KHON2, KITV, Hawaii News Now Face Uncertain Future
Stations grapple with new business models to survive
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KHON2 general manager Joseph McNamara says that, from a station owner’s perspective, SSAs make sense. “If you think about it, if you have a couple of several-million-dollar news operations and you eliminate one of them, that’s several million dollars to your bottom line just in news services,” he says. “Sales is another area where you can potentially bring in more money and, maybe, you need fewer technical and support staff. So, absolutely, there are savings and it makes good business sense. I just think it’s how you present it and how you monetize it.” In fact, he says, it’s possible for stations to share some services – and save money – yet maintain separate editorial voices.
What’s happening at HNN is not rocket science, says Kato. “This SSA was a good way to maximize profits while cutting costs; I don’t think anybody can deny that. From the businessman’s perspective, competition isn’t good because it hurts his bottom line and means it’s harder to make money. But competition in news makes for better journalism and a more informed community.”
Kato says TV stations often overlook the fact that the airwaves they broadcast on belong to the public. “In that sense, they have an obligation as licensees to operate in the public interest. I understand the realities of the world and that the economy is bad right now, and owners aren’t making the kind of profits they once were, but I don’t think the public is obligated to, in effect, subsidize Raycom, or any other media company, to guarantee them a sizable profit. These owners say they’re not making money, but is it just that they’re not making enough money? There’s a big difference.”
More or better news?
Blangiardi contends that HNN is stronger and better than ever, and he believes the station has “absolutely” accomplished what it set out to do.
“Look at any newscast on our stations; look at the people who are doing the news; look at the story count; look at the quality of what’s being presented to the people of this state – the intelligence behind it – that speaks for itself every day. We’re very transparent, easy to watch, easy to find.”
Local critics disagree that HNN is providing better news than its predecessors and they are backed up by a report from the University of Delaware’s Center for Community Research and Service. The study, released in February and called, “Local TV & Shared Services Agreements: Examining News Content in Honolulu,” says the SSA has harmed the diversity, competition and localism of Hawaii’s TV news. Prof. Danilo Yanich and his team, working independently of Media Council Hawaii, say they analyzed the daily newscasts of Hawaii’s five TV news stations before and after the SSA. They say they chose to study Honolulu because it was the only U.S. market in which a community group filed an official FCC challenge to an SSA.
The team analyzed individual stories, comparing the distribution of topics, coverage of local stories and duration of stories. They found that after the Hawaii SSA, the number of stories and the amount of time devoted to public issues, such as housing, education, health and the environment, declined for the stations involved in the agreement. The same decline happened at KITV and KHON2.
“The most significant finding is that two stations that were part of the three-station SSA group simply duplicated their newscasts through the mechanism of simulcast,” Yanich wrote in the report.
The research team also found the “package presentation mode” of telling TV news stories, in which a reporter and camera person go to the scene of the story to investigate and shoot video, was cut in half by KGMB, KHNL and KFVE and replaced with less expensive presentations, such as voiceovers by anchors. According to the report, HNN covered fewer stories with a local connection than KITV and KHON2. (Read the full report at www.mediacouncil.org.)
“Given all of these findings, the University of Delaware study concludes that this SSA has not resulted in improved coverage and more enterprising news content,” says UH’s Kato.
“If station owners are all going to start asking, ‘Why do we have to send two camera crews to the same news conference?’ who’s to say that tomorrow they won’t be asking, ‘Why can’t we just have shared coverage on election night?’ or maybe even, ‘Why do we have to have separate news programs? Why can’t we just have one newscast simulcast across all the stations in Hawaii?’ ”
New approach to news
In the old days (way back before, say, 2003), every local newsroom was focused on the next newscast. Today, unless they have an exclusive, reporters usually post first to the Web, social media and mobile devices.
KHON2 news director Lori Silva sees the Web not only as a tool for immediacy but also as a way to attract viewers to the newscast. “The hope is that what you put on your website, or on Twitter or Facebook, will pique viewers’ interest and that will draw them to your newscast for more in-depth coverage and video,” she says.
KITV news director Genie Garner says the station recently launched an iPad app and all reporters have iPhones and laptops that connect them to the Web and social media at all times. “Everyone in this newsroom has had to change the way they think,” she says. “The public doesn’t want to have to wait until the evening newscast anymore, so you always have to have good, accurate content available.”
A few years ago, broadcasters were unsure how the Web and social media would impact traditional TV, “but we’ve found that it all enhances the broadcast medium,” says KITV’s Jackson.
Blangiardi says HNN is quickly evolving into a multimedia company, but that his team, along with everybody else in the business, is still trying to uncover the secret to monetizing the Web.
Future of TV news
TV news stations across the country are doing more with less. “Everything is fast and furious these days,” KHON2’s Silva says. “When I started out (28 years ago), we had double the amount of reporters in the newsroom. Today, we have about six on any given day and they’re all working on a story for that night.”
To cut costs, some Mainland stations are shedding high-priced anchors, and stations everywhere, including in Hawaii, are sending reporters or camera people out alone more often to collect footage and news. Content is also changing in other ways. As in movies, individual clips and soundbites within a news item have become shorter, and UH’s Kato says more stories are purely for entertainment and contain little news value.
Stations across the nation have seen more viewers at nontraditional news timeslots, such as 4:30 a.m. and 7.p.m., so broadcasters are looking at these options for growth.
McNamara predicts TV news will become more interactive, allowing viewers to use their remotes to select a story from the newscast that they’d like to learn more about or even select the types of stories they want to hear. “Maybe one day we’ll be able to do instant polling using your remote,” he says.
Still, much of Hawaii’s TV-news future is riding on the FCC’s decision on HNN. If the FCC permits the SSA to continue, Kato and Conybeare fear it will lead to more media consolidations across the U.S.
Instead, Conybeare says, he would like the FCC to disallow the SSA and revoke the Hawaii licenses for HNN’s Mainland owners and put them up for auction.
“We know from national studies that local ownership provides the best local coverage of communities and I would hope that local owners would step up to the plate,” he says.
MCH is exploring the idea of creating a community-owned commercial TV station. “I envision a Hawaii entity raising capital from the community and leveraging this to purchase a broadcast station,” Conybeare says.
Blangiardi, on the other hand, is confident about the future for HNN and for local TV, in general.
“There are more opportunities than ever before to reach people over multiple platforms, so we’re excited. The future of Hawaii’s broadcast industry has never looked brighter.”
The author of this article, Hawaii Business writer Shara Enay, conducts interviews each Friday on KHON2’s morning news. She selects the subjects independently and writes her own scripts.
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