• You've got to be kidding me!

    October 30th, 2008

    Did you know that Obama's “informercial” last night is about to kill journalistic integrity across the United States?   That is the message being posted on the TVSpy Watercooler in the wake of the 30-minute paid political program on most major networks last a week before the election.

    It is amazing to me how many TV journalists paint these artificial boundaries around their profession.  There were more than a couple dozen postings on the Watercooler sight today debating the issue of this paid poltitical advertisement ruining the reputation of journalists everywhere.

    For instance, “I'm not a conservative. I consider myself a liberal. Even so, I am shocked at what I'm seeing on my television screen right now. Barack Obama “spreading his message”. I can't believe he offered to pay the networks MILLIONS of dollar and they obliged. Clearly the media is dictating this election.”

    Or this posting, “I will cheer from Thursday onward as advertising dollars at TV station and networks grind to a trickle as viewers stay away from the news products in protests, layoffs will result.”

    But there are more realistic comments as well, “The Obama spot was just that, a commercial.  If you don't want to work for a company that exists by selling commercials, try PBS.  Of course, they still recognize companies that “suppport” them.  Get real”

    Do you really believe that viewers sat around watching the Obama infomercial last night and lamented about how those local TV stations and networks “sold out” their journalistic integrity?    Come on TV journalists – get your collective heads out of the sand – viewers are very much smarter than you give them credit for.  

    And as Forrest Gump said, “and that's all I have to say about that.”

    Jim

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  • Don't lose the election!

    October 29th, 2008

    By nature, I am a very upbeat, positive person.  But during my news director days I always had a downbeat personality as election night drew near.

    My reasoning is this: It is very difficult – if not impossible – to win the coverage war on election night.  Everyone pretty much gets the same numbers at the same time, and it all becomes a blur for the viewers.  However – it is very possible to lose the coverage war on election night.  All it takes is a gaff or two by anchors who didn't do their homework, a computer glitch, a missed live shot of a concession or victory speech and it is game over.

    So here are some quick tips on how not to lose on election night:

    • Prepare an election booklet for your anchors that outlines each race, includes background information on the candidates, and has some other info so they can add some “spice” to their ad-libbing during the long night.
    • Schedule a sit down meeting with the anchors for this coming Monday – to test their knowledge on the information in the booklet.  Grill them a little bit until you are comfortable that they will be prepared – and seem very informed – on Tuesday.
    • Schedule all potential live shot locations – including possible polling places where there could be problems with ballots etc. on election night.   Take your live trucks to each of those locations, set up a live shot to be assured there are not going to be problems on Tuesday.  Write in your live shot book exactly where the truck is parked for the best connection with the live towers and share it with everyone.
    • Hold a pre-election meeting on Monday afternoon with everyone involved – make this a rally (get your troops pumped up) and also a time for everyone to hear the entire coverage plan so they all know how their roles fit in the big picture.
    • Assign someone (as news director I always played this role) to be the “viewer's advocate”  during your election coverage.  The role involves a call to the producer to tell them an interview has dragged on too long; or to ask them to clarify some confusing aspect of your coverage etc.

    These ideas served my newsrooms well during elections over a couple of decades, and I believe they will help assure that you don't lost the election on Tuesday night.

    Good luck!

    Jim

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  • Road Warrior Intel #1

    October 21st, 2008

    I am on the road for a few days every week, criss-crossing the country to visit television stations.  It allows me to tap into ideas and observations from a lot of different sources.  So, beginning today I will author a sporadic series of Intel – interesting stuff I hear and see during my travels.   I hope you find these musings interesting and useful.

    Buying Ads On The Competition: I have never heard of television stations allowing a competing station to buy spots on their air before.  But that is just what's happening in a midwest market as one station battles Time-Warner Cable for re-transmission consent fees.  The other stations in the market are letting the station buy spots on their air to take their battle with Time-Warner to the viewers.  Of course, those other stations have a vested interest – if that station wins it sets a payment level for the market with the cable company.

    Hiring 2-For-The-Price-Of-One:  These, of course, are difficult budgetary times for local television stations.  A west coast news director told me that to keep her staff levels up, she had hired two less experienced reporters for the combined salary it would have taken to bring on a more veteran reporter.   I think that's a smart move – not only does it give you more reporters on the street – it  allows you to find young, eager reporters with great potential and teach them to report in the distinct style of your newscast – something a veteran reporter might fight.

    On Their Best Behavior: Several news directors across the country have told me there is a distinct benefit to the unfortunate budget cuts and layoffs that have occured in most television stations.  The remaining news staffers are ready to do whatever it takes to keep their jobs, and to show they are productive assets to the station.  It gives the news directors  more flexibility in their coverage, and sets those reporters on the path they need to be on for future employment – performing as multi-taskers on multiple platforms throughout the day.

    Clever Spot Based on Boston Legal:  If you're a Boston Legal fan, as I am, you anticipate the fun at the end of the program when James Spader and “Denny Crane” have cigars and a drink on the balcony of the law firm's high rise building.  Well, in a series of clever spots (that run inside and outside the program), WFAA in Dallas shows their popular sportscaster and their meteorologist re-enacting the scene in local news promos.  They are fun too.

    Early Voting:  Speaking of Dallas, my wife Sherri and I cast our presidential ballots yesterday on the first day of early voting.  We weren't alone – 33,000 others in Dallas County did the same thing.  That's about 40% higher than the last presidential election.  Amazingly, for the first time in three decades – my wife and I voted for the same candidate.  In all the other years our votes cancelled each other out.

    The Shrinking Fillet Of Fish Sandwich:  One final observation – We keep hearing how a gallon of ice cream isn't really a gallon anymore, and other products also offer less substance in the same size container.  Well, have you seen the shrinking fillet of fish sandwich at McDonalds?   I had one today at DFW Airport that was about half the previous size – but the price was the same.  I mean this thing was no bigger than a White Castle burger!  

    See yah on the road!

    Jim

     

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  • CNN's VP Debate Coverage a True Multi-Platform Experience

    October 2nd, 2008

    CNN gave viewers and users a myriad of choices during the lone VP debate tonight.  You could make it as interactive, or inactive as you liked.  But one thing was clear – CNN did a masterful job of weaving coverage on both cable and the Internet.

    They had a panel of viewers in Columbus, Ohio using dials similar to those we employ at AR&D to rate the Palin and Biden performances second by second.  That information, as well as live scoring from CNN's “political experts” ran on the cable channel throughout the debate (only visible if you had a high definition TV set).  Although I must say I missed the explanation of what the “experts” scores meant, and I found that confusing.

    It was on the Internet that CNN really did a great job.  If you went to the specal politics page on the CNN website that's where your choices blossomed.  You could watch clean video of the debate without the dial ratings, you could watch a video feed with the dial ratings, and you could watch a feed that included two bloggers using their computers, but also commenting aloud on the debate as the candidates spoke.  You could click on a screen and just see the “experts” score cards.

    But it didn't stop there.  You could choose to join a live chat, or if you wanted to be sure not to miss a word CNN provided a running transcript of all the words being spoken at the debate.

    After the debate, CNN went live to Columbus to talk to the panel and get their reaction to the debate, as well as their voting positions.  Interestingly, while most of them raised their hands when asked if they thought Obama would win the election, only about half of the panel raised their hands when asked if they'd vote for Obama.

    But the bottomline for me is that CNN put some real thought in how and what to offer as special content on the web during the VP debate – and I really enjoyed being able to choose what I wanted to see during the 90 minutes.

    Have you met with your team to brainstorm ideas to create rich content for your website on election night?  If not, I suggest you do it tommorrow.

    Jim

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