, some of whom came out of retirement, will be doing following their long careers in broadcast. Others note Web start-up business models are infrequently successful.
“We haven’t heard them, haven’t seen them, haven’t heard anybody talk about them,” says one Salt Lake general manager.
Salt TV’s talent say they’re thrilled to be chasing stories again. “We’ve done what we’ve done for so long, and we liked doing it and didn’t want to quit,” says Terry Wood, 63. “Now we get the adrenaline that goes with covering a story again.”
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