Digital innovation team takes KNTV to the Murrow Awards

August 5, 2019 11:00

Television stations occupy a rare space at the intersection of media’s past, present, and future. TV is a “legacy” product dating back 70 years, yet TV newsrooms are equipped with the essential tools to succeed in the future of media where visuals trump text. Additionally, those well-known anchors and reporters are now de factor social influencers, giving TV stations that embrace digital a rosier outlook on our collective future.
One of those stations is NBC Bay Area (KNTV), the winner of the national Edward R. Murrow Award for large market television stations in Multimedia, and winner of two regional Murrow Awards for Excellence in Social Media and Excellence in Innovation. Judges were stunned by the rich, immersive, and comprehensive nature of their entries. 
We asked V.P. of News Stephanie Adrouny and Sara Bueno, V.P. of Digital, how they managed to create something that matches or exceeds even what large digital-only outlets produce. The first clue: they have a V.P. of Digital. They’re not messing around.  “She is the key to our success!” exclaimed Adrouny.
KNTV’s Murrow entry submission made it clear this year was going to be different:

In 2018, we launched a new five-person digital innovation team, comprised of a video specialist, a special projects producer, a multiplatform show producer and two digital video journalists out in the field. These journalists are focused on experimenting with new ways of telling stories utilizing different digital formats.

Here are just a few of their digital projects: The NBC Bay Area digital projects are on a par with what digital only organizations do, and ahead of what some newspaper and digital only teams are doing. How are you doing this in a TV station paradigm?
In the simplest terms, it’s a matter of philosophy. We are committed to reaching all audiences regardless of platform. This kind of thinking starts with developing a synergistic relationship between the V.P. of News and the V.P. of Digital. Together, we collaborate and strategize on ALL news initiatives. It’s a holistic approach to operating the newsroom.  It also requires constantly reexamining our news/digital strategy and not being afraid to pivot.
The Hunters Point Shipyard interactives were incredibly engaging, telling a complex story of radioactive waste and government cover-ups.  You did this not just for storytelling, but as a resource for the community. Can you talk about what it took to put this together and how this project functioned within the larger storytelling efforts around this topic?
The key to success is the relationship between the Investigative Unit and our digital specialists. They work side-by-side from the onset of story production. It’s a true meeting of the minds beginning with storyboarding each component all the way through to the completion of the project. It also meant dedicating a good amount of time to data journalism in order to get the project done.  This was months in the planning and execution.  This kind of work requires a lot of technical knowledge, patience and trust.
During the Paradise Fire, it looks like you sent your digital team to the scene. Some TV stations chain their digital producers to their desks and have them rely only on the TV crews to get any necessary elements. Your team went out with 360 cameras and a pure digital focus. Can you explain how that approach evolved and why it works?
We evolved the digital desk in order to create a specialized digital team to tackle telling news in non-traditional ways. This did not happen overnight. It took time to develop and hire the right people for these jobs. It requires rethinking what to do with open broadcast jobs and reimagining what the roles should be.  These specialists are dispatched to cover news in the field with a truly digital-first mindset. Furthermore, they are equipped with the right tools to get the job done.
The graphics and interactive mapping really make the work stand out in a way that is understandable.  Can you talk about that process?
A member of our digital specialist team is tasked with creating data visualization for all news projects whether it is for our Investigative Unit or our documentary series, Bay Area Revelations. It is a highly skilled position which requires strong coding proficiency with a great design aesthetic. This person collaborates with key stakeholders across the newsroom to produce innovative content.
Big picture, describe how your station views digital versus TV, and how would you recommend all television stations approach audience extension beyond TV?
The key to success is understanding that we are one newsroom with no divide between digital and TV. Every meeting, every hire, every newsroom decision must include the digital perspective. It’s a top down approach to changing the culture. It’s also about taking chances. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Some will work and some will fail. We’ve had a number of failures, but we have learned and grown from each one.  Finally, embrace new platforms. Someone has to be first. Maybe that’s you.
Murrow Mondays are a look behind-the-scenes of Murrow Award winning journalism. The 2019 Murrow Award Gala is October 14.