These are reminders, thoughts, takeaways, interesting observations and things I want to remember from the national RTDNA Canada conference.
Great stories are built around moments, take the audience somewhere and decode jargon or spin. Those three areas are what have helped to make CBC journalist Susan Ormiston such an impactful international correspondent. She shared her secrets on storytelling with the crowd at the RTDNA Canada national convention.
Stories evolve around moments. Ormiston explains, “Creating environments for moments to happen or simply focusing on a moment” is what she attempts in her storytelling. There is a warning, “moments cannot be manufactured, but they can be managed.” For instance, building trust with an interview subject helps create an environment where vulnerable moments are more likely to take place. “Trust,” she says, “It’s a relationship. Never persuade yourself that someone won’t want to talk about something.”
REMINDER: Don’t Be A TV Anchor…
The TV news anchor is dying.
The head of CTV Wendy Freeman fired the first shot across the bow, “in 5 to 10 years will there even be TV anchors?” Corus/Global VP Troy Reeb added, “The asking price for a good anchor has been in decline and will continue to be, the asking price for a good reporter is expected to climb.” He also noted brands aren’t being built on the shoulders of anchors, but around the credibility of reporting. And then Ali Velshi hit it home, “I don’t think the highly paid TV anchor is a sustainable creature.”
Buzzwords – words and concepts that dominated discussions.
“Multi-platform” – I blogged about that here.
“Mobile” – 94% of millennials have smart phones, mobile first thinking, reporters using phones for everything…
“Monetization” – how do we make money with… native content, snapchat, etc…
“Change” – the industry is changing, technology is changing, audience expectations are changing and if you/we aren’t changing fast enough we will lose.
Apps and Devices Speakers Love…
Twitter – it’s changed the game for distributing and curating content and for live moment-by-moment coverage where microphones aren’t allowed like courtrooms.
iMovie – great for radio reporters also tasked with filming and editing video pieces on the run.
Voddio – Voddio, is a professional-grade video and audio editor App for mobile journalists and story tellers, that supports rich editing of two tracks of video and up to four tracks of audio.
Favorite Quotes of the Conference
“$150 million dollars is what’s going to go to the bureaucratic morass that is the CBC.” – Troy Reeb, Corus/Global
“I bemoan the day when we decide we don’t need context anymore.” – Susan Ormiston, CBC
“It’s Facebook and the 7 Dwarves.” – on Social Media platforms
“We need to start thinking about big stupid ideas. We’re not an industry that typically thinks up stupid ideas. We need more stupid ideas. Stupid ideas are stupid until they are breakthroughs.” – Ali Velshi, Multi-platform Content Creator
“I’ve never given up the thought of returning home to Canada , but it won’t because of a man named Donald Trump. He can’t bully me.” – Ashleigh Banfield, CNN. She dedicated her entire keynote address to the “human wrecking ball” Trump and trying to explain how he’s in the position he’s in.
It is certainly not a new idea, but from the first answer of the first session “in the Bear Pit,” at the 2016 RTDNA Canada National convention in Toronto, “multi-platform” was on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
A big priority for Troy Reeb, Corus /Global VP of News, Radio and Station Operations, is to “build out news talk on multi-platforms.” He stressed the importance of following the audience, which he notes “has a good appetite for good storytelling.”
At CTV, President Wendy Freeman is encouraging her team to “do everything” in the ongoing fight for more eyeballs on their content. And she stressed that in this evolving world, “everybody does everything.”
There are even multi-platform content units and assignment editors at CBC now. But GM and Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire insists the government subsidized digital news teams is just serving the public’s best interest and it’s just how the are connecting to their audience. (Reeb wondered aloud if an 1,100 person digital team wasn’t a bit extreme. McGuire assured him they weren’t all in news.)
At the radio news panel, reporters shared stories of having to carry two cell phones, a Marantz, and a selfie-stick so they can record audio, take videos, pictures, live tweet and record video stand-ups for video packages that are expected after the radio report, web story, and social is complete. All done from their car on an iPhone before being dispatched their next assignment. AM 640 Program Director Nathan Smith added, “Radio isn’t cut any slack on digital, because we are radio. The audience expects multimedia coverage.”
Multi-platform audience measurement was also a topic. The future of measurement is in being able to track users as they transition from device to device throughout each day. A concept which could become too invasive on panelists if not done elegantly. And we’re closer to that reality than we think, according to Numeris EVP Lisa Eaton, “We know, throughout the day, what people are doing.” (Editor’s note: creepy.)
Former Al Jazeera America TV anchor Ali Velshi sobered up the room with a reality check. He preached about how radio and TV have enjoyed perpetuating a good thing, but despite continued monetization we have a false belief that radio and TV are still relevant and we are on a road to oblivion. The newly monikered “Multimedia content creator” dreams of a virtual reality world where he reads the news to each person personally in the form of an avatar. Velshi also insists operations like VICE News have an edge because they aren’t having to defend legacy systems and processes and can go straight to innovation and experimentation. He added, “I’ve come to believe we need to embrace digital NOT as an adjunct, but to fully replace radio and TV.” He was passionate that our digital plans should be completely disrupting our traditional platforms and should be capable of destroying the current radio and TV models.
