I feel beyond grateful and blessed for what is now my 47-year career spent in virtually every corner of American media. I’ve tried to pay attention. I’ve tried to learn things, and I’ve tried to help journalists—particularly young journalists—just as so many wonderful professionals have helped me.
This week I’m sharing excerpts from a Reporters’ Handbook I wrote and distributed to my staffs while I served as a local television news director in a series of markets, for a series of media companies. I’d like to ask you to review my posts in this forum on Monday and Tuesday, as well as considering today’s entry.
My hope is that it will spark a conversation among all of us. Not a fight. Not a war. A conversation. Here’s today’s excerpt.
OUR MOST PRECIOUS RESOURCE…
Is people. The people we work for and with, and especially the people we serve.
But after that it’s air time and print space. We must maximize every frame and every keystroke. Everything we show and everything we write must have a purpose. Our style is active and direct. Good writing is characterized by its accuracy and clarity. Well-shot and edited video tells a story in and of itself, a story that is complemented and elevated by accompanying, factual, professionally written copy. We will do no “filler” stories. We now have access to everything that is happening on Earth and even beyond. The last time “filling up a newscast” was a legitimate issue was about 1978 (and I would know!).
Now, our content bar at all times must be set at stratospheric heights. The best newscast producers are the ones who have the experience, the judgment, the composure and the courage to take a “pretty good story” and throw it straight in the trashcan. Pretty good is not good enough, not when we now can be so sharply selective and therefore never have to settle for “pretty good.”
THE POWER HAS SHIFTED. AND THAT’S A GOOD THING!
We in the media have traditionally “called the tune.” We made the rules. We told our audience where to be, when to be there, what they should care about, what they shouldn’t care about and made sure that our daily flow of information was conducted at OUR convenience.
We were frankly pretty arrogant and imperious about it.
Those days are gone. And it’s a good thing!
Now the news CONSUMER holds all the power. We are now in the “customer service” business, like almost every other enterprise. We must now deliver our product where our customers want it, when they want it, in the form and format they want it, with THEIR convenience guiding our workflow and decisions.
Enter “digital,” social media, apps and emerging content conduits like Over The Top (OTT). These frontiers are not “burdens.” They are exciting opportunities that we must embrace and maximize, for the benefit of both the community and our stations. These new media and new strategies have been the source of anxiety for many even top-flight journalists and news outlets. That anxiety is to some degree understandable. The “rules” seem to change every day, and the “goal posts” move with every “change of possession.”
Deep breath time. Yes, these processes are still evolving. Monday’s “Big Concept” may end up in the trash bin by Wednesday. Keep smiling. And I will, too.
We must at all times have a “servant’s mindset,” with the aim of serving our community and serving the truth itself.