KTSF in California has gone through a radical transformation in the past two years. The newsroom at KTSF no longer uses four-person crews or big cameras, the operation is now primarily run on iPhones.
KTSF is an independent television station serving Asian audiences in the Bay Area and the newsroom has been able to expand its programming significantly since switching to iPhone: they have added more local content to the nightly news broadcast, and have even been able to launch a morning news show (the only Chinese language local morning show in the country). Much of this success is due to Geoff Roth, the station's Director of News and Content Development, who has overseen the transformation of the newsroom.
Roth was brought in to the station for the very purpose of transitioning to mobile journalism, after successfully making the same change to the newsroom at WJZY, the FOX affiliate in Charlotte, NC. When Roth arrived at KTSF the news operation was run in the traditional way: multiple person crews, expensive equipment and a centralized newsroom that led to limited coverage of the area. Now they have traded in the big camera for 22 iPhone 6S+s.
Instead of big crews, the news is gathered by 8 video journalists who can cover the Bay Area from 8 mobile hyperlocal bureaus, or as Roth puts it, he has helped create a "decentralized newsroom." The 8 VJs all shoot, edit and deliver their work from the iPhone, and the rest of the 22 person newsroom is also trained making the whole operation video literate.
Switching to mobile is a tempting proposition for many local news operations these days. The costs are signifigantly lower, in terms of equipment and salary, and it is an easy sell to station GMs interested in the bottom line. What comes after, as in the case of KTSF, is a jump in content and quality. Not only do the phones shoot in full HD and come with a whole host of accessories that ensure quality sound and lighting, but also as the video journalists are mobile, the content is able to become more locally focused and can cover more area -- especially is the case with KTSF which caters to a largely underserved community.
Roth, like many others, has found that his newsroom fully embraces the new production method. Roth contends that using iPhones is more than just about cost. He has found that his newsroom is much more efficient, and can leverage the technology of the phone to try new things and expand the operation. Since switching to iPhone, KTSF has taken far more advantage of social networking as it makes every distribution platform simply a tap away. KTSF has particularly taken advantage of Facebook Live, which allows them to reach even more people with their content.
It has also changed the way they are able to tell stories, allowing reporters to gain more intimacy and tell more compelling stories. Roth recounted one such story from his days in Charlotte. The story was a march of undocumented high school students who were marching over 24 hours from Charlotte to the state capitol in Raleigh. While the other stations all covered the march, the way his video journalist covered the story made for a much better story. The other stations showed up to watch the start of the march, interviewed a few people, and then got a shot of the students walking away down the road. Roth's reporter, with the mobility of his smartphone and flexibility of working alone rather than in a crew, embedded himself in the march and went with them all the way to the capital. He was able to do broadcasts from the road and tell the story as it evolved. If you saw the two stories side by side, there's no doubt you'd find the one produced on the smartphone far more compelling.
Roth says that the transformation is still in its early phase. While he is amazed with how quickly there has been a surge in production and a full embrace of the new production mode from his staff, their mission is now to refine it to get an even better product.
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