The difference between TV stations and newspapers

Terry Heaton on the Washington Post’s matter-of-fact streaming of the Alito confirmation hearing: “There is now officially no difference — online at least — between TV stations (and networks) and newspapers.” Is this equally true for radio stations and networks? If so, what might that mean?

Let’s say, for example, that a local newspaper in Anytown, Iowa, covers the very same news events as the local radio station. (Just for fun, let’s say they cover more events because they have more news people.) And they stick a little MP3 recorder in front of the newsmaker and immediately post a couple of paragraphs –including the sound file– to the newspaper website. Along with an image.

The remaining ‘defining difference’ between the newspaper and the local radio station is the method of delivering that news ‘content’ to the good people of Anytown (and the world). It’s still easier to turn on the radio and listen to the story (assuming I happened to tune in at the right moment) than to get in front of a computer to look/listen. Unless the ‘computer’ happens to be my Treo 700 mobile phone.

Thinking about all of this made me wonder about the definition of “radio station”: n: station for the production and transmission of radio broadcasts.

That’s just not gonna work anymore. We need a better definition, fast. I have not worked at a radio station for almost 22 years so I’m not qualified to come up with one. But it can no longer be about hardware (transmitters and towers). It has to be about people.

I think I’d be looking for smart, interesting (sometimes funny) people who live, work and play in the community your station serves; good writers; informed, well-read people who know how to do an interesting interview; people who know how to record/edit good, quality audio (video?).

If you stopped recruiting and hiring those people because it was no longer “cost-effective,” I suggest you find some, quick-like-a-bunny. But will they want to come work at the radio station if they can better use their talents and creativity on the local “newsaper” website?

Randy and Warren (and maybe Nate) are a lot closer to the world of terrestrial radio than I, so maybe they can help me answer a question I’ve been wondering about lately. How hard/easy is it in 2006 to find and recruit people to work at the local radio station? Where do the prospective hires come from? What are they looking for? What kind of skills do they have? Just click the comments link below.

4 thoughts on “The difference between TV stations and newspapers

  1. Madison has two AM newstalkers; one dominant, the other with very low numbers. In the car the other night (I’m a Luddite-I don’t have Cirrus or an I-POD) I realised that station #2 was broadcasting high school basketball. I know what you’re thinking –“that’s so small market” — but doesn’t it make sense in the context of what we’re talking about here? It’s certainly local, and at every station I’ve ever worked at, high school sports has practically sold itself.

  2. Recruiting people isn’t too hard. The hard part however, is trying to get people, especially on a part time basis, to understand the business. We are still very strong in news at KBOA/KTMO, the owner is dedicated to having strong local news on the station. I would love to find someone to develop a website and put some of the audio content on it for “on demand” purposes, and we are in the process of it. At the same time however, you have to concentrate on keeping your radio operation to sounding top knotch, and local as well.
    The juke box radio approach simply is not going to work. Local radio is going to have to be just that LOCAL. I have noticed that newspapers around the area are falling behind on news coverage. It’s not the immediacy of radio anymore, it seems like the newspaper is just letting things slide. For the past two years, I’ve been working at re-building hometown news, and it has turned into a very good revenue maker for the station. Add into the equation, breaking news, severe weather coverage, not to mention all the local sports, you have a great combo.
    There will always be a place for local radio, so long as the folks running it remember that to be successful, think outside of the box, and remember news content for what affects people in your coverage area.

  3. I think that while it may be relatively easy to find people with the talent sets to develop the kind of local interest format that radio stations are going to need to create if they’re to survive, it may well be difficult for stations to come up with the kind of money to attract and retain those people. Listeners in even the smallest markets have now long been conditioned by those slickly produced satellite fed formats, cable and network TV news, and whatever national news their local station has been carrying, to expect a certain level of competence. Having a high school kid reading AP wire copy is no longer going to fly as local news. It’s going to have to be well produced and relevant to what’s happening now — today — in that community. How many managers — in many cases the same ones who decided, perhaps not so long ago, that local news was no longer cost effective — will be able to reconcile themselves to the new reality that local content is now the ONLY thing that can set them apart?
    Okay, assuming you’re a manager who understands that, what are you looking for? Mostly, what has always set good news people apart; good interviewing, writing and editing skills, combined with an eagerness (grudging acceptance won’t do here) to learn and use new technology and push the station’s web presence.

  4. There are lots of potential creative radio people out there. Our job is to let them create. With cookie-cutter formats and national syndication they simply don’t have as many on-air opportunities to develop. Since that situation is not likely to change, I think much of that creativity can and should be channeled into writing, production, and web presence. Radio has access to all of this wonderful technology. If we don’t use it, we’ll lose good talent. Creative people will always create. It’s just a matter of where.

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