New England Cable News evolves with changing landscape of social media


When New England Cable News (NECN) launched in 1992, it began as a breaking news network for the six states of New England. Today, its presence extends beyond a channel on television and into the sphere of Internet and its many facets.

While its main goal is breaking news, the way that news is delivered is drastically different from what it used to be. As digital media managing editor Allison Sonfist says, if news is breaking, it takes a few minutes to interrupt the current TV programming to alert audiences — but with Twitter and Facebook that news enters the conversation almost immediately.

NECN has integrated social media into its workflow and finds it an important aspect to the digital world of journalism.

“We post between 60 and 80 videos on our website a day,” Sonfist said, “and we use our producing skills to decide which will generate the most interest to tweet or post to Facebook.”

The advantage of using these platforms is engaging the community. The stories enter and come from the conversations the community is having, says Bill Via, senior director of digital media.

“It all becomes about engagement,” he said. “Search engines and loyal visitors to the site are part of the traffic. But you can see an increase in site activity almost immediately after we post a story to Facebook or Twitter. The goal then becomes how to engage the visitor.”

According to Via, NECN doesn’t release specific numbers about its site visits, but the network has about 16,000 followers on Twitter and 11,000 likes on Facebook.

Kaitlin McKinley, a Web producer for NECN, says the organization uses each platform in a different way to inform consumers of the latest news. As a whole, she adds, social media has become a vital part of the news cycle.

“I can’t overestimate the importance of social media,” she said. “When a video goes viral, followers retweet it. The goal is to be seen nationally while focusing on New England. Those retweets allow us to gain viewers we never had access to before.”

The disadvantage of using social media to drive views is business-oriented, said Via. When a user is engaged with NECN on Facebook or Twitter, that user is still using a third-party website, which takes away from numbers on NECN.com that create ad revenue.

“Facebook is a two-edged sword,” Via said. “We don’t want to waste our promotional time promoting someone else’s website, but it is a good place to engage viewers.”

When Twitter and Facebook were the “shiny new toys,” as Via calls them, news was entering a new era of consumption. Now the shiny new toy is Instagram. NECN has taken to Instagram, a photo application for smart phones, in a logical way.

Reporters on the scene of a story post a photo of the action to Instagram. It gives viewers a behind the scenes look at how a story is reported, giving the reporter and the story credibility, which is something Knight Foundation researcher Michael Maness says readers and news consumers want in the organizations they trust.

“We’ll retweet Instagram photos from our reporters,” Sonfist said. “It has become part of our social media duties.” NECN is just starting to experiment with Instagram, and Sonfist said there are no set ethical guidelines just yet.

As Via said, Instagram didn’t invent digital photography it just made it easier to distribute.

That distribution format is key to what NECN aims to do. McKinley said Instagram, although up and coming, is just one more way to post information and inform viewers. “It is one more way to put ourselves out there,” she said.

NECN is no stranger to being on the edge of what’s next. It was one of the first organizations to have a website that posted video, said Sonafist. It has evolved from its early days of posting the content from the television programming to posting new and breaking content. At the end of August, according to McKinley, NECN completely redesigned and rebooted its website. The site now has a home page and pages for its respective shows rather than topic pages.

“We want NECN TV viewers to be our viewers too,” she said.
Assimilating NECN TV and Web will be the goal moving forward into the future of media consumption.

“Digital isn’t ‘other,’” Via said. “It’s just another way to distribute the product.”  This is the way NECN has taken to thinking about the product they provide and the way it fits into the context of a cable news network.

“I think there will be no more departments in the future,” Via said. “The digital department will be a part of the team, sitting on the show.”

Via’s outlook on the future of his digital department reflects a greater trend in the journalism landscape. Digital is no longer going to be an afterthought, but an integrated reality.

The fundamentals of journalism and reporting the news will not change, but the business model needs to find a balance in order to make a profit.

Maness and the Knight Foundation predict that by 2016, the world will consume 50 percent of its information from a mobile device. Via and Sonfist also echo this thought about NECN.

