Monday, July 20, 2009

Ratings don't often translate to quality

Someone recently asked me how to find the ratings of a station when applying for a job. The thinking here is that if a station is number one in the market, it must be the best place to work and have the best news product.

Uh, no.

Ratings are perhaps the most deceiving statistic of any station. In some cases, the station that has been on the air the longest is number one because it is the first station people watched in TV's early days. In some markets one network is dominant and it trickles down to the local station. Stations in hyphenated markets (in which stations can be in different towns many miles apart) can often divide the audience geographically, especially if the market extends across two states. And in some cases, the audience just likes trash. (All you have to do is look at reality TV to support that statement.)

I worked for one last place station where I had a ball. Everyone cared, everyone hustled, everyone laughed and cried together. (Some of us would actually meet on Saturday morning in the newsroom to watch the episode of Dallas that the anchor had taped the night before, since no one could afford a VCR in those days.) The ND taught me a lot of good stuff. We did some great stories, but never managed to get those ratings to move. The audience was too set in its ways.

On the other side of the coin. I worked for a number one station which featured reporters that phoned it in, photogs that wouldn't use tripods (I'd never seen that anywhere else) and a newsroom atmosphere that resembled a library. We could have run color bars and still been number one.

When looking for a job, forget ratings, as they mean nothing when it comes to your career. Your only concerns should be the following:

-Will this station offer me the opportunity to develop my talents?

-Does this station offer a supportive atmosphere, one in which people help one another?

-Do the veterans or the ND at this station mentor the young people?

-Does the company treat people well?

-Does the newsroom have positive management? (In other words, does the ND motivate people without using fear and intimidation tactics?)

-Does the current product look good? Is the newscast filled with quality stories, or just a parade of scanner items?

Ratings? Who cares. Find a station that will be good for you and your career, one that will appreciate your contributions, and the ratings won't mean a thing.

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