Friday, February 11, 2011

It's the content, stupid

Bill Clinton won the Presidency in 1992 with his in-house campaign slogan of, "It's the economy, stupid." Which meant, of course, that the one thing voters cared most about was the economy.

So I have to laugh when I see stations continually tinker with everything but the one thing that brings viewers back night after night.


Every market seems to have one or even two of these stations. Every two years or so they change slogans, sets, graphics, the name of the newscast. They go through anchors like Kleenex. They try high story counts, driving viewers to the Internet, social networking, giveaways during the newscast in sweeps.

And most of the time, those stations never move in the ratings. Because they don't give the viewers what they want most.


In this economy, in this time in history, people have no more tolerance for BS. You either give them something worth their time, or they'll change the channel. They don't want to be teased, prodded, sent to their computer to search for more information, or given the weather forecast five times in thirty minutes. The job market is horrible, money is beyond tight, world economies are collapsing, the Middle East is on the brink...

And local stations give viewers a YouTube video of a convenience store robbery.

These days, more than ever, you must make your stories relevant. If you're a reporter, find stories that really affect the viewer. If you're a producer, stop filling your newscast with garbage. If you're a News Director, consider your title... and start demanding that your staff gather actual news.

You want better ratings? It's the content, stupid.

You want a better resume tape? Fill it with meaningful content.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Snow shoveling update

Well, I've heard from so many of you who did the snow shoveling heart rate package that I should tell you where the idea originally came from.

It was the inspiration of Craig Smith, who is a terrific reporter at WRGB in Albany, New York. So if you want to thank someone, he's the guy.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The most difficult talent to master in television news

Live shots? Nope.
Editing? Uh-uh.
Reading the prompter? Not even close.

The most difficult thing to master in our business has nothing to do with technology, reporting skills or writing ability. It's something internal, and something that can help your career or send it running off the rails.

Give up?

It's patience.

And for this instant download generation, it's even harder to control than it was back in the day.

The problem for most people in the business is two-fold. First, many people are working in bad situations. Second, most people have dreams of reaching the top rung on the ladder.

The result is often a knee-jerk response to any job offer that comes along. "Anywhere but here" is a battle cry heard in many stations. Problem is, there are a lot of places just like the station at which you're working.

Jumping at the first thing to come along can be a huge mistake. The rose colored glasses we all wear in our youth turn into 20/20 hindsight when we realize we've made a mistake.

Yes, competition is fierce, and always has been in this business. But if you're talented, you'll be in demand. Problem is, some people aren't sending out enough tapes.

I've heard people actually say they've been told to send out five tapes, then wait, then send five more.


Why not send out a bushel of tapes all at once? If you only send out a handful of tapes and get one offer, you 'll never know what else could have been out there.

As with any job offer, take time to step back and breathe. Sleep on it. Take off the rose colored glasses. Do some homework on the station and the News Director. Track down former employees and get honest opinions about the place.

And if it sounds just like the bad situation you're in, pass.

Learning to be patient can be incredibly difficult when you're broke and chomping at the bit to move on. You see other people less talented getting great jobs, and suddenly you just have to go. Right. Now.

The term "lateral move" is often associated with salary, but it can also describe the situation. If you're in one bad station and go to another bad station, you've made a lateral move.

Wait for the right job. It will pay off in the long run. And when you think about it, the long run is the only thing that matters.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sometimes, you truly miss the obvious

I'm thinking this is a scenario that took place sometime in the last year...

Super Bowl planner 1: So, the game's on Fox next year.

Super Bowl planner 2: Great. So what are they gonna run after the game?

Super Bowl planner 1: A show called "Glee." It's about a high school glee club. It's a really hot show with great songs and terrific choreography. Kids love it and download all the songs, and adults like the show too. It's something parents and children can watch together.

Super Bowl planner 2: Gotcha. So, what are we going to do about a halftime show? We need something with great songs and terrific choreography. And remember, the game is on Fox, so it should be something they can use to promote their network. Something that parents and kids can both enjoy. I wish I could think of a group that has great songs, terrific choreography, and plays naturally on Fox. Hmmmm....

Super Bowl planner 1: I know...let's get a group that sounds so obnoxious that everyone over 35 will hit the mute button!

So, let me get this straight.... no one from the Fox network or the NFL thought that the kids from Glee might make a good halftime show? That this might be a once in a lifetime chance to promote a musical prime time hit? If every there was a "Hello, McFly" moment, this was it.

This is a wonderful example of missing the obvious. Yet it's something we all do at one point or another when putting a story together. Sometimes we're too close to things, and we need to back up and take a wide angle look. Or, heaven forbid, ask someone else for some input as to how the story might be covered.

Typical stories that miss the obvious:

-Education stories that talk about curriculum, funding, overcrowding, or teachers, yet never show a single student, classroom, or teacher.

-Stories concerning citizens complaining about some city service that never have a soundbite with a citizen or show video of what the complaint is about.

-Stories that talk about a specific problem yet never show it to the viewer.

-Stories about Medicare of Social Security that never include a senior citizen.

-Stories about tax increases that never include a taxpayer.

Get the picture?

The one thing you have to consider is this: Who does this story affect? If it's school children, show them and talk to them. If it's parents, same deal. If it's older people, get out and talk to them, get some b-roll.

I love it when people get the third and fourth sides of the story, but make sure you don't miss the obvious in doing so. If you do, you'll be missing the key elements to the story... it's kind of like singing the National Anthem without knowing the words.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Sweeps stuff

Despite all the changes in our industry, we're still pretty much under the thumb of the ratings and the three sweeps months of February, May and November. Some things have changed over the years; the public now understands the concept of sweeps, and they know everyone will go all out during these three months. Of course, smart NDs know that you're in sweeps all year... most viewers don't change their habits for one month. You build an audience over time by doing a solid job every day.

That said, you guys are still expected to go the extra mile. In some stations, the sweeps calendar will be checked with the daily numbers; how did that expose on killer escalators fare on a Wednesday night? In some cases, you're at the mercy of the promotions department, your network lead-in, or both. You might knock out a terrific package on the stairway to death, but if your newscast follows a real dog on the network's prime time lineup, it might not matter.

In reality, what does matter is the effort you put into your sweeps stories and the final product. So, a few things you can do to take things to another level.

-Do a standup. It's amazing that I have to even say this, but television reporters are expected to be seen on camera. I continue to see a majority of packages that are done sans standup, the reporter a disembodied voice that could belong to anyone. The viewer needs to connect the voice with the face, and the face with the story, and that story needs to add to your brand. No more excuses here: if you're continuing to say to yourself, "I couldn't think of a standup" or "I didn't have time" you're not trying hard enough. Would you go out on a date with someone based on a voice, or do you need to see the person? The viewer feels the same way. The viewer needs a relationship with you, and needs to know what you look like in order to do that.

-Use a tripod. This isn't MTV. It's news. Don't make the viewers reach for the dramamine.

-Interview more than one person for your story. Journalism 101, guys. Find the second point of view, and the third, and the fourth.

-Use your voice to convey your interest, emotion or both. You need to sound as though you're totally into the story. If you sound interested, the viewer will be interested.

-Give your promotions department (if you have one) good stuff to work with. Take the time to point out the good shots, to explain the story, even to offer ideas of what might be the most promotable part of your story.

-Go over your ideas on how you might cover the story with your ND or a veteran on the staff.

-Really put some effort into edition. Nat sound, quick cuts, and avoiding jump cuts can really help a package look good.

Got all that? Fine. Now do it every day, regardless of whether or not we're in sweeps.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

I guess I'm getting old...

As I've just hit the "mute" button on the Super Bowl halftime show.