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.”
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.