Last night was the epic showdown between KATV’s Kristin Fisher representing the new media and Arkansas News Bureau’s John Brummett representing the old guard. There was a huge turnout for a weeknight debate on the media of around 50 people or so. Included among the established “professional media” types were the lonely misfit blogers including myself, David Kinkade of the Arkansas Project, Blake Rutherford of Blake’s Think Tank (who took my picture at the left), and Lance Turner of the creatively named Lance Turner’s blog.
Fisher thanked the chooser, the “lonely, misfits bloggers”, and most importantly John Brummett for bring so much attention to Choose Your News (CYN) which made the debate possible. She defended CYN as a tool to “attract a new generation of consumers” and way to bring in a new creative aspect.
Brummett responded that people should not be choosing their news but instead they should leave it up to the “professional journalists.” In his view, news is not something that is chosen but rather it is something that “occurs that upsets the nature order of things” and therefore has to be reported. As an example, he said that this debate is not news; it’s an event. It would not be news unless “I make Kristen so mad that she pulls out a taser and drops me to the floor. Then we’ve got news.” But as for as CYN, he says, “It’s a gimmick…In the end, what will work is covering the news and covering it well.” He then calls for Kristin’s boss to set her free to do other things besides CYN
He also discussed that his series of columns was mainly fueled by the lonely misfit bloggers who jumped on his case after his first column criticizing CYN. But after actually spending time reading the blogs, he learned quite a bit about our little world and was even persuaded by some of the things he read.
Fisher discussed her daily routine on CYN and compares this to her routine before CYN. She defends CYN saying that her stories with CYN are as top quality as her general assignment stories were before CYN. She also pointed out that all reporters in essence choose their news through the tools they use such as Google Alerts; the difference is she also involves the consumers of her stories by democratizing the media. She said, “With so many media giants going down, I don’t see anything wrong with trying everything out there.” She points out that there are 90 million members of facebook and 100 million on twitter. Discussing the problems in her industry, she said, “Newspapers are dying, and TV … we’re not doing so hot… The one thing that is growing right now is the internet.” She went on to explain that if breaking news occurred she would be pulled off the CYN story and assigned that event. She explained how the CYN tools she has set up such as the live studio cam, the truck cam, her cell phone cam, and her twitter account would enable her to bring this breaking news to the viewers in real time.
The moderator, Andrew Demillo, then asked Brummett to respond to the question “Aren’t people choosing their news everyday?” Brummett appears confused by the question but finally answers that there is a difference between the consumers choosing what the media will produce and the producers choosing what they will produce. He goes on to say that allowing the consumer to choose “serves to trivialize the news.” He then declared the Arkansas Times blog “the most popular news blog in Arkansas” saying that “it renders, with all due respect, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s Arkansas section obsolete by the morning.”
Fisher explained that one of the things she hopes to accomplish with CYN is to show viewers what goes in each story. She knows that viewers want to connect to the person behind the camera and CYN allows you to do this. She said she has even had choosers email her and remind her to put on her seatbelt. She explained that while she is on her webcam 90% of the time, she will turn it off when she is doing activities such as making source calls or taking care of personal business.
Brummett confessed that he does watch the webcam in spite of finding it “creepy.” Brummett conceded the point that the CYN concept of showing the viewers how stories are made is a good idea, but he feels this should be a special feature not an everyday staple. He compares this to going on the field trip in school which would take place only a few times through out the year not everyday. He then explains that a big part of his objection is that he feels this is cannibalizing the news industry and is not generating the advertising revenue that the news business needs to survive. (IMHO, this is the real objection most in the MSM have; how do we make money off this?) He discusses his endeavor into blogging during the previous legislative session but says that he gave this up as it was not helping his newspapers sell more papers therefore it was just not worthwhile. Then he admits that he plans to start blogging again simply because you have to do it because of the demand for it.
Fisher discusses comments on her blog and admits that they do filter these to make sure they are appropriate. (The Tolbert Report filters comments as well, but publishes most any comment that is not obscene.) She says that her focus on CYN is to supplement her final product, the 90 second report on KATV’s nightly broadcast. Demillo asked if she would feel comfortable handing over the lead story to her choosers. She said no because there is still breaking news that takes place and that is what that should be reserved for.
Demillo also asked Brummett if he would allow his readers to choose what story will go on the front page and he gives a long answer but basically says no as well. Demillo also asked Brummett how interacting online is any different that the interacting Brummett does directly with community groups. Brummett says that the advantage to the internet is its convenience and its worldwide accessibility but the disadvantage is not it is not personal, saying, “LOL can never replace the sound of a real laugh.”
