January 8th, 2013
It was an idea that many purists decried. Nearly three years ago – in the midst of a big downturn in broadcasting fortunes – three Phoenix television stations got together to launch LNS – the Local News Service. KPHO (CBS), KSAZ (Fox) and KNXV (ABC) – each separately owned – agreed to share video of stories that are not points of difference between the stations. You know, the silly stories where each station would send their own crew for 30 seconds of video of the new giraffe born at the local zoo, or the pithy post game news conference by the Arizona Cardinal’s coach.
Critics aside – it has been a smashing success! KPHO news director Michelle Donaldson, who helped spearhead LNS, says in the old days the three photographers she dedicates to the news sharing service might be able to shoot 40 stories a week – if they really hustled. Today – her producers have 90 stories or more – every week – to slot into their many newscasts. It really allows them to avoid the bane of all viewers – repetition – and to better cover all the little stories important to the hundreds of neighborhoods in the sprawling Valley Of The Sun.
To news sharing critics, Donaldson says – “I understand the fears that sharing material would only contribute to the further homogenization of local news. But who are we kidding? We’re already stepping on each other to get the same, basic stories. Managed properly, LNS has actually made it easier to differentiate our station in the market.”
Think about what she is saying – not having your precious few crews chasing minor video ops – gives you more flexibility to develop special content in your newscasts. Michelle puts it this way – “We have liberated our news crews to pursue content that is actually unique. Go figure! We have enterprise content in our planner every single day. That’s not hyperbole. That’s reality!”
Here’s how the Phoenix Local News Service works:
- Each station dedicates three photographers and one assignment person to LNS
- All gear and trucks belong to each respective station and each photographer works out of their home station
- One of the stations dedicated a managing editor for LNS who oversees the daily planner, rundowns, and assigns LNS personnel from all three stations
- The other two stations use their LNS assignment editor to handle logistics (truck assignments, feed times, communicating content choices to station managers and producers)
- All stations contribute story ideas for the LNS planner and indicate whether the station’s interest in the story is low, medium or high – this helps the managing editor make choices
KPHO’s Donaldson says the Phoenix LNS works because all three stations are truly committed to the service. She says other market’s efforts have failed because, she believes, there was a lack of a genuine commitment by the participating stations. In fact, the cooperation is so strong in Phoenix that LNS now provides breaking news coverage to the three partners. If two of the three stations agree, crews may be diverted to the breaking news story as it progresses.
The LNS photographer may provide a fixed location live shot at the scene of a hostage standoff, for instance. Meanwhile each station is busy working their own unique angles on the breaking news story. At times, the LNS photographer has been used for custom live shots by one of the stations – as long as the other stations agree that it will not interfere with providing content that serves the whole group first and foremost.
Michelle says there have been evolutions of LNS since its launch in March of 2009:
- LNS feed times have been modified as they have learned what is more efficient for the partners
- They are exploring a file-sharing system that would eliminate the need for traditional feeds
- The stations are pitching in on a multi-box to further streamline courtroom coverage and sharing
- LNS photographers are now taking still photos (using high res phones) for use on partner websites
Finally, I asked Michelle for some tips for others who may be considering a news-sharing partnership:
- It all comes down to organization
- Good communication, and a clear, shared vision of the objective is critical to success
- You must keep communicating – don’t let some small issue fester into a big issue
- Respect that each station has their own way of doing things
- Work to understand how they work – then come up with systems and processes that work for all the partners
I believe this is a no-brainer. It is time to better utilize your newsgathering resources by partnering on the little, run-of-the-mill stories so you can invest your other crew’s time in content that will truly differentiate your newscasts from the competition.