• Pass the Skype test – Earn a station visit

    April 7th, 2013

    It’s always a dicey proposition to have a telephone conversation with a perspective hire – and get enough of a vibe to decide if you want to spend the bucks to fly them into your market for an interview.  After all it is just a distant faceless voice on a phone.  It’s a little like playing video poker where you can’t see your opponent’s facial expressions compared to a live game with them sitting in the same room with you.

    WSPA News Director Karen Kelly says, “You not only listen with your ears but you listen with your eyes.  You can tell if someone’s really listening to you by the way they react.  A voice on the phone just isn’t enough to tell what someone is really like.”   Problem solved – thanks to longtime WSPA Assignment Manager Mary Lu Saylor.   She suggested the news managers gather in the conference room for a Skype hook-up with perspective hires.

    Mary Lu says, “One of the big challenges when you are doing pre-interviews on the phone is to figure out if you want to take a chance on bringing people in.  We want to be good stewards of our budgets so we only fly people in that we are pretty sure are ‘the one.’”   She’s used Skype to connect with people in a national non-profit organization where she volunteers – and suggested WSPA give it a try for job interviews.

    Mary Lu says, “Utilizing Skype you see people on their own turf where hopefully they are most comfortable.  Being able to see who they are is a huge asset.  Seeing body language, emotion,  and how they react to questions face to face gives you insight you cannot get over the phone.”  The WSPA news manager says it also benefits the prospective hire – “They see who their potential boss is, they can ask questions, and just learn more about the station and what is being offered.”  News Director Kelly says, “We want to hire employees  who truly believe in advocacy journalism and it’s important to not only hear their passion but see it.”

    So now WSPA uses a three step hiring process with great success:

    1. Talk to the job applicant on the telephone
    2. If they pass that test – move to phase two – a Skype interview with the news managers
    3. Finally if they clear the first two hurdles – they fly the candidate in for an interview – very confident it will be a successful choice.

    WSPA has found that – thus far – all their job candidates have had easy access to Skype – usually in the comfort of their homes or apartments.  So, if you’re looking to raise your confidence level before shelling out travel expenses for a hire – give Skype a shot.


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  • Controversial News Sharing in Phoenix Works Great!

    January 8th, 2013

    It was an idea that many purists decried.  Nearly three years ago – in the midst of a big downturn in broadcasting fortunes – three Phoenix television stations got together to launch LNS – the Local News Service.  KPHO (CBS), KSAZ (Fox) and KNXV (ABC) – each separately owned – agreed to share video of stories that are not points of difference between the stations.  You know, the silly stories where each station would send their own crew for 30 seconds of video of the new giraffe born at the local zoo, or the pithy post game news conference by the Arizona Cardinal’s coach.

    Critics aside – it has been a smashing success!  KPHO news director Michelle Donaldson, who helped spearhead LNS, says in the old days the three photographers she dedicates to the news sharing service might be able to shoot 40  stories a week – if they really hustled.  Today – her producers have 90 stories or more – every week – to slot into their many newscasts.  It really allows them to avoid the bane of all viewers – repetition – and to better cover all the little stories important to the hundreds of neighborhoods in the sprawling Valley Of The Sun.

    To news sharing critics, Donaldson says – “I understand the fears that sharing material would only contribute to the further homogenization of local news. But who are we kidding?  We’re already stepping on each other to get the same, basic stories.  Managed properly, LNS has actually made it easier to differentiate our station in the market.”

    Think about what she is saying – not having your precious few crews chasing minor video ops – gives you more flexibility to develop special content in your newscasts.  Michelle puts it this way – “We have liberated our news crews to pursue content that is actually unique.  Go figure!  We have enterprise content in our planner every single day.  That’s not hyperbole.  That’s reality!”

    Here’s how the Phoenix Local News Service works:

    • Each station dedicates three photographers and one assignment person to LNS
    • All gear and trucks belong to each respective station and each photographer works out of their home station
    • One of the stations dedicated a managing editor for LNS who oversees the daily planner, rundowns, and assigns LNS personnel from all three stations
    • The other two stations use their LNS assignment editor to handle logistics (truck assignments, feed times, communicating content choices to station managers and producers)
    • All stations contribute story ideas for the LNS planner and indicate whether the station’s interest in the story is low, medium or high – this helps the managing editor make choices

    KPHO’s Donaldson says the Phoenix LNS works because all three stations are truly committed to the service.  She says other market’s efforts have failed because, she believes, there was a lack of a genuine commitment by the participating stations.  In fact, the cooperation is so strong in Phoenix that LNS now provides breaking news coverage to the three partners.  If two of the three stations agree,  crews may be diverted to the breaking news story as it progresses.