“No one just watches TV anymore,” Sonfist said. “They have an iPad, iPhone and TV on at the same time.”

Via sees that NECN’s brand will have to adapt to that mobile and simultaneous way of life in the months and years ahead.

I asked some Northeastern students about their favorite news sources. Click on the image to see their answers and the full slideshow.

I asked some Northeastern students about their favorite news sources. Click on the image to see their answers and the full slideshow.

How 30 Rock changed TV

On Oct. 11, 2006, Tina Fey debuted her NBC sitcom based on her life. The show started strong due to a heavy-weight writer/producer/star. But as the show progressed, viewership declined while fandom did not. “30 Rock” changed TV because of the standards it held, ratings it fought and fans it retained.

In 2002, Fey pitched a comedy show to NBC about cable news. At the time she was the head writer for “Saturday Night Live.” After being encouraged to write what she knew, the show evolved into a story about a head writer at a comedy sketch show. After delay from NBC executives, an extended SNL contract through 2005 and a pregnancy, “30 Rock” finally made airwaves in 2006.

After six full seasons, the show to date has three Emmys for Best Comedy Series and a record 22 nominations total. It has also received a number of other nominations and awards from the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes.

Its critical acclaim comes because of its fast paced writing and off-kilter humor. Fey’s Liz Lemon, the main character, is not a typical woman on TV. She is in her 40s, single, funny, dorky and comfortable with who she is.

Fey told Entertainment Weekly in a recent interview that Liz Lemon is not what audiences would expect. She doesn’t like sex, but wants a relationship and a baby. She is smart and devoted to her job, and can’t find balance in her personal life. She could be a real woman.

Todd VanDerWerff of The Onion’s The AV Club TV blog said “30 Rock’s” humor depends on its dynamic between Liz Lemon and Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy.

In Liz Lemon (Fey) and Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), the show has an extremely strong comedic pairing, a goofy mentee-mentor relationship that has steered clear of unresolved sexual tension and made both characters stronger in ways that allow them to wander off to deal with the show’s less-defined figures.

Those less-defined figures provide the show with gag humor and frivolous plots that bring laughs but not lasting connection.

By breaking the norm of the sitcom, “30 Rock” built a format for genuinely funny and smart shows to enter the comedy TV genre. Real and outlandish characters, strong chemistry between characters, and a dynamite show-runner combined for the perfect storm of a show that gained a cult following, awards and its place in TV history.

This January, the show will air its series finale after a 13-episode seventh season. The cast recently predicted how the show, which has seen its ups and downs and crazy story lines, will end. The cast gave their predictions about how the iconic show of the 2000s will come to an end.

Girl Meets World confirmed

A few weeks ago, news of a “Boy Meets World” spinoff circulated through the media and circles of 90s television fans. This week, that news got even better. The show was confirmed by a Disney representative.

“Girl Meets World” will follow Riley Matthews, the 13-year-old daughter of Cory and Topanga of the original series. It was also confirmed that the original stars, Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel, will reprise their roles as the middle school sweethearts.

Ben Savage tweeted the news to his nearly 250,000 followers.

While the main stars have signed on, another main character has confirmed that he will not be joining the cast of “GMW.” Rider Strong released a statement, which Entertainment Weekly printed in full, expressing his gratitude for his years on the show and his excitement to see a new show with new characters evolve and grow.

The show will follow Riley, her Shawn-like friend Maya, her father Cory who is her history teacher, her mother and her older brother, Elliot.

While many of the details are coming to the forefront, some character involvement, such as teacher Mr. Feeny and older brother Eric, have not been mentioned by Disney or the stars.

Country star coming to “Sound of Music”

Country singer darling Carrie Underwood has been cast as Maria von Trapp in a live television broadcast of “The Sound of Music.” The remake will air on NBC near the holidays 2013.

As Washington Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes reports, the film will be based on the Broadway musical not the Julie Andrews movie from 1965.

