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.