    The LNS photographer may provide a fixed location live shot at the scene of a hostage standoff, for instance.  Meanwhile each station is busy working their own unique angles on the breaking news story.  At times, the LNS photographer has been used for custom live shots by one of the stations – as long as the other stations agree that it will not interfere with providing content that serves the whole group first and foremost.

    Michelle says there have been evolutions of LNS since its launch in March of 2009:

    • LNS feed times have been modified as they have learned what is more efficient for the partners
    • They are exploring a file-sharing system that would eliminate the need for traditional feeds
    • The stations are pitching in on a multi-box to further streamline courtroom coverage and sharing
    • LNS photographers are now taking still photos (using high res phones) for use on partner websites

    Finally, I asked Michelle for some tips for others who may be considering a news-sharing partnership:

    • It all comes down to organization
    • Good communication, and a clear, shared vision of the objective is critical to success
    • You must keep communicating – don’t let some small issue fester into a big issue
    • Respect that each station has their own way of doing things
    • Work to understand how they work – then come up with systems and processes that work for all the partners

    I believe this is a no-brainer.  It is time to better utilize your newsgathering resources by partnering on the little, run-of-the-mill stories so you can invest your other crew’s time in content that will truly differentiate your newscasts from the competition.





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  • So, I have this idea…

    October 29th, 2012

    While that barrage of political ads has made it a very profitable 2012 for many TV stations, it has been a very unpleasant experience for the audience – especially in key swing states.  When I visit clients in Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin I quickly tire of the spots blaring negativity in every commercial break.  I can’t image what its like to live in those places.  My head is spinning after just a couple days of visiting.

    Now, let me be clear – like my TV station clients – I am very grateful for the cash flow windfall these political spots provide.  It makes anyone connected with the business very happy.  But – I have this idea – and I believe it will make millions of dollars.

    I think that when someone takes advantage of early voting – they should be rewarded by being able to turn off the tsunami of political spots on their TV sets.  When they cast their ballot a signal goes to their local satellite, cable or telephone provider showing their address and triggering a filter that stops all political spots from being delivered to their house.


    I tell yah – I think I’m onto something here…



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  • Stronger Evidence Supporting a Key TV Demo of 30-to-60 or Beyond

    September 30th, 2012

    I have been on this soapbox for several years now: TV advertisers and station executives are making a huge mistake by not demanding that the key demo move from 25-to-54 to 30-to-60.  The evidence continues to pile up that my fellow Baby Boomers are a whole different aging generation than we have ever seen before.  Maybe 30-to-60 may be shooting too low?

    The 18-to-49 and 25-to-54 key demos came about decades ago when the common theory was that anyone over the age of 50 was set in their ways – and no amount of marketing could change their minds.  The advertisers believed that if someone over the age of 50 used Crest toothpaste, for instance, they would never even think about changing brands.  We now know – through fresh research – that the Baby Boomers  born between 1946 and 1964 – are a generation that keeps an open mind and embraces new ideas and new thinking unlike any generation that went before them.

    Consider a new survey of Boomers from Nielsen and BoomAgers.  The stats are eye-opening:

    • While Baby Boomers comprise 40% of the U.S. population – they control 70% of the disposable income
    • This generation buys 49% of the total packaged goods in America
    • Despite the economic downturn – 63% of Boomers have at least one person in the household working full-time

    Baby Boomers have money to spend – and unlike previous aging generations – they are spending it on new technology.  Once again, consider these eye-popping findings:

    • Boomers make up 40% of the people paying for wireless services
    • 41% of all Apple computers are sold to Boomers
    • Boomers represent 30% of all social media and online users
    • More than 8 million Boomers are heavy users – spending 20 hours or more online every week
    • 53% of Baby Boomers are on Facebook

    In addition, as we all know, these older Americans – now aged 48-to-66 – are the heaviest users of local television news.  This combination – online and on air – should be a sweet target for advertisers on television stations.  Once again – when you combine all this info – with the Boomers having the most disposable income – it makes you scratch your head – why wouldn’t they be the key demo for television advertisers?

