Talking TV: Scripps News Ramps Up Live Newscasts
Scripps News continues the transformation from its former incarnation as Newsy on May 1 when the news network shifts to 16 hours of live programming each weekday.
Kate O’Brian, Scripps News’ president, says the ramp-up to 16 all-live hours is ahead of schedule and was spurred by sizeable viewer upticks in the network’s current live hours versus recorded programming.
In this Talking TV conversation, O’Brian explains the shift and the reorganization within parent company E.W. Scripps that has enabled it. She also addresses how Scripps News is managing a complex web of contributors across all facets of the company, including its local stations and sister network Court TV.
Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.
Michael Depp: Beginning May 1, Scripps News, formerly known as Newsy, will begin to produce all of its weekday news live between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. It’s the culmination of an extraordinary ramp-up of original news on the network, which began as a digital, primarily streaming, outlet and became available over the air in October 2021.
I’m Michael Depp, editor of TVNewsCheck, and this is Talking TV. Today, I’m with Kate O’Brian, president of Scripps News, to talk about the network’s expansion of live news hours and the complex web of collaborations across the entire E.W. Scripps Company that has enabled it. We’ll be right back with that conversation.
Welcome, Kate O’Brian to Talking TV.
Kate O’Brian: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Six hours of live news programing a day starting next week. To put that in perspective, how much of what viewers are seeing now has been previously recorded?
Only about four hours a day has been previously recorded. We started with the plan to repeat some of our primetime programing during the day, and that was our right-out-of-the-gate plan for a couple of reasons. One, we still had to ramp up in terms of size and operations. And two, we love our primetime programing, and we thought people during the day might enjoy looking at it as well. As it turned out, now that we are able to really get a better sense of viewership, our viewers really want live. And so, we are responding to the viewers and starting at 6 in the morning and going until 10 p.m. will be live all day and all evening.
This shift was always in the cards, but you are a bit ahead of schedule here, no?
Yeah, I mean, I from the get-go, our plan has been to be live, frankly, seven days a week, all day long, not so much in the overnight hours. I think that that’s there’s not as much return on investment to being live in the overnight hours. But the plan still is at some point when we have the resources to be live seven days a week all day and into the evenings on the weekends.
Right now, we do live depending on the day, Saturday, a couple of times a day, and then cut-ins throughout the day and Sunday. We have original programing again, live a couple of times a day, and then original long-form programing in the evenings.
Are those weekend cut-ins ad hoc or are they hourly?
They’re hourly. Yeah. It’s the beginning of every hour that we try to let people know what’s going on in the world.
You mentioned that viewers are asking for this. Why was it important to go live as soon as you were able?
Well, I mean, for a lot of reasons. We’re a news organization and providing our viewers with the information that they need throughout the day to know what’s going on in the world is here. That is our reason for being. And we were responding to what we saw with the viewership numbers. And when we had repeats during the day, the viewership numbers slid a little bit and then came right back up when we went back on live. So, in response to that, but it was always it was always our plan. I mean, this is what a 24/7 news operation does.
Right. Scripps has been in the midst of a considerable reorganization. That’s partly happening, I think, to foster the growth of its national networks, which you oversee. How has that helped to clarify the lines of contribution to Scripps News from across the company? In other words, how has it better laid the foundation for this collaborative network?
Well, Scripps as a company is a very collaborative company. And we have always had what was originally Newsy, and now Scripps News, work very happily and openly and fruitfully with our partners in local media and certainly with Court TV or other national news products. What is happening now is partially as a result of the change of name from Newsy to Scripps News. It makes our collaboration with the stations even easier and much more robust because Scripps News, you know, Scripps is the owner of the stations. So, it’s sort of logical that the stations are working with Scripps News and we’re going in much earlier in the process.
What we’ve been doing thus far very, very well is both Scripps News using content that the local stations have produced and the local stations using content that Scripps News has produced, you know, to beef up their content throughout the day. But now we’re really trying to go in from the beginning of a story.
