Shop Talk – Print Versus TV; A Two-Way Veteran Shares His Thoughts

Posted in Shop Talk on February 23, 2013 by sasquatch77
During nearly three decades in the news biz, Scott Orr has done every job imaginable.

During nearly three decades in the news biz, Scott Orr has done every job imaginable.

Our featured guest today is Scott Orr, a reporter for the Prescott Daily Courier. He is a 28 year news veteran, with experience in both print and television journalism. Scott, welcome to the Exigence Report.

We’ve been talking a lot on this blog about the struggle to achieve quality storytelling, while still keeping an eye on breaking news. Was it a difficult balance to strike when you were the assignment editor at KRDO?

S.O. – It was, especially when there’s a push from management to do more of the breaking news. Sometimes TV news managers get so wrapped up in having the fires, shootings and other spot news first, they don’t allow for any time to do quality storytelling. It’s “get it on now” at all costs.

Then the quality stuff becomes a “sweeps only” special, and that’s a shame, because [those stories are] what people remember.

Did you feel that you had any power to make storytelling decisions on your own, or were you under a strict mandate to carry out a breaking news agenda?

I felt very little ability to make decisions except as they related to how to best get breaking news on. That was radically different from my experience at KTVK (an independent station out of Phoenix – ed.), where we were supposed to be first, but not at the expense of all else.

Is the breaking news emphasis also having a change on reporters? In my own experiences at KRDO, reporters who would come in with good story ideas were the exception; many more relied on the assignment editor to provide all of their story ideas.

True. And this differs from print. We don’t HAVE an assignment editor. We are expected to generate our own stories every day–and we can’t get them out of the newspaper, because we ARE the newspaper! I always found it amusing when TV reporters’ story ideas were on page 6A…I’d already read the newspaper and so I saw that. [Television reporters] will bring in sweeps ideas if they are asked, but on a daily basis, they don’t really have the ideas.

I get to pick my own stories. That’s something the TV folks don’t get; if you have your own ideas, [newsroom editors] don’t tell you what to do. That’s a real plus.

What else is different between the two mediums?

I can tell complete stories now. As a TV producer, I had 15 seconds to tell the whole story most times. That’s, what? 100 words? I just ran a 1,250 word story today. It was comprehensive and, I think, interesting.

Scott gets the scoop on a high profile love-triangle murder.

Scott gets the scoop on a high profile love-triangle murder.

It sounds like print media is much better suited to good storytelling, despite that however, the newspaper industry struggles. The trend now seems to be that newspapers are trying to be more like television in some ways.

Yes, and it is annoying. [Print managers] want videos for the web, but don’t want to allow time to do them right. I was just asked recently if I could [limit my shooting] to the first three questions in my interview (Thus creating a smaller video clip for faster ingesting onto a video server – ed.). I said no, and good thing. The best stuff was 20 minutes in!

So it sounds like both media types have their pros and cons. That being said, do you have any advice for your former TV colleagues on how to encourage better storytelling?

It’s hard to do. You have to motivate yourself. You must find the stories that the paper will have tomorrow. [I was fond of saying] when I was a [TV News Director], “There’s nothing happening? I guarantee there will be news on the paper’s front page tomorrow. Go find it.”

You need to find a way to produce quality quickly. That’s the challenge. I [also] wonder if the fact that TV reporters change markets so much doesn’t keep them from adequately learning any one city.

Scott bring added value to his newsroom through his longtime affiliation with the Civil Air Patrol.

Scott brings added value to his newsroom through his longtime affiliation with the Civil Air Patrol.

(All images in this post were provided by Scott Orr. Use without express written permission is prohibited.)

Shop Talk; A view from the producer’s seat.

Posted in Shop Talk with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2013 by sasquatch77

From time to time, I will be bringing you conversations with the men and women who are out there in the trenches, dealing with storytelling issues on a day-to-day basis. Today in Shop Talk, we’re speaking with Chris Loveless, the 10PM producer for NEWSCHANNEL 13 (KRDO).  Chris is an 11 year news veteran who has dealt with the entire spectrum of the news business here in southern Colorado.