    And the facts get even more interesting when you slice this latest date a little further.  How about these data points:

    • People aged 50 and older spend nearly $7 billion online every year
    • “Older Boomers” (aged 56-to-66) spend the most online of all generations
    • “Older Boomer” spending is nearly double what those aged 18-to-22 spend online
    • The second biggest group of online spenders are – “Younger Boomers” – aged 46-to-55

    And consider one more piece of data: Between now and 2030 – the 18-to-49 segment of the population will grow by a mere 12%.  During the same time frame – the 50+ segment will grow by 34%.   By 2050 – there will be 161 million consumers in America aged 50-plus.  That will represent a 63% increase from 2010.

    Maybe that key demo should move to 40-to-70?



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  • How to Own a Major Local Event: WJAR Grabs the Gold

    August 18th, 2012

    WJAR, the Media General NBC affiliate in Providence, scored big ratings during the Olympics – using all their media platforms.  Then, they caught wind that a local Olympics hero – Elizabeth Beisel – winner of two medals – was heading home before the closing ceremonies.  WJAR decided to own this exciting moment but they’d have to beat the clock at every turn to pull it off.

    They planned – and pulled together – a full-fledged rally at Beisel’s former high school in less than a week.  The rally included a live TV program, local and national dignitaries, bronze and silver balloons, signs and banners, music and food.  They’d originally planned to use the school gym – which held about 300.  But when they called for permission, school officials said they felt the station was grossly underestimating the scope of what they were planning – and suggested they use the football field with its grandstand which held 2,000.

    WJAR news director Chris Lanni says he quickly saw that this had become a statewide event for Rhode Island when his phone started ringing off the hook from politicians wanting to be part of the big homecoming.  The VIPs soon included the Lt. Governor, a U.S. Congressman, the school superintendent, the town manager and a host of other dignitaries.

    The station scoped out the site, planned camera positions, sound systems, and set up a VIP tent – branded with the NBC10 logo, as well as a 30-foot blowup NBC Peacock as the stage background with the NBC10 logo looming as a huge presence behind the speakers.  They also invited a group that had raised $15,000 for Beisel’s Olympic expenses by selling t-shirts to attend and present the check.

    While all that planning and execution was jammed into less than a week – the most difficult hurdle was yet to come.  The program was going to be live on WJAR television (and streamed on their website) beginning at 7:30 p.m.  They had to be off the air by 8 p.m. sharp – as NBC Olympics coverage would begin in primetime.  The problem with this tight timing: Beisel’s flight was not scheduled to land at the Providence airport until 6:47 p.m.  They wanted her to arrive at the rally at 7:40 – giving them 53 minutes from touchdown to her appearance.  The high school is 25 minutes from the airport!

    To complicate the tight schedule, Beisel’s family wanted to have a quick, private reunion at the airport.  They were allowed 8 minutes in an airport boardroom because every second counted.  WJAR arranged for airport police to escort her off the plane, and through private hallways to the boardroom.  Meanwhile other security rushed her luggage (and two medals) out of the belly of the plane to the waiting limo.  State police were standing by to escort the limo to the stadium.

    Meanwhile at the high school stadium, the 2,000 seats were being jammed to capacity.  Many people had arrived early for some tailgating.  It was a festive gathering with many fans wearing Beisel t-shirts and waving homemade signs.  Back at the airport, Beisel called an audible that almost caused a heart attack for Lanni and his troops.  She veered into a restroom to freshen up and change clothes.  Before she re-emerged  ten precious minutes had elapsed!

    There was also another element to plan: That was keeping the other media – who had all gathered at the airport – away from WJAR’s prized guest of honor.  They used a “decoy” limo to put them off the scent – as well as private hallways at the airport to whisk her into the real limo – sight unseen by the competition.

    NBC10 longtime sports director Frank Carpano emceed the live event as it kicked off at 7:30 p.m.  Frank had a special connection with Beisel and her family.  During the broadcast he played an interview he’d done with her when she was a special 9 year-old athlete.  WJAR had a live “chase car” camera showing Beisel’s limo approaching the field.

