Network news finding its future in live-streaming, Snapchat

In a time when so much of the conversation about journalism has been about downsizing and allegedly doing more with less, it is encouraging to hear networks talk about providing their audiences with more information, more diverse voices and multiple ways of looking at the world.

Three journalists sit side by side on the edge of a desk in an unadorned newsroom. One of them is in shirtsleeves, holding a stack of papers, leading the discussion, nervously cracking too many jokes.

Could this be the future of network TV news?


That's what "The Briefing Room," the new digital production from ABC News, looked like to me when it debuted as a live stream Monday afternoon at abcnews.com. And I liked it.

This could definitely be the future of network news – at least, a bigger part of its future anyway. And, if it that happens, I believe the networks and their audiences are going to be better off for it. Viewers will get more news and information from network newsrooms, and the networks could find new and younger audiences that will carry them into the future.

ABC News isn't the only news organization on the hunt on new media platforms.

On Wednesday, NBC launched "Stay Tuned," a twice-daily news program on Snapchat. It is the first daily news program on that platform, a photo- and video-sharing application for mobile phones with more than 166 million monthly users, according the Statistica data analytics platform. This is a huge, young audience, and NBC News made a serious commitment to reaching it with "Stay Tuned," which launched with a staff of 30.

NBC News has launched a twice-daily news program on Snapchat called "Stay Tuned." Co-host Gadi Schwartz films a segment.
NBC News has launched a twice-daily news program on Snapchat called "Stay Tuned." Co-host Gadi Schwartz films a segment.

And on July 31, CBS News, home of "60 Minutes," the most successful and oldest newsmagazine on television, will premiere "CBSN: On Assignment," a newsmagazine produced by CBSN, the network's 24/7 digital and streaming platform. Based on two sample clips, I would compare it to "Vice" for point of view, diversity, topics and edge, but CBS News for editorial standards.

All of this is good news as I see it.

"The Briefing Room" caught my eye because it appeared to be an effort by one of the old-line networks to use new-media technology to fill some of the informational void created by the Trump White House.

Team Trump regularly precludes the use of cameras and provides press spokespersons who routinely say they don't have answers to reporters' questions. This crackdown on press access is a serious threat to a functioning democracy, and anything a channel or network can do to counter it is worthy of attention.


While Rick Klein, political director at ABC News, acknowledged the importance of the press pushing back, he said his network's primary motivation for launching "The Briefing Room" was "even simpler" than that.

"We are covering the White House and Washington and these big institutions in this historic time, and the audience has signaled that they are more interested than ever in what's going on. This is about just trying to find the audience where the audience lives," he said.

"There is so much of even our audience at ABC news that lives online. We see it in social media, and we see it on our live streaming. People are consuming media in all these different ways. So, we just thought, 'What can we do to showcase our reporting, our analyses, put the word out there and maybe reach another crop of viewers?'" Klein added.

Networks exploring the digital realm in search of new audiences isn't new, especially for ABC and CBS, which do not have all-news corporate cable cousins. Klein's own 10-year-career at ABC News is testimony to that effort.

Starting in 2007, he has written a daily political blog, co-anchored digital political coverage and co-hosted a webcast and video series. He is currently doing a podcast with Jonathan Karl, the network's chief White House correspondent.

Sinclair Broadcast Group triples down on its "must-air" segments featuring former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn even as critics warn against getting too political.

"In part because we don't have a cable [channel], we have always been looking for other ways to reach an audience," Klein said. "To my mind this is in the vein of those other experiments."


NBC has a cable channel in MSNBC, but even cable can feel like old media. The first news organization to successfully connect with Snapchat users is going to have a gold mine, and NBC is off to promising start with "Stay Tuned."

"This is an attempt by NBC News and other networks to retain some relevance with consumers who did not come up with the evening news," Rich Hanley, an associate professor at Quinnipiac University, said. "Their experience is mediated by smartphones and social media apps. Think of 'Stay Tuned' as the MTV News of the mobile age, with short stories and hosts who dress and speak casually to appeal to the informality of the app."

The most striking aspect to me is in the look of the production. Movement onscreen is fast and constant. And the background is virtually non-existent when the anchors, Gadi Schwartz and Savannah Sellers, are talking. Their images totally fill the screen for an immediacy and intensity you would never get with the standard broadcast or cable staging.

"Stay Tuned" offers two reports a weekday at three and five minutes in length. And the segments I saw Wednesday and Thursday were packed with the major stories of the day.

In a three-minute segment Thursday morning, the lineup was Senator John McCain's brain tumor diagnosis, President Donald Trump dissing Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe, O.J. Simpson's parole hearing, and the anniversary of man landing on the moon in 1969.

The stories were not simplified; instead, they moved a lot faster, and Schwartz provided constant context and history. If this is where teens and college students get their news from, it is not a bad start on the road to becoming an informed citizen.

Demographics are a driving force at all the networks and cable channels exploring new digital platforms. The average age for CBSN consumers is 37, according to a network spokesman. The average age for network CBS "Evening News" viewing is at least 25 years older that, according to Pew American Trends Research.

"CBSN: On Location" is quick-cut, fast-paced and visually compelling. A sample segment looking at Fourth of July violence in Chicago was shot from the streets instead of from police headquarters with the reporter accompanying a former gang member who tries to stop violence before it happens.

The reporter, videographer and community activist come upon a body in an alley. In the foreground of the shot, viewers see police putting a blanket over the victim's remains, while in the background, Fourth of July fireworks are exploding in the sky a distance away. It's a darkly poetic moment.

"When we say we're innovating the style, it's not just that style that we shoot, which is significant," Nancy Lane, senior executive producer for CBS News Digital, said. "It's also the style in terms of which voices we highlight. I think for younger viewers who are cord-cutters or cord-nevers [those who opted out of television subscription services], it's a much more connected world than it was for their parents. They're used to seeing the world in a bigger way, and they want more voices."

Former Ravens coach Brian Billick and CBS Sports sideline reporter Evan Washburn will join WBAL's Gerry Sandusky to call the Baltimore team's four preseason games, the station announced today.

"The goal here is to take the style and the content we've innovated on digital and bring it to broadcast prime-time viewers," Mosheh Oinounou, executive producer of "CBSN: On Assignment," said.

"What you'll see with this program is that we have a lot of bandwidth here," he added. "Given our standards and our values and the great journalism we've been doing for years here, what this allows us to do is showcase more reporters, more stories in a different way and showcase what we're capable of in terms of diversity and variety here at CBS."


In a time when so much of the conversation about journalism has been about downsizing and allegedly doing more with less, it is encouraging to hear networks talk about providing their audiences with more information, more diverse voices and multiple ways of looking at the world.

Digital platforms with "a lot of bandwidth" are already freeing networks from their heavily formatted, tightly scripted newscast formats.

Give me a live stream of three energetic and smart journalists sitting on the edge of a desk in a plain-walled newsroom sharing their insights. Add in a control room full of skilled producers seamlessly taking me from the White House to Capitol Hill to reporters, correspondents and experts across the country offering context and perspective, and I am there. Am I ever.