Is TV news actually social media savvy?

Social Awareness Comments Off on Is TV news actually social media savvy?
Apr 212017

I promise “Survive” is going to remain a website primarily focused on practical advice articles to help you get through your work day more easily. But occasionally, we feel the need to post an article meant to get the industry to stop, think and hopefully openly talk about important issues in newsrooms today. After all, that’s crucial to survive in TV news as well.

Over the last 5 years, “Survive” has watched as TV stations grappled with how to connect with viewers now more focused on digital news than TV. And after 5 years of watching, talking to key decision makers and digital users, a very important question needs to be asked: “Is TV news actually social media savvy?” Such a simple question, but a very complex answer.

I’m going to make the argument that TV News is not very social media savvy. Here’s why. It’s not truly understanding the nuances of why people use social media. We all know that social media is a connector. It helps people express themselves and find others who agree and disagree with what they say and do. But here’s the rub. Even though it seems like social media focuses on superficial things like the actual color of a dress, whether you’ve been to a new restaurant yet, makeup tips and GIFs, this is really scratching the surface. Trending topics and video going viral, while exciting and EASY to capitalize on, are just a small part of the power of the digital world. At its core, internet surfing and social media interaction have basic human desires behind them. Finding information. Understanding why.

Really stop and think about what you do on the internet. It helps me that I have super curious kids. Here are the last three searches my family did: Why is Easter Island called Easter Island? Why do you need fractions? Why are some metals harder to melt than others? Typical kid questions right? Now think about your latest searches. Some topics might be: Why is my insurance going up? Why did I pay more in taxes this year? What does (insert word) mean? And of course, a list of symptoms to see what illness you might have. You search up doctors to see if they get good reviews. You search to see if your home values stayed the same year to year. You check your bank balance. You check when your favorite band is coming to town. What’s on sale this week at the grocery store? And you also shop. All of that in addition to hitting your favorite news sites.

When you go on social media you want to see how your friends are doing and wait for it… what is happening in the world. I venture to guess that many of you look at what’s trending, get a chuckle out of some of it, then start looking for information other ways. Notice I used the word information. That’s intentional. Social media savvy viewers like INFORMATION.

I think the TV industry is marginalizing younger audiences. Yes, that’s a bold statement and I mean it. They think the average 20-to-38 year old just wants to watch crazy videos about the rat carrying pizza and near escapes. They only want to see selfies. What if that’s only a small fraction of what this mysterious new audience is looking at? What if they are also searching up all kinds of INFORMATION, looking to understand why things are happening the way they are? I get asked all the time by younger journalists, “Why does my boss think I only care about selfies?” “Why can’t they see that social media helps uncover what people really want to know about and cannot figure out the answer to?” I have viewers say to me all the time, “Why does TV news think I am stupid?” “Where can I get actual information about what’s happening?”

Now I can hear the nay sayers pointing out that hyper local news sites do ok for awhile then fizzle. I am going to counter with this. Maybe they weren’t actually listening to what people want to know, instead they were telling them what they should want to know. I recently started using the Nextdoor app. I can easily pitch 2 stories a week out of those discussion boards, that could hit broader audiences. And that’s by casually glancing. Some of the stories are obvious, but some of the discussions are a little surprising. And great topics for debate. Social media loves a good debate. You get to exchange INFORMATION. You get to try and discredit information too. Critical thinking.

What if digital tie-ins looked more like what happens on a typical tablet while watching TV. By TV I mean more than news. You’re watching a show. “Wait that actress looks familiar.” With a quick google search you find out who it is while still watching the show. Think of the shows with the pop-up facts. This scene actually took 10 takes to get right. I actually had the flu when we climbed this mountain. Extra INFORMATION.

