Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What you can learn from the Oscar nominations: or, what you think the public needs to know isn't necessarily what they want to know

While at my very first job we got into a newsroom discussion about stories from the Middle East. Some people in the newsroom thought the stories were very important, and should be considered lead stories. Others, while agreeing this was the case, made the point that the viewers, for the most part, wanted local news and didn't care much about a war that had been going on since the beginning of time.

Finally, someone made the point (okay, that someone was me) that we could take any network feed on the Middle East from the past year, run it, and no one would know the difference. In other words, the story was always the same. It had become video wallpaper.

Which brings us to today's Oscar nominations. (I know, you're wondering how I can tie in war coverage from the 1980s to the Academy Awards. Patience, grasshopper.)

So I look at the nominees for Best Picture, and I've seen a grand total of one movie and five minutes of another. You guessed it, I saw Moneyball. As for the others, I hadn't even heard of half, and had no desire to see the rest.

Hollywood, in case you didn't know, had a bad year in 2012. They raked it in with Harry Potter, Bridesmaids and the Hangover sequel, but had a down year overall. One of the problems with Hollywood is that they put out too many "lecture movies." In other words, movies that are trying to make a point. Hollywood, is, of course, very political, so they often try to sneak in some jabs at a certain political party. Which, of course, turns off half the country. Few of the movies on the Best Picture list made a lot of money. Doesn't mean they weren't good movies, it's just that people didn't have much desire to see them.

Anyway, back to the list of movies. One is called The Descendants. When it first came out with rave reviews, I went online to look up the plot. Basically it's about a guy who has a wife in a coma, finds out she was having an affair and decides to look up her lover while reconnecting with his daughters. Yeah, that's something I wanna plunk down ten bucks to see. Might be a really good movie, might even have a good message, but I'll never see it. I much prefer Harry vs. Voldemort, the Bridesmaids having a wickedly bad reaction to Mexican food, or the Hangover guys waking up in a drunken stupor. Call me shallow, but I want to be entertained for my money.

All of this brings us to news. You may have knocked out an award winning story, but if it's on a topic that no one cares about, it will be the video version of the proverbial tree that falls in the forest. As a producer you may stuff your newscast with every scanner tale you can find, but if you did it yesterday and the day before and the day before that it's nothing different than that 1980s Middle East war video.

When looking for stories, or when putting together your newscast, consider the viewpoint of the viewers. You may think a story is important, that the public needs to know it, but in many cases the public doesn't care. Most viewers have a limited amount of time for news, and if you waste it on things that don't really concern them or don't appeal, you're gonna lose them. If your newscast is filled with nothing but bad news, if it's as depressing as some of the plots of those nominated movies, why would anyone want to watch?

Make your stories count, make them appeal to the average viewer. At the end of the day, a viewer wants to watch stories that are interesting. You may think viewers "need to know" certain stories, but in many cases they don't necessarily want to know.


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