A major theme here on the Exigence report is the conflict between ambulance chasing news and the type of storytelling that wins Edward R Murrow awards. How do you view that relationship, and what effect does it have on your job?

CL – Ambulance chasing news is the best way to get the biggest bang for your buck if you’ve got a small staff and a tight budget. I think that’s why you see so much of it. Storytelling still has its place, and it is a legitimate service to the community. The challenge is finding the time to craft those stories, and still get the “must cover” news of the day taken care of. In general I think the business is doing too much ambulance chasing and not enough storytelling right now.

Ex Report – Do you see any way that could be alleviated?

CL – Sure. Commit to being a station that does quality journalism, and follow through with that commitment. That means you may not cover every fender bender or robbery, but it’s okay to be okay with that. It’s okay to say telling a good story serves a higher purpose, and commit to doing that.

Do you buy into the idea that viewers prefer breaking news? My personal view is that we often don’t give news audiences nearly enough credit for wanting better stories.

CL – [Do viewers value] legitimate breaking news? Yes. A fender bender shouldn’t be breaking news. A robbery at Arby’s shouldn’t be breaking news. I think the viewers are smarter than that. Or, at least the viewers we are trying to attract. When real, big spot news happens you have to be all over it. When you treat a run of the mill robbery like the second coming, you look stupid, and I think most viewers get that. Unfortunately I think the less educated viewers are the ones who post the most on station Facebook and Twitter accounts, and I’m afraid oftentimes they are the ones we are trying to impress. It’s a mistake in my opinion because while they are the most vocal, I don’t think they are in the majority.

What role does management play? Is there pressure from their end to maintain a war room type atmosphere?

CL – I think this is where the news philosophy of the general manager and news director comes into play. If you’ve got a GM and a news director who are truly committed to storytelling, they will make it happen. A lot of news managers these days would rather go the ambulance chasing route because it’s easier & cheaper to gather, sell as something really important, and package with minimal resources. I also think it’s important for all levels of news management to be on the same page. You can’t have a GM who wants to tell stories and a news director who wants to chase ambulances. In that scenario, the newsroom staff has no idea what it’s supposed to be doing and the organization loses its focus.

And what about the tendency for management to defer to consultants, do they complicate that relationship? [Ed. Note – It is common practice amongst local news stations to consult with research companies and image consultants. Everyone does it.]

CL – I think most consultants push ambulance chasing, but not all. I think if you are a manager who wants to tell stories, you can find a consultant who will help you accomplish that goal. It would also serve newsroom managers well to remember that consultants are just there to consult. Their opinions and advice are not gospel.

What’s the current atmosphere in your newsroom? Are you dealing with these issues on a nightly basis?

CL – In recent weeks our organization [KRDO] has started to shift its focus back from ambulance chasing to storytelling, particularly on the newscast I produce, the late news. The biggest conflict we’ve run into with that change is that while before, in case of say… a robbery… a 10:00pm reporter would be expected to go to that robbery and cover it for the early newscasts. Now, if the 10:00pm reporter has a good story they are working on, they don’t have to cover that robbery for the early newscasts. That’s created some consternation on the part of the early newscast producers who feel like they’ve lost resources.

The Myth of the “Plugged In” Home Viewer.

Posted in Getting It Wrong with tags , , , on February 21, 2013 by sasquatch77
These producers have no idea they are about to be screwed out of their top story. (photo courtesy NBC news10)

These producers have no idea they are about to be screwed out of their top story. (photo courtesy NBC news10)

It’s a typical day in the newsroom. Things have gone well today. Your reporters are all out in the field, working on good stories – and then it happens. Someone looks up at the bank of TV screens that are set to monitor the competing local stations – two of your rivals have decided to send a live crew to that three car accident that you didn’t think was a very big deal. Guess who just lost one of their reporters to breaking news.