The most digitally savvy journalist I personally know, attempts to add social media elements that contain tangible information to big stories. Factoids that make you want to delve even deeper into the topic, most often the why. Why did it get this way? Why is that the next step? Why did that happen? Then this journalist adds elements that are connectors. (Remember the other big reason why people get on FB each night.) Not cheesy “do you agree” throwaway pitches. Actual exchanges between people on social media.

I just have to say that simply deciding that you will look at the stories trending and make them the lead is not digitally savvy. It is an easy way out. Like the rip and read days. It will fail. It makes you look superficial and like you think the viewer is stupid. Do not under estimate the viewer who frankly is going digital to get information you are not providing. Do not give up on them either. Provide more information, in more accessible ways. Delve into the why in your digital elements. Give them a reason to want to connect to the story both on their tablets and on their big screens with great visuals and character development. These are just a few suggestions. But whatever you do, start with this thought: How can we give them more information? Not how can we manipulate them into watching? If you are into trending topics, you already saw it. That’s not NEWs. And frankly the audience hopes you are clued in enough to know it’s there. You do not have to prove you get them. Give them more of what they want:  Information and ways to connect the dots. Many are way more analytical than you are giving them credit for being. For far too long, editorial meetings have been centered around what a group of people think the audience should know, based of those decision makers own personal interests and biases. Now you have powerful tools to see what they actually want to know, and what they are struggling to find out. Serve that. Then TV news might prove itself digitally savvy after all.

Crew View: Do You Really See It During Major Coverage?

Management Issues, Political Hotbed Comments Off on Crew View: Do You Really See It During Major Coverage?
Jun 162016

The mass shooting in Orlando has been very raw to cover. Mass shootings simply are.

All hands are on deck. Everyone works long hours. Everyone bands together with a passionate sense of purpose to serve the community.

The things the crews see and talk about, over and over, can be very hard to take. Some will take to FB and lay out the pain. Some will quietly seek counseling. But most just grit their teeth and say, “This is part of the job I must be strong.” That is largely true. It is part of the job. But I really do not think people choose to be journalists to cover mass shootings, or other very traumatic events like this. Furthermore, you cannot understand the effects these events have on those covering it, until you have covered one yourself.

This is not meant to offend, but it has to be said: When I say cover, I mean actually stand at ground zero. Actually hear the SWAT team bust in. Actually witness the victims families waiting and waiting, then getting word their loved ones died. Witness the families and friends wailing uncontrollably. See some of the carnage left behind. These elements are not truly understood, until experienced first hand.

I say this, because too often when watching this coverage, I notice something time and again. For the most part the same people are sent to the same scenes over and over. Part of that is logical and good. They are developing the relationships to get the exclusives. It is a tried and true technique for journalists. But in this day of mass shootings and other horrific displays I have to ask, how much would coverage actually be impacted, if you worked in a rotation? Here’s what I mean: When the attack first happens, the initial crews on the scene make sense to follow up where they were stationed the next day. Maybe even the next two days. But when you are hitting day three and on, many could use psychological relief. By that I mean, why not have the crew who sat with the victims’ families cover some nuts and bolts angles, and send the nuts and bolts crew to “story tell” one day? Now, the heavy investigative diggers are a different category because they are likely spending time in and out of these scenes and needing time to find the information. I am talking about those daily follow ups.

Why bother, do you ask? Several reasons. First, the people spending time with the victims and their families need a chance to separate. You get incredibly emotionally attached. It is very hard to re-enter your life after several days of living and breathing this with those so closely impacted. This is one reason why medical teams work to start rotations as soon as possible to give staff a day off and a chance to speak with counselors. News people need this option too. Because there is less staffing you realistically cannot give crews a day off. But you can change up the scenery a bit, so they get a mini emotional break.

It also can be good for the crews doing nuts and bolts to see the impact first hand for a day. Believe me, it will inspire more questions. It reminds crews of what this event really means to the community on a more emotional level. I cannot help but wonder if there would be less on-scene, smiling, selfies if crews are rotated and ended up spending time with a mother who lost her son, or a dad searching for answers or a person shot but still alive asking: “Why me?” It makes it damn hard to desensitize yourself from the story.

