How To Get Local News Coverage

And who to contact in your local television newsroom…

I know you probably were expecting me to write about everything going on in the Comey firing, threatening Comey in a Tweet, sharing top secret Israeli intel with the Russians in an undocumented visit in the Oval Office, the constantly changing stories coming from the White House misrepresenting just about everything they do …and the big news that Trump tried to interfere with an FBI investigation.

Truly, the situation is way too fluid to piece together which, by the way, is exactly what Trump wants—in an effort to confound and confuse legislators, the media and the electorate. There is no doubt in my mind the Trump thinks he is the smartest guy in the room—or the world—but, I’ve dealt with really smart politicians who couldn’t stir my brain with their lies and this White House can’t hold a candle to those guys!

And I’m not alone here.

Well, we’re not confused and we can keep up with this highly questionable President and his underhanded methods in the attempted obfuscation of the truth. And when the Republicans find their backbone and begin, in earnest, to investigate “high crimes” taking place in the Oval Office, you can be sure I will add my own two cents to the debate. Until then, let’s take a look at how the news “works” and how to get your story noticed.

I was asked “Who writes the headlines on local news?”

In a serious conversation on Twitter, no less! Well, the answer to the headlines question is, the next newscast’s Producer—and, sometimes, the graphics person. The headline on the screen needs to be a “quick summary” of the story and it has to fit in the space available on the screen.

It occurred to me that most people don’t know who does what in your local newsroom. So, here’s a quick primer on “how it all works.” I write this in hopes that if you have a news story you want covered, you’ll have some insider knowledge of just who to pursue in getting your story on the air.

You can be sure that every politician, every Public Relations maven, every event promoter and every Press Release writer knows what I am going to impart to you here.

Who’s in charge of news?

It’s not who you would expect. You would think that you should call a reporter or maybe you should go to the very top and try to get through to the News Director. Both of these choices would, for the most part, be a waste of your time.

Although a reporter is expected to come up with a story idea on their own everyday, it must pass through several others before they would get a “thumbs up” to pursue it. It can be killed—or modified significantly—in any number of places, from a meeting or a manager to a newsroom budget (special equipment, travel expenses, uplink costs) or the technical resources the story would require (photogs, lighting kits, even a live truck or satellite time).

A News Director or Assistant News Director certainly does oversee their news operations but, their concerns are many—and most have more on their plate than the every-day-in-the-trenches kind of stuff such as choosing which stories make it on the air. No, deciding what you see on the news falls, mostly, on the shoulders of another key player in the newsroom….

The Assignments Editor.

The Assignments Editor is the guy (or gal) that monitors everything and decides what is and what is not “news.” And then, that Editor juggles the available resources to send the right coverage to the scene—and, typically, the angle of the story (what the story is) and how it’s going to be part of the lineup.

This job is the process of listening to police, fire and emergency services scanners, watching the hundreds of televisions on the wall of monitors set to the competition, line and satellite feeds and online feeds from various networks, and making “rounds”—regular and repeated calls to a never-ending call sheet that keeps the station in touch with dispatchers and desk sergeants of every police agency in the station’s ADI (viewing area)—all at the same time.

When the newsroom management goes home for the day, the top dog in the newsroom is the late newscast Assignments Editor. And it’s a rough job! The most difficult part is choosing which fire or shooting to go with—and what will look best on television. With finite resources (photogs, live trucks and time), the choices are often torn between the impossible and the possible.

Not everyone can be an Assignments Editor.

The successful Assignments Editor has a well rounded, real news background, an impeccable news sense, the ability to make super-quick decisions, an uber sense of organization and the stamina of a horse to keep up with and stay ahead of the sheer amount of input.

He or she must have the required skills to coordinate a newsroom staff and to foresee the amount of travel to, shooting at and returning from wherever the story is—along with the actual production time (writing, editing) for the finished product—not to mention the creativity of stringing seemingly unconnected events together into a workable product that the newscast Producer can use to do their job of putting the news on the air.

In larger markets, where the competition is fierce and the requirements of a union workforce adds constraints to the available workforce at any given moment, I don’t mind saying you really have to have your shit together!

The meeting.

There are two major meetings, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon to discuss a general game plan to the day’s news that we know about and to toss around ideas for stories that compliment those stories and to support the local angles for other stories of national or international import.

It is here where the management, reporters, photogs, writers and producers can add their input to the day’s coverage and where early assignments are made—all of which can change in an instant if “something big” happens.

A team effort.

Yes, it is a “newsteam” effort. But, the bottom line is, someone must be responsible for the overall coverage—either to praise or to blame—and that person is the Assignments Editor! The Editor is going to rearrange every thing on the spot (news) when all hell breaks loose. Not only that but, everyone is a human being, with good days and bad days.

And with the fact that the show must go on, on time, the responsibility of filling a newscast falls on the shoulders of the Assignments Editor to generate news that isn’t “spot news.” Yes, those “slow” news days require a pocket-full of ideas to use when fires don’t burn, airplanes don’t crash, meetings are cancelled and the sky doesn’t fall.

Assignment Editors constantly are looking for backups to back pocket. This, my friends, is your ticket into the newsroom if you have a story to tell! Good or bad, serious or cute, important or “human interest,” the most influential person actually making the news is your local Assignment Editor.

So, find out who they are and call them with a concise, fact-filled story idea. Best time to get a hold of them is right after one of the daily meetings. Unless your story is truly earth shattering, you’ll be considered as a side story or a time filler.

You’ll have to leave it up to them to decide what your story is and how important it is: it may wind up as B-roll (video only) or even just some copy with a graphic. It could wind up, though, as a package or a VO-SOT (video-only, sound-on-tape). But, your best bet is the person that decides what “news is.”

Here’s the kicker: call the top station in your market first. Don’t get frustrated if they say “no.” Be sure to give them your contact information! Then, move on to the second best and so on. I guarantee that if one station airs it, the others will call you the very next day (that’s why you make sure you give them a way to contact you)!

The more lead time you give, the better your chance of getting on the air. I can assure you, an Assignment Editor never forgets! I’ve backtracked to use stories that I had heard about weeks before. If it’s news, it will eventually get some attention! Especially after the impeachment is over!

This is your brain on Trump!

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