Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Business of TV News

Television News is a business and sometimes between the fancy graphics and silly gimmicks on late nights with cold weather we seem to forget that. It is a viewer driven medium, and nothing will stop that, as long as the viewer holds the remote to the TV in one hand and the Playstation in another, all while trying to blog with the computer keyboard on his/her lap.

But an annonymous poster on the TV Photojournailst Website B-Roll-dot-net recently decried the money grubbing ways of Local Television Newrooms. Having responded to a post about a 'Fear This' bumper sticker with a dude holding a New Camera on it, the poster showed his/ her animus to Television News through comments like:

  • "Local news is no longer a forum for journalism. It's about the quick and easy grab for viewers."
  • "Local news is meant to titilate and grab viewers before they pick up the remote."
  • (sarcastically)"Putting that camera in a crying mom's face who lost their child in a car crash, now that's good TV. And yes, I've knocked on those doors for those soundbites myself."
  • "Don't ever be fooled, in the end it's about the green. "

But honestly I agree with those statements in general. The full context
of the posting is worth a quick read, but this is how I respond to the annonymous poster calling him/herself 'I Think'.

'I Think' ,

You said, "Local news is no longer a forum for journalism. It's about the quick and easy grab for viewers."

I disagree. Local news is a forum for journalism that depends on viewers to survive.

It is imperitave and a must to titilate and grab viewers before they pick up the remote and turn to someone else's more titilating content.

It is a business after all and it has to attract veiwers in order to get other businesses to decide to spend their money on advertising to make their product more attractive so that our viewer will go to their business and spend more money that they can eventually come back to us with for more advertising. (BREATH!)

It's been like that since the day that commercial TV signed on. Any TV show on the public airwaves has to support itself or it gets yanked, including news. Any TV station operating needs to support itself, regardless of the ownership group or big profits from co-owned stations that could prop it up. No profit equals no station, or at least a major revamping. (Just ask ABC 45 WXLV in Winston-Salem, NC which has news again after all the employees were laid off and later a new operation was started.)

The things we do to make viewers watch can sometimes seem silly on the surface, but usually have a point buried somewhere below the promotional makeup that attracts the demographic that we are after.

Weather is a great example as I sit here in North Carolina under a nice little winter ice storm. I may be in the news business, but I certainly tuned in to see the radar, the traffic report and the latest video so that I could gather information about how bad the roads may be in other places.

Everyone has things to do and to be able to gather basic information from a news and weather report can help when having to be out and about in a winter (or other) weather mess.

And it's really getting bad around here tonight (much like 2 years ago when the lights went out here at my house for 3 days after the ice rained down) and my wife just came looking for batteries for the electronic devices we may need to use, and I warmed up the Kerosene heater to be on standby to take over for the Electric heat pump if needed.

It may not be "Hard hitting "Big J"", but it is neccessary and expected by John and Jane Viewer.

You are right in saying that the airing of house fires and shootings in crack neighborhoods are not stories protecting the rights of the viewers. But they are the facilitator for letting the viewers know about a problem in certain areas. Without shedding a light on certain elements of our communities we may as well beleive that these situations don't even exist at all. And ignoring the problem is the first way to make it grow.

We do a lot of stories about the woes of the school systems and even more about the way local government choose to throw away our hard earned money. You are correct again. Nine times out of Ten, they aren't sexy enough to stop the remotes from clicking away. It is up to me and my collegeus in TV News to entice the viewer want to watch through powerfull storytelling and beautiful pictures that capture the moments and emotion of human life. Moments that are important to the viewers.

I despise covering death as much as anyone in the business, but I also have a philosophy that showing one person's misery may be the thing that saves many others from a similar fate. Your 'lost their child in a car crash' example is a good one, because if ONE teenager sees how another one died by acting foolish, maybe that teen or their parent will think about the consequenses and take action to prevent the same deadly thing from recurring. But you can't really track that through statistics.

As far as Fox, UPN and WB news affiliates further diluting the talent and viewership pool, well the UPN and ABC station here are the exact same staff. The CBS and FOX affils in Raleigh are virtually the same staff. And this trend can probably relate a WB/NBC combo somewhere in the nation, though nothing comes to mind.

Thr FOX O&O that I work for is more like what you would think of as a 'traditional' newsroom, yet on the cutting edge of creativity to keep the viewers happy without going overboard with silly gimmicks.

Yes in the end it is about the green. Can't fool me because I know it is.

It's my job to make the viewer watch my story to make the advertising process work. That doesn't mean that the advertising process is on my mind as I gather news stories, but that I know that each and every story has to be the best it can be to attract the most viewers across the board.

And I don't have a problem with corporate reacting in a negative way if our station's February book is less that par. (I don't think it will be, by the way)

But it is business after all.

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