So, for example, when there was a train derailment a few months back in East Palestine, Ohio, right away, teams were sent, obviously, from the stations in Ohio, but also from Scripps News. And on the ground, our teams worked together to create sort of a streamlined, seamless partnership of, OK, today, you’re going to go cover that part of the story. Today you’re going to go cover that part of the story. We’re going to share our information and our in our reporting.
But at the end of the day, things like that or Scripps News and WMAR in Baltimore created a sort of a town hall show about the reports from the Archdiocese of Baltimore about the priest sexual abuse of minors. From the beginning, Scripps News and WMAR executives got together and said, how are we going to do this story? Let’s both share everything we can in terms of reporting and produced a really emotional hour together.
So, it’s that. And then add to that when either group can do something extra, like with the East Palestine story, the Scripps News investigative team push that story forward with reporting on executive compensation tied to some of the issues that led to the train derailment. So, there are there are multiple ways that we can be working together from the ground up that I think create a stronger product for the news.
When you have that kind of ground-up collaboration, do you end up using all that you produce across all of the different … will the local station carry some things that were created by Scripps News reporters and vice versa, do you use everything you make everywhere or is it siloed by venue?
I’m a strong believer in not letting any parts fall onto the floor of the butcher shop. We use everything. I can’t tell you specifically about how much each station might use, but it is all available for the stations to use and at Scripps News. You know, again, we now have 16 hours of live programing. We can use everything we can get.
I want to come back to the collaboration in just a second, but before that, it’s been a key value proposition for Scripps News that your journalists are actually out in the field. They’re fanned out across the country, and they’re not locked in studios on the coasts. Can you explain how you can cover such a wide swath of the country via the bureau structure and the Scripps local stations?
Absolutely. So, Scripps News, well, starting when we were Newsy, we had multiple bureaus, our biggest ones in Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, Denver. But we had smaller bureaus all over the country, including in places where I guess news organizations wouldn’t normally have people.
I don’t know what normal is, but wouldn’t necessarily normally have sent people like Missoula, Tulsa, Nashville, Houston and Dallas, Phoenix. What we were trying to do at Scripps News was to cover as much of the country as we possibly could and hire reporters who were from those areas. So, they were bringing the expertise, the geographical expertise, with them.
Now we have the unbelievable advantage of adding to that reporting the local stations in 41 markets and using the reporters. Whether we’re using their packages, whether they’re coming on live, when that’s a breaking news story, whether we’re working with them to create that all together, I think we’re at 52 or 53, if you want to call them bureaus, locations around the country to get firsthand reporting from all of those cities, towns, parts of the country. It’s extraordinary.
When it’s a station reporter but they’re on Scripps News, they’ll identify as so and so from Scripps News, Cincinnati, or whichever market they’re in?
Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Just to come back to collaboration, and we talked about this a bit recently during TVNewsCheck’s Programing Everywhere event in Las Vegas, but I’d like to elaborate a little bit more on how you’re able to orchestrate the contributions that are coming in from a wide array of sources. How do you have transparency across the key pieces here — Scripps News journalists themselves, the D.C. bureau, the Scripps national news hub in Denver and Court TV — so that you have a continuously updated handle on all of the content that’s actually coming through your system. How do you see everything?
It’s an understandable challenge, but we have managed to meet the challenge in a couple of different ways. First, it means communication is incredibly important. So, the human beings at all of those different locations that you mentioned need to know each other, need to be able to pick up the phone and call each other. And we have multiple meetings a day where that can happen.
In addition, the systems have to be built and maintained to be the foundation of that communication. We use software that was developed at Scripps called News Desk that producers at one entity can look in and see what the rundown is for another entity. That is getting developed even more and more as we are expanding the collaboration. There are multiple ways in which we want producers, EPs, segment producers, line producers, etc. all across the country to be able to peek in, see, oh, there’s a great story. Maybe we want a live shot from that reporter. What’s happening in Sudan? Maybe we need to have someone from Scripps News to help explain that to our audience and through the software backed up by the actual communication between people, we can make that happen.