    Amazingly, the limo arrived right on time at 7:40.  The plan was to have Beisel speak at 7:53 before they had to sign off for the Olympics.  Then the Olympic athlete called another audible that really turned out to be an inspiring part of the broadcast.  As she walked in, with WJAR using backpack technology to show her view of the crowd, Elizabeth ran over to the front row of the grandstands to hug and greet old classmates and family members.  This lasted 5 minutes – but was great television – as Frank remained silent – and the cameras followed her.  Microphones caught the sounds of these emotional greetings.

    Finally Beisel hopped on stage and talked with Frank and the TV audience.  As 8 p.m. loomed, Frank signed off the over the air broadcast, and invited the audience to join the online streaming of the event.  There were high fives all around from the many WJAR troops involved in this great event that they clearly owned from beginning to end.

    The audience was also excited.  The half hour program scored a 9.6 household rating – WJAR’s highest rated local program for the day.





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  • TV Weather – Stormed By Multi-Media

    July 8th, 2012

    For years, AR&D has been advising client TV stations to be multiple platform news and information providers.   Now, a recent online survey shows that what is thought to be the last big driver of local TV newscast viewing – the weather – is also being stormed by a multitude of media.

    In fact, this survey in an East Coast market shows that the number one source on normal weather days – is no choice.  Fully one quarter of all respondents answered “None/Don”t Know” when asked the source they turn to during calm weather days.  But perhaps more surprising was the #2 source – 22% said it was their smartphone or mobile device.  The favorite TV newscast in the market limped in 3rd receiving 14% of the votes.  This is a TV station with a 40-plus preference.  The fourth choice on normal weather days was Weather.com at 13%.  The second favorite TV station received only 6% of the votes for normal weather days.

    OK, those numbers are a bit surprising.   But AR&D research has shown for years that most local TV news viewers are non-discriminate when the weather outside is sunny.  They don’t seek out their favorite weathercaster or newscast, content instead to stay on whatever channel they happen to be on at that time.  But surely, when it comes to severe weather local TV news will reign supreme as it always has?  Won’t it?

    The answer is a big NO!  The survey shows that the #1 source for local TV news viewers during severe weather is “None/Don’t Know.”  It represents 22% of the respondents in our survey.  Now, the dominant favorite TV station in this market comes in a close second with 20% of the votes.  But they are still second – and with their big preference share it means less than half of their own fans choose them when the weather is potentially life-threatening.

    The second favorite station garners 13% of the votes when there is severe weather, with smartphones and mobile devices right behind at 12%.  The Weather Channel grabbed 8% of the votes for severe weather source with their website – Weather.com – next with 7% of the votes.  In both normal and severe weather – the local TV websites captured less than 5% of the votes.

    When you slice the data by station fans it becomes a bit more alarming.  During normal weather days, only 27% of their own fans choose that dominant #1 TV station.  A larger number – 28% answer “None/Don’t Know” and another 19% of their fans list smartphones/mobile devices.

    The loyalty to the TV station rises slightly in severe weather.  38% of the #1 station’s fans say they turn to their favorite TV station when the weather gets rough.  But even on those stormy days 28% of their fans say “None/Don’t Know.”  The use of smartphones/mobile devices shrinks to 10% on those stormy days among the #1 station’s fans.  The top station’s own website ties the Weather Channel as a severe weather source with 8% of the votes.

    So, what are the lessons in this survey?  First and foremost you can no longer take for granted that your TV weathercast will be the automatic top choice for local television news viewers on stormy days.  It also points out the need to re-examine your multiple platform strategy and marketing.  You MUST be everywhere – on every communication device people use in their everyday lives.  If you want to give your lead meteorologist a high profile – then they MUST be on every platform too.  The days of your meteorologist walking in late in the afternoon and putting together a TV weathercast are gone forever.  Their job now stretches throughout the day tweeting, blogging, updating on smartphones, tablets and your website.



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  • Mike Wallace: The Architect Of Accountability Journalist

    April 9th, 2012

    With the passing of Mike Wallace, the world has lost the architect of accountability journalism.  I do workshops nearly every week at AR&D client TV stations helping reporters develop their skills at asking the accountability questions that hold those in charge responsible for their actions.   It is something viewers demand above all else these days.  The media has access to the politicians and public employees who are spending their hard-earned tax dollars – many of these viewers would say “mis-spending” those monies.  The viewers want answers – and they must rely on the media to get them.

