Thursday, May 26, 2011

OK, sweeps are over, so everyone can stop trying

Many news executives are under the impression that the average viewers sit at home, remote in hand, furiously switching channels to find the best lead story. In reality, viewers are very slow to change habits, and pretty much stick with a newscast they like.

They now know our secrets. They know about sweeps periods, and that when those months roll around news departments will go all out to impress viewers with investigative stories or simply scare the hell out of them with the latest thing in your home that can kill you.

And then the day after sweeps hits and we see the downward curve. No more special stories, no more two-part series, no more monsters on your dish scrubbie to send you into a dirt nap.

Smart News Directors know that most people exhale when sweeps are over, and start phoning it in. And that's the reason for something called the "follow-up tape." If you're not ready for it, it can cost you a job.

Many people tend to sit back and relax once they've got their resume tape in place. They've got the perfect montage, three solid stories. Out it goes. No reason to try hard anymore until the next job offer.

And then you get a call from a smart ND who says, "Send me your last three stories."

Uh-oh. You're in trouble.

You're last three stories were a one-sided package with a single-source sound bite (that means you only interviewed one person), a piece in which you took a bunch of network tornado video and did a standup, and a story in which you did nothing but interview officials and didn't bother to dress nicely. The News Director sees this and realizes you're only good for three stories in the last two years, and it's hasta la vista, baby.

One of my first News Directors told me, "We're in sweeps every day." That means you can impress a viewer in the middle of August or on Christmas Eve in the same way you can do it during sweeps. The same applies to job hunting. The story you do today might not fall in a sweeps period, but suppose it's one of those three stories a News Director wants to see?

You're on a job interview every day, even if you don't know it.

You don't think the network people checked out the local talent in Joplin, Missouri or Tuscaloosa, Alabama these past few weeks? Or the many stations along the Gulf Coast last summer during the oil spill? You can get spotted many ways without even sending out your resume tape, and dozens of household names have seen their careers take off because they did a great job while someone was watching. Trust me, when I'm on the road for the network, I always check out the local news.

Great stories don't magically fall during sweeps periods. They're out there every day. It's up to you to keep digging as hard as you can, and doing the best job you can.

Your next great package shouldn't wait till November. Do it today.


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