Monday, June 18, 2012

Telling viewers what you "think they should know" is like trying to give a pill to a cat

As any cat lover knows, the worst day of the year is taking kitty to the vet for her annual shots. It's a process that often involves two people, oven mitts and safety goggles and is followed by band-aids and peroxide.

On one occasion the vet gave us some pills to give to the cat. You can go online to learn how to do it and read something like, "gently open the cat's mouth and place the pill at the back of the throat, then close the mouth and massage the throat." I tried that but when I thought our cat had swallowed the pill I let go and she spit it at me like she had it in a blowgun. Then I tried "hiding it" in her cat food. She dutifully ate around it. When we finally did get her to take the pill, she basically walked around ticked off for two days.

Viewers are a lot like cats. They don't like to be force fed anything, even though it may be good for them. Check that, even though you may think it's good for them.

Hollywood hasn't figured this out, as every year they release some movie with a "message" that bombs at the box office because people don't want to pay ten bucks for a lecture.

Which brings us back to the news business. Several years ago I worked with an anchor who was obsessed with foreign affairs. And I mean really obscure foreign affairs. And while foreign affairs are important, you can ask Joe Sixpack today what he thinks about Greece and chances are he'll say Olivia Newton-John looked hot in spandex.

Anyway, this anchor wanted to lead with a story about a country I'd never heard of. A newsroom discussion ensued, upon which the anchor said, "The people need to know this." Then I asked if anyone in the newsroom could find said country on a map. No one could.

Bottom line, what you may think is very important may not be of any interest to the viewers. And, if it's a story with an obvious agenda, it might tick them off and make them mad for a couple of days like my cat.

Whether you're pitching stories at the morning meeting or producing a newscast, always put yourself in the viewers' shoes. What are people most interested in right now? Is the story something they want to know as opposed to something you think they need to know? Remember, most of you reading this are in your twenties and thirties and most viewers of local news skew older. You may be a smart, college educated person but many of your viewers are not.

Keep it simple. Don't try to force feed the viewers what they don't want.


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