Cable TV For Smaller Newspapers p. 14

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By: Dorothy Giobbe

32,000-circulation Pennsylvania daily produces two weekly,
30-minute shows covering local news and sports for about $100 sp.

THREE YEARS AGO, the Herald-Standard, in Uniontown, Pa., made a move that some smaller newspapers might consider too speculative and resource-consuming.
In an effort to broaden its audience, the 32,000-circulation daily began producing its own cable television news programs.
While initially the newspaper was warned that hundreds of thousands of dollars would be necessary to finance production and equipment costs, the Herald-Standard currently produces two weekly, 30-minute television programs, one covering news and the other covering sports, for a total cost of about $100.
Since the first show aired in December 1990, the staff of the Herald-Standard has produced and aired 280 programs over two cable television systems which serve 72,000 households combined.
A sports show airs on one of the channels, with a news program on the other. Program format varies, but the news program usually includes Headlines of the Week, a review of the week’s top stories. The camera pans noteworthy stories and photos in the newspaper while editors discuss and comment on the events.
Also, the news program features a segment where a reporter or editor from the Herald-Standard interviewing a local public official.
The obvious benefit of the cable programming is the supplemental exposure that the cable market offers the Herald-Standard.
Involving viewers in alternate delivery of the content in the newspaper creates an opportunity to reach consumers in the marketplace who might not be Herald-Standard readers.
Through offering same content, different delivery, the Herald-Standard maintains and strengthens its position as the main information provider in the community.
Not having the benefit of other smaller newspaper’s efforts in the same area, the Herald-Standard experimented with various production methods and strategies in the early days of the program.
The first shows were produced by students and faculty at an educational classroom/TV studio at California University of Pennsylvania in nearby California, Pa.
Part-time Herald-Standard staffers who were also students at the university helped to coordinate the effort.
The cost of producing the programs was low, but eventually the logistics involved with traveling to and from the campus, along with scheduling the studio prompted the newspaper to lease its own Sony camera, lights and sound equipment.
A conference room at the newspaper’s office was transformed into a makeshift studio with the addition of lights and a backdrop. The Herald-Standard hired a free-lance video producer who produces and edits on a per-program contract basis.
The camera used three-quarter inch videotape, thought to offer better quality than the one-half inch usually used in camcorders. The three-quarter tape is more expensive, and one of the cable stations had difficulty using it.
Eventually, the Herald-Standard tested a regular sized camcorder against larger, more expensive equipment. While taping a show, the staff placed a regular video camera alongside the more expensive equipment and after viewing both tapes they couldn’t tell the difference. After that, they used a regular video camera for both programs.
Because the Herald-Standard was able to appeal to the self-interest of the two cable stations, it doesn’t pay for time on the cable systems.
The newspaper convinced the cable system that it would benefit from a viewing audience that was interested in local news. Because the dominant television station in the area operates out of Pittsburgh and gives limited coverage to events in Uniontown, the Herald-Standard fills the desire of viewers for local television news, while the cable operator benefits from more people subscribing to its service.
The newspaper has the capability to produce paid commercials, and may explore that option in the future.

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