What does the WTOL morning clip say about the industry?


It’s no secret TV news is “finding itself” right now. There’s a lot of experimentation. A lot of questioning and a lot of talk of “speaking at the key demo’s level.” We see this play out in the clip that’s gone viral from WTOL, that was meant for school kids only. 

Outlets across the nation, initially took this as either a real newscast clip hor a web piece for a general audience. Then they started backtracking and letting people know it was not for a general audience in any way. Just check out the updated mentions at the end of most articles. You can see where they changed their copy to say it was not actually broadcast for news viewers. Heck, I even shook my head and wondered for a minute. Why did any of the journalists that reported on this actually believe it could have aired in a regular morning time slot at all? 

Well, there is a news set. There are also news anchors and news graphics. All of that is evidence of TV news production. But a great many of the journalists who initially covered it did not stop and think of context. They did not, I believe, because TV news has lost context for the majority of people, especially fellow journalists. It just seemed like the latest wacky attempt to try and get younger viewers to watch.

In actuality, it was a video WTOL’s morning team produced to give kids a boost during standardized testing. That was the intended audience. Kids. Not a general TV news audience. Kids who needed a pep talk. It was never meant to be widely viewed outside of that one, small, specific group.

There is another reason this was widely considered to be an actual news clip: You could click and watch the video and it was published on Facebook Live like a lot of actual “news content.” Yes, the station put this up on it’s Facebook page. A place where you can get news for the general public. This gets into some very deep questions for journalists today. What does it take for a clip to be “real news.” Some critics are standing behind their stance that this really was a ridiculous stunt which will impact the anchors credibility long term. That’s because you can easily watch it any time. It was published in a place where actual content meant to be considered news coverage is placed as well. Once something can be easily accessed, the insinuation these days is that this is “real journalism.” To the masses this became an actual news clip, even though it never was on the air. For many a digital element, combined with video, equates to truth. And watching is the only context they need. Intention apparently means nothing.

Intention means understanding the point. It means understanding facts revealed in the clip. It means understanding why certain words were used, why this was put together in the first place. Understanding intention and context means stopping, considering facts and if anything seems off, asking why? And, at that point, it also means getting clarification and doing some fact checking.

WTOL had to publish its own explanation of why in defense of critical articles. hA lot of journalists rushed to judgement and worked to get an article up on how ridiculous this was as fast as they could do it. Consider that for a moment. This was a story about fellow journalists and journalism. That is the very thing the writers of many of the articles do every day. Journalists should truly understand techniques well enough to quickly determine this had to be for something other than general news, even if it was on Facebook. If they do not, how can we expect the audience to understand it? And the station should have sent the clip to the district in a way that ensured only the schools would have access. This incident further shows that stations are unclear what the purpose of their digital imprint can be to credibility. Frankly it impacts more than your daily on air product. The simple reason why? We can keep watching this clip a week/month/year later.

Too harsh you say? How is audience retention going at your station? 

The fact this clip went viral and the reasons why must be addressed in the TV news industry. This must be addressed in journalism programs. And these harsh realities must be realized and fixed now.
h

  1. Showcasing that gets so out of hand, it alienates and frankly insults viewers
  2. Stations talk at the viewer instead of with the viewer
  3. Facts which appear as afterthoughts to many viewers

I have a front row view of how broadcasting groups nationwide are attempting to retain audience and get those highly desired digital customers. I hear all about it, constantly.  Media groups’ plans all have one thing in common: Emphasizing the packaging more than the substance. Hey, I love showcasing. I love the bells and whistles. But showcasing needs to have a point. If you wrap a day old, smelly, sandwich in pretty paper and tie a bow on it, it still is a day old, smelly, sandwich! And viewers have a much keener sense of smell than you think. They do not appreciate you thinking they are dumb enough to fall for your packaging alone. They want you to actually do the hard work. They want you to dig up the information. They want you to check the truth in those statements, list the facts and keep it fresh with legitimately new information.

Speaking with viewers means showing the respect to provide substance and not parroting back catch phrases or lingo you think makes you seem cool. Appearances are not enough. You have to actually be in the know. And viewers, even middle schoolers who love the word “yeet”, are smart enough to understand if you are talking at them and not with them. Getting “real” means being vulnerable. And in news that means knowing enough about the story you are presenting, that you can truly boil it down then be brave enough to take questions and provide answers. In real time.

