Archive for the Getting It Wrong Category

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?