2 former TV journalists produce news-style videos for city of Tulsa
Feb 19, 2013 (Tulsa World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Beth Hawkins' newsroom is a city of Tulsa office. Her paycheck bears the city logo.
But as far as she and her employer are concerned, the former KJRH-Channel 2 reporter is still a journalist -- the face of an emerging division of the city's Communications Department that produces online videos about events, trends and city government in the style of news reports.
"We're like NPR," said Lloyd Wright, Mayor Dewey Bartlett's press secretary. "The whole drive behind this is to be able to tell the stories behind Tulsa that don't get told."
Bartlett hired Hawkins for the Video Services Division in August 2011 and added Brian Nutt, another former KJRH employee, a year later as a videographer and editor.
The pair have produced most of the 73 videos posted onto the city's YouTube page since September 2011 -- about 50 in a news format with Hawkins narrating between interviews with city officials, businesspeople and residents.
The point is to improve the city's outreach to residents and give it "direct input" into the news coverage it receives, Bartlett said.
"We were able to get the talent that we needed to put out not just our version of the news, but to put out news," he said. "If we have the capability of really showing in a very smart way a lot of aspects of what Tulsa's doing, then that's going to put us ahead" of other cities.
The videos are produced for the city's official YouTube page and its local-access television channel, TGOV, at the cost of Hawkins' salary of $50,366.88 and Nutt's $39,999.84, along with video equipment the city purchased after hiring Hawkins.
61st and Peoria
Recent videos include a report on crime near 61st Street and Peoria Avenue, where Hawkins follows Bartlett and Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan on a patrol of the area and interviews a liquor store clerk; coverage of a downtown housing complex's ribbon cutting; and a feature on the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology.
Hawkins interviewed Bartlett at City Hall last week for a story about recent developments in downtown's Brady District.
So far, the reach has been limited. The YouTube page had fewer than 50 subscribers Monday, and few videos had more than 200 views.
But interest should increase with coming efforts to publicize the service, officials said.
Communications Director Kim MacLeod said she plans to link the videos to the city's website and has already begun showcasing Hawkins' work to local television stations, who are encouraged to air any footage for free.
The first taker is the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, which has said it will air at least one video, Wright said.
As the program picks up speed, MacLeod said she will have additional members of her department trained to help when needed.
Bartlett said he supports using city resources for the videos if it means informing residents.
"It should be our role (to report our news), as it is with any business," he said. "I think we have an obligation to get the information out."
M. Scott Carter, president of the Oklahoma chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said he has no problem with public entities producing content for public relations purposes, but he objects when that content is portrayed as legitimate news.
He said he's seen state governments and other public entities produce news-style videos before, and they tend to be one-sided.
"I think it's scary," he said. "A lot of them are accepted verbatim, and no one realizes that it's just spin.
"I think a lot of times public officials forget that the role of the press is a watchdog, and when they try (to produce news), they're putting out a one-sided version of whatever is taking place, how funds are being spent or how policy is being developed. I think it takes more than that to know what's going on."
Bartlett said that although "we can pick and choose somewhat what we want to put out," the city has made it a point to keep its reports balanced and accurate.
Hawkins and Nutt are treated as independent reporters, and although they sometimes take story ideas from their superiors, they also generate their own ideas, Wright said.
News integrity is important because the city hopes to convince traditional news stations to air the videos, he said.
"We hope, and I think it's just starting to begin now, that media -- all media -- will trust us to give them good information -- not embellished, but well-presented and well-organized and well-thought-out by two pros that know what they're doing," Bartlett said.
Hawkins worked at KJRH for nearly six years and has also been a reporter in Oklahoma City, Lawton and Fayetteville, Ark.
Nutt worked at KOKI-Channel 23 and KTUL-Channel 8 before spending four years as a photojournalist at KJRH.
After seeing the news from the city's point of view, Nutt said he and Hawkins have realized that reporters with traditional media outlets don't always get it right.
"It can be more one-sided, and a lot of times the city gets slammed and gets bad press when maybe they shouldn't have," he said. "Doing this, this allows us to get out the real stories about what's going on here at City Hall, what's going on behind closed doors that people don't see and don't know about."
Hawkins said she has told negative as well as positive stories. She pointed to coverage of the April 6 Good Friday shootings and a report of a dilapidated neighborhood that will require federal funding to clean.
"I talk about the tough stuff," she said. "There's not a lot of sugar coating that goes on around here.
"My stories are the truth through and through, and that's why for the most part I let the people speak in the story. It's about the people. It's not me."
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486
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