Sept 12, 2013

Q&A with Vivian Schiller, SVP and Chief Digital Officer, NBC News

Since NBC News took over its digital properties a year ago, what are the most significant breakthroughs for the team? 

VS: The biggest breakthrough is we are now ONE NBC News. Under the joint venture with Microsoft, we had one newsroom based in New York for television and an entirely separate newsroom based in Seattle for digital.  The cultures were different, as were the management and priorities. We're now one cross-platform news organization based in New York, Seattle, DC, London and around the world.  

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about news consumers in that time? 

VS: I'm a research and analytics junky, so I'm continuously learning from our consumers. The data tells us that our audiences equally love in-depth, serious reporting and fun, human interest - so long as it's a good story, well told. They love video and powerful still photography. They want the reporter's voice to come through in everything we do - and not the "Voice of God" that many news organizations seem to employ. They want us to make it easy to share stories with their friends and family. They want to be in a multi-way conversation with us and their friends. And they love engaging with our journalists on social media. 

How do you see news consumption evolving? 

VS: We're moving toward mobile much faster than almost anyone predicted. At NBC News, we're meeting that challenge by becoming a "mobile first" organization -  in the way we design our sites and apps, write headlines and stories, engage on social media, create original videos and work with marketers. 

How does the TODAY app reflect what you’ve learned? 

VS: For one, we built this product in-house with our own talented developers. We used to outsource our mobile app design and development, but have learned no one knows our brands and our audiences better than we do and you can see that in the TODAY app. We've also taken a video-first approach with breakthrough design that lets you stream TODAY Show clips while simultaneously scrolling around the site. Our TODAY users have told us they love that, and it's tailor-made for TV Everywhere. 

55% of Americans still get their news from TV. Did that surprise you? How do you see the digital news space in that context? How do you accommodate digital natives and consumers who see digital as complementary to their TV news? 

VS: That statistic doesn't surprise me at all. Television continues to be very powerful and will be for a long time. You can’t replicated that shared experience of broadcast TV. But there are now at least two screens in every living room... sometimes three or more. We need to learn from what consumers are telling us about how they use those screens. That’s exactly what we’re doing with social media, the web and products like Zeebox. 

How is social media changing the way we experience breaking news stories? 

VS: The impact of social media on breaking news has been profound in good ways and bad. In the good column: Eyewitnesses now have direct access via smartphones and platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Vine, to report what they see directly to the public. If information is wrong the wisdom of the crowd kicks in and redirects the story. It's also easier for news organizations like ours to reach new audiences at record speed. In the bad column: there's a lot of unverified information out there, much of it wrong. And the race to be first can lead to bad decisions made by news organizations. We take all possible measures to avoid those pitfalls through our editorial vetting process. 

How do you see local and national news evolving? How does NBC News use local teams to cover national stories? 

VS: At NBCUniversal, we're lucky in that we not only have a world-class national and international news organization in NBC News, but also have a tremendous owned station group led by Valari Staab, and great affiliates across the country. For the consumer, that means thousands of "feet on the ground" reporting news from around the country. 

What’s the most surprising thing people don’t know about how news is covered at a time when everything seems to be driven by digital, social and mobile experiences? 

VS: In the era of algorithms and automation, the human touch still matters. Technology can - and has - changed the world, but it will never replace shoe leather reporting, well-sourced and informed reporters and great storytelling.

Tags : NBC News, TODAY, TODAY App, Vivian Schiller

 
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