    Mike Wallace raised this tough questioning to an art form.   Harry Reasoner  once said, “There is one thing that Mike can do better than anybody else: With an angelic smile, he can ask a question that would get anyone else smashed in the face.”   How did Wallace get away with it?   He was first and foremost a fearless questioner – but – and probably more importantly – he did his research.  He knew the answer before he asked the question – therefore he cut through the person’s spin – by asking the question the right way the first time – or following up relentlessly until the subject fessed up.

    Mike Wallace had certain famous opening lines he used for this type of questioning.  For instance, “Forgive me for asking….but…”   OR    “Not my words….but some say…”   He used this technique during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.   Wallace asked Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini —  a feared world figure at the time — what he thought about being called “a lunatic” by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

    In the 1990′s Mike Wallace landed a rare interview with Barbra Streisand, and mocked her over 20 years of being in psychoanalysis by asking, “What is it you’re trying to find out that takes 20 years?”   That brought tears from Streisand who stammered, “I’m a slow learner.”

    Wallace also was famous for his reaction to some stone-walling or lame answer by someone he was questioning saying  “Oh, come on…”   OR  “What do you mean you have no idea?”  Then he would sit and wait – letting the camera roll until the person felt compelled to say something – usually the answer to the original question.  I recommend this technique to reporters all the time – they don’t have to use the “come on” line – but don’t be afraid to sit there and let the camera roll  – usually the subject of your question will cave and say something to break the silence.

    But for all his bravado – Wallace’s greatest asset was being armed with research.  I tell reporters that they MUST know the answer to the question before they ask the question.  That way the politician cannot wiggle off the hook with a lame, stock answer.  Remember this:  Most politicians rehearse answers to your expected questions – so you need to do your research to continue to probe until they give you an actual answer that responds to your actual question.

    With the death of Mike Wallace, the Internet is filled with links to many of his famous interviews.  Spend time to watch some of them – and while you are doing that pay close attention to the demeanor and the questioning techniques exhibited by Wallace.  This will give you a masters degree in the art of accountability journalism.

    In the end, the greatest compliment anyone ever paid Mike Wallace was most likely an advertisement taken out by the Coors Brewing company in the early 80′s.  It said – “The Four Most Dreaded Words in the English Language: Mike Wallace Is Here.”




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  • How Ridiculous Are People Meters? Read On….

    March 27th, 2012

    Here is a short tale that really showcases how ridiculous Nielsen’s “People Meters” really are.  It clearly illustrates why this monopoly needs competition and how the numbers that TV stations live and die with every day – are so very shaky.

    I have a client station – that shall remain nameless – in a NSI LPM market – that shall remain nameless – that just lost half of their A25-54 audience in their morning newscast.  A number that had been cruising along at a steady 1 in the demo – suddenly dropped to a .5 and stayed there.  Now – we know that in this market – one A25-54 demo point equals a whopping two LPM boxes.

    The other day, one of the anchors on this morning newscast received an email from a loyal viewer saying how much she missed her in the morning but the viewer’s work schedule had changed so she left much earlier each day.  And – the emailer added – “I also have one of those “Nielsen thingies that monitor my viewing.”

    Ah Ha!  There is the answer to the riddle of why this station’s morning newscast suddenly lost half of its A25-54 demo.  ONE of their fans – who happened to have a NSI box – goes to work earlier now and misses the newscast.

    So based on that little anecdote is Nielsen’s LPM system ridiculous and flawed?   I rest my case.






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  • What sets this newscast apart from the competition? “Nothing!”

    March 11th, 2012

    So, if a local TV newscast has been dominant for decades – then it must “own” a number of attributes that are valued by viewers in that market?  Right?   Shockingly – at least to me – that is not the case in a couple of recent AR&D research studies.

    Now, I have partnered with stations for over two decades at AR&D and we have used that very approach – finding an unfulfilled viewer “desire” (balanced news, severe weather, accountability) – delivering that image – and rising to top dog in the market.  That’s why I was surprised to see legacy stations that brought the same response from respondent after respondent – “Gee, I really can’t think of anything they’re doing” that makes them noticeably different and better than their competitors.