In addition, we have an entire team that has been called the partnership team, and they — collectively and individually — are connecting with stations every day, all day long. They start early in the morning, they go late at night, and they are finding out directly from the news desks of each station what’s happening there and also sharing what Scripps News is doing in case there’s something particular of the station wants to cover.
And what we’re talking about here are things that are in the pipeline, things that are in the works. But what about when you want to propose a collaboration? How does that start where you’re like, you know, I’ve got an idea and I think this could work with our partner X or Y, somewhere else in the organization? How do they advance a proposal and move that through?
At this point, there are many ways to connect. I’ll take it from the Scripps News perspective. Scripps News can connect through the partnership team to the station. Our head of Scripps News can reach out to Sean McLaughlin or Dean Littleton, who are experts in local media. Our EPs can reach out to news directors, and as we are building these operational communications systems, we’re trying to create frameworks that make that easier.
But there’s nothing wrong with picking up a phone and saying, hey, I have this great idea. And that has happened a couple of times. Certainly, at I think it’s CVI in Idaho and Court TV, [they] are working very closely together on the murders of those college students. And in fact, even, you know, building promos together and reporting together. That’s a function of, I think, the news director calling up the person who ran Court TV or the person who’s in charge of the desk and saying, hey, you know, what can we do together?
It seems like the metaphor here is like neural networks or neural pathways where you have new ones continuously being formed in this elaborate network.
That’s a good metaphor. That’s what it seems like from my point of view.
On the human side of this, in order for people to be successful collaborators, they have to know each other. They have to get to meet their counterparts or colleagues at other stations, other parts of the organization. So, are you able to affect that well on Zoom or do you have retreats in the pipeline as well? How do you forge those connections between colleagues?
Well, certainly Zoom is, you know, the currency these days. Here we are on Zoom. And through the pandemic, we’ve become very effective on Zoom. And I think definitely foundational to what we’re trying to do.
There are occasional meetings. The Scripps News director meeting last year, 2022, was held in Atlanta, where Scripps News is biggest bureau and studios live. And so, there was a really lovely way to connect with the news directors in person there, and that’s always helpful. Scripps has other meetings where people are able to talk to each other throughout the year there.
Listen, if I could wave a magic wand and create a system where, you know, Scripps news people could fly out to every news organization location, then I would make that happen. But I don’t have that. I don’t have that magic wand right now.
Now this move happens just as Nexstar’s NewsNation is ramping up to 24 hours of programing. Do you see them as your most direct competitor?
In a way, it’s so interesting. Michael. I don’t actually look at anybody else as a competitor per se, because I think every news organization is trying to do something unique. And there are a number of news organizations that are working with their stations to create content together. So, in a broad sense, you can say we are all competitors, but each one is doing it in a slightly different way. So, it’s never really apples to apples.
I wish everybody well. Speaking just for Scripps, what we are able to achieve with our really fabulous stations, on their own each one is an award winner and, you know, creates unbelievable content. It is very important to have the sort of unified plan that I think we are approaching. But, you know, the ability to use every part of your organization is not unique to Scripps.
How different will Scripps News look to viewers going ahead from May 1?
I don’t think it’s going to look that different. There are very few people, I think, other than myself, maybe a handful of others who watch Scripps News all day long from 6 in the morning till 10 at night. So, I think for most viewers, whenever they turn it on, they will see the Scripps News, the news that they want live breaking, but also deep dive contextual reporting that is really the hallmark of the content that that we produce. I don’t know that they’re going to see something that looks very, very different.
And I understand there’s going to be a marketing ramp-up along with this shift as well. How are we going to see that?
I’m very excited for that. Again, at the beginning of May, there’s a big marketing push. There will be billboards and radio spots and TV spots and ads in newspapers, and I hope more people will be getting a sense of what Scripps News is and what Scripps News stands for and how informative, but also engaging and compelling our content is from multiple touchpoints.
OK, well, we are looking forward to seeing more live news now from Scripps News. Thanks for talking about it with me, Kate.
Thank you, Michael.
You can watch past episodes of Talking TV on TVNewsCheck.com and on YouTube. We’re back most Fridays with the new show. Thanks for watching this one. See you next time.