Air Check by Diana Marszalek

Making Bigger Better For Nexstar's News

One of two local content directors at the station group, Jerry Walsh has been actively involved in Nexstar's $78 million news expansion and improvement push. While there are advantages to having the deep pockets of a large company — resources and station collaboration, among them — he says it's vital to think local and realize that no two newsrooms are alike. (To read NetNewsCheck’s Monday interview with Nexstar’s chief digital officer, Thomas O’Brien, click here.)
TVNewsCheck,

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).

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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?

Brand Connections

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.

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Comments (6) -

tjxx Nickname posted over 2 years ago
This is pretty funny...the facts are they are either #3 or worse in news in every one of their markets. The self proclaimed smartest guys in the room can't get it done why?? Talent. No good talent is going to risk their reputation working for Nexstar!!!
RetiredTVGM Nickname posted over 2 years ago
I doubt that every Nexstar station is #3 or worse in every market where they have stations. Lighten up! (And I never worked for Nexstar, so I don't have any axe to grind.) Sounds like you do!
joeseph Nickname posted over 2 years ago
It is pretty clear from all of his comments that tjxx hates Nexstar, NBC, and Democrats. Those are the 3 things that he very angrily and consistently comments on.
tjxx Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Hates a strong word. I deal in the world of facts...Wake up
AC1701 Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Having previously worked for Nexstar, and our station being number 1 in the market (and remaining there for the decade I worked for them, Nexstar owned), I'll have to dispute your #3 in "every" market statement. That being said, there were things that I definitely disagreed with as far as their management style - but that usually came down to the individual station managers and how much they were able to handle and juggle the pressures handed down to them. Good managers managed situations and built great teams and enjoyed a lot of success - and very talented Newsroom personnel. Horrible GM's drove away the great talent and sent the stations down the wrong path, and saw a huge exodus of employees (including myself). That's going to ring true for any station, any company, in any corporation.
Prompter Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Mr. Walsh has the deft touch of a thoracic surgeon. His content sharing initiative's are fast becoming the industry standard. Gone are the days of old school, 1980's-like local television news. Mr. Walsh exhibits the bravado of a Don Hewitt, an industry chieftan who is pioneering unique content devoured by consumers every day whether it be on the air or on-line. Just look at what he has done with the Super Bowl coverage, the vast digital component of that event. Same can be said for the Olympics coverage. Arm this man with a choice few workhorses and he turns dust to gold. Go big or go home---but for damn certain, get out of Mr. Walsh's way. He's like a Norfolk Southern locomotive at full throttle! #nexstarnation
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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for september 29, 2016
  • 1.
    1.6/6
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    1.2/4
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    1.2/4
  • 4.
    0.9/3
  • 5.
    0.6/2
  • 6.
    0.3/1
Source: Nielsen

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