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A sneak peek at what WCCO’s Wire is all about

Who’da thunk it? A traditional media outlet embracing start-up thinking and collaborating with competitors in developing a site that allows staff and public interaction in gathering information. Now that is innovation.

wireAt its latest Bloginar gathering, WCCO-TV previewed The Wire, a site that will allow users to see a story develop over time. It also allows staffers and users to interact and contribute to stories as they develop. I had a chance to sit down with WCCO’s director of new media, John Daenzer to talk more about what WCCO hopes to accomplish with The Wire and to get a pre-launch walk-through of the service.

The origins of The Wire can be traced to a huddle with WCCO Brand Director Casey Kespohl nearly two years ago. “We had been thinking about creating some sort of environment to engage people more in not only news gathering but local news and information,” says John. “We didn’t know what it was.” (To see what it is right now, take a look at this screencast and commentary by John. Note: There is also a list view of The Wire in the offing.)

The launch date for The Wire, built in collaboration with the Nerdery at SierraBravo, was originally slated for Nov. 1, but that obviously will be pushed back as they continue to secure funds to develop it.

At the mention of funds, I realized that my conversation with John sounded more like one I might have with a start-up, rather than one I’d have with a director of a department for a large media organization. Admittedly, funding for these sorts of projects, even at the corporate level, is tricky. As a former employee of CBS myself on the radio side, I can speak from experience, and I’m sure it’s true at many companies, securing a budget for a project that deviates from “traditional” business development is almost more difficult than getting funding from complete strangers.

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John points out that balancing the time and resources that will be spent on what WCCO traditionally does versus developing new avenues is a constant challenge. “My boss says we’re like scouts on a pony that ride ahead on the road to find new things … coming back and reporting what is a good road and what is not,” noted John. “The Wire is a road we’re riding down.”

This securing of funds continues, and John makes no bones that WCCO is open to outside money to complete the building and launch of The Wire. “We are actively seeking a sponsor to help build and launch The Wire. If you’re XYZ telecom, you’re not just looking to throw money around. You spend very carefully and strategically, especially right now.” He continues, “We believe we are going to find a company that believes something like this will benefit our community — and benefit the sponsor financially.”

Funding will also be determined by the return … the monetization of The Wire. Beyond the more traditional advertising and ability to purchase an event on the timeline, John and his team have considered other opportunities.

In fact, when I threw out the concept of selling a white label version to other media outlets, it was obviously not a new idea inside the building. John noted that other CBS-owned stations that have heard about this have expressed interest. “When can I have it?” is how John describes their excitement. He goes on to say, “My visceral response is ‘How much money do you have to help me build it?’ Within CBS, it’s all the same pot … Getting money from other stations within our family is not really worth it. Now outside … we haven’t really gone down that business model yet.”

Even though they haven’t acted on that new business model, it’s quite refreshing for a media fan like me to hear a company looking beyond its safety zone to examine the core vs. growth strategy. “I think it’s a great reflection of our leadership. I’m proud to be part of that,” says John.

An equally exciting statement that John made along this “start-up vibe” was that of dealing with competition. “This past Tuesday [at the Bloginar] I was asked why I was showing this, now somebody could steal it.” He goes on to say, “We have to worry about what is best for us and good for users and do it in a way that we think is best, as quickly as we can.”

In fact, in regards to The Wire, WCCO plans on welcoming input from those most would consider competitors. In our walk-through, he even notes posting items to the timeline from (gasp) other TV stations. Imagine a story from KARE11 being posted on WCCO’s Wire.

Start-up thinking and collaborating with competitors … from a traditional media outlet? Now that is innovation.