Wednesday, June 14, 2006

News judgment: the great puzzle

I just came from an event in Springfield that was attended my hundreds of residents and neighborhood activists and the leading Democratic candidate for governor. The event was sponsored by an organization made up of churches and labor unions and was calling for the Democratic and Republican candidates to come to town and express their feelings on a number of issues.

It was a rousing old fashioned grassroots event and a very good story.

Now one television station sent a full crew (reporter and camera operator) while another sent just a camera operator. The third station skipped the event. The one commercial station with a news department skipped it, while the NPR station located 20 miles away made a very rare appearance in the state's third largest city. I figure the second coming of Christ would be about the only thing that would compel the NPR types to abandon their politically correct studios in a comfy college town.

(Yeah, I'm bitter. They could be doing so much more for the communities they serve, but they chose not to...Play that classical music and jazz loud enough and you can mask what is really happening here.)

The daily sent two reporters. One who sat in the church with me but left at the end so he could make his deadline and another who was charged with meeting with the candidate after the event to ask questions about recently passed healthcare legislation. She was so aggressive she shut out the poor kid reporter from her paper's teen page. I had to smile a grim little smile.

And there was me.

Now why the daily didn't have a photographer amazed me. Why the other outlets didn't come amazed me. What kind of story the TV station could get from their time there I'm sure will amaze me.

The bottom line is that decision-makers at news outlets forget sometimes just why we are here: to be the eyes and ears of our consumers. We always have to ask ourselves "Is this of value to our readers/viewers/listeners?"

Instead too many of us in this business ask ourselves what is cheap and easy and quick for us to do. What's the best way to fill the pages or the air-time is not necessarily the most expedient way.

Hey, I know what the score is. I will use certain things to fill my pages, too. But I try to select things that will have meaning for somebody.

Here are the rules:
1. Get something others don't.
2. Stay until the end.
3. Be respectful of the candidate who is staying late to give you a quote. Remember if you harass him or her you might not get access next time.
4. Be prepared to shmooze a bit. You can get additional stories by honestly working a room.

© 2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs. All rights reserved. My bad.


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