Houston, we have a problem-solver.
Or so hopes one Lone Star State station as news pros nationwide turn a curious eye toward its drastic experiment.
Parched for ratings, Houston's KIAH-TV is developing an anchor-free, nearly reporter-free newscast emphasizing mainly video and audio clips, as story participants act as their own storytellers.
Polling local news directors:
Adam P. Bradshaw, KVVU-TV, Channel 5: "I talked to people (involved in the production) who said it would be like 'America's Wildest Home Videos,' no live shots. But news changes by the second. You need someone live at the scene. And people still watch in part because of the personalities. They are such a distant last-place station that it's safe to try something this extreme."
Ron Comings, KLAS-TV, Channel 8: "You can't convey complex concepts by letting Joe Sixpack tell his story without journalists vetting them, getting reliable information, putting it in context. Are anchors as essential as they once were? I don't know. But people still expect an anchor to walk them through the day's events."
Bob Stoldal, KSNV-TV, Channel 3: "It sounds like they plan to do more video-based stories ... which sounds just like YouTube, so unless there is video, they don't do the story. If so, they will miss a lot of very important stories."
(Karin Movesian of KTNV-TV, Channel 13 declined comment.)
Hunting for an exec producer (as disclosed by Houston blogger Mike McGuff), KIAH's ad sought a candidate who "knows that most TV news sucks and wants to do something about it."
Gutsy. Prediction? Flameout. Without modifying the concept, anyway.
As theorized here last year, anchor-free formats are viable. Internet-reared viewers consuming info online have little need for guided news tours by authority figures. Unless stations stress anchor personality, as in News-3's Dan Ball experiment, the old anchor desk will inevitably be dismantled.
Reporter-less? Impractical. Footage strung together with quotes is a collage, not a story. Even online stories aren't orphans -- reporters mold and explain them. Yet within KIAH's approach are salvageable ideas for retaining reporters while cutting newscast bloat:
Roll back live shots to the time of breaking news, not hours later when activity is suspended and sources are gone. Without anchors (who can be redeployed as correspondents), we can be spared their rigged questioning of reporters who fake-finish their stories prematurely so anchors can appear involved.
Onscreen graphics can handle transitions between pieces. Reporters can toss stories to each other. Reports can be longer by subtracting anchor chat, which many viewers consider a speed bump on the way to more info.
Locally, it's worth a trial run in a sliver of time somewhere off the main grid, such as digital subchannels: Channel 8 on its news repeater. Or News-3, programming the nonlocal Untamed Sports Network. Or Channel 13, regurgitating its regular schedule. Or Fox-5, its 24/7 weather format reminding us it's still hot.
Houston's KIAH will still have a problem, its radicalized news concept a change too strange for viewers all at once. Even so:
Out of a failed revolution can come steps toward evolution.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.