Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday's story ideas

Oh, you'll love this. There's something called a "check valve" in gas pumps that can actually malfunction and give you a lot less gas than you're paying for. Check with the people who inspect gas pumps and put those seals on them.

Tax rebate checks will start arriving early on Monday.

Consumers are turning off their land lines and going completely with cell phones. (But if you have a security system in your home, you generally need a land line.)

Nancy Pelosi calls for the government to stop stockpiling oil for emergency reserves and give consumers a break. Check with members of Congress from your market.

The "Wii Diet" will hit store shelves as Nintendo will introduce attachments that lets users measure body mass and do things like yoga.

Apparently the state of Texas charges you an extra fee for your marriage license if you don't go through a course on relationships. What sort of education is available in your market for people about to take the plunge?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Consumer stories: Tipping points

The other day we picked up a flat of great strawberries at the local festival, and thought it would be nice to have some shortcake. So I went to the grocery store and saw a pretty sorry looking cake for eight bucks. I could go out to a nice lunch for that amount.

Now I know I've got butter, sugar, eggs and flour at home, and having the Italian cooking chromosome, I know it will cost me a buck and take ten minutes to whip up a pound cake with no preservatives that will taste a lot better. So I passed on the grocery store cake and made my own.

On the way out of the store I also noticed a twelve pack of Coke was $4.99. I decided I can live without soda as well this summer, went home and brewed a pitcher of iced tea.

I'd reached my tipping point on those items. And as I thought about it, I'm wondering how many others have reached theirs as well in this economy.

Cup of coffee for four bucks or a pound of coffee for six? You make the call.

Bottled water for a dollar or filtered water from the tap for free? No brainer.

Drive the kids two blocks to soccer practice or take a walk?

While most of the sweeps stories have been assigned, NDs are always looking for those "one day hits" to fill in the holes. The economy is the number one story these days, and will remain so for awhile. You could do an economic story everyday and not run out of ideas.

Search out the tipping points in your market. At what point does the consumer say "enough!" and change the marketplace, and the way we live? Which items, services and luxuries will be the first to go? And will we go back to the mindset of the Great Depression, when (my parents told me) nobody threw anything out?

Economic stories need more than just reporting gas prices. Look for the inside story. Find creative people who are dealing with cutbacks. Don't just state the obvious, show consumers how to change their lives and save.

People vote their pocketbook, and if you can save them a buck, they'll vote for you in a ratings book.

Thursday's story ideas

Shortage of staples? (Basic food items, not office supplies.) With some stores rationing things like rice, what's next? (And so much for the Atkins diet.) Might check with some people who lived thru rationing during World War II and find out what it was like.

Gas rationing ahead? There was gas rationing in some states in 1973 & 1979, with limits on how much you could buy. In some cases you could only buy gas on odd and even days, depending on the last digit of your license plate.

Stocking up. With food prices so high, are those warehouse clubs doing big business with people stocking up on bargains?

Zero population growth. With food shortages and global warming, is anyone considering dealing with overpopulation? This was a popular concept years ago that faded away.

Will chauffeuring kids around all the time become a thing of the past? Will kids start riding bikes again?

Growing your own food. What are the easiest things to grow in your market?

Foreclosures and property tax. With people bailing out of homes, municipalities are getting less in tax. How are they cutting costs?

Cereals marketed to children tend to be the unhealthiest on the market.

Tipping. We already know people are dining out less, but are those who still do cutting back on tips? How are waiters and waitresses faring?

Teaching kids about finances. As families cut back (perhaps saying "no" for the first time to their kids) are children being taught any life skills about money management?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Have you "greened" your newsroom?

In honor of earth week, I'm just wondering if amidst all the stories people do about saving the environment if stations are taking any steps to do the same. Are all the lights left on in the edit booths 24 hours a day? Is the entire building left lit up overnight while there are three people in the building? Are the live truck operators starting the generators much too early? Batteries from wireless microphones being recycled? Have the incandescent studio lights been replaced with fluorescents?

And the big one... are managers still printing out memos for everyone on the staff when one posted on the bulletin board will do just fine?

