What Melissa Carlson is doing is not only groundbreaking in her region, it’s groundbreaking in her industry. And it speaks just as much to the future of journalism as it does to the course of social media.
If you live in the Reno-Lake Tahoe area, you likely know Carlson as a KRNV Channel 4 news anchor. If you live in Australia, Austria, or the UK, however, chances are you’ve met Carlson on Google+, where she leads daily (Monday through Friday) 20-minute online Hangouts in her “CyberStudio” (watch a webcast here) with people around the globe. She picks four to five topics a day (it could be something serious in nature, such as the disturbing upward trend of shootings in U.S. schools, or something as lighthearted as the Pope starting a Twitter account), posts those topics on her Google+ page to generate interest, and hangs out with five to 10 people about 45 minutes later.
Only a week ago, Channel 4 started incorporating Carlson’s Hangouts into its noon telecast, dedicating about three minutes air time while they get a feel for the public’s reaction.
According to Carlson, KRNV is only the second television news organization in the nation to use Google+ on a continuous basis. The first to do so was Sarah Hill, a news anchor from KOMU-TV in Columbia, Missouri. I recently hung out with Carlson, who explains in the video below how the Reno station came up with the idea of incorporating Google+ Hangouts into its news coverage.
In my opinion, Carlson and Hill are vastly ahead of the news curve and exemplify where news in general is headed: more real-time “man off the street” interaction. As a society, we have become more interested in each other’s input and opinions, which is very much a result of our constant participation in social media. We like dialogue and are moving away from the one-dimensional news model, in which we hear the anchor’s words or read the writer’s story, but are unable to engage in a conversation. This is why the “comment” function is so popular on newspaper websites — the readers have a say in the subjects they’re passionate about.
In the next video I ask Carlson to rate the success, so far, of her Google+ venture. She is enthusiastic about the possibility of increased community participation in the news, particularly breaking stories.
You heard it from Carlson: “I think that this is the way that news will eventually go.” She mentions the Caughlin Fire, which devastated Reno in November 2011, but I also think back to the tragedy that transpired at the 2011 National Championship Air Races and Air Show in Reno. The videos of the plane crash, which killed 11 people and injured 70, were provided by spectators (who had uploaded them on YouTube) and shown continuously on local and national newscasts. So the common person is already participating in news more than ever before, aka “citizen journalism.”
Hill is a lot more matter-of-fact about the paradigm shift in news coverage. “News ‘anchors’ are a dying breed,” she wrote to me in a recent e-mail. “We are news ‘buoys’ now as we float between platforms and serve as a beacon to news content within the stream.” She elaborates on that concept in this blog.
“Google+ Hangouts expand our reach in the world,” Hill continues. “People don’t just want to get the news…they want a forum to talk about it. Facebook and Twitter are text-based engagement. Hangouts are face-to-face interaction in real time during a newscast.”
And, interestingly, this means traditional news sources are letting their guard down and relinquishing some control to an audience that has become accustomed to having a voice. “It is live television, so unscripted material has an uncertain factor to it, but at times that’s the allure of the program as you never know what’s going to happen. …It’s kind of like a coffee shop where news is served on the menu daily,” Hill concludes.
What do you think? Do you want to see the public have a bigger voice in the news? That perhaps begs the larger question: Just how do we define “news” today?