This scenario plays out countless times on any given day and not just here, but industry wide. Another TV station has just dictated your news content for the rest of the night, because “They sent a crew… We’re getting our asses handed to us!”

Local TV news is often conducted with a war room mentality that compels much of the staff to spend the day watching the competition’s every move. There is some validity to this; you do not want to be the one station that got caught with its pants down on a homicide, or a wild police chase that spans half the city. But here’s where the problems arise. All too often, in the name of “keeping up with the Jonses”, good stories are tossed aside in favor of covering minor incidents.

And here’s the worst part; people at home don’t watch the news the way we do. No one at home has four TV monitors set up in their living room, ready to switch between stations at the first sign of a breaking news scoop. Most are loyal customers, ready and willing to watch whatever stories you have selected for them that evening. The myth of the plugged in home viewer causes knee-jerk reactions and snap decisions, and all too often, quality journalism is the victim.

Some questions to ask yourself before trying to cater to this mythical fickle viewer:
• Could the story have been covered with a single photographer? A map, a graphic?
• Will this affect more than a handful of people?
• And this one’s important; Is the breaking news story better than the one it’s replacing?

Sweeping Up a Mess

Posted in Getting It Wrong on February 21, 2013 by sasquatch77

sweeps broom

It’s sweeps season, and that means local TV stations are pulling out all the stops in the name of nabbing more viewers. That should mean an injection of quality news stories, right? Well, as it turns out, it’s a double edged sword.

For the uninitiated, sweeps periods are specially allotted times of the year during which TV viewing habits are tracked more closely than usual.  The reason? Those numbers recorded in “The Book” are used throughout the rest of the year to set advertising rates.  Having “Big Numbers” gives your sales reps more leverage when signing up new advertisers.

At the local stations I’ve had experience with, sweeps months (there are four throughout the year) are when reporters pull out all the stops. They save their best material so that those pieces can be heavily promoted during the sweeps period.  And to be sure, there are some great stories that result from this practice, but there’s one problem.

Invariably, what would happen in my newsroom is this: Reporters and photographers would be given “work days”, days off to pursue a big sweeps story – off limits to the whims of the assignment editor. As sweeps stories began to back up however, we would find ourselves short staffed and therefore less effective at reporting daily news.  To repeat – pursuing quality stories would result in a staffing crunch – resulting in a weaker newscast DURING SWEEPS.

The solution? Make a stronger effort to pursue big stories all year long.  The result will be a better overall product and more loyal viewers, which will in turn send you into sweeps as a stronger organization. And if 90% of this business is perception anyways, isn’t it time for your promotions department to start pumping up stories like its sweeps ALL THE TIME?

Endangered Species; Why a Disappearing Breed of Journalism is Exactly What We Need

Posted in Getting It Right on February 20, 2013 by sasquatch77
CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia reports on set. (photo ctsy. of KMGH)

CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia reports on set. (photo ctsy. of KMGH)

Lest you think this site is solely about the gloom and doom side of the news biz, fear not. Here at the Exigence Report, I also want to highlight news organizations that are getting it right.

Exhibit #1 – KMGH News7 in Denver.

The ABC affiliate in Denver is doing something few TV stations are doing these days, and they’re doing it better than most. KMGH continues to employ a sizable staff of reporters and behind the scenes researchers dedicated solely to investigative news.

The CALL7 news team regularly presents stories with real depth, hard hitting facts, and unprecedented behind the scenes access. They are able to do this because they are talented of course, but also because of one very important factor; the investigative team is left alone to do their work, and they operate largely free from the breaking news side of the newsroom.

Take a look at the difference it can make.  Here’s CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia going deep behind the scenes to reveal  life-and-death safety concerns at Pueblo’s State Hospital. And here’s a follow-up story where we can clearly see the major changes that came as a direct result of John’s report.

You need to recognize how important this is. The independent investigative news team is a dying breed in our industry. Of course, it helps to have deep pockets (for the extra staff), but if every station would try to keep just one investigative reporter on its staff, it could make a huge difference for a lot of viewers.

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