Might make a good feature to show what your station is doing.

Wednesday's story ideas

Some truckers in the southern border states are buying their gas in Mexico to save money.

"Carbon footprint" donations. Where does your money go, and how do you know these green organizations are legit?

Homeless shelters & food banks face tough times with soaring prices. How are they getting by?

Studies show that breathing ozone can kill you. Can you protect yourself?

Things that are more expensive than gas: Soda (about five bucks for a twelve pack) and bottled water. Will consumers go back to tap water?

Political commercials. If you're in a state with an upcoming primary, explain how the political spot buys work.

It's getting warmer, and we'll soon be turning on our air conditioners. Show how shading your central air unit can save money and energy.

Feature: UFO's are back this week, with weird lights in Arizona and Florida. Take that great video from Phoenix and find some locals who have seen things that cannot be explained.

Part of the states in the south are still in a drought. Talk to a local gardening center about the best plants and flowers for the dry weather.

The going green movement continues to get bigger. Find out how your local city is keeping up with the times. Example, adding more recycling centers, parks and playgrounds.

Thanks to Melissa for those last two entries.

Got a story idea? Share it with the rest of the class. Send 'em to

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tuesday's story ideas

Trying to sell your used gas guzzler. How do you get rid of cars like this these days?

Microsoft starts selling Office software on a subscription basis.

Self service checkout becoming more popular as stores look to cut costs and shoppers are tired of dealing with cashiers who are morons. How many people actually check themselves out, and how easy is it? Might also check with post offices that have this service.

Animal blood banks. Yes, Fluffy and Fido need transfusions too. Check with local vets to find out how your pet can help those in need.

Travel bargains. An agent told me that every Presidential election year, the candidates scare people about the economy and travelers cut back. Lots of good deals are out there right now, especially on cruises.

Telecommuting jobs are become very popular as a way to avoid commuting costs. Find someone who has just started working at home. (And don't call me.)

Have speeding tickets dropped in your market since people are being told they can save gas by driving slower?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday's story ideas

There are different kinds of hybrid cars, parallel and series. Explain the difference to consumers.

House passes a bill to enable students to borrow more for student loans, so that they can be even more in debt when they graduate.

Air travel now moves at a pace slower than it did twenty years ago. Show ways you can speed it up by packing smart.

Work related stress is a leading cause of sleep disorders.

Do you now need a bigger down payment to buy a house in light of the mortgage crisis? Check with lenders in your market.

It's "Earth Week" so find a company in your market that has taken steps to go green.

Artificial turf is being investigated for lead content. Are the ball players in your market concerned about playing on fake grass?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

You're in sweeps everyday

As we approach the May book news departments are scrambling to get those great series or single stories in the can. Promotions departments are getting sensational promos ready. And the undercurrent in all of this is the thinking that viewers are suddenly going to switch allegiance if you bust your tail for one month.

Uh, no.

Viewers are creatures of habit and when it comes to local news, very slow to change. And thanks to the term "sweeps" being brought into the mainstream by magazines like TV Guide, viewers are wise to the tricks. Stations that have been plodding along in non-sweeps months suddenly have dozens of exclusives that you have to see, many designed to scare the hell out of you. (My all time favorite was the series on escalator safety called, "Stairway to Death.") Generally every May, November and February I'm told that the following can kill me: restaurant food, water, the paint on my walls, something in the soil, chemicals in my groceries, etc. There are sexual predators living next door, someone is trying to steal me blind, and the teenager down the street is actually a gang lord.

The other nine months, I know I'll be fine.

A very wise ND once told me, "We're in sweeps everyday." You build viewers over the long haul, day after day, by beating the competition and providing stories viewers want to see. I'm always impressed when I see a local station run a great news promo in the dead of August, or during the week after Christmas when supposedly, no one is watching.

Guess what? Someone is always watching. And turning even one viewer, when ratings samples are so small, can make a big difference.

So while I know you'll all turn it up a notch during sweeps, don't just go on auto-pilot the rest of the time. You never know who's watching.