Dear CMO:

Driving through the Santa Cruz Mountains this morning on the way to a meeting in Santa Clara, I heard that up the peninsula in Santa Rosa the local Clearchannel Communications news station, KFTY-TV, just laid off 13 people in their newsroom and will be replacing them with “citizen journalists”:

John Burgess, TV50’s general manager and vice president, said Friday that citizen journalists will do a “much better job” of covering local issues than what the station was doing with the 13 members of the news department he let go Friday.

Burgess told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat that the changes were part of a new strategy in which viewers and users of KFTY’s Web site will determine much of the station’s programming decisions. “Literally, the mission of the station is to become a
viewer-driven station, where they are supplying content,” said Burgess…

“In my opinion, we’re all looking at better ways of truly touching our customers and I think for the television industry, if you’re not engaging your viewers and Web site users in two-way interactivity, you’re not going to be growing, especially over the next three to 10 years … That as much as anything is the reason for this decision,” he said.

I think there’s a good intention in the above statement. It’s hard to argue against getting closer to the wants and needs of the community you serve. But these Mom & Apple Pie 2.0 accolades can go out the window when ‘engaging your viewers’ becomes ‘giving them the car keys.’

The question of product credibility when “anyone” is in charge is central to social media. Reading blogs to stay current in the marketing world makes sense to me because these are first person narratives by the people living these experiences. I read Roger von Oech, Christina Kerley, Valeria Maltoni, and others because they offer insights based on their personal experiences and interactions with clients. Reading political blogs is an exercise in op-ed writing, for the most part. These are outsiders providing opinions and commenting on what they perceive to be happening. They aren’t first person shooters, in these cases. Blogging from the front lines of Fallujah, on the other hand, has credibility that the MSM won’t, or can’t, provide. Again, the first person element makes this work for me.

So why am I itchy over “the news”? I think that whoever reports on local news in Santa Rosa won’t be participants but amateur observers, I guess.

Now, if there were performance problems with the people let go, financial decisions that really drove the layoffs, or if this is just a grand scheme hatched in ClearChannel’s boardroom to test a concept, we’ll cut them some slack and see what happens.

But when the “average Joe” – who is unpaid and unprofessional by definition – becomes my main source of information on issues on which he or she is only a casual observer, I lose interest. We’ll see if I’m an outlier or not when this hits the airwaves.

Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny