A look inside how Scripps is approaching OTT, political coverage and more

Scripps continues to grow, with more than 20 new stations expected to be acquired this year.

We caught up with Sean McLaughlin, vice president of news, Local Media, The E.W. Scripps Company, to learn more about what Scripps is doing in OTT, and how they are approaching political and investigative coverage.

Here’s our interview with him:

Tell us a little about Scripps’ footprint today:

Scripps has a strong and growing local media footprint. When we close on the 15 TV stations we are acquiring from Cordillera, we will have over 50 stations serving communities across the country. Plus we’ve announced the acquisition of eight more from the Nexstar-Tribune merger divestitures. As we grow our footprint, we remain focused on journalism and serving our local communities with the news and information that matters to them.

How is Scripps approaching OTT?

We’ve been doing a lot of experimentation with over-the-top over the last 18 months in our Local Media division; it’s one of our biggest priorities at this moment. It’s a fast-growing landscape both from a consumer standpoint and in terms of the revenue opportunities.

Scripps committed to dedicating 100 minutes a week at each station through last year’s election. Why was that so important to the company?

We’re committed to having an informed electorate; we think that’s a critical element of a thriving democracy. The commitment to 100 minutes of coverage each week leading up to the elections is something we’ve done for several years. It’s part of our comprehensive strategy for political coverage. We want to help our viewers and audiences make informed decisions and offer them a variety of ways to access that information, whether it’s on-air or through our digital platforms.

One standout element of our political coverage was our national election-season show, “The Race,” which was a collaborative effort across the company, including our partners at Newsy, Scripps’ national news network. That show, coupled with our overall commitment to political coverage, even earned the company a Water Cronkite Award for Excellence in Political Journalism in March.

What kind of coverage was Scripps doing in those 100 minutes, and do you see yourself doing something like that in 2020?

We focused a lot on the issues that were important in our local markets throughout the election. We traveled to some of the key battleground states and congressional districts that were part of the story. We tried to get at the heart of the frustration of the electorate. We found some interesting people and great stories. Throughout, we stayed away from commodity content and focused on substantive journalism.

Looking ahead to 2020, we will have robust coverage of political issues throughout our markets and continued collaboration with our partners in the National Media division to cover these issues in ways that resonate with the communities we serve.

How is Scripps approaching the challenge of getting content from the field in the hands of consumers as fast as possible?

Technology is helping us out there. Most of our newsrooms are utilizing cameras that allow us to get video back to our newsrooms instantaneously. Many of our stations have moved from a traditional newsroom structure of assignment desks to real-time desks, which allows us to pull down video and get the content deployed to the consumer as quickly as possible. This is part of our continuous evolution of the newsroom workflow. The real-time desk is the heart of the newsroom, and they operate under the idea of being digital first and broadcast distinct.

What are you working on at the national level around big journalism and investigative reporting?

We’ve continued to grow our depth of investigative journalism. For example, look at WKBW in Buffalo last year. When we acquired the station, they didn’t have an investigative team, but now they’re doing amazing work. The WKBW team’s investigation into child sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church in Western New York was probably the biggest story in Buffalo that year and continues to resonate. (The series, “Fall from Grace,” was just announceda winner of an award from Investigative Reporters and Editors.)

We implemented a content strategy last year that’s fundamentally built around enterprise and investigative reporting, and we’re beginning to see sizable changes in the look and feel of our newscasts as a result of that.

We continue to focus on a lot of training in this area. Our goal is to have the best investigative units in the business – plain and simple.

Any other exciting initiatives going on at Scripps you’d like to share?

At the end of the day, content strategy and OTT are the two things driving us this year. We are focused on journalism. More and more, our newsrooms are focusing on investigative journalism and less so on the commodity content that consumers can find anywhere.