By: Jeff Rowe
In today’s intensifying competition for readers’ time,
using its own television news channel to heighten reader
interest is a key objective for the Orange County Register sp.
SQUINTING INTO THE bright light of the Orange County Register newsroom’s television camera, business editor Jonathan Lansner listened and watched the monitor as Orange County NewsChannel business anchor Pete Weitzner fielded a call from a viewer.
Weitzner was hosting a live, hour-long program about the county’s bankruptcy filings, triggered when the county lost $1.7 billion on its investment fund. Weitzner tossed the question to Lansner, who responded as the OCN director split the screen.
“It’s a natural extension,” said Lansner of his television duties.
The OCN camera position is a busy spot in the Register’s Santa Ana, Calif., building, home to the Orange County NewsChannel two floors down, and site of an ambitious effort by the Irvine, Calif.-based Freedom Communications Inc. units to meld television news with print.
As the county’s financial crisis unfolded, the newspaper and NewsChannel’s ties strengthened and expanded giving print reporters a new perspective on journalism.
“It’s looking through the window at your readers instead of wondering who and where they are,” said Elliot Blair Smith, a Register financial writer, who joined Weitzner and a bond expert for one of the nightly live OCN segments devoted to the crisis.
Four-and-a-half years ago, in the early days of the OCN, it was tough for Weitzner even to take a day off. He had to depend on one of the other anchors to pull together perhaps a sentence or two on the stock market, in his absence.
That was then.
These days, OCN viewers don’t miss a financial beat when Weitzner is on vacation or on assignment, because any of several reporters on the Orange County Register business staff can provide a full business report from the anchor desk. OCN’s studios are the ground floor of the Register’s five-story building.
Other Register reporters and editors have developed regular programs on the NewsChannel.
? Jane Glenn Haas, who covers aging for the paper, hosts a weekly hour call-in show dealing with maturing issues.
? David Whiting, editor of the paper’s show section, hosts a weekly movie review segment
? Food writer Joe Crea does regular OCN segments that parallel his weekly food section.
In drawing print reporters in broadcast news ? the Register and OCN are plowing new fields in journalism and looking at multiple goals:
? Gaining efficiencies in a tough economy.
? Using television to give viewers a visual slice of a story ? referring to the next day’s paper for more details and the elements best provided in print analysis background, charts, tables and references.
? Using the newspaper to steer viewers to OCN programming. A staple of the Register’s television listing is a box referencing times for the OCN special reports.
? Crossover advertising ? Getting advertisers to see synergies in using print and broadcast.
In today’s intensifying competition for readers’ time, using television to heighten reader interest is a key objective for the Register.
“Interest raised by television news encourages newspaper readings,” said Tony Rimmer, a journalism professor at California State University at Fullerton, who has made numerous studies of how television news and newspapers influence each other.
Rimmer helped the Register and OCN develop what has become a nightly staple on OCN ? Tomorrow’s Register Tonight (TRT).
Launched on June 6, TRT segments typically are 30-second pieces taped in the Register newsroom via a robotic television camera, operated by the OCN director two floors below.
Register reporters write and tape a brief broadcast version of their print story that will appear in the following day’s paper. TRT producer Liisa Pucket arranges for pictures to accompany the segments, which close on an OCN anchor briefly summarizing other stories upcoming in the paper.
Sounds simple, but as with any courtship, there have been difficult days.
Four years ago, OCN and the Register resembled eighth graders at their first dance ? girls clumped together on one side of the room; boys hovering on the other.
Interaction was sporadic.
Many Register staffers viewed OCN anchors and reporters as overpressed, overpaid mannequins who knew little about Orange County.
OCN staffers often saw Register reporters as snobby, rumpled and cranky.
To overcome those perceptions, about 20 Register reporters were paired with OCN mentors ? who taught them the rudiments of television. The coaching worked both ways. OCN reporters wrote some print versions of their stories.
One brick at a time, the wall began to come down.
Television’s production complexity and need for compression still frustrates some Register reporters, and some OCN staffers have found they need more detail for a print story than they typically gather for a broadcast piece.
And other problems arose in weaving two news operations together.
? Editors decide to hold a story for publication, sometimes minutes before a TRT segment is to air.
? TRT taping times sometimes conflict with reporter’s print deadlines or have to be moved for live OCN segments.
? Tapes grow legs and walk away.
A series of classes on writing, presentation, choosing pictures and other aspects of television news helped Register reporters and editors adapt to the electronic medium. Similar classes for OCN staffers have resulted in bylined stories for OCN staffers.
Meantime, the substitute business anchors are getting good grades from OCN news director Ed Casaccia and senior producer Wayne Brown.
On a recent day, Register business columnist Cathy Taylor could be found at the anchor desk, giving viewers a regional and national summary of business developments. Her taped report was then repeated hourly throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Earlier that same day. Dawn Yoshitake, who covers retailing for the paper, anchored the noon business update.
Broadcast writing has “increased my appreciation for clarity of words,” Yoshitake says. “And for short sentences. Those two elements are essential for anchoring a smooth newscast.”
Moreover, Yoshitake views her expanding broadcast skills as an asset for newspaper writing, and her “love-of-detail reporting an asset for OCN.”
David Lynch, personal finance reporter, who recently left the Register for USA Today, also took a few turns anchoring the daily business report.
“I haven’t found the transition to broadcast that difficult except in trying to adjust my writing style to the rhythms of the spoken word,” said Lynch. “I find you have to concentrate on shorter sentences, punchier phrasing, and forget about rules of grammar. Sentence fragments are OK because you’ve got other tools to communicate with, such as graphics, tone of voice, cocked eyebrows, and B-roIl (pictures that a reporter or anchor voices over). In one way, I think TV is similar to print journalism ? it’s very easy to be mediocre and harder than it looks to be excellent.”
Just how close can a newspaper and television station’s reporting efforts be drawn and does television news really help heighten viewer interest in reading and vice-versa?
No one knows for sure, but for the six-month period ending March 31, the Register was one of the few major dailies in the U.S. to post circulation gains, expanding daily circulation by 4,009, and Sunday by 4,517.
No one is saying Tomorrow’s Register Tonight, and other OCN segments referencing the Register’s coverage, are completely responsible.
Then again, these days in Santa Ana, more newspaper reporters are becoming believers in the power of television news.
?(Rowe is a business reporter at the Register and OCN and is a liason between the two newsrooms.) [Caption]
?(Orange County Register reporter Betsy Bates does a Tomorrow’s Register Tonight segement. TRT producer Liisa Pucket is in the foreground, talking to the Orange County News Channel director and watching Bates on the monitor) [Photo & Caption]