The Rise and Fall of Our
6 p.m. TV News Show
and Where We Go Next

We launched and killed a new ‘flagship’ evening newscast in fewer than 16 months, and why we think that’s a good thing.

The Launch

When WUFT-TV News at Six was launched in January 2014, it was resting on a firm foundation.

The goals were clear: We intended to provide additional on-air opportunities to our reporters and anchors who wanted to move on to a next-level reporting or anchoring experience, and we wanted to provide a means to generate more local news content for our audience.

We were already producing a late-afternoon newscast at 5:30 p.m. A second evening newscast would add another layer of experience for our students, as well as offer additional news coverage for our viewers. So the 5:30 newscast moved to 5 p.m. and we added WUFT News at Six to our programming lineup.

The new newscast was a success. Our students were thriving as a result of the additional experience. We added some of our radio and website reporters to the on-air lineup to give them on-air experience fronting their stories. And we won the “Best of” Award in the 2015 BEA Festival of Media Arts — Student Newscast Competition.

But we were living in a legacy world. And that’s a problem.

As television news faces a drop off in the older demographic that still practices appointment viewing, the broadcast news industry must prepare to meet the needs of a younger audience that is used to and demands individualization.

As journalist and professor Jeff Jarvis notes, Pew Research Center data shows 18-to-29-year-old viewers dropping from 48 to 33 percent in six years when asked if they had watched TV news the night before.
Jarvis also calls for “productive panic.”

Our College and media properties facilities are well-positioned to accommodate experimentation that could answer the challenges created by a declining audience.

Our broadcast news students should help set the standard for the new reality of television news viewing. This requires a transition to a digital-first model of content production.

The transition from daily deadline reporting to digital first is simple in both its nature and execution: The model requires a shift from appointment delivery to the presentation of news whenever new information happens. This means a shift from the idea that the television set is the delivery vehicle for video news. We must embrace the mindset that any device capable of delivering video is the conduit for the work of the “television” journalist. Our students must become equipped with the skills to practice their craft in this new world.

The Pivot

From a curricular perspective, our practice of broadcast news needed to be modified. We eliminated WUFT News at Six in favor of the digital-first approach. We still have a nightly half-hour newscast at 5 p.m. that will train our students for the industry of today, but by cutting our effort in half will allow us more time and resources to build beyond that.

As our broadcast students work through our curriculum, they can now move beyond their current radio and television reporting options to a digital experience that requires producing news content for our website and any companion mobile applications.

We’re accomplishing this by an experimental revision our TV 3 reporting experience. In the past, the TV 3 experience had been similar to the TV 2 experience, with the only significant exception being that the TV 3 reporters work as one-man-bands, rather than with a partner while on assignment. They also usually made an appearance on-air during the newscast to front their stories. While this was a valuable experience, it did nothing to train them for a digital first world.

In the fall, we’re experimenting with the TV 3 course as follows:

1) Students work on assignments until they are ready for publication rather than being constrained by daily deadlines and the TV news cycle.

2) Students follow up on all of the stories they publish and provide updates when new information warrants.

Sometimes traditional tv stories can be broken down to tropes strung together, like this BBC News spoof.

3) Students experiment with video stories in forms that appeal to Web and mobile audiences and break the mold for the legacy storytelling forms. This could include “nat packages,” various presentation methods for long-form interviews, graphic production, slideshows and new methods for presenting video and audio. This model also requires our TV3 students to write text stories for the Web, an experience that is otherwise lacking in our broadcast news curriculum.

4) Students engage with the audience and invite their contributions of photos, video, information and commentary. Digital storytelling easily supports conversation with the audience and should be a priority.

5) Students experiment and make use of what Jarvis considers to be television’s greatest strength (and I agree): the ability to demonstrate. I believe there is tremendous opportunity here.

There is so much more to come. This is just one step in an ever-evolving communication process that is dynamic, engaging, and exciting. And it keeps us guessing.

We don’t know what the audience relationship of the future will look like. That’s the fun part. In the world of audience engagement, the fat lady is never going to sing.

Bridget Grogan is a multimedia news manager in the Innovation News Center at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. She was the product leader for the flagship WUFT News at Six and teaches courses in the telecommunication and journalism departments.