And there is another point I want to bring up. Too often managers are insensitive to what the crews are going through. They expect each crew to “man up.” While newsrooms fill up on pizzas, the crews in the field are often forgotten. They are working long hours too. And in this case I will say their job is harder.  Journalists in the newsroom still get the luxury of some degree of detachment. They are not smelling the smells, seeing the carnage, standing in the actual moment watching the chaos from every angle. They get air conditioning or heat, delivered food and a bathroom right down the hall. This is not to downplay the importance of the journalists in the newsroom. Not at all. But too often there is a lack of truly understanding what the field crews are going through.

In this digital age, I cannot help but wonder how perspectives would change if a manager came out with the crews to the scenes and worked from the field if even for a few hours? Fire battalion chiefs go to the scene. The Sheriff shows up. What if a news manager came by, to really see what the crews are dealing with? Again, in my own experience, and through hearing from crews over the years; there are simply too many times when a crew calls in with a problem and they get chewed out and told to get it done, period. I saw this during major weather events, standoffs, shootings, even major court cases. Back then, the ND or AND had to be in the building as a point person. Cell phones and laptops did not exist. But now an AND or ME could stop by and experience the actual scene, if even for an hour. I know some managers who quietly go by the scene between news cycles just to see. They do not let crews know. It is very beneficial. If you just can’t get away, at least read this and please take it to heart. The majority of the time you are only getting a glimpse of the actual intensity of the events. Your field crews are not going to talk in-depth about all they saw and experienced because it is likely simply too much to take in right away. That’s why a crew can start to act testy on day three or two weeks later “out of the blue.” They will likely have a delayed reaction. You need to protect them to some degree by being sensitive to what they are not telling you. Send food. Text “good job” more often. Call them in and ask, “Are you ok?” Ask if they need to switch up their roles a bit after a few days so they get a mini break. At least ask. The crews need you to have a firm understanding of the view they are taking in each day. They need to know that if it’s getting hard to take, they can at least talk about it, and have someone truly listen and understand the crew view. They need to know their bosses have their back. So ask yourself: Do you, really?

When to add “breaking” information into a newscast.

Know Your Newsroom, Producing, Writing Help Comments Off on When to add “breaking” information into a newscast.
Sep 172015

Let’s face it, journalists are airing and/or publishing more mistakes than they used to. So it is a good time to reiterate some tried and true guidelines to determine when information is safe to tell the world.

Breaking News Guidelines

Two sources minimum have confirmed the information
You know the names or groups confirming the fact(s)
Another journalist looked over your information

Veteran journalists are looking at this list and rolling their eyes. Yes, I know, the old standard was really three sources. In this day and age of “WE MUST BE FIRST” three is not always going to happen. Hell, I think it’s questionable if some news organizations actually require more than one source before going with breaking news. That’s especially if we define a source. Which we need to do now. A source is NOT another journalist you overheard talking to the boss about the story, or the assignment desk repeating information while on the phone and writing notes in the assignment file. I say this because I guarantee this is a daily issue in most newsrooms. Also a source is not what the reporter or assignment editor said a story was in a summary during an editorial meeting. You have to treat those pitches as unconfirmed even if they cite a phone call or email stating the facts. You must still verify because the information more than likely was not vetted yet. Think about it. The majority of stories in a newscast rundown actually end up with key differences than during the original pitch in the editorial meeting. I am saying this so that tease writers, promotions departments and general managers remember, editorial meetings are to pitch ideas. They are not vetted stories, and a statement of absolute facts. You must verify the truth of the information later. That starts with asking who are the minimum TWO sources of information. A valid source is someone directly involved in the story, with expertise. A police officer on the scene. An accountant who saw and worked on the budget. A teacher who actually created lesson plans on the curriculum. PIO’s do qualify as sources because they speak on behalf of the agency. They are considered official. So when they screw up, it’s on them. Also, they are essentially the PR person for whomever they represent. So, they’re facts will often have a slant. A good journalist will double check a PIO with their own source first, just to make sure.

