Bill Lamb, president of WDRB.

It is one thing to proclaim that you’re going to be “the dominant digital address” in the market, but it’s quite another to put money and resources behind such an ambitious goal.

But that’s exactly what Bill Lamb, president and general manager of WDRB-TV, is putting out on the street. The big news – he’s hiring “three seasoned journalists” to work exclusively on content for the TV station’s web site, joining the sportswriters and opinion writer he recruited away from the Courier-Journal.

Though he declined to be interviewed for this story, the quote on the front of his station’s sales kit says it all:

WDRB.com is going to be the dominant digital address in this market. Not hoping to be. Going to be.

You might say Lamb has earned the right to make such a cocky statement. While his competitors were bemoaning the economy and laying off staff a few years ago, Lamb powered into high gear, vowing to add newscasts and telling anyone who would listen that no one would be laid off.

Lamb aggressively pursued acquisitions of syndicated programming, and launched 6:30 p.m. and weekend newscasts. And since there was all this growth, this year he announced a project to create more work and studio space, and construction is underway to expand the station headquarters at Seventh Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

When he whisked away the Courier-Journal’s top sports reporters/columnists in 2012, WDRB’s web traffic took off.  In the sales kit, the station brags about the growth of its online sports page by 3,804 percent.  It also shows the station’s nightly sportscasts have jumped by 32.2 percent among 18-to-49 demographic of adult viewers.

And here’s the other interesting media news – WDRB claims that the timing of the Courier-Journal putting up a pay wall for readers to see content and the hiring of Rick Bozich and Eric Crawford to write sports on the station’s web site led to dramatic web traffic changes. The C-J, according to WDRB, has since lost 20 percent of its web traffic while WDRB.com went up 16.5 percent.

The hiring of new journalists for news is an attempt to duplicate in news what the station accomplished online by bringing on Bozich and Crawford.

At this point, no one I’ve talked with knows who the new hires will be, and Lamb’s not saying. Could he cut deeper into the thin lines at the Courier-Journal? In addition to Crawford, he’s also hired the newspaper’s former conservative opinion voice, John David Dyche, who continues to write a column appearing exclusively on WDRB.com.

This week, on one of Lamb’s on-air editorials, he asks this question: “In the Internet age, do people really need a newspaper anymore?  Or do they only need what a newspaper does?” He answers by saying that while he’d hate to see the paper go away, that it might be the end of the newspaper era.

I’m not sure that throwing more news journalists at a web site will have the same effect as the hiring of Bozich and Crawford, but I certainly like the idea that any media outlet is putting resources into the production of quality journalism.

WDRB’s new plan is to deliver morning and evening editions of its news to the phones of people who subscribe (at no cost). The station even compares the plan to the old morning C-J and evening Louisville Times.  It also promises a weekly “feature” story to be released on Sunday.

And here’s a first, at least from my point of view. The station, which boasts more than 100,000 Facebook followers on its various pages, will allow a few sponsors to do two “posts” on those pages every month.

It’s the first time I’ve heard of any media outlet doing that.

Since I started writing about media in the mid-2000s, I’ve told anybody who’d listen that someday it won’t matter whether you’re a TV station, radio station or print publication. Success in media will be measured by how well you tell your stories to the news consumer, not how you deliver it.

It seems that only Louisville Public Media and WDRB-TV are really, really embracing this philosophy among our city’s mainstream media outlets.

LPM, a radio station owner, is hiring investigative journalists without a clear idea of where and how their work will be presented to the public. WDRB, a TV station, is hiring reporters who may never be seen on the air.

The competition is not necessarily to tell the story first, but to earn loyalty from consumers and to earn it in all the places people consume news.

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Rick Redding
Rick Redding is a Louisville native who’s been a part of the local news scene since the 1990s. He’s written for Business First, LEO and other publications. In 2006, he launched TheVilleVoice.com, and was later voted the city’s Best Blogger by Louisville Magazine. In 2011, LEO readers voted him “Best Local Feature Writer.” He’s also appeared frequently as a guest on local TV and Radio shows, discussing local media and issues. He operates a local site, LouisvilleKY.com.

3 thoughts on “Bill Lamb: WDRB will be ‘dominant digital address in the market’ as paper goes away

  1. Sounds like Lamb and Donovan Reynolds over at Louisville Public Media have seen the writing on the wall and “get it” as to where media is going. It will be fun watching everyone else scramble to catch up. While some media outlets, like Clear Channel, continue to regress.

  2. Increasing your “news consumers” depends on what you are reporting and telling. You must have compelling local news that tells the stories your consumers want to have. Having a 12 or 16 page local sports supplement to the Saturday or Sunday morning paper or having a news video that runs 6 minutes online about LOCAL Friday night lights is a key. If I can see a story that shows or tells about my child or grand child catching the winning TD pass either are equally important to me. That is something the boys at 7th and Broadway and up their chain of ownership just don’t get. It’s the reason the Orange County Register is growing; sales, revenue and profits.

    I think that the news delivery business that grasps that idea is going to dominate this market and other local markets. We can get national and international news online easily now, but what we can’t get is how many three’s that kid at my Local High School scored Thursday evening. We can read all about traders being charged with insider trading in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. How many business accelerators are there in Louisville? What is the success rate at each one? Stories that are compelling, locally, those are the stories that are going to win the eyes and ears of news consumers.

    The news delivery vehicle that does that is going to be the winner here and in other cities. It can be newsprint journalism, online journalism, broadcast journalism or a combination of them. My belief is there will be an effective combination of two, along with a Social Media Magnifier to direct traffic.

  3. I noticed the other day that WDRB had become Business First’s official TV partner or something like that. VERY curious to see if Facebook lets them get away with having others sponsor posts. I realize it might be impossible to police, but if it is against Facebook’s TOS, someone will turn them in. Seems like the type of thing that Facebook would frown upon.

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