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Media Executives Pursue Innovation for Local TV News at Cronkite

October 16, 2019

Media executives gather at the Cronkite School to participate in the Local Television News Innovation Table Stakes Project. (Photo by Russell Prim)

News executives from around the country gathered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication this week to create change and innovation in local television.

The three-dozen executives from six states participated in the Local Television News Innovation Table Stakes Project, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through a $1.9 million grant to advance digital and broadcast innovation.

In this week's sessions, media executives discussed ways to innovate their newscasts and approaches to everything from digital storytelling and reader engagement to growing revenue.

The Table Stakes group at Cronkite this week represented TV stations in Arizona, California, Texas, Ohio, Georgia and North Carolina, and included industry leaders from Cox Media Group, E.W. Scripps Co., Graham Media Group, KPBS, Meredith Broadcasting, News-Press and Gazette Co., the Sinclair Broadcast Group and Univision.

The project is adapted from Douglas K. Smith, who leads the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative. The methodology comes from poker, which requires a set amount of money to have a seat at the table.

Cronkite’s Frank Mungeam, professor of practice in TV news innovation, said the first Table Stakes meeting at Cronkite has already produced results.

He noted that producers at WXTV-DT (Univision 41) in New York learned that WhatsApp is where the station needed to be to engage and connect with the specific Latino audience they were targeting. WhatsApp is heavily used for free messaging between family members who may be separated by thousands of miles or country borders.

In Spokane, KXLY-TV developed a target persona named “Chelsea” for its news programming. Instead of trying to offer something for everyone, Mungeam noted that the station committed to super-serving Chelsea, the busy mom. “Why would Chelsea care?” and “How would we tell this story for Chelsea?” became part of the newsroom dialogue.

KGTV (ABC 10) in San Diego took on the challenge enhancing digital-broadcast integration. The result was a system that now enables teams to track stories from beginning to end and across various platforms, all in one shared document. The project was a big enough success that the tracking system is being scaled to other Scripps TV stations.

Such efforts and discussions among TV news leaders are critical for the innovation and long-term health of the industry, said Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato.

“I’m excited to see that the success stories of year one encouraged even more top media companies to join us in this important effort to improve local television news, which continues to serve a vital role in communities across the country,” Lodato said.

Additional Table Stakes sessions are planned at ASU throughout the year.