Hands-on approach fuels digital success in Birmingham

When WIAT in Birmingham was tasked with reprioritizing its newsroom to focus on digital, it was a shock to the system.  Like many stations, broadcast television had always been the primary focus.  Making a change like that wouldn’t be easy.  Quite frankly, they needed a shift in culture.

“That’s probably the biggest thing — the culture.  This team is aggressive every single day,” News Director Rob Martin said about recently changes in their newsroom.

In the first part of 2019, WIAT shifted its personnel to get more people working on cbs42.com.  The plan called for more content producers and reporters who worked exclusively for the digital platform.

Emma Simmons was tasked with leading this digital evolution. As WIAT’s new executive producer of digital content, it was Simmons’ job to change the culture and analytics.

“Being first was a top priority.  As soon as our reporters had information, it was online.  We’re not waiting for them to turn a package that goes on air,” Simmons said.


The results started to roll in.  After going through an extended period with fairly flat numbers, 2019 brought major movement for the team in Birmingham.  From June 2018 to June 2019, web views doubled and video views nearly quadrupled.

Simmons would tell you the culture shift ultimately led to those analytics.  Martin would agree but point to Emma’s hands-on approach.

WIAT News Director Rob Martin

“Every afternoon I walk through the newsroom, and Emma is walking them through some sort of training.  Every day she is one-on-one with just about every member of our digital team,” Martin said.

The secret to success may ultimately come back to regular feedback.  It’s something all managers know they need to give but don’t always prioritize.  For Simmons, she’s made it a priority that’s paid off.

“Often, we always have to dish out criticism,” Simmons said of her role. “I always want to point out the positives.”

Simmons says strategy has been key.  She and the team regularly reevaluate their plan placing an emphasis on on-demand and live video.  Along with that, the fundamentals are key – which means double-checking all work.

For Simmons and the team in Birmingham, the formula to success has been a culture shift fueled by passion and regular feedback.  And for her hard work and effort, Simmons takes home the honor of our July 2019 Digital First Impact Award!


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