Janie Porter describes herself as "one of the least technologically savvy people you'll ever meet," and yet there she was in January, in a hotel in South Florida, with a video camera, two laptops and a microphone at the ready for a live broadcast for the Tampa Bay CBS affiliate, 10 Connects.
She had no satellite truck, no camera crew. Her only connection to the station was via Skype, the online video-audio streaming service, and an air card for her laptop. She did 30 to 40 live broadcasts for 10 Connects' morning newscasts from the college football BCS championship game on Skype, with the technology dropping her just once.
Porter's job title: "Backpack journalist."
"It's really unexpected what you can do with the technology out there," she said, proudly displaying some still photos of herself doing the one-woman live news standup.
While all of the major television broadcast and cable news operations in town are using new media technologies to reach consumers in different ways, 10 Connects is the only one that has branded its desire to include the audience in the news process.
"We recognize that the customer is more in control than ever before," said Darren Richards, the station's news director. Journalists are no longer "sitting here on this news Mount Olympus with all the information and data."
The idea behind the station's branding, Richards said, is to make viewers "part of the conversation."
All of the station's anchors are required to have their AOL Instant Messenger accounts on during their broadcasts, giving them instant feedback into the stories they are reading. (They answer their IMs after the broadcast.) Other producers and reporters feed stories and ideas into Facebook, both the station's page and their own personal pages, while the station and some staff also use Twitter. During the Nick Schuyler rescue saga, reporter Preston Rudie's tweets were especially good, updating breaking news constantly and never used just as an excuse to link to the station's website.
The feedback from viewers is invaluable and enlightening, Richards said. After a recent piece by investigative reporter Mike Deeson about lax rules that allow government employees to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in unused sick pay that roll over from year to year to year without end, "the e-mails started coming in. It was popping." Deeson was told to produce a follow-up story about the viewer outrage, and any additional info that would move the story ahead and keep it alive another day.