Print and TV Move Under a Single Roof
LOS ANGELES — What a difference a decade can make.
Back in 1987, when Steve Friedman tried to rewrite the daily newspaper USA Today into a television show, it was a short, $50 million failed effort to mix oil and water. Says the current WCBS station manager, it was a clash of two distinct cultures with no single boss to unite them. He adds, "We never really figured out how to tap into what they did."
Things are different today. First, print and television are under a single roof in the big media giants such as Time Warner Inc. and Rupert Murdoch's empire. Now, says Mr. Friedman, "when the top bosses say let's make this work, the whole corporate culture is behind it."
Next, and equally important, the culture has become more TV-reliant than even a decade ago. Today's audiences have been primed by the proliferation of newsmagazines such as "Dateline NBC" and now turn to television more than ever as a primary and secondary information source.
For evidence of this trend toward an increased print-broadcast alchemy, look no further than the coming-events calendar at CNN. This spring, Ted Turner's network, which is now a Time Warner Company, is launching an ambitious slate of print-based shows under the banner of "CNNewstand." Time, Fortune, and Entertainment Weekly all will find a CNN berth. If the shows go well, two more will be added to create a print-TV partnership at CNN for every weekday.
Outside the media giants, the print-video synergy is proliferating: a Learning Channel spinoff of the Science Times section from The New York Times, CNBC air time for The Wall Street Journal, and in a twist, an ESPN print version of its 24-hour sports channel - not to mention well-established lifestyle magazines from Martha Stewart Living to Field & Stream.
Cross-promotion marketing is the engine driving this trend, according to PaineWebber media analyst Chris Dixon. The lifestyle publications were the first to be successful because home decorating and fly-fishing translate so well to video.
News, he says, has been the final frontier for television because the rational discourse of written news analysis and the emotional world of television images "draw on such different skills."
Ultimately, the news programs will succeed only if they "reconceptualize the print brand names into good television," rather than fall into the talking-head syndrome that has afflicted many past efforts.
Television veteran Pat Mitchell, president of Time Inc./CNN Productions, couldn't agree more. She's been down this road before and learned some valuable lessons. "You can't just take a print medium and put that on the air. You have to be true to the brand name and mission, but also true to television."
A recent CNN alliance with Sports Illustrated (CNN/SI) has paved a path within Time Warner. Managing editor Steve Robinson muses that his print reporters have had to take the "thoughtful perspective of the magazine and learn to make good television."
Paul Steiger, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, suggests that his industry has little to lose and everything to gain, namely contact with the audience. "This is the medium people are used to," he points out, adding that TV offers pictures, sound, and visceral contact with a story that print can't give.
He says the exposure is invaluable. "We don't overlap audiences with CNBC much, so this is giving us a whole new reach," says Mr. Steiger, calling the venture a win-win.
Some are more ambivalent. Says 30-year veteran, senior Sports Illustrated writer Leigh Montville, while many of the younger journalists coming up are comfortable with all different media, it's a big leap for someone who'd never imagined himself in a dark suit, let alone talking into a television camera.
"I'm the last guy you'd choose to do this sort of thing," he laughs. "I'm used to toiling in the trenches."
Mr. Montville said it took him a couple of months to get comfortable in front of the camera, but he is still not entirely at ease with what has gotten lost in the translation. "I can write 300 words of my opinion, and I don't have to back any of it up, because my three minutes are up."
If he were writing a 900-word column for print, he explains wryly, he'd have to back up his arguments with evidence - a luxury for which television often doesn't have time.