My recent essay, Debating TV News, answering a Blog reader’s questions about the state of the news, has prompted a most interesting response … from Cameron Bell.
News junkies … and informed newsroom managers right across North America … will know Cameron Bell: as News Director at BCTV, Bell .. along with Assignment Editor Keith Bradbury … took the Newshour from Number Three spot in Vancouver’s local television news ratings in the 1960s to the Number One rated local news program, in terms of market share, not just in Vancouver or B.C., but by the 1980s throughout North America!
They broke new ground and set new ratings records by emphasizing … not just a competent photogenic anchor … but most of all top quality pictures and top quality stories, told by top quality reporters and top quality story tellers.
It cost a fortune; it was a difficult challenge … raising the jourmalistic bar so high .. but it worked … and the viewers responded with top ratings numbers and top advertising revenues!
I am so humbled that Bell took the time to respond in great detail to my recent musings about the state of the news in Vancouver, I will post his ENTIRE analysis here (with his permission) … worthy thoughts for those who care: and it no doubt applies in just about every local newsroom across the continent. Read it … and weep!
From Cameron Bell:
The first concerns the quality and originality of efforts that are being made by the people still employed and with the resources still available in the ‘major’ newsrooms.
Last week, for example, The Province produced an amusing piece by Damian Inwood on the new warmup suits for Canadian Olympic athletes. He wore one in public, solicited and reported the feedback. It was a good piece.
(To me, the suits looked like great camouflage for a stealthy assault on lawn flamingos)
But, I wonder why those stations chose to prove they can read a newspaper, rather than choosing to use the reporter/camera/editor resources on an original story? They didn’t even try to advance silly suit story in any of the several ways they could have explored.
They just copied. Duh!
My second question is why any self-respecting reporter would accept an assignment to follow and match the Province?
Could it be that those reporters at the beginning of that day were unable to present their Assignment desks with the raw material for any original pieces? My experience over 20+ years on the inside was that the most exciting thing that could happen in the morning was to receive a call from a staffer with a quality lead on a really good story, an original story. It was one of the rarer events, too.
The repeaters are able to provide a passable version of any story that has been pre-owned (to borrow a phrase from the pre-owned auto world)
reporter repeater ask, enroute, ‘what’s the story?’
If I had a major investment in a television/radio/newspaper operation these days, I’d be very concerned about the willingness on the front line to produce programs that lack any appreciably unique reason to view or read. In the long run, they can’t attract audiences with a promise of news that is available a day earlier, in a newspaper (and website)
(In the even longer run, the conglomerate will devour its own outlets – as the audience realizes that you don’t need newspapers and television to tell you the same story twice.)
There is, indeed, an opportunity for synergy between related newspapers and television news rooms. It is not, however, through supporting managers and front line workers who cannot demand, identify or produce original stories.