    It seemed unfathomable to me that these stations were market kings year after year – with no other local station taking a serious run at that them – when we kept seeing responses like this from viewers:

    “I really don’t have anything specific.  I cannot think of anything that stands out,”

    “I’m afraid I don’t know what the competitive advantage is that (station) has.”

    “I’m not sure.  I guess it’s just habit.”

    “I don’t know, they’re all pretty much the same, I’ve just always watched that one.”

    After reading response after response like those – after seeing how the overall local TV news viewership numbers keep diminishing – after hearing for years that local TV newscasts are just not relevant anymore – it finally hit me.  The problem is most non-winning local TV newscasts are “ENABLERS.”

    Those stations talk about strategy, talk about how their newscasts are really different than the #1 guys, talk about their great marketing campaigns.  But it’s all hogwash!  You are ENABLING the top dogs to stay on top because you are doing NOTHING noticeably different.  You are doing nothing that is bold enough, good enough, and valued enough to even get them to use one finger to push a different channel on their remote!   Am I being overly harsh?

    I don’t think so.  The evidence clearly points to this fact: The second and third place TV stations cannot muster enough of a charge to pry these habitual viewers just a little bit out of their comfort zone – to even entertain the thought that maybe – just maybe – their favorite station (that hasn’t excited them for years) might not be the only one they should watch.  That, my friends, is a sad state of affairs.

    But BOLD is hard for most TV stations to embrace.  After all, we all know that TV is a pack mentality business.  If I had a dollar for every time I suggested something bold, and a client said – “Who else does that?” – and I said “No one – you could be the first.” – and had the client say “Well let me know when someone else does it, and I’ll consider it.” – I could be retired on my bass boat right now.

    So the message is simple – You can choose to be BOLD and go after viewer-desired opportunities in a major way – or you can continue to enable the #1 stations to sit on their well-worn, uninspired thrones and garner the majority of the revenue in your market.  The choice is yours.





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  • 2012: A Bad Year For Incumbents? A Good Year For Accountability!

    February 20th, 2012

    I’m no political consultant, but I do see research comments from thousands of people from coast to coast – and they are not happy!  And, it looks like they will take out their ire on incumbents – and any other perceived “politicians” this election year.

    It seems that most of the news audience (on all platforms) is “worried and concerned” and they point their exasperated fingers directly at politicians – local, state and national.  This is really not news, I know, but the anger and vitriol has become much more intense over the past couple years.

    To sum it up – from the news audience perspective – most believe elected officials are only in it for themselves – now more than ever – and are much more interested in lining their own pockets, and wasting our hard earned tax dollars than looking out for their constituents.  Recent verbatim comments from AR&D research projects across the country bear this out – in a loud voice.

    “I want to know who is accountable, and think the media should help inform the people who are watching the news.”

    “We need more coverage of how much of the tax payers’ money is being blown.”

    “News agencies have a better chance to ask questions of politicians and police, more than the public does.  I hate it when they sweep things under the rug.”

    “Instead of our politicians working together, they want to fight every idea that is brought before them. I’m tired of our country tearing ourselves apart!!!!

    “I am frustrated with the state of our country and I wish that Politicians would be held accountable.”

    “Check whether the election promises made are not reversed once in power and don’t let the law makers be the law breakers,”

    “Go after corporations and politicians more often, everyone knows they both are doing illegal things or immoral things at best.”

    “Ask tough questions. Hold those in power accountable.”

    “Expose the rich bastards for what they are – CROOKS!”
    Those capital letters on that last one were from the respondent – not from me.  You can certainly get the flavor of the anger from this sampling of viewer comments – in their own words.
    This is your call to action.  Frustrated, angry, worried and concerned viewers everywhere want their local TV station to hold these politicians accountable.
    If you just go out every day – covering local spending, state taxes, political races and every other government story in the same old, trite, unimaginative, lazy, timid manner as it has been done for years on most local TV newscasts – you will add to your customers’ sense of frustration.  But if your news staff actually develops sources, goes beyond the standard “talking point” interviews and asks the tough follow-up questions – then you will certainly stand out among your competitors.
    And, if no station in your market steps up in 2012 – the erosion of local TV news viewing will continue unabated – and more and more of the people formerly known as the audience will migrate to the Internet to get the answers they are seeking.


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