Mired in third place in the Dayton, Ohio, news ratings, Sinclair’s WKEF and WRGT — combined and branded as “Dayton 24/7 Now” — were encouraged to experiment with new forms of gathering, delivering and promoting news. It’s working.
Mired in third place in the Dayton, Ohio, news ratings, Sinclair’s WKEF and WRGT, the ABC and Fox affiliates combined and branded as “Dayton 24/7 Now,” were encouraged to push the envelope — to experiment with new forms of gathering, delivering and promoting news.
The move is part of a two-year program called Dayton Innovation Lab, the brainchild of Robert Weisbord, Sinclair’s president, and Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s SVP of news, says Michael Nurse, Dayton 24/7 Now’s GM.
Nurse says Weisbord and Livingston approached the Dayton news operation a couple years ago with an idea: What would you guys think of basically throwing all the cards in the air and just dare to be different?
Nurse says, at first, newsroom staff was scared and concerned.
“But we quickly found out it’s like that old line from the Bobby McGee song, freedom’s just another word with nothing left to lose,” Nurse says. “We threw caution to the wind and started changing.”
Lane Michaelsen, a group news director for Sinclair, says “way back at the beginning, we made a list of all the things that we do traditionally in a local newscast and then we started to cross them off and say we are not going to do that.”
Michaelsen says, originally, the folks at Dayton 24/7 Now got shout outs from corporate about being different and distinctive in the market.
“Now they are getting shout outs for being distinctive that creates results.”
According to Nurse, the combined audience share from May 2022 to May 2023 of WKEF and WRGT grew 91% among adults 25-54.
WKEF has newscasts from 5 to 7 a.m., and 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts; WRGT airs newscasts from 7 to 9 a.m. and at 6:30 and 10 p.m.
Nurse says the newscasts on WKEF and WRGT are separate, “but it’s the same crew, same anchors and it’s all done under the unifying brand of Dayton 24/7.”
So how did Dayton 24/7 Now change their newscasts?
Content wise they expanded their coverage to include stories from the Sinclair stations in Columbus, the state capital, and Cincinnati.
“We did a little research and we saw that a significant part of the adult audience that lives in Dayton works in either Columbus or Cincinnati,” Michaelsen says.
“A lot of people commute back and forth, so it’s much more of a regional area,” Nurse says.
Rebecca Gulden, Dayton 24/7’s news director, says there might be between 30 and 40 stories from Columbus and Cincinnati in her newscasts depending on the day.
“We were able to get them to send us content in 45-second or 30-second bites and really drive up our story count,” Nurse says.
Story count is another one of the major changes Dayton 24/7 made in its newscasts.
Nurse says no stories are longer than 45 seconds.
“We watched to see how many stories the competition did at six o’clock and asked the question, can we do double that because we wanted to be distinctive from what our competition was doing,” Michaelsen says.
The high pace of the newscast was initially difficult for the anchors.
“It just took a while for them to get used to the frantic part of it,” Nurse says.
Gulden says in addition to the high story count and fast pace of the newscasts, the anchors are more active, and move around instead of sitting behind the anchor desk.
“How does a newscast start, two anchors sitting at a desk introducing themselves,” Michaelsen says. “We have crossed that off.”
Instead of a locked-down studio camera, the anchors are followed by a steady cam.
Gulden says in some situations, the news is not scripted, allowing for a more casual and conversational feel with Q&A segments with reporters in the field.
Gulden says the newscasts features “a lot more good stuff happening in the community.”
“Some are user generated, some are just scouring the various platforms and finding interesting stuff,” she says. “We encourage people to follow all sorts of community groups on Facebook and Instagram so they can generate some community stories that way.”
“This has included wide scale use of TikTok, too,” Nurse says.
“We really have embraced TikTok, as well as YouTube, both long-form and shorts,” Gulden says.
“So those are two platforms that we are really focusing on right now in addition to Instagram and Facebook and Twitter,” she says.
Surely, they didn’t choose to experiment with the sacred cow of every local newscast, the three-and-a-half-minute weather forecast.
Michaelsen crossed that off the list.
“We are not going to have a three-and-a-half-minute weathercast,” he says.
Nurse says they do the weather, but in much smaller bites.
“You get the entire forecast, you just get it in smaller chunks,” Gulden says.
And they do the weather outside.
“We are the only ones in the market who have weather on the patio outside, so that’s a little different, too,” Gulden says.
Nurse says of all the different changes, one of the more difficult to embrace was the marketing and promotion.
“We no longer run topicals, and our promos are designed to stand out from other promos,” he says. “We didn’t want to take something that is supposed to be new and distinctive and promote it in the same way.”
“We had to toss the rule book out,” says Betsy Russell, the stations’ creative services director. “Our directive was do something that’s never been done before and how do you do that.”
Russell says this kind of news marketing is something never seen in this market before.
“Having cats and other animals and crazy things happening on the screen could not have broken through a few years ago,” she says. “But the digital platforms have opened up a whole new world for us to explore.”
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