Sweeping Up a Mess

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?


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