News flash: The internet has rendered the talking heads of cable news largely irrelevant to huge swathes of viewers. But Fox News has found the solution, and it looks like Willy Wonka's iPad factory.
Today, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith unveiled Fox's new breaking news studio, called the News Deck. The plan is to break all kinds of paradigms by putting the internet on TV.
"Just like you, we get our news across multiple platforms," Smith says during the tour. "And this is the place where viewers can watch us sort it all out as it happens." In other words, those 55-inch touchscreens littered around the stage? They'll be used by news staff to scan social media and the web in real time, so that Fox News can finally be faster than CNN at reporting unverified breaking news from Twitter.
"We're trying to fuse this old way of doing TV news with this new reality, which is smartphones, apps, the internet, your computer," senior executive producer Kim Rosenberg says. Because we use smartphones and computers for all of our info now, Fox is putting a pumpkin patch of giant smartphones on its broadcast set. BOOM. TV is relevant again.
The News Deck—I get the Holodeck thing I guess, but Command Center is always a better choice—is complemented by a 38-foot-long video wall that Smith says is going to be used as a tool for showing photos and video. "I can take this lady who's been evacuating from a hurricane zone and move it over here," Smith says, moving a photo across the wall with a remote control.
"People aren't so linear," says Jay Wallace, vice president of news. "They don't sit down and watch TV at a certain hour and stick with the same thing from show to show to show."
That's a very valid point, and one Fox is assuredly well aware of as its viewership continues to grow older. More people are getting their news from their devices, but how does filming staffers using enormous versions of those devices connect? Who's going to give up their tablet to watch someone else cruise Twitter on TV?
Fox promises that it's going to use the newsroom to sift through social media and breaking reports in real time, and report on what's true. In other words, it's billing it as a live TV companion to your social feeds. But does breaking news reporting really need to get faster?
Smith says "information specialists" will work on the "Big Area Touchscreens" to sort through vetted sources to bring news quickly—maybe a report from the New York Times and a couple of tweets, he says. It's definitely ambitious, but it's also hard to see the value. Every single major news event this year—the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, the Boston bombings, and Navy Yard shootings stick out—has been marred by conflicting reports spreading rapidly through socials. Viewers who are truly concerned about immediate-breaking news stories are already using Twitter and other sources. The rest? They just want to hear the truth.