Posted on November 02, 2016
Regional broadcasting is catching up with national media in embracing digital but faces unique challenges, as Daniel Lynch from the Clearbox team explains… Since qualifying as a journalist in 2013 and working in regional television, I have seen the way in which news is delivered quickly changing. On day one of a Broadcast Journalism course at Leeds Trinity University, I was told that news was increasingly becoming an 'online first' media, with a heavy reliance on mobile phones to film, record and write copy. Even so, that warning didn't fully prepare me for the move to working in a rapidly evolving newsroom. Many broadcasters have already woken up to the fact that more and more people are getting their news online and on their smart phones. Information is drip fed throughout the day and by 6pm most people already know what is in the news, they have already seen the stories and they have already read much of the analysis. On screen, news has evolved to give not just an explanation of the story but an ever-increasing insight into both of the wider picture and the minute detail. Producers and news editors are making a conscious effort to offer something more in programmes than is already out there online, even if that is only the 'personality' of the reporter or anchor. Many media that have traditionally focussed on broadcast have had to play catch up in the online market. This is particularly evident at a regional level. Many newspapers already had a strong written presence so the move to web was relatively smoother. Broadcast outlets like the BBC and ITV have invested in their online content and that is only going to continue and expand in the coming years. Both have regional sub-sites on their news websites and these have newsfeed-style chronological updates, as well as fixed articles of the main stories. Users can now go to a section of the national sites for news which otherwise might only have been covered by a local newspaper website. When big stories happen, ITV and BBC will often channel a regional office's coverage on to their national and international feeds. One example is the Tour de France in Yorkshire when the main ITV news website hosted a significant amount of content from regional journalists as well as its own national coverage. As a result, regional journalists now know their potential audience is much larger than the few hundred miles' radius their newspaper or TV programme might service. There has also been a considerable improvement in the use of social media at a regional news level. This is thanks in no small part to companies recognising the moving trend and offering journalists and producers training on how to film and edit with a smart phone, as well as deliver effective content across platforms. Many reporters who are already expected to film, edit and script much of what appears on the evening news are also updating through social media with increasing complexity. One-line tweet updates are a thing of the past with reporters now more aware than ever about the importance of hashtags, tagging relevant people or organisations and the use of images and video. A look at many regional journalists' Twitter feeds and regional news Facebook accounts will show an increasing reliance on video and live broadcasting often through a mobile phone. Changing algorithms in social media have prompted a switch to embedded videos, rather than links to the main news website. Broadcasters are sacrificing lucrative web hits for views on Facebook. The switch towards digital is not just a few journalists embracing social media culture, it is a style of working which is encouraged from the top down. In less than a year, regional reporters have followed national colleagues in progressing from emailing video clips back to the office to regularly streaming events live themselves. Some 24-hour news stations have even taken live mobile phone feeds on air. In seconds, any news programme can now see any news event anywhere in the world, without even the need for a camera crew or journalist. This is a trend which was already at full flow nationally and internationally but, as regional newsrooms catch up, the news you see in the local slot will begin to change. News viewers in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Yorkshire, Lancashire and elsewhere will begin to see more and more crossover between the broadcast and online wings of their regional news outlets which was already happening at a national and international level. Newsrooms like those in Belfast, Leeds or Newcastle are in the unique position of having a local TV audience of several hundred thousand but a potential online audience of billions and having to create content which is at the same time hyper-local and internationally relevant. A good recent example was UTV's story about a hurler in Belfast who is a refugee from Syria. It was broadcast on UTV, but picked up online by ITV's national Facebook channel and viewed almost a quarter of a million times. Just a few years ago the same story might only have been seen in Northern Ireland. Improving the use of digital media is becoming increasingly important in an environment where there is pressure to be regionally relevant and globally appealing at the same time.