CRAWFORD | To boldly go -- new set, newscast mark new step for W - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | To boldly go -- new set, newscast mark new step for WDRB News

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There's a glass case on the wall outside the elevator in the WDRB newsroom on Muhammad Ali Blvd. It's a pretty important spot.

The case isn't filled with trophies or awards. Instead, at the top, it has these words: "Welcome New Employees."

Over the past couple of months, I've found myself consulting it several times after I've passed through the newsroom and seen yet another co-worker I didn't know. The case is always well-populated. In the media business in 2014, this is not happening many places.

Where did all these people come from? Where did any of us come from?

Today at WDRB-TV, we walk into our own little version of Oz.

At 6 o'clock, not only will the station unveil a new kind of newscast in a traditionally competitive time slot we've not used for news before, it will do so on a new set unlike anything we've seen not only in Louisville, but this side of ESPN.

We're not in Kansas, anymore. I'm not even sure we're in Louisville. This is a network-quality look.

There are 80-inch touchscreen monitors with telestrator capabilities. There's a bank of 15 LCD monitors that make up a 21-foot-long video screen. The walls, honest to God, change colors.

So that's exciting. But look behind the curtain (in our version of Oz, you're allowed). Over the past ten days, not only have the news crews, producers, camera operators, anchors, meteorologists, directors and everyone else at WDRB continued doing regular newscasts (in a bit of a scaled-down fashion in our temporary studio, not that it was very noticeable), but they've rehearsed those same newscasts every day from the new studio.

I didn't have a big role to play in those rehearsals, but I did sit in on a couple of them, and was impressed at how so many professionals adapted to the new technology at their fingertips to create a newscast that appears to be as seamless as the old one.

When Rick Bozich and I rehearsed our Wednesday webcast on the new set, it felt like being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. I asked Bozich, "Where is the gas pedal on this thing?" Take her out, Mr. Sulu, full speed.

But fancy as it is -- and we'll all be learning how to best take advantage of all these bells and whistles over time -- it isn't the biggest change to happen at this station.

The biggest change is outside those studio doors.

I arrived two years ago when a lot of the things you can see now were things that Block Communications chairman Allan Block, WDRB president and general manager Bill Lamb and vice president and director of news Barry Fulmer were only dreaming about. But they were more than just promises in a meeting. They represented a commitment. Today, we can check many of them off the list.

A building expansion that more than doubled the size of the newsroom. Done.

An expansion of the staff, including six reporters for new newscasts, three producers for various shows, and six web reporters who came from The Courier-Journal in areas like the courts, politics, public policy, business, education and sports. And (no small thing) a new parking lot to accommodate the growing staff. Done, done, done, done.

New vehicles for a lot of those people to get around town in. I've said, the Louisville Assembly Plant has no better friend than WDRB with all the Ford Escapes our news staff is driving. Done.

A top-to-bottom redesign and enhancement of WDRB.com. Done.

Live web streaming for every newscast. Done.

New apps for WDRB Sports (for the iPad) and a weather app that is one of the best in the country. Done.

Weekend newscasts, Saturday and Sunday morning, which have rated among the market's leaders since they debuted. Done.

And as of this evening, a 6 p.m. newscast. Done.

State of the art set and studio. Done.

All of these things are great. But they are, within this building, very much seen as just the framework on which we're building a news operation that will serve this city with distinction for a long time to come. They are the first blows in this effort, rather than a culmination of anything. It's been a long climb for this news department, which began in 1990 with just a half hour of news five nights a week at 10. Now, with 55 hours of news programming per week and initiatives in other segments of media, we have the opportunity to run.

It's all built upon the notion that we can practice journalism in a way that embraces this new social media-online age without letting go of some old principles. We can use the traditional written word, tell stories via video, seek out complex issues and stories beneath the surface, challenge information we are presented and act responsibly in all events. In its contract with viewers, the station vows that "each story will teach, inform, entertain or resolve or it will not air."

Last Thursday night, I watched our 10 p.m. newscast. It began with a story that was happening as we came on the air -- a pregnant woman and her two children had been hit by an SUV while walking across Main Street after watching Disney on Ice at the KFC Yum! Center.

Those are the kinds of stories that news programs all scramble to report. What nobody else had was a story WDRB reported six weeks prior -- an analysis of pedestrian deaths in Louisville, showing that the city ranks among the nation's leaders, complete with discussions from various city officials, victims and an interactive map of pedestrian fatalities.

The newscast then moved to its planned lead -- more than four minutes of reporting of a natural gas line rupture and explosion near US 42 in Prospect, which led into an in-depth report on another natural gas explosion, in Adair County, Ky., last February, and an analysis of why it happened, backed by even more reporting online.

That report gave way to an education report on plans for changes to a local elementary school, including proposals to give iPads to all students and an 8-to-5 school day. By the time Rick Bozich and I came on in a sports segment to talk about University of Louisville quarterback Will Gardner, I felt like we were slacking!

When I came here two years ago, I thought Rick and I would figure out how to adapt to television, continue focusing on our writing for the web, and try to inch our way forward into a new way of doing things. What I didn't realize was that the newsroom would move at an even faster pace than we would.

Over the last couple of years from time to time, reporters from other outlets have asked us about what we're doing here, most recently a writer from the Poynter Institute, who was curious about our work at WDRB after a high-profile sports columnist in Indianapolis left to take a job with a television station there.

When I got to WDRB back in 2012, I wondered if anyone else would try to do what we're doing. Two years later, I wonder how long it will be until everyone is trying to do it.

Turn the television on at 6 o'clock, or at any time. The future that leaders at WDRB told Rick Bozich and me about before we came to work here? That future is on in the mornings, at 11:30, 4, 6 and 10, and online at WDRB.com. It isn't always perfect, but if you have been watching for the past two years, you have seen it moving -- and not slowly -- in the right direction. This week, the station's news department takes another major step.

May it live long and prosper.

Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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