Making Bigger Better For Nexstar's News
Over the past five years, Nexstar has poured $78 million into improving its expanding TV news operations, which today comprise 39 newsrooms producing for 70 stations.
Jerry Walsh has been in the thick of that effort as director of local content for the stations east of the Mississippi. (With the same title, Christopher Berg oversees the stations in the western half of the country).
In this interview with TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Diana Marszalek, Walsh talks about how Nexstar integrates newly acquired stations into the fold in a way that benefits the stations and their viewers and the challenges of keeping up with digital media.
TVNewsCheck's sister site NetNewsCheck yesterday posted an interview with Nexstar’s chief digital officer, Thomas O’Brien. Read it here.
An edited transcript:
Your job includes overseeing TV newsroom content in a wide variety of markets, many of which are tied to stations Nexstar has only recently acquired. What are the first things you do when the group takes over?
It really does start with what the local community needs, wants and desires.
We have to learn about the market … to understand what local news is. We all know that what’s news in California is not necessarily news in New York, especially at the local level. What works in Syracuse isn’t going to work in Little Rock. Each region is different, too.
We need to spend the time with the newsroom management and station management, but you also spend the time with the rank and file — the producers, the editors, the feet on-the-ground. We have to understand the markets we are serving and how we can serve their viewer interest.
What sorts of changes should viewers expect when Nexstar buys a station?
There is so much that we are able to share, so having our television stations collaborate is a big push for us. When I was news director in Rochester, WROC was the only Nexstar station in upstate New York. Now we have six stations, so we have a significant footprint to provide a regional focus and cover statewide issues like nobody else can.
Let’s take Illinois for example. We have a state capitol bureau operating out of WCIA (Champaign-Springfield-Decatur), so our news directors are able to pick up the phone and ask for help. There’s a lot of collaboration among our Texas stations too. When the [April] Ft. Hood shooting occurred, there was one satellite truck that provided feeds to six Texas stations and a number of Nexstar markets across the country with custom live shots. We have the opportunity to do those custom live shots whenever Nexstar stations are at the frontline at national events.
I imagine that could be tough on news crews because they now have to do stories for other stations as well as their own, along with the regular pressures of covering breaking stories.
I think we look at it this way: It is to the benefit of a lot of our markets that border each other and news directors who know each other well. That’s a realization we are trying hard to build up through regional meetings and through regular phone calls.
During the recent tornados, obviously, being in the home market for the tragedy, our reporters in Little Rock were really busy doing a good job covering the news for their local station. So our station in Springfield [Mo., KOZL] drove its satellite truck the three hours down to central Arkansas to help KARK and the other Arkansas stations.
What technology do you use to make this all happen?
It all depends on the event. Satellite trucks are still used and in play. We also have an internal video transfer system so every Nexstar station can download video, pull in a script. Every day stations post stories and sharing is taking place. Stations in several regions still do daily phone calls and discuss what they are covering and stories of interest.
What sort of locally focused initiatives do you have? Do you emphasize, for instance, investigative reporting?
We have investigative reporters in some of our markets, where it fits with the overall brands and approaches of the TV stations. At the end of the day, we should all be doing a lot of investigative journalism but from the standpoint of how it fits in.
We also recognize the need for good political reporting beyond getting results on election night. So two years ago we rolled out the “Your Election Headquarters” brand, which includes graphics packages, some targeted goals for markets including issue-based reporting. We have talked to viewers and they acknowledge they want political content but it has to be based on issues.
“Your Election Headquarters” is running this year with midterm elections. Stations in Texas and Illinois have already had successful primary coverage and we are gearing up gearing up for races in Pennsylvania and Arkansas.