Watching a station waste money on a custom tag made me just shake my head the other day, and wonder how many of these old school tricks are still around... and not fooling anyone.
Back in the day you'd go to a party, people would find out you worked in television, and you'd end up explaining the business. You could bring people to the station and show them the chromakey wall and watch their jaws drop in amazement. Nobody knew about sweeps, sound bites, ratings, media bias, or any of the things that are common knowledge today.
Just look at magazines like Entertainment Weekly and TVGuide that have sweeps issues and routinely discuss ratings. Or cable talk shows that fill time with chat of bias and media manipulation.
In other words, there are no more media secrets. Everything we do is out in the open.
So here's a list of stuff that needs to be buried in a time capsule. Forever.
-Custom tags: Yes, I mentioned them already, but talk about a waste of money that could be spent in the newsroom. Does anyone really believe a viewer thinks that an average local station really has its own White House correspondent? Please. There's nothing wrong with saying, "Network correspondent Joe Reporter is at the White House."
-Pre-arranged questions on live shots: We discussed this in a seminar years ago and everyone agreed that nothing looks more fake that having a reporter toss back to the anchor, the anchor asking a question, and the reporter having the perfect answer. Just once I'd love to see an anchor ask a question and a reporter say, "Don't know. I'll have to check it out."
-"Closet" live shots: Nighttime live shots so dark that the reporter may as well be in a closet. If you can't see anything but the reporter, don't bother setting up the shot.
-Live shots from car wrecks: Nobody cares.
-Live shots from events that happened hours or even days ago: I love seeing some reporter on the late news in front of a darkened City Hall, or a crime scene that was cleaned up the previous day.
-"Exclusive" banners for stories that everyone is broadcasting, or stories that are so unimportant that no one else wants them. Save the exclusive banners for something special. Use them all the time, and you're crying wolf.
-"Breaking news" banners: See above.
-Teases that don't deliver: Nothing ticks off a viewer more than a great tease followed by a lame story.
-Sweeps stunts: You're in sweeps every day. To assume that people suddenly switch allegiances when the calendar hits November, February or May is ridiculous. You build ratings by doing a solid job every day. Got a great story in September? Don't sit on it for two months. And if you're asked for sweeps ideas, come up with solid stuff that isn't sensationalized.
-Sweeps series: Viewers don't have time for those anymore.
-Stories "that can kill you" during sweeps: If I see one more sweeps piece on the lingering death waiting for me on my dish scrubbie or shopping cart handle...
-Overkill with weather equipment: Go ahead, ask a viewer to explain "doppler." Viewers watch weather for the credibility of the person presenting it, not the equipment. I've seen a few weather maps with so many different radar sweeps it looks like the Hollywood opening of the Academy Awards.
-Bias: In case you hadn't noticed, viewers have figured this one out big time.
Remember, content is still, and always will be, the king. Keep your reporting solid and unbiased, ditch the sensationalism, and people will watch.