The dream audience that seems so unattainable to so many has an easy request for you: Give me real facts. Give me real substance. Trust me enough to show you believe I can understand your stories without dumbing it down and putting pretty banners and animations all over it. Have cool vids to share? By all means, put it up on the B.A.M. and talk about it. Viewers appreciate that. But follow up with the harder information. Why did this happen? How did this happen? What’s next? Those answers usually involve understanding the community, having sources and being able to look for patterns and clues.

Enough focusing almost solely on the cute clothes and pretty new sets, B.A.M.’s and new text lingo graphics. Show off your brains more than your braun. Get real. Really real! Ask the tough questions. List facts. Talk about how they are verified. And speaking of verifying: Fact check more than the latest cheesy trending topic. If you want to really be groundbreaking in the industry then hire researchers to help your MMJ’s look up information, fill out FOI requests and dig up real ground breaking stories.

And next time you want to talk with kids who are burned out on testing, to help a district get real with the students, speak with the kids. Not at them. Do something like this: “Another big test day coming up. You might be getting nervous. But you have a right to prove what you know and show what you still need to learn. This is a way your teachers and the community can see how to best support you. So be brave and go for it. We believe in you and want you to have everything you need.”

Sure beats showing you can use the word “yeet!” Maybe then fellow journalists can more easily discern the intention of the piece. Because it will make sense. It has clear context. And it shows respect to the viewers. This is something a lot of seasoned journalists seem convinced just doesn’t happen much anymore.

Expect more than gimmicks. Expect old school fact checking. Believe in Journalism instead of lingo and flashy graphics. Then clips like the WTOL school test will clearly be for something other than “real news.” 

I am at a serious story and have to post on social media. How can I avoid seeming insensitive?

 

If you read industry blogs, you have seen plenty of cases of reporters tweeting a smiling face at a murder scene, natural disaster or some other similarly toned story. Facebook postings about meeting the national correspondent hero and taking a selfie get plenty of critiques too. This occurs often enough that one has to ask why? Why do so many continue making this mistake? 

The answer is two fold. First, many think in order to show they are at a scene, they have to show themselves in that scene. Second, like it or not, many journalists become rather immune to the scenes around them. In a sense you become less sensitive while in the middle of the moment. Part of this is a survival tactic. The stories covered are often hard to take. This is a natural human reaction. But it is a part of the biz, that the viewer does not want or need to understand. If they do get a sense of it, it comes across as trivializing the story, its impact and the viewer.

Many stations provide little to no guidance on how to handle sensitive issues while on social media, even though you are required to post. So let’s create a checklist you can have on hand to help yourself navigate a tough situation when you are emotionally impacted, the deadlines are intense and you are trying to fulfill your obligations without a lot of time to stop and think.  

Before you post ask yourself:

Does a selfie help cover this story?

What is the tone of my coverage today?

How will this tweet/FB posting define my image as a journalist?

Yes, these questions are heavy. That’s why we are going to look at how to answer each one before you are at a serious story. If you know how to quickly gage the answers then this list is a simple reminder that could keep you from making a big mistake that hurts credibility. 

Let’s tackle the first question. Does a selfie help cover the story? Why do you want to put yourself into the image in the first place? Again, we are focusing on a serious story. Did you just meet the hero who saved the day? Do you want an image of you talking with that person? Did you just get an exclusive look at an element? Do you want to show yourself getting a tour of the crime scene for example? A look at the fire line? Then ask, is the image as effective if you show just that hero, or just that fire line and you are not in the image at all?  Again, a lot of reporters innately think they have to show that they are on the story to really be on the story. But I am going to ask you to consider a social media selfie the way you should consider the use of a standup. If there is a way to let the story tell itself with images alone, then you do not need to be part of it. If you are describing something, pointing something out or connecting two things and your physical presence adds to understanding, then having you in the shot is appropriate. But that doesn’t mean a selfie. Have the photographer you are working with take a pic of you talking to the subject or being given that tour of the scene. If you are an MMJ, consider asking someone you trust to snap it for you. If you must show yourself at a scene, it should be a shot that shows you actively engaged in covering the story. When is the last time you saw a network 2-shot with the correspondent and the interview subject standing side-by-side, grinning? Selfies send a very different tone when you really think about it.

Speaking of… What is the tone of my coverage today? Often the answer to this is going to rule out selfies. If the tone is to show the intensity of the shooting scene, how does a selfie convey that intensity appropriately? If the post celebrates a rescue in flood waters, what will your physical presence do to make that more clear in a still shot?  