It’s certainly food for thought. The world is changing fast and we need to more than keep up, we need to be on the front lines trailblazing and creating the future.
Change is scary and uncomfortable for most people.
It just is.
Humans like to know they are safe and secure. We want to know we have enough money for food and someplace hospitable to rest our head at night. So, when pink slips start flying like they did at KGO last week in San Francisco or organizations are merged and realigned like Corus Entertainment last week in Canada, fear takes hold. It’s instinctual.
But resisting change is actually more lethal for entertainment and information industries like radio (see: music industry, Blockbuster Video, newspapers). There is hope and opportunity in change. You just have to be willing to see it and seize it.
Yes, what happened in San Francisco to KGO is tragic. It was a juggernaut of a radio station that has slowly and systematically been starved of resources and been a victim of benign neglect. The dedicated staffers who were sent packing after years of pouring their heart into a product deserve better. They tried to find a small part of a corporate beast they could love and quickly realized the beast was indscriminate. But now they are free. Unschackled. No longer beholden to a dream of yesterday’s KGO. There is life after KGO right Gil Gross??
Right Claudia Lamb? (Article: KGO and the Death of Radio)
In Canada, a completely different scenario. Not one of downsizing and cost-cutting but of investing and growing. Eerily, employees feel similar. Corus just completed a $2.6B acquisition of Shaw Media and new corporate structures were unveiled. The questions came fast and furious; Why? Where’s this worked before? What’s it mean for me? How can this possibly work? When are they going to fire me? Don’t they know we’ve never done it this way before?
Fear. It’s contagious.
Keep in mind, change isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s just different. When companies change it often creates opportunities. New managers, new faces, new processes and procedures and fresh eyes on old problems. It doesn’t have to be scary. It should be exciting. Anytime you get to work for a leader who has bold vision and a sense of purpose and direction embrace it, champion it, and rejoice. The opposite is stagnation. The opposite is KGO.
It reminds me of a phrase I quickly learned while working at ESPN; “evolve or face extinction.” In the past week, we’ve seen this played out in both directions in dramatic fashion.
This happened Monday night on TV in Vancouver…
Female Anchor: Did you guys see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 60 Minutes last night?
Male Co-Anchors: No. Nah.
Female Anchor: (visibly shocked)
Female Anchor: Well, anyway…
I know point out bad banter on TV is like pointing at rain drops in Seattle, but there are important takeaways for radio anchors and hosts hidden inside this gem.
Be Prepared. As someone who works in and talks about news for a living it is imperative you take time to watch/read/listen to the things that your listeners are talking about that day. Not only does it make you more credible and authentic, it allows you to develop an opinion about it, reflect interests of listeners back to them, and it reinforces you commitment you have for your job and the product to you co-workers. Your team needs to be able to trust that you’re up to speed and able to carry a conversation or, in this case, what would likely have amounted to a 15 second banter.
Never Kill A Bit. With due respect to Nancy Reagan – don’t say “no.” Saying ‘no” always kills the bit or the banter. It stops conversation cold. It makes everyone on set look bad. Even if you haven’t watched/read/or listened — find a way to say yes and keep the conversation going. “Boy, everybody is talking about it today. What did you take away from it?”
Don’t Assume. Before you make assumptions that a co-worker must been up to speed on a story or event, take a minute off air to ask, “Is it okay if I ask you about…”
The main idea here is work harder to put you and your co-workers in a position to win every minute of every show even if it’s 15 seconds of banter at the end of the show.
The relationship between a broadcaster and an interview subject has triggered my curiosity. Let me tell you why. About 6 days before the Canadian election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reached out to the radio station I work with and made himself available for an interview. He rarely talks to media and it was certainly topical and timely, but the host had hesitations. There were conditions.
- We would travel to where he was going to be, he wouldn’t come in studio.
- We would get seven minutes.
- Topics were limited to the economy and the housing market in B.C. (Contrary to some reports that the first two questions were dictated from the campaign.)
Jon McComb didn’t want to be shill for the Prime Minister and had no intention of turning a valuable segment of his show into a seven-minute infomercial. To make matters worse the Prime Minister’s handlers wouldn’t confirm if it was going to happen, when it was going to happen or where.
Jon was ready to walk from it.
I suggested that just because the conditions are laid out it doesn’t make them law. I advised Jon to do the following:
- Ask one question each about the economy and housing. Any question. They wanted the whole interview about these topics, but editorial we weren’t willing to give up control. Economy and housing are big issues that we would have addressed anyway so there wasn’t much of a “give” there. But we were also interested in legalization of marijuana and other issues.
- Do not worry about the seven minute time constraint. Keep asking questions until you get the interview you want. If they cut you off that is another story to share.
- I also suggested complete transparency to the audience. I urged Jon to tell the whole story; his feelings, misgivings, observations, how he was treated, and what conditions we agreed to.
