WESTPORT, Conn. — Tom Appleby, news director at News12, a hyperlocal venue and the “most watched channel on all of Cablevision” spoke to Y’s Men of Westport and Weston last Thursday about the future of television news.
Despite winning over 800 major awards during his 32 years with News12, Appleby said, “We are struggling with the future,” in particular, how to use social media to engage viewers.
More than 70 percent of U.S. adults follow national and local news somewhat or very closely, and 65 percent follow international news with the same regularity, he said.
Of those, 57 percent, the largest portion, get their news from television, and 38 percent online, while only 20 percent still read newspapers, he said.
But technology, particularly social media, is the disrupter. Holding up his smartphone, Appleby said, “This changed the world. God forbid you lose it, you’re lost.”
“Facebook is becoming synonymous with news,” he said. Its News Feed service provides two-thirds of its 204 million U.S. users with news that the site’s algorithms determine is most relevant to them, and presents it in the order they want it.
Pictures and video get the most hits. “It’s what the public is looking for,” he said. Text-based stories are becoming passé, particularly among the younger viewers advertisers crave.
More to the point, third party live-streamed video increasingly commands attention, Appleby said. He pointed to the recent fatal police shooting of a civilian that was narrated by the victim’s girlfriend and shot via her cellphone and shown on Facebook Live as it took place.
“Live-streaming is the latest thing. But there’s no filter,” he said. Appleby’s dilemma is that we hold traditional organizations such as CNN and NBC accountable, but “can we really trust these sources?”
He’s also concerned that we’re trading immediacy for depth. Facebook chooses stories that their formulas say we want. But Appleby believes in adding what we need, to be informed citizens.
Looking ahead, he said the social media platform is driving presentation, and that technology is moving so rapidly it becomes difficult to predict how news will be sourced, presented and received, even in the near future.
And yet the age-old question, rephrased, remains — “What on social media will resonate with you?”