I have seen the future and it’s in Jersey

The Star-Ledger in New Jersey just broadcast its first live, daily noon news show on the web and I’m delighted to report that it bears no resemblance to television. That was the point.

Ledger Live – 07-28-08

When my friends and former colleagues at the paper told me they wanted to create a show, the one thing I begged them to do was not emulate local TV news. Please, God, anything but that. They had the opportunity to create something new and break all the stupid conventions of TV news. But how?

This is the only contribution I made to the project: I introduced them in Michael Rosenblum and the chemistry was a thing to behold. Rosenblum sounds like Gilbert Gottfried in both accent and bluntness (which is not all that different from how the paper’s editor, Jim Willse, sounds; they bonded). The Ledger folks showed him some video they’d made. He was impressed, so far as it went; photographers are good at shooting video. Then they showed him the TV studio they had built and he growled: Why would you want this shit? No, the story is in the newsroom. That’s what a newspaper is. So do it there. So much for the nice studio.

Rosenblum and his partner Lisa Lambden came in and taught more than a dozen staffers how to make stories the Rosemblum way — that is, without its stupid conventions (no B-roll, no noddies, no stand-ups, no establishing shots; just show me and tell me the damned story). And then they worked with the paper’s digital seer, John Hassel, and editor, Jim Willse, and others to create the format of the daily show.

The idea from the start was to have somebody in and of the newsroom and after auditions they found a perfect reporter Jersey-guy host, Brian Donohue. He just talks with you and they show the stories the thing-formerly-known-as-a-paper’s new video journalists have made. In the rehearsals he has also been interviewing people in the newsroom via a TV screen; I’d rather have him just sit down with the real people and talk. But that aside, I think the tone, style, and content are great.

I like the show but what I think is more important is bringing a new video culture into the newsroom with Rosenblum playing Obama, telling them, “Yes, we can.”

Here’s Hassell’s blog post about the show. Heres Rosenblum’s.

: Later: Lost Remote and its commenters got snarky about the show and I snarked back (see comment #28). Let’s get this straight, people: Local TV news sucks. It is no model for what newspapers or anyone should do in video online. It’s cheesy. It’s unbearable. I’m delighted that local TV news priests don’t like what the Ledger did. That’s best indication of success I can imagine.

  • PXLated

    They done good!

  • Looks like John Craven’s Newsround from 1972…

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  • could not have done anything without you and your support. many thanks.

  • How could they go wrong with having the BOSS video clip!!!

  • This is extremely cool. Definitely makes me think maybe there’s hope for newspapers. I loved how the reporter videos were integrated into the show.

    One question. I want to blog about this on my blog but how did you embed the video into your blog? I know it says embed, but I’m having some issues.

    Love your site. Keep up the awesome work!

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  • Briantist,
    Ah, memories. I was on John Craven’s Newsround as a regular contributor (via phone) from Chicago, covering the story of a (mythical, I now suspect) kangaroo on the loose — missing marsupial. I fear I misled millions of little British children.

  • It’s reassuringly low-tech looking – Rosenblum was right on the money to scrap the studio: it’s a newsroom, so let’s see the newsroom. Donohue hits the right tone. Very good indeed – and having Springsteen was a nice touch.

  • Elana,

    The videos on our site don’t begin playing automatically when you load the page, so if you want to grab the embed code just hit the play button, then hit the pause button and grab the embed code. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    Thanks, everyone, for the kind words. We’re new at this, and with any luck we’ll get better as we go. Jeff, thanks again to you and Michael for helping us get this far. It’s been a fun ride, and we’re just getting started.

    John Hassell, The Star-Ledger

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  • Blogging was about writing things on a personal note with the conviction that comes with experience and passion. Now Rosenblum shows that this holds up for producing videos for newspapers as well. Not very revolutionary in the age of youtube-heroes but then again, revolutionary for newspapers apparently :-)

    The Dutch NRC-next newspaper is experimenting with videos as well but seemingly clueless. Just some artsy stuff and cookingspecials but no news whatsoever. The videos are even on a completely different domain and scarcely linked from the main sites.

  • Not Impressed

    Well, I read all of this before the video was put up, so this is useless. Plus, I don’t want to sit through someone telling me about the news. I can get all of the stories I want to read online and at my leisure, not sitting through some guy stumbling through the news. And Springsteen? Who cares. Young people, we watch online videos that are funny or entertaining in some way. This is not. In fact, I was bored with it within seconds and decided to write this instead. Most wasted resources from the dying newspapers. Yawn.

  • @Not Impressed: You’re right on the mark, it’s nothing special, yet for newspapers it is. They’ll have to take quite some more steps to get a real source of news with this news-video, there are better ones on youtube by amateurs, but at least they’re trying.

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  • Jeff Jarvis: No way! That has to be my “fact of the week”! I can almost picture your story being illustrated with a suitable cartoon kangaroo with a US flag.