Then there is a question of your legacy. That might sound corny, but it is true. Really every FB post, serious story or not, applies. The industry is small. It can be ruthless. You do not want to be the subject of this comment: “Wait that person looks familiar. Oh, that’s the genius who smiled at the mass murder scene.” Every post, every tweet, every Instagram image has to portray you as the type of journalist you want to be. That is hard. You will not get every posting right. But you want to avoid major gaffes. Especially when covering a serious story. The two questions above should help you, so that by the time you get to this question your gut knows what to do.

If you get to a large scale story and meet your mentor, take a picture with the person if there’s down time. Just don’t post it. It really only matters to you anyway. Why take the risk of putting it on your work accounts, and have some think you are insensitive? In terms of your private account, just remember no account is truly private when you are a journalist. Check your privacy settings and know you could still take some risk. 

Bottom line, serious stories are hard enough to cover in a Tweet, Facebook post, or Instagram image. Unless your presence in the shot is really crucial for the viewer to understand the story, the best option is to avoid a selfie. The fact that you are posting is enough to show you are there. You have to do all you can to protect your credibility. Selfie’s often just are not worth it while on a serious story. Better to go conservative, and decrease your risk of seeming insensitive. Now am I saying never do a selfie? No. But this article is about serious stories. Stories that stir intense emotions of sadness, fear, anger, pain or frustration. Happy stories, inspiring stories and some stories discussing challenges could open the door to selfies. The litmus test above will help you know when. 

I keep having to write in the booth. What am I doing wrong?

More and more I hear producers say they are writing portions of their newscasts in the booth. I have to tell you, that used to be a big no no, unless there was breaking news and you had to write it, to get the breaker on the air. Otherwise, no excuse. In fact, you could’ve lost your producing gig if you were still writing in the booth, a lot.

Nowadays I often hear from producers who say things like, “I do alright. I only have to write 4 or 5 stories in the booth.”  Not okay. I understand staffing is tight. I understand some are making their own graphics and editing their own video. I don’t want to sound harsh, but I had similar duties “back in the day” before digital editing allowed you to drag and drop VO’s very quickly. You can get your work done before you head into the booth and you need to. A huge part of producing is being a critical set of eyes to help prevent fact errors, misspelling and incorrect video from rolling during the newscast. If you are looking at your screen, writing copy, you cannot do this effectively and your newscast will suffer. It may not happen today. But it will happen.

So, if you are still having to write in the booth, it’s time to keep a log of how much time you spend on various aspects of putting your newscast together. You also need to ask yourself if you are delegating. If you have a bunch of breakers, and it’s time to head to the booth, assign the next producer up to help you. Notice I said assign. Don’t ask. Tell. If you have an EP at that time, tell the EP which stories still need to be done. I know this is hard to do. It seems like a failure for some. But being distracted in the booth fails the entire staff who are part of your newscast that day. That is just the simple truth. After your show offer to write some stories to help that producer who bailed you out. It’s the right thing to do and the next time you may not have to tell them. They may just pitch in and do it.

Another hard truth: Most of the time, when you are writing in the booth, it’s not because a few stories came in late. It’s because you did not effectively use your time earlier in your shift so that you are prepared for the few late stories that happen every single day. In other words, late breaking news is not an excuse. You have to structure your day to be ready for it. Get it done early so the daily “surprises” become no big deal.

When you log your day, you need to take a hard look at several key deadlines. Do you spend 3 or 4 hours designing your rundown before you start cranking your writing? Do you spend 2 hours looking for stories and sources before you start loading your rundown? Do you write top down in your rundown? The answers to these three questions are crucial. If you spend 3 or 4 hours designing your rundown before you start cranking your writing, you set yourself up for failure. You need to focus on sections of your rundown. The news keeps changing. Look at segments like consumer/health/regional news and start with those. Yes, a new and better story could show up later. But it is easier to write one more story and kill something else, than to slam write several things, just to fill your newscast, while you are on the air.

Same with spending two hours looking for stories before designing your rundown. Some days great content comes in slowly. But there will be some content you can start writing earlier in the day. Again design sections if you need. Focus on the rundown coming together 3 hours before the show. This may mean stories you wrote move around in the newscast or get killed. But it’s better to have more written early if you can. I’m talking about things like memorable moments and required segments. Crank them out. For more help on how to speed up your writing time check out this article.

