July 17th, 2011
My how times have changed. My dad was a young guy in the Navy – stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1941 – when the Japanese bombed the Naval Base. After the strafing and bombing stopped he was instructed to send a postcard to his family to let them know he was alive. So, Jack Willi wrote these five words on a small pink postcard – “Jane, I’m alright. Love Jack” – and mailed it to his fiancee (later his wife and my mother) Jane Peters in DePere, Wisconsin.
She told me it took three weeks for the postcard to arrive at her home from Hawaii. I asked her how nerve-racking that was, and she said, “Well every day that passed without a visit from some uniformed Navy officers made me feel better that Jack had survived the bombing.” Can you imagine – waiting three weeks to find out? It seems so antiquated in this day of instant communication – and instant heroes.
I thought about that postcard as I watched 23-year-old Christian Lopez go from zero (nobody knew who he was) – to hero in the the wink of an eye – all because he caught a baseball hit by Derek Jeter, and was gracious enough to give it to Jeter without holding it for ransom. Suddenly Lopez was everywhere – local and national TV, national cable channels – and of course – on the Internet. He went to the game a few hours earlier as just an anonymous face in the crowd of tens of thousands at Yankee Stadium, and left with a face that was beamed everywhere around the world. Instant celebrity! Welcome to the new world of instant communication!
He’s not alone, of course. When the national media decided to make a BIG STORY out of the Casey Anthony murder – she became an instant celebrity, albeit a villainous one. When she was acquitted of killing her baby girl – the Internet went wild. A Facebook page called “I hate Casey Anthony” has over 45,000 “likes.” Even more disturbing, a Facebook page called “F… Casey Anthony” has 775,000 views.
Social Media even replaced the venerable (and way out-dated) – “Man On The Street” interviews for WFLA in Tampa after the Anthony verdict. A very clever package from Jen Leigh used You Tube videos – posted by average folks responding to the news. The emotion was much more real than she would have obtained by doing an MOS.
How about the instant fame for Ted Williams. He was a homeless man with various addiction problems when a newspaper reporter from Columbus, Ohio stopped to talk to him as Williams begged for money on a street corner. The reporter shot some video with Williams once he discovered he had an incredible “Golden Voice.” The Dispatch reporter threw the tape into a desk drawer where it sat for a couple months until he pulled it out on a slow news day. The video was re-posted on You Tube and quickly amassed 4,000,000 views! In the next few days the formerly faceless homeless man was on the Today Show – and every other national news outlet, was given an announcing job by Kraft Foods, and became an instant celebrity!
Back in Tampa, the local media was running stories about a mysterious monkey that was romping around through backyards. One viewer caught some quick grainy video of the monkey which also ran in the local media. Someone decided to start a Facebook page called “Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay” – and it zoomed to 25,000 followers by the second day – and now stands at over 83,000.
And then there was the instant celebrity of the Colorado Balloon Boy. The word was that the 6-year-old had jumped into a strange balloon being built by his father and floated away. For over four hours, hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world were mesmerized as the silver balloon – that looked strangely like a bag of the old Jiffy Pop popcorn – floated over remote areas of Colorado. Of course, when it landed the balloon was empty – and it all turned out to be an elaborate hoax by a guy wanting publicity for his invention.
So – what does all of this mean? I’m not sure – but it certainly is fascinating to me how thousands – and even millions of people – can become instantly mesmerized by some event. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it. But – these are the same people who find local TV news to be a bit boring, repetitious, and not connected to their world. It makes me wonder – what can local TV news do to capture the imagination – once again – of the American public?
I’m not advocating pulling a balloon stunt or anything similar – but it does make me challenge our current thinking of what we present on local news every day. It certainly means every one – in every local TV news department – must work harder to use the many new communication/story telling tools at your disposal to be a thousand times more creative. It certainly means that you must think beyond the little box to include the social media and Internet community in your story telling.
Think of this – the average local TV story posted on your local TV website – may get viewed a few hundred – or on a great day – a few thousand times. Well, consider the #5 all-time most viewed You Tube video titled “Charlie bit my finger again.” This home-shot video of two babies has been viewed 335 MILLION TIMES!
So – where are we missing this incredible connection with your audience? How do we get there? I don’t know as I write this today – but I know our company will be working to get our clients there in the years ahead. I just hope you aren’t going to be defensive – and have a “stick your head in the sand” mentality as we tell you how to build the newscast of the future. It is going to be a very different journey than you have ever been on.