    I guess I could also have chosen Janet Streeeeet Porter’s Network 7, the BBC “Def II” Reportage Show and also the first version of “BBC News 24” all of which were presented “live from a newsroom”.

    John Craven’s Newsround went to CSO after the initial trial run.

    BBC News 24 had to dump the hacks in short-sleeves from something more BBC, and much less colourful. OId people couldn’t take it, apparently.

  • Cooler Heads

    OMG, a legless basketball player. Wow. The web has waiting for this.

  • 0-shift

    Well, wonderful on many levels.

    Now, newspaper people will be able to prove to TV people that they know local better by providing insightful and informed takes on local issues.

    But how this be effectively local can this be and not turn off audiences who have no interest in their suburban neighbors? Regardless of what we write here, the most important metric will be the audience metrics. What will audience traffic rise and fall on? I can easily see the newspaper drifting into a TV news type model as experience with its audience increases. They will no doubt watch how traffic responds minute by minute.

    That said, the bottom line is the bottom line and hopefully, the newspaper can build enough traffic for it to turn into a profit center for supporting news gathering.

  • As a native of North Jersey I have been reading the Star-Ledger since I’ve been able to read. I grew up on this paper – it’s a part of NJ and it’s a part of me. Watching this video made a couple of things abundantly clear to me – that the authentic voice of a region has always been in print (television is just too expensive to get that local) AND now there is hope that it can translate from print to the web without falling prey to the world wide part of the www. Great focus – great job.

  • tdc

    part of what’s missing in this debate of newspapers v. tv is the FACT that alot of other interests really don’t give a ratzazz about either and are making media on their own.

    i had the great opportunity to visit the “miss geico” racing team at a venue in MI this past weekend. the folks putting on this event happen to be from(hint to the fine folks at the star ledger) new jersey… “the jersey boys” and geico has pluncked down a heap of change on the fastest boat out there. (there’s word that geico will be making a huge push into the michigan market next year to write insurance on rv’s boats, bikes, jetskiis (aka ‘lake lice’), etc. and what better way to advertise than to underwrite an event like this?

    btw- the geico boat is more like an aircraft that flys at the water level around 190mph.

    they stream it all online (complete with color commentary), too. see: supercatracing.com

    not only is that advertising $$$ that are not making into the paper or on tv, they are broadcasting the stuff (LIVE) to their worldwide audience.

    just like the tv v. newspaper debate though, i’m sure there are those who’d rather trash the product these guys are putting out instead of watching their livings flash before their eyes.

  • I like the way they’ve gotten rid of all the cheesy TV newscast stuff that’s evolved into satire, but really who is this for?

    Who is going to sit down and watch a minicast? People used to the supper hour news who’ve migrated to the web? Like Not Impressed, I honestly don’t see a reason to watch something like this.

    It reminds me of a recent discussion I had with a TV reporter over whether the one-minute reported television item was dead, a format created to suit and serve an earlier era, or whether the one minute report — like perhaps the novel — was useful enough in and of itself to live on into the new age of communications.

    She seemed to think it was. I, on the other hand, was not convinced. And that’s a bit how I feel about this minicast. Imagine you’d never watched the news before and ask yourself if you’d choose to watch this.

  • Brian Donohue

    Your Ledgerlive host here sounding off..I want to respond specifically to the comment by Melle Gloerich who said there are better news webcasts and videos on Youtube by amateurs.
    Let’s look at one segment we had on today’s show about people who bought property from corrupt former Newark Mayor Sharpe James’ former mistress. It entailed the following:

    1 A longtime beat reporter going through property records to find all the people who bought properties from the Mayor’s girlfriend. Some records were shoddy and the reporter worked cultivated sources to track down more.
    2. Knocking on all their doors at all hours of the day and night
    3. Talking your way into those doors and convincing some scared and reluctant people to tell us their stories that put very powerful people in a negative light.
    4. Writing and reporting the story; then convincing the subjects to be interviewed on video
    5. Shooting and editing the video on a 24 hour deadline.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing a lot of that type of journalism on Youtube, or even on TV, especially on the local level. And it was our second day. Thanks, and
    stay tuned.

  • Brian,
    You could. Indeed, I think the question to ask is how we could. Melle Gloerich may have been ill-advised to set up the us v. them strawman but I think the best response to that is not to bring a match but instead to wonder how to bring those worlds closer. I”m not saying that someone on YouTube will have the time and resources to do what this reporter did. But I do think that lots of people on YouTube could join in reporting. So now that you have your pulpit, why not come up with an idea for such collaboration: Ask new Jersey to take their cameras out and shoot….. what?

  • kt mcgraw

    This is awesome…when will it go down in Boston???

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  • JennyD

    This is interesting. I like some of it. But some it doesn’t translate well into a video. Is it possible that some stories are better meant for print and others for visuals?

  • 0-shift

    Brian, I think Jeff’s point “I think the best response to that is not to bring a match but instead to wonder how to bring those worlds closer” is absolutely on target and I’ll give you example.

