I’ve been blessed with, and am always grateful for, a media career that has now spanned more than four and a half decades.
The opportunities I’ve had as a television and radio reporter, a radio talk show host, a newspaper and magazine writer, a media advertising manager, a blogger and a local television news director have taught me many lessons and formed my core principles about truth-telling.
I’d like to share with you some excerpts from a “Reporter’s Handbook” I composed and distributed to the news staffs I had the privilege and responsibility of supervising. Many of these observations reflect the seismic changes I have observed in the national media landscape over the last half-century.
THE “VALUE PROPOSITION”
Covering day-to-day news is of course necessary, but it’s insufficient. If ALL we do is cover the day’s news, we will fail our audience, our company, our station and our profession. “The day’s news” is now available and accessible to all, anytime, from a variety of different sources and media outlets. Our goal and commitment must always be to generate original, branded, relevant and layered content that is unique to our station and unavailable on any other news outlet in our market.
“Who, what, where and when” are of course foundational staples of good reporting, but we must in all stories move beyond that to include “why, how, and with what impact and effect.”
If a story has no impact and effect, it is not worth reporting and not worth our audience’s time.
We must never fail. Our “batting average” must be 1.000. Success requires vigilance, planning, sourcing and anticipation. Failing even once is once too often. Viewers remember which news sources served them and which failed them in covering breaking news.
Is measured by consistency. The greater the gap between our very best day and our very worst day, the less professional we are. The smaller the gap between our very best day and our very worst day, the more professional we are. With true “pros,” the only person even aware of the difference between “best” and “worst” is that person himself or herself.
We are humans. Things happen in our lives. Your news director is your biggest fan, and is always empathetic about your concerns and what is going on in your lives at any given point in time. We care. I care.
But our audience doesn’t care. And should not have to care. It is frankly not their problem. We must deliver the news. Every day. Without deviation. No matter what.
DON’T DROP THE BATON!
News outlets, particularly local television stations, very often fail to follow up on their own well-done, relevant, compelling stories. Such a story needn’t and shouldn’t be a “one and done.” Good stories always warrant follow-ups. What next? Now what?
GOOD NEWS OUTLETS…
Accurately describe events and conditions as they are.
GREAT NEWS OUTLETS…
Accurately describe events and conditions as they are, and then go on to get ahead of the impact and results of those events and conditions. Like great chess players, great journalists always look “three moves ahead.”
ALL STORIES ARE “PEOPLE STORIES”!
Our job is to depict, describe, document, frame and translate The Human Experience. Any story that goes to do that, and does not explain its impact on people, is not journalism. It’s a press release.
May have killed the cat, but it is the lifeblood of good reporters and good newsrooms.
More excerpts from The Handbook tomorrow, including, “Established facts require no ‘balance’.” Facts ARE balance.
I’m very much hoping these observations will spark robust examination and discussion.
But in closing today, this has always been my News Credo.
- Tell the truth,
- Never deviate from “1.”
If and when we make an honest, full-speed mistake, we will own it, admit it, correct it and learn from it. Transparency establishes credibility.
There is so much to “un-pack” here and so much I agree with that I will cherry pick a few things and go from there. While I certainly agree, wholeheartedly, for the need for professionalism and batting 1.000 when covering breaking news, something else really jumped off the page at me:
“News outlets, particularly local television stations, very often fail to follow up…..”
To me that is where we must remain vigilant. In broadcast news, no matter the platform, we do NOT operate in a “daily silo.” Too often when the day is done, so are the stories we covered THAT day. We move on. There are so many stories that should be followed up. But it seems to me we fail at that follow-up. We could make our industry better if we stopped, checked up on what we’d covered in the past, and looked for new angles. We are missing some great stories.
Yes. Sometimes I think we’re our own worst enemies. Presumably any story we do is based on its future impact, right? So “one and done” leaves the job unfinished.