Underwood has dipped her toe in acting in the past few years appearing as a youth minister in the biopic movie “Soul Surfer” about surfer Bethany Hamilton who suffered a shark attack. She also guest starred on the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”

Country Music TV staffer Alison Bonaguro is thrilled about the casting saying Underwood’s voice is the perfect fit for the ballads and melodies of the classic musical.

I for one can’t see Carrie cutting her hair Maria style, but her voice is an excellent match for such an ambitious undertaking such as a live broadcast three hour movie event.

Downton Abbey season 4

“Downton Abbey” is a show of unusual proportions. Its story lines, period costumes and characters appeal to a wide audience. The smart writing, good acting and well designed sets have pleased audiences in both the UK, where it is based, and the US.

Having written about “Downton” before, I could not be a stronger advocate for a show about the Crawley family and their servants. So I was very excited to learn it had been picked up for a fourth season. The fourth season will air in the UK next fall. Season three will begin airing in the US on Jan. 6 on PBS.

A fourth season will bring more drama, more characters and surely more devilish grins and lines from Maggie Smith. However, there is one frightening rumor surrounding the news of the fourth season pick up. UK newspaper The Daily Mail reported Dan Stevens, the actor who plays Matthew Crawley the heir of Downton and the charmer of Lady Mary, may return for only one episode in season four. The story mentions a large season 3 spoiler and the shock for fans.

Bloggers and fans everywhere are outraged and disappointed by the news of Stevens’ departure. Erin Strecker of Entertainment Weekly called having a show without Matthew  a “ridiculous idea.” She also polled her readers to see if they would watch the show without Stevens. The results showed that 62 percent of viewers will watch “Downton” until the end and 38 percent would stop watching entirely.

I’m on the side of watching until the end, but would not be happy about it. The Matthew and Mary plot line is one of the show’s most indulgent and complex. A love story that simmered and finally boiled at the end of season two. Mary’s stubbornness and Matthew’s gentle but stern nature mix for an interesting and fresh TV love story.

Tie the Knot for equality

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, one of the stars of “Modern Family,” just launched a line of bow ties to support marriage equality called Tie the Knot. He and his fiance, Justin Mikita, launched the line in support of gay couples everywhere who don’t have the same opportunity to be legally married as straight couples.

On Nov. 14, Tie the Knot held a gala launch party where stars of various TV stars attended in support of the line and marriage equality.

Ferguson tweeted throughout the event with photos of his celebrity friends wearing his bow ties.

We just added more “adorable” @darrencriss with this @tietheknotorg bow tie.say.ly/rer4AxZ

— Jesse Tyler Ferguson (@jessetyler) November 15, 2012

The ties are now for sale for $25 each. All proceeds go toward to the Human Rights Campaign, which works for equality for the LGBTQ community.

Breaking is Broken

Michael Maness of the Knight Foundation is a forward thinker and identified a few problems with the journalism industry. He presented those issues on Wednesday, Nov. 14, to students of Northeastern.

I found a few of his points very valid and intriguing.

The first is the evolution of news distribution. It increased, decreased and now recently has exploded due to the innovation of social media. In his words, “Facebook is a community. Twitter is news.”

This idea must change the way journalists approach the news. News is simply the environment the consumer surrounds himself in, making it vital for journalists to think about the consumer and that environment.

Maness’s research and thoughts on the future of what a writer writes and how they write it also stood out to me. Based on interviews with different people from different places and backgrounds, he found that what the reader is looking for is an authentic, subjective reporter. Technology has brought what used to be specific terms into general vernacular. People are now skeptical about what is presented to them. They know, and we know, that nothing will be 100 percent objective. Writers have feelings and filters that used to be avoided when writing, but now the reader wants to be aware of those things before reading instead of assuming they exist and guessing around the objectivity.

It is the things journalists never used to think about that is influencing the way the public views the media. Things like design, experience over credentials, and avoiding familiar constructs matter more than they ever have.

In four years the world will consume half their information from a mobile device. This statistic proves what a rapidly changing landscape journalism is. As Maness mentioned, it is no longer about thinking how to save the newspaper, but journalism. The format will change, but the foundation will remain.