Producers in particular, before you go to the booth or into the IFB of an anchor with new information, know who the information you have came from. Ask the desk or EP or whomever is calling to give you a name. This seems redundant, but I cannot tell you how often asking this simple question led to some “Um Ah, let me double check this” responses from the information provider. Having to name names, means you must have solid notes, and double checked information before sharing. And sometimes asking for the name leads to expanded information like “Well I heard reporter x tell reporter y about it while they were at their desks making calls.” That could mean anything. One asking the other’s opinion on whether the fact sounds realistic. Wondering if the source seems to actually be dodging sharing some information. Or simply talking about what they hope the story will be. None of that is confirmed enough to air the information to the world. Yet this happens all the time. A producer in a hurry to write an anchor intro or a tease, overhears a story description and writes based on that eavesdropping. Especially when it’s a breaker.

Finally, you must let another journalist look over the information first. My go to was usually my anchors. Frankly, they need to look over the information before reading it anyway to make sure they understand the story and can explain it, ad lib about it, or even read the copy in a convincing manner. Having a manager read over the information first is ideal, because most anchors will do so as well and you will quickly get two sets of critical eyes. If neither questions the validity of the facts, they are even more likely to be trustworthy. In a breaking news situation there is always a certain degree of educated guesswork. The story is ever changing. But anchors and managers need to have good BS meters. Most do and if they stop and ask, “Where is that information from,” you need to have solid, clear answers. That means checks and balances happened, and you are far less likely to end up making a huge mistake. There needs to be less embarrassing screw up reels out there for the world to see.

For more on handling breaking news check out how Survive defines breakers in the first place.

 

How To Self Critique A Newscast

Know Your Newsroom, Producing Comments Off on How To Self Critique A Newscast
Sep 062015

More and more news managers require newscast critiques for anyone going for editorial positions. This is great because it helps the managers “see how you think” on many levels. The trouble is many producers have no idea how to do newscast critiques. Part of this is because many never get their shows critiqued by management. They may hear “The A-Block did not work.” or “Those teases did not hit well.” But that’s not a true critique.

So let’s talk about how to practice newscast critiques with your own or your station’s work. The best part is that it will help you grow as a content manager.

When self critiquing you need to consider the following items:

Does The Subject Flow Make Sense?
Did Production Values Work?
Is Branding Clear?

Obviously, this is a broad overview to get you started. True critiques are works of art unto themselves. But everything begins with the flow of the newscast. By this we mean more than the obvious did you put a sad story next to a cheery story. That often happens especially when having to kill stories for time. For more on how to avoid those issues read Emotional Toll.  We are going super basic here. Did each story make sense? Did the order you picked make sense? When you sit and watch the show afterwards are you left with a lot of lingering questions about the stories, or did the viewer truly get the information needed? Subject flow involves correct order of stories, related content themes (crime/crime or economy/economy) and some showcasing. Did the breakout you added make sense for the story after all? Was there too much crime mentioned in a row? Sometimes what looks good in outline form, doesn’t look right on the air.

Which leads to the next big item to consider. Did the production values put in place work? With so many new fancy sets, and emphasis on incorporating more graphics, more social media references and more spots for anchors to stand/sit and present information, newscasts can look very disjointed very quickly. Then, even if your subject flow is on the mark, viewers can still come away from a show saying “Huh?” So you need to grab a newscast every so often, then sit and watch it with a critical eye. Did each production element you used, from that cool monitor graphic to that map to the pan/zoom in the middle of the A-block, make sense? (If you are working on how to even do these things in the first place check out our article Produce It Up.) When I work with producers on building their skill sets, one of the things I see time and again are periods where the producer goes from too little production value to too much. There is too much when you watch the newscast and are left thinking about all the cool looks in the newscast, but can barely remember what the content was that day. Also, when you watch, if you find yourself pulling back in your chair or whipping your neck around to keep up, that’s too much movement.

