Amid high turnover and mutating viewing habits, Denver’s TV-news industry has been forced to confront the reality of slimming audiences and coverage.
That’s partly why, as of Monday, Sept. 12, CBS News Colorado is rolling out a grand experiment in newspaper-style beats for nearly a dozen of its reporters. The idea is to connect them more closely with the communities in which they live, placing their faces front-and-center for residents who want to know more about the crime, politics, business and culture of their neighborhoods.
“We’re coming out of the pandemic as a bunch of generalists, so how do we serve our readers better in an industry that’s not generally known for beats?” said Kristine Strain, news director at CBS News Colorado (KCNC-TV Channel 4). “Newspapers have been doing it forever but broadcast kind of faded away from it. … So we decided to break off our reporters into ten targeted regions.”
Anchor Jim Benemann (who is retiring at the end of the year) and reporter Marissa Armas, for example, will have the Denver beat, while reporter Connor McCue, anchor Karen Leigh and anchor Dominic Garcia will take up the Douglas County beat. Strain said the beats just make sense if that’s where they send their kids to school, shop and vote.
Long gone are the days when TV stations arrogantly proclaimed, “People watch us because they have no other choice.” Network affiliates fight even harder now to retain top talent who will serve readers in both broadcast and on smartphones. That’s why experimentation is crucial.
Inspired by community print coverage at smaller papers, among others, CBS News Colorado — which is wholly owned by CBS News at the national level — has added an extra 10 hours of local news coverage each week.
Its new “neighborhood newsrooms” will find journalists, including all members of the news team, regularly covering their backyards as “a dramatic shift away from traditional TV news reporting, and one (that) CBS News Colorado believes will have a major impact,” according to a press statement.
Additional local newscasts at CBS News Colorado also are being added from 9 to 10 a.m., and from 4 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. That all adds up to 45 hours of local reporting per week, Strain said.
“Across the CBS company, this isn’t a concept that is heavily supported,” she said. “A lot of our stations around the group are hiring within the communities (they cover), but nobody’s taken an entire staff, split it, and said, ” ‘Now go cover this region.’ ”
While the model is not entirely unique, Strain said, it’s rare enough that nothing in the region currently looks like it. That’s not only a potential gain for viewers, it’s also an investment in CBS News Colorado’s stability at a time when turnover is rocking other local stations. (See the dozen-plus Fox31/Channel 2 stars who have left the station since last year, according to Michael Roberts of Westword.)
Doing “more with less” is a refrain at legacy media these days, and it often amounts to getting blood from a stone. CBS’s neighborhood-coverage experiment will work by reallocating station resources, Strain said, but also with the support of two new employees. The model is intended to be permanent, and will add even more hours in the future.
Employees will continue to work mostly outside of the newsroom. Teams will cover news at both the neighborhood and county level, depending on the geographic area, said general manager Tim Weiland.
“Our goal is to develop new relationships in our communities, allowing us to source more original content at the neighborhood level,” he said in a statement. “We’ll share this content across our streaming, digital and broadcast platforms … .”
“I don’t look at it as a bunch of additional duties,” Strain said. “I look at it as being more targeted and focused. We’re looking at problems and solutions. It’s a hard time, but a great time, to be a journalist.”
See the CBS News Colorado’s new schedule at cbsnews.com/colorado/news.
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