But very often ratings are not made available to the staff. If you work at a station that subscribes to the theory that ratings books must be guarded like government secrets,
By the way, if you want the ratings and work in one of these stations, you have a few options. One, make friends with someone in the sales department. Two, ask a a staffer from another station in the market. Three, see if the local newspaper has them; very often a media columnist has access to the numbers.
Now, what do they mean? Well, there are two ways to look at ratings: book to book, or year to year. For instance, you might compare the November book to the May book. Or, you might compare this year's November book to last year's November book.
Stations usually look at both and choose the method that best serves the sales department. For instance, let's say last November book was lousy, May was great, and this November was somewhere in between. You don't want to show the drop from May to November, but you do want to show the increase from last November to this November. Got it?
Confusing, I know, but that's the way things work.
What do numbers mean for you? Well, if you're an anchor or producer and things are heading up, you'll want a copy of said numbers to include with your resume tape. Showing that you can build an audience is a good selling point when looking for a job. If you're a reporter it's hard to show that you had a specific impact on the numbers.