He did all of the above (listen here) and it turned what could have been a boring, seven minute political campaign interview into an hour of great radio which fueled conversation for a day. It also created news for other outlets: Vancouver News and Huffington Post.
The question at the heart of this particular interview is that there were conditions put forth and we didn’t go running through hills in opposition. We calmly considered the situation and looked for a way to make an interview with the leader of Canada a reality.
Some journalists are critical of what we did and see it as an affront to democracy and free media. I applaud their integrity and principles as journalists. But Jon isn’t a journalist. Jon is a talk host. He has an honest relationship with his audience and is obligated to inform and entertain every day. He did that with tremendous effect in this case. That being said, I would not have put a news reporter in the same position.
From a big picture perspective, talk shows negotiate conditions of interviews all the time.
- What time?
- How long?
- About what?
- Live or recorded?
- How much $$$? Some organizations pay for newsmakers, I have only paid regular contributors in my career (ie. Columnists, athletes, beat reporters for other organizations)
- What can I promote? Web addresses, products, events. We all agree to interviews with worthwhile spokespeople so we get access to them and they get their message out.
Some things are not negotiable. After all, I do have some scruples. I say no every time when a guest insists on using pre-agreed questions, wants to review the interview before it airs, have any say over edits or control over how it is presented on air.
The truth, which might be hard for some to swallow, is whether it be movie stars, authors, experts, politicians, celebrities or everyday people at the heart of every interview there is an unspoken quid pro quo. In all cases the radio station is attempting to get information, personal stories or access and in return the interviewee is receiving a platform, fame, access to our listeners, association with our brands or positioning as an expert. We don’t sell it that way and we don’t discuss it out loud, but deep down, buried in the unconscious recess of their existence, people who agree to an interview with the media are doing so because they get something from it.
So about those conditions. Is it better to take a pious position and reject all conditions out right or or be forthcoming and transparent and develop great content for the radio?
I am really interested in hearing how you view the topic. Please add comments by clicking the link at the top of the page.
If a talent asks me, “Did we do too much on the breaking news story?” My answer will almost certainly be, “impossible.”
When a story warrants being called “breaking news” you have two effective options: mention it and let the newsroom update it in regular newscasts or dive head first in to it. The middle ground is the least desirable option. “Kinda” covering breaking news is as satisfying as eating something that “kinda” reminds you of gravy.
The Oregon High School shooting is a perfect example. If it’s not in your backyard, your state or even in your country can you do too much with it? I contend no, not when the story is still developing. If you make it important and urgent, keep resetting the facts, add new details and information as you can and then express emotions and explore questions and curiosities – no one is tuning out. Humans have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. We all want to be the first to know and we want to know more than our friends, family members and peers.
On a strategic point, breaking news is an audience builder for news-talk and sports radio stations. It’s better than an outdoor billboard campaign. It instantly brings new ears to your station. That in-the-heat-of-the-moment sampling can be extremely rewarding if you are covering the story as described above and equally punishing if you are not.
When news breaks it is a nice, juicy sizzling steak dinner for spoken word radio, don’t let it become the lumpy gravy.
After talking at length with researcher Richard Harker (hear the interview here), watching this 25 minute video on the science of watermarking audio, reading blogs and articles and then comparing it all to my personal experiences with PPM data, I believe the issues with PPM are nearing DEFCON1 for our industry.
Some things all radio broadcasters should know about PPM
The PPM tones are encoded and masked by other audio. If there is no audio on your radio station, there is no PPM encoding. If you are a spoken word radio station every time the host stops talking, takes a breath or a dramatic pause – the PPM tone stops encoding.
The PPM tones encode at certain frequencies (1 to 3 kilohertz), much higher frequencies than a typical male radio announcer, meaning higher pitched voices and music actually be decoded more consistently.
There has been no test results, at least released to the radio industry, how loud the radio station must be playing or how close to the radio the PPM device needs to be in order for the masked tone to be recognized and decoded. Though it is noteworthy that background radio station formats, like smooth jazz, have suffered greatly in the PPM era.
Audio watermarking technology can be wobbly leaving gaps (some small, some giant) in decoding and unknown amounts of unreported listening.
PPM encoding on internet streams is even less reliable. Just like a .jpg or .mp3 is compressed to make smaller files, your internet stream is compressed too, which means there is even less audio to mask the tone behind.
Because of these factors, some radio stations may only be encoding 50% of the time or sometimes even less and receiving greatly reduced credit in listening compared to what is actually happening.
Radio should be mad as hell. This is costing people jobs, livelihoods, and impacting radio families across the country. Programmers, myself included, have made “strategic” adjustments to shows, personalities, and formatics based on inaccurate PPM data.
If I’m Premiere Radio or really any big radio company I’m lawyering up. With the hit talk radio has taken in recent years (see: Rush) could it be that the audience likes it fine, but PPM doesn’t?
Fight back. The Voltair seems to be a worthy investment for some stations. It essentially makes your watermarked audio easier for the PPM to recognize and decode.
Also, and this goes against my better judgement, if you’re News/Talk or Sports I would seriously consider adding a music bed or crowd noise at all times so the encoding never stops.