Sunday, February 20, 2005

Jeff's View As The Above Average Viewer

This morning Jeff posted his thoughts about the similarities between local 5PM newscasts. I state "above average" in the title because clearly, as owner of the peoria television blog, he pays closer attention than the average viewer. I thought I'd pull back "Oz's curtain" for a moment as he shares some good thougths. He writes:

They all start the newscast with your days news, but as the show goes on I
notice much of the same.Health News... where Dr. Dean Adell at one time gave me
the health news for the day now Sandy Gallant from WEEK-TV, Jen Christensen from WHOI-TV, and Amy Paul from WMBD-TV give me the report. Of course they try to drag me in by calling the health report Medical Edge, Healthbeat, or Healthlink. As I watch the health report, which clearly is being reported on from not around here, I think what is the reason for this? Is this information really supposed
to help me someday? Maybe, but most likely it's wasting my time.
The answer is resources. Stations across the country subscribe to various feed services where a story is sent for local reporters to add their voices. The same goes for items like Consumer Reports. It is much less of a stress on resources to do it this way. Is the information still good. Sure. It's just not local. To be fair, many stations will work hard to finding good local medical stories which you will see from time to time... especially around here with several strong hospitals in the viewing area.

He also writes:

WHY NOT TRY SOMETHING THAT'S DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER STATION IN THE AREA! Stay with me here... maybe try a newscast that is dedicated to nothing but local news... I mean you have a national and world news program that comes on at 5:30pm. I'm sure I'll get a comment that says this is impossible! That really is unfortunate. A TV news station that is willing to be as bold as to offer viewers nothing but local news... I know would, excuse me, play in Peoria.

Excellent concept. However, again, it comes down to resources. If you look at bigger markets, their coverage might have more "local" news, but consider too they have more resources: more reporters, photographers, live trucks, sat trucks (with edit equipment in the truck) and engineers.

Let me give you an example (please, those of you who are nitpickers, it's just an off the top of my head example). Let's say a producer here wants a package (longer form story) and a live shot from something in 45 minutes away from Peoria... that starts at 7:00 PM. Your crew is there on time and by luck of the draw, they don't also have high school sports highlights to shoot. Getting this together would involve shooting what you could, rushing back, writing in the car on your way back, logging your sound, cutting your narration and having your photographer stay to edit... while you take another photographer and a live truck. You'll have to leave no later than 9:00 so the photog has time to set up the live shot. This means you had to get back by 8:30 or so... which means you spent 45 minutes at the story... and this is provided it started on time and you were able to talk to all the people you needed to talk to in that 45 minutes. This is also based on the idea that there's an extra photographer to spare at 9:00.

(Editor's note: I've been gone so long, I don't know if any of the stations have editing equipment in the truck. When I first got to WMBD, we had wires hanging out. Still, the manpower issue should be the same.)

In a bigger market (or at least one with better equipment) you'd shoot the story with a photographer. You'd be able to take your time because at, oh say, 7:30, an engineer leaves the station with a truck. The engineer meets you and the photog at a set location. You write your story and pick your sound in a nice truck, one that probably has a fridge and air or heat depending on what you need based on the weather. When you and your photog are done editing, you feed the package to the station and get ready for the live shot, which the engineer has already set up, lights and everything.

This is not to say that in larger markets they don't push it harder or cut it closer because they can... they do. This is just a basic example of how things are different. Staffs are generally smaller in smaller markets, yet quite often they have similar news "holes" to fill. And this is not to say that larger markets don't use the franchised pieces (P. Allen Smith, Consumer Reports etc.) They do.

Bottom line is there isn't as much to cover and there aren't as many staffers to do all local. Also keep in mind too... that not everyone watches the networks for news, so some people depend on their local teams to give them some perspective as to what else is going on around the world.

Finally, Jeff writes:

I understand I am not someone who works at these stations. But if the same is
what I see on every news station, one can assume that WEEK-TV will be the
ratings king for some time at 5.
Good assumption. I have this theory which has become more clear to me the longer I've been out of television. In markets about this size and smaller, television people are much more accessible to viewers than they are in larger markets. Think about something as simple as the limited number of movie theaters or shopping centers there are in Peoria. Chances are around Christmas time, you'll run into some of your favorite news people.

Things like this give viewers more of a chance to make more personal connections with these people... especially those who have family/put down roots here. Just an example... "So and so's son is my dentist so of course I watch his dad." The longer news people are here the more involved (most likely) you'll see them in the community, the more connections they make... aside from the work they do on camera.

Take a look back at January 26th's big news day. The coverage wasn't all that different, was it? So why do people choose what they choose? Trust is built over time. All things being about equal in terms of what stories are being covered, of course people will turn to what is familiar. People are creatures of habit. What stations have the most people that fit this profile? In order WEEK, WMBD, WHOI. This isn't the only reason people watch, but I know first hand from talking to lots of viewers in the past four years, that it is a big reason.

Don't believe me? I'd be willing to bet that Rural Food Critic Don "Dubbs" Washburn is more recognizable than lots of reporters/politicans around here.


Jeff Nau said...

Thanks for your insight, and glad to hear your steadily getting better.

Sure I probably went too far in my ramblings, but my main point was to try something else... dare to be different.

I am more than an average viewer, and maybe that's why I expect more. All in all, I am happy with the way our local stations are covering the news.

But it seems like they all try to be eachother. When one station starts something, another one jumps on the bandwagon.

I appreciate your perspective, I was hoping you would comment.

Edgar said...

Something else to think about too Jeff, and I don't have the time or energy right now to get to far into it. But think about how many companies own so many stations across the country... from O&Os to companies like Granite and Nexstar. Add to that the small number of consulting firms these places hire and you'll start to see a lot of replication. If "X" works "here", "X" will work "there." There's no easy solution.