• WisBusiness

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Media innovation hits top gear even as news landscape shifts


By Jennifer Sereno
As media organizations seek new ways to deliver information in the midst of a severe advertising downturn, it's not surprising that the experimentation may create some concern among traditional users.

But visits to a number of newsrooms around the state in recent days have me convinced that readers, viewers, and yes -- even "Tweeters" (users of Twitter.com) -- stand to benefit in major ways from these efforts to advance the industry.

Without giving away any secrets, it's safe to say that in my 20-plus years of experience with the news media, I've never seen the level of innovation, collaboration and original thinking that is occurring today.

Of course, that doesn't mean it's the best of times for those toiling away in newsrooms hit by layoffs, furloughs, pay freezes and the like. On the outside, it's also not the easiest of times for those who have a legitimate story to tell and are struggling over which media organization, or editor, or reporter to approach with breaking news. Not to mention everyone's adjustment to a locally driven, 24-7 news cycle.

By now, everyone reading this column is familiar with the concept of online news in many forms – reading text on the Web, clicking through interactive graphics, viewing live-streamed video and listening to podcasts all come to mind. Most of you are probably also receiving e-mail news alerts via computer or cell phone.

Yet behind the scenes, Wisconsin's homegrown news industry is working on many levels to better customize your coverage and make it more convenient and accessible. An all-you-can-eat news buffet is quickly replacing the old sit-down meal, thanks to reader research projects that help newsrooms better deploy resources; Web data that hones in on usage; and the ability of users to create unique personal news profiles.

The industry's business model also is changing at the local level in markets throughout the state. We are seeing more endowed journalism -- newsgathering supported by foundations or donor contributions -- as well as sponsorship activity directed towards particular coverage topics or specialty sections. In addition, we're seeing more collaboration across the various mediums.

Across many local markets, newspapers and TV stations have paired up on some level to supplement each other's coverage, by sharing plans for coverage and guest appearances or content from reporters.

In the latest collaborative effort, WisconsinEye, the non-profit public affairs network that operates 70 digital cameras inside the state Capitol, is working with the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association to share content with participating newspapers and television stations statewide. To increase public knowledge of the state budget process, WisconsinEye has invited editors and reporters from other organizations to use its content in their own coverage or to make WisconsinEye's coverage available by providing links to its Web site at www.wisconsineye.org.

What will the next wave of innovation look like? My bet is on the ability to access more local news content through devices like the Kindle reader -- a slender, lightweight screen with Internet access and simple controls that allow users to read everything from the latest novel to a daily newspaper. Already, major national players such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune are making subscriptions available, often at a discount to the home delivery price.

How soon until these kinds of innovations become even more widespread? The surest way to hasten more personalized news content, richer Web sites and improved media technology is also a sure-fire way to help turn your business or industry around: advertising.

A significant portion of readers and viewers turn to local news media specifically for the advertising and businesses ready to share their message in innovative ways should position themselves now to reap the benefits of emerging media trends.

-- Sereno, former business editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, is a senior manager at Wood Communications Group in Madison. E-mail jenny.sereno@wcgpr.com or call (608) 770-8084.

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