5 newsroom ‘resolutions’ for 2022

How our most popular stories reflect news leaders’ top priorities

Photo by Constant Loubier on Unsplash
Photo by Constant Loubier on Unsplash

How would you like your newsroom to change in 2022?

As we do every year at this time, we looked at our most-read stories of the past 12 months, and they reflect a set of — cliché alert — challenges and opportunities for the year ahead.

I’ve attached the Top 10 of 2021 at the end of this article, but first, here’s a list of five potential New Year’s resolutions for local TV newsrooms, inspired by the stories you and our other readers found most useful last year.

Our two-part report on “The Local TV Newsroom Recruitment Crisis” was by far the most popular we’ve ever published. Part 1 (#1 for the year) outlines the reasons the recruitment pipeline of talented young journalists is broken and leaking badly from the bottom; Part 2 (#2 for the year) offers a broad set of suggestions to address the crisis.

This isn’t just an operational challenge; it’s a strategic imperative that will require groups and stations to work together on multiple fronts, from salaries to contracts to workplace culture to mentoring to compelling innovation that brings the best and brightest back to our industry.

Local is going national. The most obvious examples are programs like Sinclair’s The National Desk, which added an evening edition to its original morning version in the fall (our #3 story last year), and Nexstar’s NewsNation, but NBC’s LX, Tegna’s Verify, ABC’s Localish, Scripps’s Newsy, among others, all draw on local newsrooms to help create new shows and even new channels with nationwide distribution.

Collaboration can also fuel unique editorial projects that help both groups and individual stations stand out. Example: Gray’s “Bridging the Great Health Divide” (our #8 for the year), which draws on more than 100 journalists from around the company to report on health inequities in Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta.The ABC-owned stations’ data team is supporting the whole group’s original reporting on racial injustice, COVID, and other critical issues around the country.

Collaboration is a powerful tool for covering two of the big stories of our time: the lingering and still devastating effects of the pandemic, and climate change. And the powerful station groups are in a strong position to do outstanding work.

Our reports about stations experimenting with variations on the all-too-familiar tropes of local TV news always score well, and last year was no exception. Three made the top 10, all examples of locally generated innovation:

● NPG-owned KVIA in El Paso added its highest-profile reporter, Saul Saenz, to its late-news anchor team, creating an unusual three-anchor format (the #4 story in 2021) that calls on all three to contribute to an in-depth nightly segment called ABC-7 Xtra.

● Gray’s WBAY in Green Bay added a 4:30 newscast in a new format suggested by the long-time sports director, Chris Roth: fewer tape packages, longer stories built around interviews with newsmakers and station reporters, and a daily gee-whiz segment, Three Brilliant Minutes, from meteorologist and science buff Brad Spakowitz (#5 for the year).

● Scripps’s WTMJ in Milwaukee is putting its frontline anchors back in the field, and even giving them time away from the desk to do more original reporting (2021’s #6 story). It’s a determined effort to redefine the traditional anchor role and draw on the reporting talents of some of the newsroom’s most experienced journalists.

And these aren’t the only groups experimenting with standard formats. NBC Bay Area News Tonight built a new 7 p.m. newscast around deeper dives into fewer stories by sole anchor Raj Mathai, inspired by his Facebook Live segments during the pandemic. And TEGNA’s Portland, Oregon station KGW is sticking with The Story despite the departure of original anchor Dan Haggerty; a rotating cast now heads up the 6 p.m. program based on longer reports, investigations, live interviews, consistent viewer input, and the anchors’ distinctive personalities. (Our January 2019 story on KUSA’s Next With Kyle Clark, the Denver broadcast that inspired its TEGNA cousin in Portland, remains one of the most popular we’ve ever published.)

It’s easy to throw around the word “engagement” when talking about digital success, but it’s harder to connect clicks, views and likes to revenue and to audience trust. “Thinking Beyond the Buzzword” (#9 last year) reported on studies by two journalists-turned-academics, including the Cronkite School’s own Jacob Nelson, that offer fresh ways to think about what “engagement” really means to your newsroom. There are multiple ways to connect with viewers and users, both your current audience and the new people you’re going after. Choosing which paths to prioritize and building a strategy tailored to those specific goals is the challenge.

Every station is experimenting with streaming content, served up in both linear and on-demand formats. As in the evolution of station websites, what started as so-called “shovel ware” — broadcast content merely shifted to a new platform — is morphing into original programming created specifically for “over the top” consumers.

Gray’s Memphis station came up with a completely homegrown digital channel called WMC Plus (our #7 story last year), built on hyperlocal sports and news and designed for both linear over-the-air viewing and on-demand consumption on the station’s OTT app. Locally owned WBRZ in Baton Rouge created WBRZ Plus four years ago to reach more viewers across its digital sub-channel, local cable systems, and OTT streaming channel — and is now placing a big wager on a new content partnership with sports betting network VSiN.

How can you unleash the power of streaming to reach new audiences and to provide unique content and services to your community? It’s a critical question that’s worth addressing in 2022: what’s your Plus?

We look forward to hearing about your creative 2022 experiments and innovations. Happy New Year from the Cronkite News Lab!

Our Top 10 Stories of 2021

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