Archive for news

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?