WGN America NewsNation – Strong Launch for New Primetime Entry

By Tomorrow Will Be Televised Archives
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Advocates of comprehensive multi-hour journalism on television, your attention please. As of this month, you now have in view a primetime oasis for coverage that pumps up balanced, multi-perspective reporting while staying free of opinions and punditry.

From the moment WGN America decided to turn its primetime lineup of original weekly dramas with a crime bent, movies and off-net reruns into NewsNation nine months ago, executives at the Nexstar-owned basic cable network offered their intent to fashion a clear evening alternative to coverage available on broadcast and all-news cable networks. After checking out portions of NewsNation's first week—including the debut presentation in full September 1—as well as social media reaction, I'm clear the program is well down the road to accomplishing that aim.

Originating live from 8 to 11 p.m. Eastern time from a new studio in Chicago, the program covers developments from around the U.S., using resources from Nexstar's 197 TV stations (employing and deploying more than 5,500 journalists). Those resources are supplemented by a 150-person editorial and production team, operating from its home base and in key cities nationwide. A trio of anchorpeople, one accountable for breaking news, present each three-hour edition, which immediately gets a replay from 11 pm to 2 am (with live updates when necessary).

Here's a roundup of NewsNation elements working so far:

Opening each hour with a 20-minute segment. That allows time to cover one or more key stories in-depth. On opening night, President Trump's visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin was the lead story, complete with both positive and negative reaction, and a follow-up story on the state of protesting there. From there, a summary on coronavirus pandemic developments of the day, a live report from Miami on a spree of cyberattacks impacting local schools and a weather segment rounded out the segment.

Extended soundbites and in some cases, going the extra mile to empower viewers. A pair of stories opening night from Lake Charles, Louisiana, site of major damage from Hurricane Laura, showcased individual restoration efforts, ending with information on a Red Cross appeal for funds. The next night, right after another Hurricane Laura aftermath report on five members of the same family succumbing from carbon monoxide poisoning in their home (because of a faulty generator), an anchorperson delivered the latest stats on annual carbon monoxide fatalities and tips to prevent such fatalities when natural disasters occur.

Center Of Attention, a recurring showcase for unique stories deserving national attention. First up: a rare form of amnesia impacting a teenager in Greensboro, North Carolina, reported with sensitivity by Bob Buckley. Compelling without getting maudlin or hyper. Appreciate having one of the anchorpeople debrief Buckley live for additional detail and where the situation goes from here.

The newscast's aspirational and inclusive tone. You noticed this in a number of ways, from the delivery of the anchorpeople (Joe Donlon, Marni Hughes, and Rob Nelson) and diversity of the reporters on camera, readable graphics always identifying the location of a story, the bright set, multi-functional videowall and theme music, and live skyline scenes from various cities leading into commercial breaks.

Various Procter & Gamble products, Chrysler'sRam truck division, T-Mobile, Allstate, Salonpas and Cracker Barrel were among the major first-week advertisers. In an earlier MediaVillage column, WGN America executives detailed their segment sponsorship efforts, which are expected to come through in the coming weeks.

Heading into week two, NewsNation's Facebook page is attracting more than 18,000 followers. A few early reactions:

"Love it! This is my new prime time.
"Your broadcast is informative, entertaining, consistent, up to date…So needed and so refreshing."
"Adults treating their viewers like adults who can think for themselves."
"Stay with it. Give time for ratings to improve. And if they don't, stay with it anyhow."

And here's a few ideas on my end to improve this enterprise:

Increase the participation of Nexstar station correspondents over time, whether for breaking news, enterprise/investigative reports, and the nightly/weekend feature segments.

Use one of the opening 20-minute segments each night (leading off the second or third hour) to either explore a major issue in-depth, again using station correspondents where possible, or feature an exclusive story.

When offering coronavirus pandemic stats, include the number of people who recover from the pandemic alongside the number of infections and deaths.

NOTE: Tomorrow Will Be Televised, my Internet-distributed radio program, interviewed NewsNation anchorpeople Joe Donlon and Marni Hughes pre-launch. The episode is available at www.blogtalkradio.com/televised and IHeart Radio's podcast network.

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