    Just this week, there was a traffic accident in my DC neighborhood. An SUV lost control, flipped over, and hit four parked cars, totally demolishing one of them, a VW. There were three people in the SUV and two take off. The SUV may have been stolen…but at its core this is just a routine traffic accident and not the point but I need to set the stage a little. A local blogger is on the scene early enough to help the SUV passengers out of the flipped over vehicle.

    The local blogger writes about the accident on his blog and publishes a photo of the damaged vehicles. Today, one of the people commenting on his post was the owner of the wreck VW. He was writing from Europe and, course, lamented about how it just unsettled his pleasant vacation, while also asking if anyone was interested in VW Golf parts. How did he learn of the accident? The police, possibly, a neighbor perhaps, or the local neighborhood listserv, which has about 2500 subscribers, and were notices of muggings, lost cats, etc., are posted. He could be a subscriber.

    But I thought it was interesting that someone in Europe would learn of his wrecked car this way. Nice little headline: Man on vacation in Europe sees his wrecked car on local blog .. or something like that. I would have made a little story out of it if I worked for a local newspaper. But the point is that these neighborhoods in DC and most urban areas are incredibly neural and so connecting with them, I think, will yield enormous rewards that Jeff suggest.

  • Good for the Star-Ledger I say. But does one bit of progress require the burying of another chunk of “old media”? Anyone, and I mean anyone, who tries something new deserves some praise for taking a risk in a world that is becoming more risk unfriendly by the day. Unless you have wooed the venture capitalists with some silicon snake oil, convincing anyone that “old media” can do anything new is next to impossible. Yes the production of “Ledger Live” could use some help from some experienced television hands, probably in much the same way that if a group of television news types tried to put out a newspaper, they might be able to learn from folks who have putting news on the presses for more than a day or two. (Why is it that the thinking is that everybody who can hold a camera can make good television, but not everyone who can hold a pencil can be a “real” journalist?)

    But before tossing out Local TV news because your old stomping ground has discovered video, I’d suggest there is more to be considered here and I do so on my own blog, which is reachable by clicking my name.

  • @Brian Donohue I’d like to thank you for participating in this discussion. When I wrote my comments, the show you write about wasn’t online I think. That show indeed proved what a good team of journalists can accomplish. The show before was mainly about a disabled kid who does things people without handicap aren’t even able to and is loved for it in his community. Maybe it’s something Americans love to hear, but to me (I live in the Netherlands) this seems like typical local tv news.
    I’m not sure if (local) newspapers should get on the video-train, it is a completely different experience in both consuming and producing. Maybe blogging is closer to where you guys are very good at, reporting in writing. Also it’s easier to know if it is interesting for me to read, video’s are notoriously linear and aren’t divided in clearly distinguishable chapters like newspaper segments. Maybe one topic per show, and several shows per day, will make the difference…
    Anyway, if I was from New Jersey I would watch every show but I would probably still feel like it could be better, so keep it up and keep trying new things :-)

    @Jeff Jarvis I didn’t mean to set up anyone versus anyone. Getting people to participate on local issues is essential for local news and taking the lead can bring some great stuff. For example, asking people to shoot video’s (or write posts/comments) about a certain topic will get a focused view while still getting a broad perspective. Not having a focus will just bring a cacophony of voices, surely democratic but hardly watchable.

  • Brian Donohue

    Agreed. Our biggest goal here is to bring people on board as much as possible. I end every show with “send us your photos, your videos…etc.” Hopefully it’ll start happening.

    @MelleG I agree – I see Ledger live more as a video blog than a newscast. I don’t plan on giving all the details of any given story – people can just click on the text version of top news items – but to give a snippet and tell them what and why they should check out. And we’re breaking the whole thing up as much as possible on the blog page, so if people don’t want to see my face, they can just watch the videos separately.

    I thank everyone for their criticisms and comments. This kind of back and forth is going to be crucial for us.

  • Brian,

    I’m suggesting that you go to the next step. When you have a critical mass of viewers (and that is an important element of this) assign them to make a story with you. Better yet, have them help you decide what that story would be. Part of the power you have will be to mobilize. What kinds of stories could you get with a collaborative crowd that you couldn’t do on your own, no matter how hard-working the reporter?

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  • It’s great but the branding is confusing. It presumes you know that “Ledger” refers to the Star-Ledger. It presumes you know that the Star-Ledger is a New Jersey paper. Certainly we don’t know these things in the UK and I doubt many people know them that much more away from the Jersey shore! Surely the exploding newsroom has forgotten one of the cardinal rules that, however local the news is, online means that you still have a global audience.

  • Please ignore/remove my comment above. I am simply WRONG. Long day or some such excuse!

  • I think Neil Postman is crying somewhere in heaven. Bruce Springsteen rock video, now this… kid with no legs!!!!! now this… car insurance.


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