How Do You Keep a Struggling Medium Alive? Ask Brian Williams

How Do You Keep a Struggling Medium Alive? Ask Brian Williams

The evening news on television is something that I enjoy watching. In fact, I make every effort to try be in front of my TV each night at 5:30 when Brian Williams goes on air here in California. I realize that I’m not part of the mainstream – viewership of the evening news has been steadily declining for years. These days, it’s mostly people in their 60’s and 70’s that typically don’t get their news online as it breaks from outlets like CNN.com, MSNBC.com or channels like Twitter. So, the television news business has something of a marketing dilemma that they need to overcome:

How do you keep a 30-minute new broadcast relevant for a more connected, tech-savvy generation?

I would love to pose that question to Brian Williams. He seems to be doing his part to stay relevant and implanted in the psyche of a younger group of viewers. Consider that he’s hosted SNL to positive reviews and regularly appears on shows like 30 Rock. This past week he was part of a very funny skit on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

I think this gets at the heart of why people like me watch the news. I don’t have to watch Brian Williams every night. I get my fill of the major headlines throughout the day online. By the time network anchors are in make-up, I’m up to speed. I watch NBC’s Nightly News because I like Brian Williams. I think he comes across as authoritative without being robotic. I also appreciate the fact that he writes most of his own broadcast each night so he’s vested in the news he’s reporting. He’s not afraid to throw his personality into the mix and show people that he’s an actual person. Sure, people like my grandparents may watch television news because they have a limited number of choices to stay informed, but if this decades-old platform is going stay relevant for my generation (or my daughter, Emma’s generation), then these personalities have to make you care about them. We have to be interested in who they are, while still respecting their ability to report the news. Brian Williams has done a masterful job of walking that line.

For this post I’m talking about TV news, but there are loads of other professions and platforms that are dying a slow death. What other parallels can we draw here? How do you stop the decline of an outdated product or delivery system? Is it even possible?

  • Roadtrippin

    Why not spend a portion of the news having Brian tap dance or show him tying a cherry stem with his tongue? The average American will relate to these cute parlor tricks, more importantly, we will have a warm, fuzzy feeling about Brian Williams and we’ll all begin feeling like he’s our wacky uncle.

    Come on Scott, turning news anchors into “personalities” who provide entertainment or opinion. Will not result in higher ratings for nightly news programs.

    The challenge lies in bringing something new to a story line that has been cycled and recycled through new media channels throughout the day. It means when everyone is looking right, nightly news needs to look the other direction, find the story that no one else considered.

    • Roadtrippin – I completely disagree. The Nightly News will always be a snapshot of the day’s most important stories. If you want alternative reporting, you can find that, but it will never be on network news.

      That said, how do you save a dying medium that HAS to continue to report mainstream stories? Well, I think I just explained that… 🙂