|The Producer Page: July 2000
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IN THIS ISSUE...
Howdy, I'm an anchor/reporter in a really small market. Just last night, during the tossback from sports my co-anchor really said something she shouldn't have. The sports guy just finished with a story about Deion Sanders moving over to the Washington Redskins. In the soundbite, Deion responds to a question about chemistry with the team. It went something like this: "We can sleep in bunk beds together, hang out together, it doesn't matter... if we can't make plays, we can't win. We gotta make plays." The poor gal must not have been listening... She turned to the sports guy and asked in a shocked tone of voice: "Did he say we've gotta pleasure each other?" That was a tough spot for all of us to ad-lib our way out of.
JOHN DAENZER has been promoted from 10 p.m. News Producer to Executive Producer at WCCO-TV, the CBS Owned and Operated affiliate in Minneapolis / St. Paul.
PETER R. SPECIALE named Executive Producer of WEWS-TV, Cleveland, Ohio. He moves up from Weekend News Manager, and will concentrate on their 11pm newscast. Prior to joining WEWS-TV, he has held news management positions in Cleveland, Dayton And Youngstown, Ohio, and in Richmond Virginia.
BLAINE STEWART, Producer of "CBS 22 Daily News at 6 and 10", (WHLT/Hattiesburg, MS), adds co-anchoring duties. Blaine was previously an Associate Producer at WWL-TV/New Orleans, LA.
SCOTT McCRARY joins the staff of the double Emmy award-winning CBS affiliate News 19 WLTX in Columbia, SC as a weekend producer and weekday web producer. Scott is a recent graduate of Elon College in North Carolina.
GINGER HENSLEY from Associate Producer KLFY Weekday Mornings, to Executive Producer KLFY mornings. KLFY is the #1 CBS Affil. in Lafayette, La., DMA 123.
There's a recurring sketch on the Conan O'Brien show called "Buried in the Back Pages," in which the setup is an article on the front page of a fictional newspaper, with the funny (one hopes) punchline coming in a second article buried in the paper. An example: front page article on an unexpected solar eclipse...back page article about Marlon Brando and Luciano Pavarotti taking a ride in a hot air balloon. Get it?
I found the exact opposite in the June issue of the Producer Newsletter--a buried item explained by an item earlier on. The setup: Scott Tallal's survey on the steep decline in TV news viewership, a crisis spawned by cynicism, dissatisfaction, and the feeling that news promotions are intentionally misleading. What could be happening?
Look up, at Ted Wilson's "How to Increase Your Audience and Wow Your Boss," where he offers some of the best ideas for tease writing he has ever seen. Several of his "greatest" ideas offer what I think is a very skewed view of the priorities a news writer should have.
"Select promotable stories." The hidden message? Don't line up stories based on importance, line them up based on marketability.
"Write the story with the tease in mind." The driving force, he suggests, should not be what is important or newsworthy about the story. Instead, emphasize whatever will get the viewer's attention. I know--ideally, the two are the same. Often they are not.
"...Talk with reporters before they go out about how a story will be teased." Marketing should not drive the reporting process. At least subliminally, the reporter now feels pressure to make the story live up to the promo. It's hard enough to be a reporter these days, having to live up to a producer's sometimes-unrealistic idea of how the story should turn out--now they have to mold the story for a perfect promo too?
I give Wilson a fair amount of credit, though. He also emphasizes that stories must deliver on the promo's promise, one must not mislead or lie to viewers, and reporters are allowed to change a story if warranted. He tries to walk that narrow line between journalism and marketing that every news person must heed, and he does it fairly well given the current climate.
My concern is that the line is there at all. I think people have stopped watching local TV news because, as Wilson mentions, they are not stupid. They know a sales pitch when they see one, and they don't like it, especially in a venue where they are supposed to be hearing the unvarnished truth.
Promos force the news to take sides. "Imagine you're writing to someone specific" is an oft-offered nugget of advice. But by writing for that specific person, you wrap the promo (or tease, or story) around a particular point of view. One particular point of view. The promo (or tease, or story) is no longer objective. The local newscast becomes advertising, and it loses credibility.
At that point it doesn't matter if the story carries through on the promo's promise; viewers are wondering if the only reason a particular story made it on the news in the first place is because it was catchy, or as we say, promotable. And let's face it, they're sometimes right--how do you choose which kicker to run, or which stories to take from the feed?
The viewers are not dumb. They've figured it out, folks. And they're voting with their remotes. So let's give them what they want from the local news: non-fiction TV.
Tristan Davies Springfield, MO
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