Friday, May 11, 2007

Sweeping through local news

It's May and that means it's time for TV to get sweep-tastic!

And this exciting time of year means that we are about to get bombarded with advertisements for special reports when the news isn't on and tease-laden broadcasts when we are actually trying to watch the news.

Advertising and promoting your product seems like no big deal for most of corporate America, but should the news industry be held to a higher standard? So often in local news, the TV personalities are promoted to get viewers to watch ("the most trusted news team in town!") and three times a year during sweeps it's the stories that get that treatment.

Two of my favorite ads that I've heard this week were all about that staple of sweeps: the investigative report! So what news stories are so important that they require their own advertising? On CBS 2, there will be a serious look at lawn fertilizing. A quick rundown: We don't want pesticides on our food, so what are we really putting on our lawns that our KIDS PLAY ON ALL SUMMER? (This ad I heard on the radio)

Another one from CBS 2 (that I saw Thursday night) was promoting the TV turnover to digital that is looming in the future. With the aid of wacky graphics and a doomsday voice, the ad threatened the future of your TV!

These are probably both worthwhile news stories, but the ads and threats seem to cheapen their value. Maybe viewers connect with this sort of stuff, but do journalists need to do this? In the day and age when revenue trumps content, it seems like your work isn't quite good enough if it can only stand on its own - it needs to be promotable, too!

This seems to blur the line of journalism into too much audience focus, i.e. what is marketable to them, instead of what is necessary for them to know about. I'm buying the audience-centric approach, but it can't just rely on what you can SELL them on or scare them in to watching.

Can we trust local news to give us good investigative reporting when it is not November, February or May? There are plenty of good stories out there and certainly some will come up during these three months, but I have a hard time with basing an investigation on how you can sell it during sweeps. I'm sure this will always be a problem that journalists will battle (or buy into) during their careers.


At Saturday, May 12, 2007, Blogger MW said...

The scare tactics are such a cheap cliché. Remember that joke on "The Simpsons"?

"On the eleven o'clock news tonight, a certain kind of soft drink has been found to be lethal. We won't tell you which one until after sports and the weather with Funny Sonny Storm."

That aired in 1994, and even then, it was hardly the first time local news got skewered for scare tactics. If local news stations want to be in-touch with their audience, they shouldn't be so oblivious to the things they laugh at.


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