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Getting television newscasts on the right page

Published: 02/17/12

For the last “quite some time” there has been a disconnect between legitimate television news operations and pretenders. The difference being the pretenders are full of special features, not special reports--predictability, rather than spontaneity; promotional segments rather than news segments. The audience is deluged with this soft news, has grown weary of it, and it’s showing up as declining ratings.

Some of this is certainly attributable to the growth of the internet. But the compatibility of the internet and television is incredible if used in conjunction with each other and supported by the news staff. As a matter of fact, more and more aggressive news operations are breaking news first on the web. Those stations that don’t “get it” will languish in the rating war. The fight for news ratings is a war - a business war to be sure, but a war all the same. It takes a daily effort by all concerned to be the leader--the most accurate, the most professional and ethical newscast, every day!

Those stations that believe they can promote their way to success are sadly mistaken. As a matter of fact, stations that promote themselves as being first, fast are in fact never or rarely first, nor fast. They actually prohibit their own growth, that’s a fact! Further, those stations that promote their news as geared to the 18-34 or 25-49-year-old crowd are really saying they’re giving up on being a news station. News stations report the news, period! They don’t just report part of the news, or “selective news”. If you report the news, weather, and sports in a straightforward manner, cover all of the top stories, are first with breaking news, reinforce your televised news efforts with the internet for more in-depth coverage, watch your ratings grow.
Further, the loyalty of the audience will be there because they can rely on you to give them the important news and weather and they will decide the worthiness of your efforts. In support of these efforts, it is always good to utilize research as much as possible.

Only those with a real lack of understanding for local news really believe that airing pictures of birthdays and vacations in a late newscast will increase ratings. Ask yourself this question: Why would they? I understand why consultants recommend these type things--as a means to lighten up the presentation. But many times they are inserted right after a tragic story or other unacceptable positions. Frankly, they just don't belong, and if someone is pushing these efforts for your newscasts you should speak to them. Rely on your coverage of news, breaking news and weather and sports, and your ability to be accurate and your newscast look will improve and be noticeable to your viewers.
Frankly, shifting promotional dollars to research is a better utilization of expenses than billboards, newspaper, direct mail and other types of advertising. Usually, there are radio stations in the market that are more than willing to trade, and using radio to promote upcoming news during drive time is a very good way to drive an audience to specific newscasts.

For years we have known that news is the “bell cow” for a station. Weather, day in and day out is perceived as the most important element of a station’s news operation--to the point that severe weather should lead a newscast. Yet, many times we find that for 28 days out of 30, the weather person is used to lighten up the newscast. This makes absolutely no sense to me and never has. If a weather event is imminent or is occurring, do you turn to the station that employs qualified meteorologists for a professional, precise and current weather presentation, or do you randomly turn on any station - a station that employs and promotes a jokester and hope for the best?

The viewers let you know their preference, don’t they? When dealing with the safety of our families, this is critical. Yet many stations and consultants simply don’t understand it or are more concerned with selling their concepts than actually driving the ratings.

Stations drive the ratings through a professional, accurate, and highly coverage newscast, not through promotion and silliness, nor as I said earlier through limiting their efforts to a particular demographic. Usually, this is done for sales reasons, not news reasons. If you doubt me or are unsure, just ask yourself this question: where do you go for breaking news, or breaking weather? Do you go to your own station, or do you rely on your competition when weather affects the safety of your family? Be truthful. Interesting question and a more interesting answer, isn’t it?
I’ll give you this one for free. How many times do you see any station follow-up a series geared for ratings? Never! That’s terrible and very short-sighted by news staffs and consultants alike. If the concern is really there to be the best, to be the market leader - if the effort was really there if the news IQ was really there - this would be a no-brainer, and for those of you who like to promote, highly promotable!

There is obviously a lot more to do on an everyday newscast basis--the stacking, training, understanding content, editing, et al, but before all of this is looked at, says Rich Adams, President, and COO of Hoak Media, “You must be prepared to win every newscast every day!!”
Anything else results in failure.

- Mike DeLier, President, The DeLier Group