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Making a Difference, Not Just a News Story

In a recent conversation with Karen Beavor, John Deushane, WXIA 11Alive president and general manager, discussed a new way of thinking about news, getting in good with your local media, and growing an audience in a transformed media landscape.

On making a difference through the news

We’re always going to cover the hard news of the day, but we also like to take it a step further and ask, “What can we do to make a difference? How can we help the person or part of our community adversely affected by this event?“

Our VP of News Ellen Crooke will say,“Local news is broken.” I agree with her. Typical newscasts are all about murders, robberies and rapes, with no one trying to stand up for either individuals or for our community at large, to really help their causes or personal situations. So we’ve tried to do that. We know that, frankly, there is no other medium that can convey emo­tion better than television. But we’re not going to just look for the sappy emotional angle, which is easy to do. The tougher thing is to realize that, although we’re not going to resolve every case or issue, at least we can make an impact by doing for one what we wish we could do for everyone.

On getting the attention of the media

It’s letting us know as soon as you know that you have an event or an issue that might be of media interest. Additionally, you should send the information to a handful of people within the organization. It’s difficult to reach “the media,” but it’s not difficult to reach an individual within the media.

It’s difficult to reach “the media,” but it’s not difficult
to reach an individual within
the media.

There definitely have been cutbacks at all levels. Instead of having a photog­rapher and a reporter and an editor, we have one person doing it all, so it becomes even more important for the nonprofit to provide as much of the information as possible in an easily-digestible form. We always want to humanize the story. If you are holding a large event to benefit a certain group of individuals, we want to focus on those individuals as much as your event. To break through the noise of other happenings competing with yours, find a way to make a reporter say, “Wow, this is really different. I can see the hook on which we can build a story.”

On connecting with a new kind of audience

The way I say it is: we’re platform agnostic. We don’t care how someone uses us, just as long as they do. We currently have more than 155,000 likes on our Facebook page, and a year ago we had less than 4,000.

We've made this a targeted effort because we know content consumption is now much more personal. It’s not just us doing one-way communication, which was the model for decades. Now we engage our viewers—we refer to them as our “views­ers” because they're both viewers and users—to get their feedback on what we should cover. We'll ask people on Facebook and Twitter: “We’re wrestling with this within our newsroom right now, join in on a live conversation as to whether you would want to see this [on the news]”.

Find a way to make a reporter say, “Wow, this is really different. I can see the hook on which we can build a story.”

Every day there seems to be a new engagement product that surfaces. So I think that’s one of the biggest challenges, just ensuring that you stay relevant. We always hire what we like to refer to as “digital disruptors.” It’s important for us to be challenged internally by people who don’t think the same way we think, [who can] challenge the status quo in terms of how we look at engagement at all levels—whether that’s in news, engineering, or in marketing.

On the sector in Atlanta

We have to have champions in our world. I think most people in their hearts want to do the right thing, but sometimes they don’t know what it is they should do or how they can do it. Nonprofits recognize the needs within the community and then give people an easy way to take action and help.

Having lived in Atlanta for 15 years and worked in both Atlanta and New York during that time, I’m constantly amazed at the amount of support in this community for such a vast number of nonprofits. The level of sophistication is higher than I’ve seen anyplace else…the same with the creativity. Even if organizations have a recurring event each year, they tend to be fresh—everyone’s trying to figure out a different way to do it. And I think that’s exciting and continues to draw people in to help others.

Listen to GCN's Karen Beavor speak with Mr. Deushane

John Deushane is the president and general manager for WXIA 11Alive, and currently serves on the boards of the Atlanta Business League, Georgia Association ofBroadcasters, Alliance Theatre Advisory Board,and the Junior League of Atlanta Advisory Board.

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