Friday, April 29, 2011

Training the viewers

My cat knows that around dinnertime she can look at me through the window and I'll drop what I'm doing and give her something to eat.

She's been trained. (Though most cat owners would argue that I'm the one who's trained.)

For years viewers were trained to turn on the news at dinnertime. They'd get the national stuff, then the local, or vice versa depending on where they lived. And, for the most part, television news people didn't waste their time.

On a recent flight I sat next to a young married couple, probably in their early thirties. They asked what I did for a living, then I asked them if they watched local news. Bottom line, it was a waste of their time. Nothing but crime and car chases. "Their stories don't interest me," said the woman.

They've been trained to expect that, because in the past few decades news organizations have, for the most part, taken the easy way out. Oh sure, we're in sweeps now, so you'll see all sorts of enterprise stories. But the minute the calendar hits late May, bada-bing, they're back to chasing the scanner and combing through press releases.

There have never been more news outlets in our history. People have unlimited news sources from which to choose.

It's time to train them like we did thirty years ago.

How can you make your newscast appointment television again? By providing stories that viewers have to watch right now. Stories so good they won't want to wait for your webmaster to load them on the website. Stories that truly affect their lives, tell them something interesting, or show them a different angle.

You can't do that chasing the scanner or pouring through the assignment file.

News Directors in big markets and great stations are always looking for enterprise reporters. They can send anyone out to cover a disaster; the story is right in front of you. But reporters who can make viewers stop and watch are becoming rare. Those reporters are the ones who will move up the ladder. And these days, you can do it quick because those reporters are so hard to find.

But you need to train yourself to find those great stories before you can train a viewer to watch them.

The enterprise story has never been more important in the history of television news. Because it is so rare. If you want to really stand out, find those stories.


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