Fisher responded by asking Brummett if he needs a hug. He said yes but I never did see if he got it. Poor John!
(Short segment as my camera was full and I had to delete some old files. Stupid technology.) Fisher discussed that the younger generation primarily get their news online citing that “44% of college graduates get there news online and that number is growing while the percentage of people who read the newspaper and watch the news on TV is shirking.”
Brummett asked Fisher if “she is going to sit in front of her webcam and grow old forever.” Fisher pointed to her boss to say that is up to him but she enjoys doing it.
Demillo asked both Fisher and Brummett how they define journalism. Fisher responded, “Journalism is something you serve the public by informing them about events, news, and things that is important to them.” Brummett replied, “A journalist is someone who tells you what is happening and that is protected within the First Amendments free speech rights.” He then argued in favor of a professional journalist instead of amateur hack like myself
Demillo then opened the floor for questions. Gwenn Warrick (correction Gwen Moritz) with Arkansas Business asked how CYN is monetizing (that is fancy journalist talk for making money) the web. Fisher said she is not sure. Later the news director said that it is making money but it did not elaborate on how much. Brummett says that if it is making enough money then “okay, cool.” But he does not believe anyone has found a way to do that yet.
Kelly stated that she thinks Fisher and Brummett are not talking about the same thing; that Fisher is talking about the merit of the media tools while Brummett is criticizing the content. Because of this, Kelly wanted to know if Fisher would be willing to keep the webcam but do away with the poll on what story to cover. Fisher said she would not because she feels she would lose her connection to her choosers. She also said she is seeing before idea for stories coming in as her story is progressing. Brummett said that he still feels that the “are trivializing their newscast.” Fisher reply, “I don’t think we are.” To which Brummett said, “Well, we will just have to agree to disagree.”
An audience member asked if the online audience for CYN is the same group as the KATV Newscast audience. Fisher said that the demographic is very different which a younger more tech savvy audience on the online forum. Brummett agrees saying that the traditional TV viewer watches because they like TV personalities like Ned and Sully and they want to find out about the weather and razorbacks. Brummett went on to say that the goal should be to cross-pollinate the online demographic with the mainstream demographic and that is the why he is going to start blogging again.
Another audience member (a reporter that I probably should know) asked Fisher about the safety issue for Fisher with CYN and how the tragedy of Anne Pressley impacted this concern. Fisher replied that they did delay the start of CYN do to the fact they she just lost one of her best friends and did not feel like but on camera nine hours a day. She said that she does not feel like her safety is in any more danger than any other on-air personality, that she has a camera man with her at all times, and that she avoids talking about her personal life on camera. She goes on to comment on how much Anne Pressley would have enjoyed CYN and can imagine her dancing in the background.
Brummett asked Fisher what the benefit is to having a webcam on her watching her type. Fisher said that she mildly agrees with his point but the webcam is not coming down. She predicts that one day the webcam will be instrumental in breaking a big breaking news story.
Another reporter that I probably should know asked whose idea CYN was. Fisher said it was the idea of Randy Dixon and herself. Fisher said she pitched the idea of using a streaming camera on the news truck to make her stories more interactive and Randy Dixon came up with the idea to take it a step further and allow the audience to have a say in what she covers. Brummett pointed out that the launch of CYN just happened to coincide with sweeps. And he reminded everyone that previously during sweeps KATV had a reporter barricaded in any apartment with nothing but the internet.
Another audience asked Fisher what she is giving up professionally to do CYN and asked how much traffic has been driven by the Fisher Brummett Debate. Fisher first credited not only John Brummett but also such major relevant creditable bloggers such as Blake Rutherford, David Kinkade, Lance Turner, and (of course) The Tolbert Report for driving the increased traffic. She also states that she does not think she gave up anything professional to do CYN but that she does have to get to work earlier and stay later. Brummett pointed out that KATV gave up a talented field reporter that they had available to instead devote her attention to CYN.
In the end, Brummett apologized that his not agreeing to the debate at first came across as arrogant and hoity. He said, “Now I am arrogant and hoity but I don’t have to act like it.” Demillo asked Brummett what he had gotten out of this and he replied, “I’m young again. I’m relevant.” (You’re welcome, John) He also said he came to realize that he was one of the old people embedded in their ways that the young people resented and is now more aware of the threats to the news industry.
They both agreed to come back in six month to a year and see if either of them had changed their views on choose your news.