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News Notes

Science Confirms: Your Windowless Newsroom Is Making You Sick


Thinking back to every newsroom I’ve ever worked in or walked through, there’s one design feature that screams out, and has always made me wonder: is there some reason we can’t have windows in here? It’s the same design at station after station: the sales folks get windows, the newsroom has an ugly cave with backlit logos near the assignment desk.

Now comes science to tell us what we’ve already suspected: working in those caves isn’t healthy. According to a story at Fast Company, workers exposed to natural light get significant health benefits–and not just on the job:

Overall, the findings suggest that the health benefits of exposure to daylight during the work day extend far beyond quitting time and even beyond the work week. In addition to more overall light exposure, these workers sleep better, seem more active, and have higher quality-of-life ratings than those who work in artificial light all day.

On the flip side, workers–like news producers, assignment editors, and managers (reporters and photographers at least get exposure to the sun)–who have work areas with no natural light lose about 46 minutes or more of sleep every night, including days off. “The windowless group fared significantly worse on two particular areas, including “vitality.” Workers without daylight exposure also showed worse overall sleep quality on a well-established self-report sleep index.”

I can recall one newsroom that was in a building originally designed with windows. They had been covered up and the walls painted black. Because that’s what we do. Looks good on television, of course, but those sad, sick people at the desks? It’s not good for them.

Just thought you deserved to know.

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5 Things I Learned About TV News Watching ‘Fargo’

FARGO -- Pictured: Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo -- CR: FX/Matthias Clamer

If you watched FX’s violent, hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable drama “Fargo”, you were no doubt captivated by the character Lorne Malvo, played by Billy Bob Thornton. A hired killer, he had both some of the season’s most violent moments—and also some of its most amusing. And throughout, he had the best lines of anyone.

Reflecting on the season—especially with word the show, albeit without the first-season cast, will return—I noticed that Malvo’s life lessons, shared with strangers, victims, and associates, carry some value for those of us in TV news.

So let me share with you five things I learned about TV News while watching “Fargo”: Read more

Maybe It’s Time We All Stopped Touching People’s Stuff

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 12.06.10 PM

I’ve done it, plenty of times. As a reporter, I’ve sifted through the aftermath of fires in Colorado, tornadoes in Alabama and hurricanes in Florida. And often, in the process, I’ve touched plenty of people’s stuff–teddy bears, notes, family photos. Often, it makes a great standup or liveshot, and it makes the bosses happy. They love it when reporters touch things and pick things up. But maybe it’s time to call it quits, and just agree that from now on, we’ll leave families’ things right where we find them. Look, but don’t touch.

Sky News reporter Colin Brazier clearly crossed the line with viewers when he took items from the suitcase of an MH 17 passenger–a liveshot that infuriated victims’ families. ‘It’s sick and the worst example of news journalism which is sensationalising an appalling human tragedy,” said Thomas Mayne, whose brother Richard was killed when a missile brought down the Maylasia Airlines jet. A media professor told the Daily Mail the Sky News report was “a horrible moment for journalism.”

Even Brazier has second thoughts, saying in his report “we really shouldn’t be doing this, I suppose.” And he’s certainly right about that. Not only was it insensitive, but we generally avoid altering crime scenes–whether there are investigators there or not. But I can understand the urge to touch. In newsrooms it’s drilled into our heads as an understood fact: viewers love it when reporters reach down, grab things and hold them up. Consultants and newsroom managers pout when reporters resist a chance to turn people’s stuff into a prop in an active standup or liveshot.

Read more

Can Simply Quoting ‘Facts Given by Police’ be Called ‘Reporting’?

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If you’ve got a police report, you’ve got a story, right? Sometimes. Other times, you’ve simply got half the story.

CJR raises the question of whether it’s really “reporting” when you simply quote police, in a post about a WJBF story by reporter Deon Guillory:

“The coverage is a prime example of the kind of quick-hit TV reporting that leans heavily on one version of events—often the official version provided by authorities—but does little in the way of offering additional perspective. There’s a mug shot. There’s a police report. There are “facts given by the police.” An ominous graphic featuring the silhouette of a very young girl and the text, “Aiken County child neglected” flashes on screen as anchor Brad Means kicks the story to Guillory with “details of this investigation.”

But in this case, the story wasn’t so much the “child neglected”, but a debate over whether a mother letting her 9-year-old go the park unsupervised was perfectly acceptable, or reason to handcuff and jail the child’s mother. As Lenore Skenazy argues at Reason, the news coverage was entirely one-sided: Read more

Local News Vet Finds Young Journos Don’t Watch Local News: ‘This Should Scare Us’


Steve Schwaid  knows a bit about local news. He ran newsrooms in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Hartford and Tampa, and now serves as vice president of digital strategies for CJ&N, a media research and consulting firm. And Schwaid says a recent visit to one of his client stations left him uneasy about the future of local news:

I was recently visiting a client station, meeting with about 20 producers, managers and reporters who were almost all under 35. We started talking about cord cutters and who uses what. This informal “survey” was eye opening, and honestly it more than surprised me. It sent a few chills down my spine.

