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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?