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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

702.tv’s failing? Lack of interactivity

I’m going to draw upon one of my classes again today because I don’t think I could have described this situation any better than they did. Last week, 702.tv, the high profile Las Vegas Sun project led by Rob Curley, announced that after just four months it was halting producing of its glitzy weekly news/entertainment program. The Web site is still there if you want to see what they’ve done. I admit the production values are slick. The shows look nice, and I’m not just talking about the girls. But as one of my students said, “While laudable for the attempt, (702.tv) merely tends to re-create the (bad) television experience on the Web.”

To be clear, the student wasn’t talking specifically about 702.tv. He was referring to TimesCast, a similar effort to produce a daily video news roundup produced by the Roanoke Times. As part of their midterm exam, I had students in my J314/514 Online Journalism Fundamentals class critique the site. Most of them appreciated that a newspaper was trying to reach out to a new audience on the Web and some even enjoyed the casual “Channel One” style of the broadcast. Overwhelmingly they applauded Roanoke.com‘s best innovation – providing links to other sites within the video player.

Consistently, they recognized the lack of true interactivity the site provided, and this site might have needed it more than others, one said: “It seems that the casual and personal nature of presentation combined with the alternative news delivery are begging for a more interactive approach.”

This is what they and I think contributed to TimeCast’s downfall. The daily newscast ended in 2007. The staff of Roanoke.com still produces videos, but they focus on a prep sports and entertainment show I wouldn’t say are all that innovative.

In planning 702.tv, Curley doesn’t seem to get this. In a blog post just before the site launched, he seemed to think he could trick people into watching the news with flashy graphics and profiles of hot cocktail waitresses.

“We often describe 702.tv as a bowl full of Skittles — very colorful, sweet, fun to consume, etc. Except that we’re going to sneak some vitamin-filled Skittles into the bowl. Our goal is to make you a little healthier (well, more knowledgeable) while you think you’re watching/eating candy.”

In fact, he says this is how the show was designed.

The segments are light and featurey: cool people, cool clubs, cool restaurants, cool places to visit, cool houses or suites, cool shows, celebrity sightings/interviews, and a sports segment that doesn’t feel like most local sports segments at all.

Then at about halfway through the 702.tv show we give you four very quick minutes of news. Then, right back to the lighter stuff.

If this doesn’t sound like the bad television experience on the Web, I don’t know what does. I’m surprised at how few people called him on what he was trying to do. Curt Chandler, a multimedia instructor at Penn State University, called 702.tv a “brilliant idea” in a comment on Poynter.org story. Seth Gitner, the former head of TimesCast, said the video staff at 702.tv should be commended for their efforts.

I don’t want to take anything away from the 702.tv staff. I’m sure they did a great job. I also applaud any time someone tries to help the traditional news media adapt better to the Web. However, what I’m arguing with this blog is before launching any innovation, we need to understand how people use the Web better. We can’t just do what we’ve always done, except now with video. We have to provide an experience online audiences can’t get anywhere else. Online that experience is all about talking to your audience, as one of my students said.

“I think that as an application of online journalism, TimesCast failed in the way that there is no room for the creation of a conversation – which is what journalism is supposed to be.”

The care-free and fun Vegas lifestyle portrayed in 702.tv’s pieces deserves more interactivity. Why not allow the audience to submit their own videos. Why not ask them for nominations of the next beautiful person to feature? Better yet, why not provide social networking information for staff members or even (within reason) the people portrayed in the pieces? At least provide information about the clubs and hotels features? What about links to add to Yelp on your iPhone?

As these students in my class are learning, adding interactivity isn’t as hard as it seems. They are working on some really innovative projects right now using simple, easily accessible tools. I’d love to see major media organizations work as hard as they are to add interactivity to their sites.

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One Response to “702.tv’s failing? Lack of interactivity”

  1. Hmm… I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and i’ll be your constant reader.

    November 4, 2009 at 5:50 am

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