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Editorials and the Web.

When broadcast stations first started marrying their content to the Web, the intention was clearly to drive readers to their television sets. While in many cases the content surpassed that of newspaper sites, page layout and story presentation were designed to lure the casual observer to the six o'clock news.

For those few stations offering editorials and commentary, opinion was made available along with everything else, perhaps tucked away in the "News" link, occasionally fortunate enough to be featured on the front page.

But for some of us it was an opportunity to compete on a level playing field with our print counterparts in perception if not reality. While all NCEW broadcast members are now actively using the Web as a complementary method of distributing editorials, I'll use my station, WISC TV, as an example.

Interestingly most of us do not have video of our editorials available. The most consistent station in that respect was KATU in Portland where Ron Saxton's regular commentaries were available for viewing as well as reading. But in late March Sexton decided to run for governor of Oregon, and his commentary window "went black," as we say. Our excuse in Madison is resources. We have an absolutely sensational managing editor for Web pages who, as a member of our editorial board and editor of our op-ed page, is a recent member of NCEW. But she is a staff of one. And if there is one unimpeachable rule of the Web it is: Don't start something you cannot consistently manage.

If video of one editorial is made available, there better be fresh video every day or kiss the hits goodbye. Well, it's too much work to get the video on each day. But what an audience! Channel3000.com is one of the top broadcast websites in the country, with seven to eight million page views and three hundred fifty thousand unique users a month. That's a fair number of people to potentially engage in discussions of community issues.

So we post our editorials on the website within an hour of their being recorded ... not aired. And while anecdotal evidence suggests most respondents head to the Web after seeing the editorial on television, the Web is indeed where they go to respond. So we make it easy to talk back and we post every response (with rare exceptions).

Theoretically, a taped response would be the appropriate broadcast equivalent of the letter to the editor, and we all do that in some form. But by and large we can only do one at a time and only infrequently (you don't want to give up twenty to sixty percent of your weekly editorial space regularly), so the website is the preferred viewer reply venue.

Still, even infrequent taped replies give us some semblance of traditional editorial page content. Where we really fall behind is op-ed: there's just no room for it on air.

So we created an op-ed page on our website, and it's proved quite popular in its early stage. We can and do direct people there on air, and it's generating a fair number of hits on its own. The Web is also where we engage viewers (readers) in helping shape our editorial agenda for the year. The give and take is just what we're looking for.

My writing is necessarily broadcast in style, and roughly one hundred seventy-five words is it. But being on the Web makes me give those one hundred seventy-five words careful consideration. And, more and more, the Web is where we broadcasters have chosen to be.

NCEW board member Neil Heinen is editorial director for WISC- TV in Madison, Wisconsin. E-mail nheinen@ wisctv.com
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Title Annotation:SHOP TALK: Broadcast News
Author:Heinen, Neil
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2005
Words:612
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