It’s been a few months now since Frank Mungeam left the corporate world of local TV for Arizona State University Cronkite School of Journalism.
He’s there as a Knight Professor of Practice in TV News Innovation. He is leading projects that are promoting local TV news innovation through research, collaboration and experimentation.
Mungeam has built a reputation as a major innovator in the TV space, helping stations evolve their digital strategies and building products that have engaged and excited audiences.
We caught up with Mungeam to learn more about his new gig, why we thinks “stop lists” are so important for news organizations and much more.
Here’s our interview with him.
Tell us a little about your new role at ASU Cronkite.
I joined ASU Cronkite as Knight Professor of Practice in TV News Innovation thanks to a grant funded by the Knight Foundation.
The purpose of the grant is to accelerate innovation in local broadcast news. So I am working with the ASU Cronkite Newsroom to do purposeful experiments with story and show formats, workflow and technology. I’m also working with a group of ‘Table Stakes’ local broadcasters on news innovation. And then, via our Cronkite News Lab, we’re publishing best practices and learnings to share with the industry.
How has the transition gone for you going from TV to serving as a Knight Professor?
Well, I get fewer urgent emails on Saturday nights than in my previous corporate role, so there’s that!
What’s exciting to me about my new role as Professor of Practice is the practice part – this is very much a practical role. After a number of years at the corporate level, it’s been fun to get back into a working newsroom and collaborate on a daily basis on storytelling and show experiments.
At the same time, through our Table Stakes collaboration, I continue to work at a corporate/strategy level with large local broadcast companies. So it feels like the best of both worlds, combining theory/strategy at scale with local, hands-on practical applications.
What projects are you working on or involved in right now that have you excited?
There’s quite a bit going on in the Cronkite Newsroom that I’m excited about. We have partnered with Tagboard, the leader in social curation and display, to incorporate social media storytelling into our newscasts.
In terms of storytelling and formats, we’re using Instagram Stories and Snapchat as new story platforms to reach audiences with news; we’ve done a transparency story treatment called “Full Circle” that shows our process for putting together a story; and we’ve tried several different storytelling techniques including a ‘Ken Burns’ style narrated photo essay for Arizona’s celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Grand Canyon, and several different ways of telling stories “by the numbers” using creative visualization tools including whiteboarding.
On the technology and workflow side, we’ve partnered with Switcher Studio on ways to do entire broadcasts remotely using only iPhones and tablets – a virtual studio; and we’ve been testing Clickup as a way to better manage tracking the status of story pitches.
You wrote an article recently about how news organizations need to build a stop list. Why do you think this is so hard for news organizations, and what sort of strategies do you think work to accomplish this?
The typical newsroom produces up to eight hours of newscasts per day. That’s a lot. The only way to “feed the beast” is to have a lot of baked-in practices and routines. Those habits are what enable that volume of daily production; but of course, those same routines become the primary obstacle to any change.
I’ve never found a newsroom that lacks for new ideas, but every newsroom I know is strapped for time. That’s why I wrote about the importance for news leaders to start with brainstorming a stop list before saddling their teams with an unrealistic list of new things to do. I suggested a series of questions a leader can use to guide a conversation to identify the activities that may be newsroom habits but are no longer productive, as a first step to creating time for new, better practices. My recommendations here.
Transparency has become a huge topic in the media. Are there things happening at Cronkite that are working on this front and what sort of behavior are you encouraging?
Trust in news is one of the issues we’re very focused on. We’re proud that ASU Cronkite just won top prize in the TVNewsCheck/BEA Disrupt the News contest for a project called “Full Circle,” where we not only air the story but we also include, documentary-style, the behind the scenes process of putting the story together.
We believe one of the best ways to grow trust in news is – as your high school math teacher used to say – to “show your work.” We’re excited to be partnering with research firm Smith-Geiger this spring to do audience testing of Full Circle. We hope to be able to demonstrate empirically that this kind of transparency in storytelling makes a difference to news consumers.
Anything else you’d like to add or work you’d like to show?
Yes. When it comes to the future of news, I’d caution against magical thinking and the idea that there’s one silver bullet that will solve all the problems facing local news. I’d also be leery of the ‘One Guru’ mindset around innovation. To me, innovation is a process, not a product; and that process works best when it’s collaborative and inclusive. Historically, that process of innovation has been all about persistent, incremental experiments that, over time, add up to meaningful change. The results look big and bold in hindsight, but the path usually involved lots of micro-innovations and lots of trial and error. So I’d urge news leaders not to underestimate the power of small, daily experiments; and to be sure to have a bottom-up process for innovation that engages the entire newsroom.