Finally, we have to talk about branding. Frankly, if TV journalists are savvy at all they realize much of their job now is selling the content. We can argue if this is right or wrong. But truthfully, most stations focus on what content makes air based on brand. So you need to know your brand and you need to watch newscasts to see if the way you presented the content is true to the brand. If you are an “Asking the Tough Questions” station, then an A-block with more than thirty quick 15-second vo’s is not true to brand. That’s the simple truth. Your brand requires more breakouts and more phrases like: “So we went to the (expert) and got you more (facts/information/answers).”

In summary, when you self critique you need to sit down, no distractions and watch the newscast as an informed viewer would. Obviously you cannot look at things just like your Mom or friend who’s not in the biz does. But you are skilled enough to watch and notice if you are missing the mark in one or more of these areas. You should be able to say “That didn’t make sense.” or “I can’t remember half of what the anchor just said.” If you do this weekly, you will quickly figure out your strengths and weaknesses so you can work on both. (If you want to get even more nitty gritty when self critiquing read Humble Pie.) So here’s to self critiques!

What To Do When The ND Says Your Newscast Sucks

Know Your Newsroom, Producing Comments Off on What To Do When The ND Says Your Newscast Sucks
Mar 292015

Producers have nightmares about three scenarios, mistiming their shows, not getting their shows done and being called into the ND’s office to be told line-by-line how much their shows flat out sucked.

This is a rite of passage in some ways. It happens to everyone at some point. It is never a comfortable situation to be in. So how do you handle it?

With grace and humility. In other words, do not cry. Do not make excuses. Do not throw the EP and/or anchors under the bus (even if they deserve it). You have to man (or woman) up, take the critique and grow from it.  Even if your cheeks are burning hot with shame and rage, even if you want to crawl under the desk and die or go dry heave in the bathroom, take ownership.  The ND is delivering a message that you need to hear. You need to hear it to grow as a producer and keep your job. So keep that in mind, and focus on the lessons instead of the delivery.

So what do you say in response when asked “What the hell were you thinking with that newscast?” The best answer is, “Obviously, I need to focus more on the station brand.” Then follow up with a question like “What more could I have done with the lead today, so I can learn from you?” This is a very proactive way of also diverting some of the responsibility away from you. Managers do have a responsibility to make sure the staff understands expectations. If you don’t understand you cannot execute.

Another common pitfall question is “So what are you going to do tomorrow (after ND has listed about a thousand reasons why your newscast sucked today)?” The right answer? “I am going to work harder to never repeat what happened today and show you that I learned from our talk today.” In other words, take ownership, show you have a thick skin and do whatever you can to grow from the discussion. Again, focus on the message instead of the delivery.

And understand one more thing about the “your newscast sucked” conversation. These are often tests to see what kind of moxie you have. Most ND’s respect someone who owns up to mistakes, is willing to learn from them and then has the humility to ask for guidance. Even if the conversation is simply sh&* rolling downhill, it is a valuable opportunity to show the ND you are not a quitter, but you are a leader. You will get back up, move onward and upward. Simply put everyone in the business gets knocked around and pushed down from time-to-time. The true winners get back up, dust themselves off and come back strong the next day.

A common issue I coach producers on is how to handle it when an anchor decides to “call out” mistakes in front of the staff. Too often, producers have to sit and listen to anchors going off on the set about something that did not work. The comments are often not constructive. Live TV is tense. Everyone’s anxiety is up, no matter how seasoned they are. That said, making fun of the writing, or complaining about mistakes on set, is not necessarily going to help you get the help you need later. We addressed some of this in “Why don’t you show us how it’s done then.” Now let’s focus on how to get the message across, and have it actually be heard.

