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So What Do You Do, Stephen Bromberg?

A former newspaper editor runs the Fox News Channel's fair and balanced website.

By Jesse Oxfeld - February 24, 2004

As we've read time and time again, Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel has been trouncing its competition in the Nielsen ratings for nearly two years, and its competitors at CNN and MSNBC can't quite figure out what to do to fight back. At FoxNews.com, the channel's companion web site, Murdoch's crew hasn't been quite so lucky: Last month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, the site drew about one-fifth the traffic of top-rated CNN.com and one-third that of MSNBC.com. But, for their part, the Fox News folks do know what to do to improve their site: They've added new, web-only features, including a range of streaming video from the network, and recently introduced a special campaign section, You Decide 2004, featuring comprehensive coverage of political races nationwide. Things seem to be working: Traffic to the site has more than tripled since late 2000. New York Post vet Stephen Bromberg, most recently an editor for Gannett's chain of suburban New York dailies, has overseen FoxNews.com since the summer, and he spoke to mediabistro.com last week about the site, his job, and a dot-com newsroom as compared to a newspaper's.

Birthdate: October 14, 1950
Hometown: Upper Nyack, New York
First section of the Sunday Times: The front section

So what does it mean to be the executive editor of FoxNews.com?
I'm responsible for editorial content on the FoxNews.com website, the meat of the page. It's all the editorial, for all the various sections: Top Stories, Politics, Business, and so forth.

And how much original content is being produced for those sections each day?
A good deal. One of the things we have done is recently is added an only-on-Fox section to our front page, which is very, very specifically stories that are only on Fox. These are a combination of staff-written feature stories as well as video packages that have aired on Fox News Channel and news columns that are exclusive to FoxNews.com. We specifically have put this into a separate section, on the front page, so that people can find things that are just ours alone, separated from the headlines, which are obviously news stories that everybody has.

What's the operation like there? How much of this original content is produced by a dedicated FoxNews.com staff that's writing material for the site, versus coming from some of the TV reporters and producers out in the field?
I would say it's about even. We have several stories each day that are written specifically for our Politics section and our features section, FoxLife. These are staff originals that we have on the site often, and frequently, though not as often, we have stories that are written for our Top Stories and Business sections. These are done by our reporters, and occasionally they're also done by people who work for the channel but are writing specifically for us. For our own staff, we have in the neighborhood of about 35 people here full-time, and in addition we have about five to seven freelancers who work with us.

You've had a career in daily newspapers. I'm wondering what it's like being in that FoxNews.com newsroom as compared to life in a newspaper newsroom.
It's great here. My feeling about the news on our website is that this is news radio for the eyes. What is key here is that, unlike at a newspaper, which has a finite deadline, and you're building toward that all day, what I love here is that at any given second everything can turn around. You are never satisfied with what you have; you're always looking for the next story. And that makes it a very exciting business to be in, a 24/7 operation. No matter how good you current story is, there's always something coming along that may top it. At any given point, no matter how good your story is, it's gonna get old. You don't just put the paper to bed and say, "That's it, that you either did a great job or a lousy job, and we'll come back tomorrow and start from scratch." It's an ongoing situation, and that's exciting.

That does sound exciting. It's interesting that you use the talk-radio analogy. I wanted to ask: The Fox News television channel has had tremendous success with a talk-radio model, with personality-driven news programming. Does that transfer to the web, or are people looking for news on the web seeking something more headline-driven and less about good showmanship?
Well, I didn't use a talk radio analogy; I used a news radio analogy. There's a big difference. First and foremost, this is a news operation. Our job here is to present the news, to present it accurately, present it fast, and present it well—and to present it in a fashion that will be exciting. Personality-driven, that's not our function here. Our function is to deliver the news.

How integrated is your operation, then, into the personality-driven news operation of the on-air Fox News Channel. I mean, does Roger Ailes take a direct interest in what's going on the site?
Well, I don't speak to him every day. Does he take a direct interest? Roger Ailes, I would imagine, takes an interest in everything that has to do with Fox News, as well he should. I know what my job is, I know what our job here is, and we don't speak by any means on a daily basis. We do our job, I like to think that we do it well, and nobody is telling us what we should be doing. What we are doing is what we are supposed do, which is to present the news in a fair and balanced fashion.

Tell me about the You Decide 2004 section that the site launched along with the start of the campaign season? What is some of the content that one will find in there?
The You Decide section is a section very, very professionally devoted to the campaigns: presidential, senatorial, gubernatorial campaigns throughout the country for November. The page was designed to be separate from our Politics section, which is an ongoing section that always appears on FoxNews.com. We have put up there an interactive map that allows you to click and see the election dates, and primary dates, for your state; voter and registration information; candidates and incumbents in every state's entire congressional delegation; an ongoing repository of polls; audio reports from Carl Cameron, our correspondent; a series of election basics, on the candidates, on previous selections; a full election calendar; as well as some ongoing features on some of the ads that the various candidates running; and, of course, the daily news stories.

Is this one of those good examples of synergy, where you're able to post reports from the various off-airs with the candidates, whose reporting there often just isn't time for on the air?
Yes, the TV reporters are on-air, and they are also filing their reports to our system. We have an in-house messaging system, where we get information from our correspondents in field, and we will use that information in the stories that are written.

At this point in the campaign, when it's only a Democratic race, and certainly Fox News viewers tend to be more from the conservative side, is it tough getting interest from the typical Fox News viewership for this stage of the campaign?
Well, first of all, I don't see it as we are appealing to any specific, conservative or liberal audience. I think that our viewers and our readers clearly have an interest in fair and balanced news, and they are very issues-oriented, they are very social-issues oriented. So I think when we are looking at candidates, we are looking at the candidates and we are looking at their positions on very, very important social issues. I don't think that we have any trouble getting anybody interested in the Democratic campaign, by any means. Each of the Democratic campaigns has a position on the vital issues of today, and that's going to be critical to making a decision and November.

And your site is where people can go to get their fair and balanced look at what those positions are, I guess?
Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Jesse Oxfeld is the editor-in-chief of mediabistro.com.



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