News organizations embracing social media platforms to avoid broadcast blues

With uncertainty in the future of cable news, networks are embracing social media to keep people tuned in.

Jason Sheppard

With streaming- and subscription-based services now shaping TV viewing habits, cable consumers are cutting the cord in large numbers. This year, 247,000 customers are expected to cancel their cable TV subscriptions.

Declining numbers mean uncertainty in the TV news industry, said Peter Gullage, the executive director of CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.

“It’s the wild west in some ways,” said Gullage.

Gullage says he feels television news is facing a technological reckoning.

“You go back to the early 2000s when the internet started to come on, that was when newspapers were in a crisis moment,” he said. “Television is kind of feeling the same thing.”

CBC executive producer Peter Gullage stands in the studio where Here & Now is broadcasted nightly from St. John’s. Gullage says television and news is facing a technological reckoning. Jason Sheppard/Kicker

Bell Media announced this week it was laying off broadcasters, including CTV anchors of local sports in some markets.

“We don’t know where it’s going. Industry wide, we’re just trying to figure this out. Twenty years from now, will we need this building?” said Gullage, referring to CBC’s Prince Phillip Drive building. “I don’t know.”

While traditional news formats may be a comfort to many long-time viewers, experts feel the time for a shake-up is long overdue.

“If all you will do is deliver the news through television with an anchor who acts as the fount of all knowledge, quite frankly, I think you’re dead in the water,” said Dr. Erwin Warkentin, associate professor of communication studies at Memorial University.

The change in how news is delivered has affected how broadcasters report the news.

“Instead of saying ‘this is what happened today’, now we’re saying, ‘this is why it happened today,’” said Gullage.

What is certain is TV audiences are shifting to their smartphones, said Gullage, and news organizations now need to adapt.

CBC launched a TV news app this year because according to Gullage, 75 per cent of the traffic to the provincial CBC news site now comes from smartphones.

“Written words, video images, civilized real-time feedback is the future of the news. As long as the central values of journalism are maintained.”

CBC also uses other social media such as Instagram to deliver news.

“People under 30 probably don’t know what Instagram is but we get thousands of views on it,” Gullage said. “We have an obligation to tell people what is happening in their world and if they’re going to be in these different places, then we have to be there as well.”

Warkentin believes there will always be an audience for news and information as long as certain reporting fundamentals remain.

“What we need to do is ensure that the core values of journalism – whether it is newspaper, TV network news, TV cable news, radio news, or computer network mediated news, be incorporated into the news delivery system, whatever that might look like,” said Warkentin.

On the other spectrum, broadcasters feel that these changes are not all negative and there are even some exciting things happening.

“It’s created things like VICE, Buzzfeed and Netflix who are doing some meaningful documentaries, so in a way, this world has created more of an appetite for what we do,” said Gullage.

The platform for news is evolving, said Warkentin, but that doesn’t change core values.

“Written words, video images, civilized real-time feedback is the future of the news,” said Warkentin. “As long as the central values of journalism are maintained.”

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