KNBC has Raw deal to put more news on air


An intriguing experiment in broadcast news sneaked on to Southern California's digital airwaves about seven months ago.

News Raw is a digital offshoot of NBC's West Coast flagship station, KNBC-TV Los Angeles. It launched in April as KNBC's digital channel 4.4 and a video-enabled companion page on the Web site with zero fanfare, by design, to give KNBC's news staff time to learn how to use their new digital tool. The brainchild of Robert Long, KNBC's maverick vp and news director, News Raw is at once a throwback to television's roots and a leap into its future.

"We traditionally perform within finite space and time limitations, and yet there is always so much more to say," Long says. With News Raw, "I can reach an audience in ways I could not have conceived of a few years ago. On Election Night (Nov. 7), we did four hours of nonstop coverage that would not have been possible two years ago."

As KNBC began carving up its digital channel allotment, Long made a point of swooping in "to grab some of that space for news."

For now, the News Raw TV channel can be found on the dial the old-fashioned way -- with rabbit ears -- by anyone in the Los Angeles market equipped with a digital TV set. KNBC is in talks with Time Warner Cable to get News Raw a higher profile through a local carriage deal.

At present, News Raw features a loop of two to three hours of original material a day, plus unfiltered, uninterrupted live coverage a la CSPAN of major local news conferences and other events, complete with the not-for-broadcast chatter and technical talk ("MSNBC, do you copy Newscopter 4?") among various production staffers.

Mekahlo Medina, the station's resident Internet/pop culture buzz reporter, serves as News Raw's "news jockey," coordinating feeds and handling various on-air duties, i.e. an entertainment segment that basically consists of playing pop music samples found on and reading user reviews. It's by the bootstraps TV, for sure, but oddly compelling in a viral-video kind of way. It is even starting to attract a little advertising coin from sponsorship deals to Long's delight.

One of the few standing features is "News Raw Inside," a daily 15-20 minute window into the KNBC news staff's morning story planning meeting with editors, reporters and correspondents. On a slowish news day last week, the discussion ranged from a debate over whether Robert Altman's "MASH" was a boxoffice hit in its initial release in 1970 to whether there was any follow-up left to do on actor Michael Richards' racist tirade at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.

News Raw's charter is to allow KNBC's news crew more time to stretch out with stories as well as better use of the hours of footage they collect for every two-minute segment on the station's traditional newscasts. (To do those longer pieces, reporters are even "rediscovering the ancient art of writing," Long notes.) With "News Raw Inside" and other elements, Long also has embraced the lofty goal of bringing more transparency to the newsgathering process.

"We wield cameras and microphones at people," Long says. "We should also be subject to them."