So by now it should be clear why you do not focus on writing the newscast from the top down. Think about it. The top of your newscast changes constantly. The lower sections much less so. If you can have your newscast mostly written by three hours before air, then you have 2 hours to fine tune it, and an hour to add breaking news at the last minute. This is an achievable goal. It will take work and it will take discipline. You need to give yourself deadlines each day. But you will get a rhythm down and your newscasts will improve greatly. Best of all you will no longer have to ask yourself: What am I doing wrong?

How to handle it when asked inappropriate questions during an interview.

Recently FTVLive reported that someone posing as a recruiter for a network and someone who actually is a recruiter are making uncomfortable statements and asking lewd questions to women being interviewed. Let’s talk about how to handle these situations, specifically blatant sexual comments and/or requests for sexual favors.

First, it’s ok to say the question/statement was not appropriate. Responding by saying something like “I am hoping I misunderstood that last question, but this interview needs to remain professional questions only,” is fine. Do it. Yes, this will be uncomfortable. But you have the right to defend yourself and let the person know that’s not ok. You are remaining professional. More on this later.

If you have an agent or contact at the company where the recruiter works, let them know about what happened. It is ok to report it to someone you know. In the case of an agent, the person should then go up the food chain to address the issue. In the case of a friend who works at the company, it will at least be on record then with someone who could report it with credibility. You might have to answer questions later. But it is important for all involved to know that you want a fair workplace. That is not unreasonable.

I have heard over the years about hiring managers, who have gone so far as to ask about a sexual act while taking a potential employee to a restaurant. That is scary. You are in a strange town and this is your ride back to the station after lunch as well as possibly to your hotel room. Here’s what to do. Say that the question makes you uncomfortable. Excuse yourself. Then go to the bathroom and call for your own ride to the airport or your hotel. To be clear, you do not have to go back to the station. In fact you could end up in another very uncomfortable spot at the station with that manager. If you need to pick up your stuff, go to the hotel and get it. If you’ve already checked out, head to the airport. Only go to the station if you need to get your stuff. And then stop long enough to pick it up, then leave. But no matter where you are going, get a ride. It’s worth the money to get out of the situation. If you want to really get the point across, invoice the bill for that ride to HR at that station and say you would like to discuss why your method of transportation changed.

If a sexual request is made at the station in an office, get up and walk out of the room. Go to the front reception area and call for a ride. Your safety is the most important thing. If you feel safe in doing so, you can also go to the HR office. That person should help you get a ride to the airport. It just depends on if you want to tackle the issue right then, or get out of the station first.

If you are worried about backlash, please know this: While there are still some creeps hanging around in these powerful positions, there are a lot less of them. And companies know they cannot risk a public scandal. Your worst case scenario is you will not be called back for that job, or reimbursed for that Lyft ride. But let’s be honest, do you really want to work for a boss who acts like that or a station who hides from this kind of behavior?

Right now there are several managers, all the way up to the corporate level that want to help crack down on this type of behavior. But they need evidence. If it comes out that you protected yourself, you will still get jobs.

If you have an agent, and that company doesn’t report what happened and demand some sort of explanation and guarantee that the situation will be dealt with, fire the agency. This is a huge reason to have representation. You need backing. The company might tell the agent where to go, but demand the agent try. Frankly, reputable agents will want to make those calls anyway. The station and company do not want word getting around in this very small industry that something like this could have happened.

If the person is just direct and rude about your answers, saying things like “That’s your answer really?” about a job scenario question, or “Are you stupid” or “I am only interviewing you because I have to” report those things too. Companies have to provide fair interviews. There are common practices that have to be done. Period. Be polite during the interview and then inform your agent or someone you know in the company about what happened. Sometimes managers need job interview training. In this case, going back at the person will not really help. Kill them with kindness as the saying goes. Then when its over, you know this isn’t the person to work for. And if it’s reported the issue should be addressed for future candidates. I am telling you this first hand from having to report when interviewers are inappropriate. The first question I get when stating a case is “What did the interviewee do?“  The right answer in all cases is remain polite. Even in the scenario of the rude request at the restaurant.  Do not scream. Do not cuss out the person. State that the request was not appropriate. Excuse yourself then calmly remove yourself from the situation. If that person sees you leaving. Just simply say, “I appreciate the interview, but this situation is not right for me and my career. Good luck in your search.” Witnesses help. Like restaurant management. 

Good luck. Stay strong. Stay polite but firm that you deserve respect. Because you do.