The Phoenix Conference Center was a buzz Thursday morning – literally, PR people never turn their cell phones off, just to vibrate – as PRSA members gathered in the building’s new Executive Conference Center. Armed with notebooks, iPads and muffins, the attendees were eager to hear from the top TV News Decision-Makers in Arizona about “The Future of TV News”. Speaking that morning were: Heather Dunn, AM executive producer, 12 News; Gilbert “Z” Zermeno, producer, investigative news director, CBS 5 News, ASU instructor and Rocky Mountain Emmy Silver Circle Honoree; and Brad Remington, executive news director, 3 TV.
Three competing channels, three big-wigs that everyone hopes will cover their organization’s stories. You could smell the competition in the air, or maybe it was just the danishes, as everyone was very friendly and more than willing to share their secrets.
The presentation consisted of Q & A format, first by Paula Pedene, who is the public affairs officer and director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, and Team Lead for the Phoenix PRSA Chapter’s Master Practitioners group. The discussion began about how much has changed since they began working in the industry and moved to what they think will happen in the next five, 10, even 15 years down the road.
Of course the biggest change to happen to news in the past 10 years is the internet. While some newsies believe the World Wide Web has all but destroyed traditional news, Brad disagreed. He said that TV and PC are extremely compatible and are interacting. Perhaps someone will read a headline on the internet at work but later get the full story from the broadcast that evening.
Heather agreed that the internet has enhanced the way we watch news. By incorporating social media, reporters and viewers can connect with each other in ways that weren’t possible as few as five years ago. Z took it to the next level, plugging CBS5’s smart phone app, and noting that the news is now everywhere. To him, this time of change is the most exciting time to be in the industry.
As for print, I was surprised to learn it wasn’t people turning to the web for free news that’s hurting the industry, it’s people turning to the web for free classified ads. According to Brad, Craigslist killed print. He also admitted he was the person saying he would always choose the paper, “‘cause you can’t take a computer to the bathroom!” But then he got an iPad.
But broadcast is still safe. Advertisers are now focusing on news and sports as their main targets because with DVRs fewer people see commercials during prime time shows and movies. Broadcast news is rarely recorded by viewers, and they still have what other forms of news outlets lack: People.
Using the metaphor of checking out in the grocery store, there are always more people waiting in the traditional checkout line than the self-checkout kiosks, even when they are open and available. People crave human interaction. Viewers connect to those they trust, which are veteran anchors like Lin Sue Cooney and Mark Curtis. I know I can remember Mark reporting when I was far too young to understand the news, but I liked him because his sweet ‘stache reminded me of my dad’s. Now I can appreciate his familiarity and will trust virtually anything he tells me.
In fact, being personal and able to relate to people was a common theme of the presentation and a key component to the future of television news. Viewers want to relate to the stories, reporters want to relate to the viewers, PR practitioners want their stories to relate to the reporters and the viewers. It’s a webby closed loop circuit. And how do we do that? Become a RESOURCE for producers and reporters. Don’t just fire off releases to the first contact you can find. Get to know the person – be it a reporter, producer, anchor, camera man, janitor, lunch lady, cable guy. Although probably only the first three could help you getting a news spot, it is important to relate to all the people you interact with. Become personable and soon you will learn who will take what story, how to present it to him and how the relationship can be mutually beneficial.
Me being the newbie on the block, I held my question back during the audience Q & A portion of the presentation. I later approached each speaker and asked:
“As a relatively new person to the industry, what are the first steps I take to make those connections and build those relationships?”
Of course in my schooling and previous experience I knew what and how to pitch, but they don’t teach you how to connect. Do I open my release with a joke? Do I make a comment about all the great weather we’ve been having? Do I just pick up the phone and chat with them about the silly things that can happen in the media, assuming that because our jobs intersect we are automatically the best of friends? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, or that creepy. It does take time, you have to put yourself out there and you have to do your research. Luckily there are great organizations like PRSA that help build those bridges.
As my first educational PRSA event (my true first event was a happy hour) I am excited what more is to come. I had a great time –although I am jealous Ashley Oakes got the door prize -- met some interesting people and hopefully started building my bridges to the top three news channels in the Valley.