If your station holds special discrep meetings when the ND is visiting the morning or nightside shift, keep in mind that tensions are higher than usual then. The producers feel like they are under extra scrutiny (frankly, anchors probably do too). This is a good time to have an open discussion. But you do not want to create an environment where the team is turning on each other. This cannot be emphasized enough. When the ND and/or AND attend the discrep meeting, and the staff starts complaining and/or putting each other on the defensive, it gives a bad appearance. It makes it look like this is a group that either needs more monitoring or could need changing up (as in some of you may need to go).

These meetings go south fast, when an anchor says “That story on (fill in blank) was awful.” or makes fun of a story. The producer, gets embarrassed and will either shut down or lash out. So how do you bring up issues without setting off a firestorm? The head of the meeting has to set the right tone and has to phrase things better.

Let’s start with the leader of the meeting, which is often an EP. Start the meeting off by asking your producers what worked and did not. This allows the producers to take ownership and makes it psychologically easier to take the criticism still ahead. Producers feel more willing to do things like say, “Hey, was the end of the A uncomfortable?” Then a discussion can happen. If the producers do not do that, then the EP should. This keeps the anchors from having to bring the issue up first, and come off as defensive or attacking.

Anchors, if that doesn’t happen and you feel you have to bring an issue up, just think about your phrasing a bit. “Maybe it was just me, but the end of the A block felt a little uncomfortable. I know we are supposed to get more creative. But can we talk about why we did what we did, so we can figure out if there’s another way?” This gives the producer (who, remember, is likely extremely passionate, a bit of a control freak and THRIVES on problem solving) a chance to “save face” and bring up ideas as discussion points. Then you can add to those ideas. Everyone gets what needs to be said out there, and the message is more likely to be heard.

Better yet, wait until the end of the meeting and ask for a sub meeting with only the people directly involved with the issue, to bring up the subject. This isolates the potential for public humiliation. Then the producers can hear what you have to say better, because they are not being put on the spot publicly. You also will not have to worry as much about phrasing because it is a smaller group. So if you accidentally come across as a little harsh, it will be easier for the producer to give you the benefit of the doubt.

If you are going to bring up an issue, that involves a section of the newscast the producer asked you to look over ahead of time, better make sure you mention that as well. Producers hate proactively asking your opinion, having you seem to ignore it, then getting bashed for the decision later. That is a fast way to guarantee the producer will not have your back when you really need help.

The biggest thing I can emphasize is that producers in their own way, are as sensitive as anchors. The newscast is a part of them in many ways, just like it is for anchors. So you have to think about how you want to be told things. It would be humiliating to walk into the newsroom and hear the producers gathered together saying “Nancy looked like an idiot when she said …..” and then start cracking up. Or “Joe looks like he’s getting goosed the whole show, what a dope.” No one wants to be publicly humiliated. Just because a producer or EP’s face is not seen during the newscast, does not mean that their heart and soul is not attached to it. In many ways, they feel as tied to it as you do.

Producers, a big thing to consider is that anchors do not always mean to come off as insensitive or like they’re trying to “get you.” Even if they sound callous or just plain rude in a public critique, many are internally struggling with how to bring the issue up. Many try to use humor, and fail miserably, so it becomes a case of making fun or picking, instead of lightening the blow. So even if it stings, try and discern if the anchor just really doesn’t know how to bring the issue up well. And once the sting wears off, there could be great constructive criticism in the comment that will help you grow.

One last point to anchors: If you routinely make fun of things the producers do, or make you say on the set, whether during commercial breaks or after the show in discrep meetings or in the middle of the newsroom, you are setting yourself up for a world of hurt. Even if pay structures do not always seem to reflect it, producers have a lot of power in newsrooms and often have more say in your future than you might want or like to admit. Picking at that person, or making fun of them is asking for them to point out to the bosses every time you screw up. So unless you have achieved daily guaranteed perfection while on set, you are going to get burned.

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