These young journalists, he discovered, don’t really spend much time tuned in to the very station for which they work. 85% said they had no cable. Most told Schwaid they used Netflix streaming, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

Then he asked the big question: do you watch local news? Answer: no, not really. “These are people who work in news and they don’t feel compelled to watch local news. Why? I’m not entirely sure. Clearly they felt they got the news they needed from other online sources. More important, I got the sense they felt local news wasn’t relevant to them. They admitted that their friends outside the business don’t watch local news at all.”

Schwaid urges newsroom managers to connect with these younger staffers and ask them to help develop the kind of product they might actually watch. Or else. “This should scare us. We need to start discussions, research and planning to understand what will get this consumer to watch local news.”

Read his full report–and recommendations–here.

Station Interns on the Future of Local TV News

control roomYou may think of them as little more than the kids in the summer who answer phones on the desk, but the truth is this: interns are the future of the business. Joyce Terhaar, executive editor of the Sacramento Bee, wrote a fascinating piece Sunday: “A glimpse at the future of journalism through the eyes of interns.” Terhaar interviewed the Bee‘s fifteen summer interns, and among other tidbits discovered just one of them actually prefers to get her news in the form of a printed newspaper.

Many said one of their primary forms of news is their Facebook newsfeed. But the Bee‘s interns were not pondering a career change in the face of massive industry change. “Our interns are entering a profession that is reinventing itself, not just in how it distributes news and information but in how it pays for that journalism. That uncertainty doesn’t seem to frighten any of them. They think journalism is here to stay.”

So it seemed wise to ask our local TV interns the same questions. Read more

Meet the Central Florida Reporter Who Wrote a Romantic Thriller Under a Pen Name

Alive at 5For central Florida news reporter Linda Bond, the inspiration for her debut novel struck at a moment when she least expected it: while she was on the air.

“I was sitting on the anchor desk with my co-anchor, and I was reading a story on an adventure vacation. And I turned to him, and I said, ‘that would be the coolest setting for a romantic thriller,’” Bond tells TVSpy. “So that’s kind of how the idea started.”

Said romantic thriller, Alive at 5, is out today from Entangled: Ignite. The book follows TV news reporter Samantha Steele, who teams up with a “gorgeous thrill-seeker” undercover police officer to investigate a suspicious skydiving death. Bond, a central Florida reporter known under a different name on the air, agreed to write and market the book under a pen name as an extra level of separation between her reporting career and her writing career. As a longtime veteran of the station she currently works at, she didn’t want to risk her credibility with viewers.

“I just want to make sure that people know what they’re getting. That’s why I’m separating the two,” Bond says.

Bond, who is the mother of five, found time to write during odd free moments, such as before her kids’ soccer games. Although she was careful to keep her writing and reporting careers separate, never working on her novel in the newsroom, she said she found writing fiction to be a liberating experience after more than 20 years as a reporter. Read more

But Didn’t You Say You Had Breaking News?

Okay, I’ll be the bad guy for a moment. I think it’s time we stopped doing these on-air proposals and hey-look-at-me stunts. Like cupcake stores, we may have reached the limit.

Just last week two very lovely news anchors at KRON in San Francisco, Justine Waldman and Grant Lodes (they’re married) announced they will soon be having a baby. Awesome, guys–congrats! But here’s the thing. We got the great news during, well, the news. After teasing viewers that there was an “exclusive and developing story” coming at the end of the 8 p.m. newscast, the segment opened with a full screen DEVELOPING STORY graphic and stinger. Lodes, KRON’s breaking news anchor, then told viewers “now to a developing story we’ve been following–KRON 4′s Justine Waldman is pregnant.”

Wait, what?

Within seconds, we got to see a “new picture just into the KRON 4 newsroom”–an ultrasound image of the baby due in November. I’m a Dad. And I’m on Facebook. I’ve seen plenty of ultrasounds. But this just made me uncomfortable. Again, I think this is fantastic for Justine and Grant, but here’s the thing: I can’t do this anymore. Read more

Taylor Swift and the Future of Local TV News

taylor swiftTaylor Swift, as it turns out, knows a thing or two about the local TV news biz. Just look at the lyrics of her hit song “Ours”: the stakes are high, the water’s rough, but this love is ours. That could easily be said about the love many of us feel for working in television, a business rich with history, but roiled by change.

This morning, The Wall Street Journal published an essay by Swift on the future of the music business, where she argues all is not lost in the face of declining sales, piracy, streaming, and audiences facing an endless sea of digital distractions. “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” You could say the same thing for journalism.

Millie Tran, a writer and editor at the American Press Institute, shared Swift’s WSJ piece on Twitter, noting “it has a lot of parallels for the news industry.” And it really does.

Swift’s best advice, both to aspiring singer-songwriters and journalists hoping to keep viewers coming to local news—whether it’s at six o’clock or via a station’s iPad app? Read more

Hearst/GfK Study Finds Local News Leads Trustworthiness Across All Ages

A new study conducted by GfK for Hearst Television finds that television viewers trust local news more than other media platforms, which makes local stations a favorable platform for advertisers. Along with trust, local news stations have a “high level of viewer engagement,” which leads viewers to research and purchase products they see advertised during newscasts.

The study, which comes on the heels of a Gallup poll finding confidence in television news at an all-time low, finds local news is the most trusted platform across all demographics: total respondents, adults 24-54, adults 35-64 and adults 55+:

Local Television Trustworthiness Hearst Study

Read the full study here.