The Silicon Valley Channel?


I transcribed a local television newscast recently, counting the stories and making notes. Here’s what I saw:

A “breaking news” story of a bunch of cops digging through a trash can, looking for a gun.

A BART beating.

A cop impersonator.

An accused murderer’s court appearance.

Octomom is on food stamps.

The future of a Oakland charter school.

The US Coast Guard wants to sink a ship washed over here after the tsunami in Japan.

More “breaking news”: the cops are still looking in the trash can.

The same stuff, night after night – mayhem, b-roll of police lights flashing, carnage, and Baby Boomer health care segments.

Then I saw a great story about Google employees staging a “Take Your Parents To Work Day”, workers offering an explanation to thoroughly confused Mom and Dad on just what it is exactly they do.

That was a story about what life is like, here.

Local TV news is not only in crisis, it’s in a bewildering fugue state. The demos are 50+, the stories oversimplified, and the solution to monetize whatever digital content is offered is as cloudy as a foggy Peninsula day. Networks aren’t completely dependent on local affiliates anymore, and they sure don’t need to pay local stations to carry content. The reverse is now true – stations are paying the networks just for a shot at carrying a big show or sporting event.

Innovation is taking a back seat to staff reductions and preservation of the known and familiar models.

Time and time again I ask my students if they watch local television news. Occasionally, a solo hand will rise, the sheepish student almost apologetic in their silent admission.

The majority simply have zero interest. They don’t want the app, they don’t watch on a living room screen, and they will never look at the station’s website or the Facebook, where anchors and reporters post things during commercial breaks like “Coming up, a standoff with police in a local home reaches its 4th hour…”

Here’s what they do have a great passion for: news – just not the kind they are being served.

There is a marked disconnect between what we see on local TV news, and the lives many of us are living.

I don’t live in the community TV news says I do.

The 9-county Bay Area is home to one of the greatest concentrations of the creative class in the history of the human race.  The companies are jaw-dropping in their influence; Facebook, Adobe, Intel, Google, Twitter, etc.

At any given moment there are some 20,000+ startups developing their businesses in the Valley.

There were and are many dedicated, talented and savvy storytellers employed by our local television stations; these people and their powerful stories have exposed government shenanigans, affected legislative change and gave a voice to the voiceless.

It’s still difficult for me to watch local newscasts; they don’t speak to me. I’m unwilling to wade through the carnage to get to the morsels of real news –  the news about what is actually happening here.

I theorized to a colleague that one of the Bay Area’s local stations should devote its mission to chronicling the life and times of Silicon Valley; the workplace cultures, the confirmed gossip, and the lifestyle issues that affect these hundreds of thousands of workers, vendors, and entrepreneurs.

My friend shrugged. “Using that model, why don’t Detroit stations do 10 car stories a night?”

I don’t have enough evidence to know the answer, but if no one did, maybe they should have.

We the people of the Bay Area don’t have the exclusive claim on being interesting. Your town has a distinct vibe, a collection of fascinating people doing  really interesting things.

We have a shared experience in the place we live. We share the roads and freeways; we go to the same malls and churches. We have our kids in the same schools. We are competing with each other at  the different places we work. We cheer for the same sports teams.

We have a middle class trying desperately to make sense of an economy that doesn’t make sense.

The “Silicon Valley Channel” is not about business reporting. It’s not about myriad tech gadgets and new flash drive storage media. It’s not a geek channel.

It’s about the ripples in the pond –  the waves of influence the creative class here has on culture, music, governance, transportation, love, romance and family finance.

I could create a list on demand of no less than 100 stories to cover this week alone. Not one of them involves cops, fires, murders, pickpockets, rapes, beatings, thugs or cute missing white kids.

The tragedy of sex crimes and the abduction of children are not laissez-faire subjects. Education on subjects is, however, very different from shocking voyeurism.

The newscasts need to be available 24-7., but the live television product doesn’t have to sync with the Web. Not at all. Online is not television – the experiences are like night and day. There need to be numerous webcasts created all day. These need to be crisp, tightly edited and propagated constantly, to acknowledge our increasingly short attention spans. They should be geo targeted to the communities we live in.

There is no appointment viewing, except for major live sporting events (the one thing that still draws us all to the big screen).  The full newscast segments from the broadcast should be sliced and chopped and categorized and monetized to reach the specific and precise communities of interest in the content. The sales force (and their managers) should not come from television, unless they can eloquently demonstrate mastery of the vocabulary of the social web. The marketing staff should be mined from digital branding companies.  The audience is targeted by slicing and dicing the crowd into the buckets of interest that allow the sellers to offer specific and tangible solutions to track and gauge the effectiveness of the partnerships they pitch. They can still sell TV commercials too; that’s how broadcast monetizes the over-the-air content.

You can’t dip your toe in the water. This is an “all-in” proposition.

It will get tough, then it will get tougher, and then the payoff begins.

There is really no such entity anymore as television, no such thing as radio, no such thing as newspaper. Successful operations consider themselves media channels, or media stations, incorporating broadcast and web, pictures and video, words and images.

It’s not about convergence, it’s about confluence– joining the river, accelerating, keeping up.

The failure of television networks to “invent” YouTube is sticking with me as the largest missed business opportunity in world history. They had 60 years of content in the vault, and they didn’t take the opportunity to monetize this one more time.  There were innovative employees who had to have walked into their bosses’ offices and said, “Maybe we should make money on this stuff again. Let’s put the shows online!” The answer they received want something like this:

“It’s not what we do.”

In 2012, more YouTube video is uploaded in one month than the three major broadcast networks created in those 60 years.  Think of what the TV folks could have done with a channel of their own.

We desperately need journalism. Twitter breaks a lot of news, but speed and ease of sharing doesn’t always equate with accuracy and context. We have competent and talented journalists on the ground this very minute, ready to chase down the truth. They are waiting for their green light.

There are a million stories in the vast metropolis and across the rolling hills of the fruited plain.

Stories are so much more interesting than facts.

Who’s going to be the one to finally, finally tell those stories?

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