Making an Impact as a Sports Anchor

By: Mandy Mitchell

If you work in the sports department in your newsroom you have likely felt like the “red headed stepchild” or the “middle sister” before. Facts are, in a world with ESPN and scores available all over your phone, it’s been a pretty hard 15 or so years for sports people.

Stations are cutting back or using freelancers. Some stations have even cut the sports department all together.

It all centers around research and consultants. Stations go out and ask viewers to rate the importance of what they watch and they often say it’s all about weather and staying safe, then it’s about news and sports is a distant third or “not watched at all.”

I’ve worked in local sports for more than a decade and I’ve heard it all from management at the different stations I’ve worked for.

“Fans can get the scores on their phones. They don’t need you.” (hey–just a newsflash Mr. News Director, they can also get that national news you just ran a 2 minute pkg on, but I digress.)

The key is to not get mad and argue that point, but to do your best to stand out in the newsroom and make yourself relevant. You CAN do that as a sports anchor, but it takes work and effort. You won’t make an impact by staying back in the sports office and “hiding.”

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Tell good stories. You can talk to me about being “hyper local” until you are blue in the face. Highlights of the local semi-pro soccer team will definitely not be on ESPN, but I couldn’t care less who wins that game. Stacking your sportscast with that, just to say how local you are, is generally a waste. You have to find a reason for me (the viewer) and the people in your newsroom, to care about that team.

Find a story there.

Find the player who volunteers as a an English teacher in his spare time. A good friend of mine used to hand out a questionnaire to every high school team in his area. It included the question “what is the is craziest thing that has ever happened to a teammate of yours?” Turns out, one of the kids had be struck by lightning…TWICE! How’s that for a story? I stole the idea of the questionnaire and it has really worked to provide some great stories.

Be your own promotions staff. Can’t tell you how many times I have heard a sports person complain about never getting a promotion for a good story. Have you even pitched that as a possibility? If you have a good story…and don’t cry wolf here…I mean a GOOD story, go see the promotions director. Tell her how you have great bites that will really work in a promotion. In fact, bring her a log of those 3 to 6 second bites.

That doesn’t work? E-mail every producer on staff, from morning until nightside, and tell them about the story you will be airing in sports. Write and cut them teases.The producers will LOVE you for this. Good producers are always looking for ways to deep tease a story and you will be giving them real substance.

You should also be using social media to promote your story before and after it airs. If that story is good and memorable, you will get website clicks and management will be happy.

Leave the sports office. This is the key to everything. I said it above, but far too many sports guys/gals spend their entire day in the sports office. I know, from experience, that this can be a very pleasant place! However, you will never make an impact in the newsroom if you never go to the newsroom.

Be personable and actually talk to people. You have to talk to producers, the assignment desk and other reporters and anchors.

If there is a big sports story in your market that is “A-block” news, offer to front it. Don’t get all ticked off and flustered when they ask you to do an extra hit. This is GOOD for sports. Work with them on coverage and how to spread out the information.

If the news director isn’t crazy about sports in the “A- block,” fight for it. Show that you are more than someone who just reads some highlights and scores and goes home. Show your “news sense” and how you care about the market and the story.

 

The ” red headed stepchild” treatment is going to happen. It’s not personal. It’s more of a problem at some stations than others, but it’s always there in some form. Do the best you can to be a larger part of the product than just your three minutes at the end of the broadcast.If you make a habit of this, others will tend to notice.

Remember why we do what we do

Jody Barr has worked as an investigative reporter for nearly a decade and is currently working for the FOX affiliate in Cincinnati. In 2006, he started out at the CBS affiliate in Myrtle Beach, SC before moving to the NBC affiliate in Columbia in 2009. Jody has been working in Cincinnati since June 2014. His investigative reporting beat focuses on government spending and accountability, with a concentration in corruption, fraud, waste and abuse of tax dollars and the public trust.

Are you fresh out of j-school and wondering about the true purpose of the media?  Why we do what we do? What type of stories should you target? How you could make the most impact with this brand new power you’ve yet to realize you have?

I was there, too. I’m still there, frankly. But, I did glean some direction early in my college days that has guided me through this first decade of my career. For right or wrong, what I’m about to tell you helped me more than I could have ever imagined back in the day.

I hope it can help you, too.

In 2002, I did something no one else in my family ever did: I applied to a four year university to “go get me some learnin’.” (That’s Darlington County, SC speak for seeking a college degree). I went into j-school with the sole intention of doing color commentary, covering NASCAR races.

Don’t laugh, we all have our faults.

All that would change early in my first couple of semesters at the University of South Carolina when I took my first government class. My minor was political science. I really knew nothing of local news then and it wasn’t until I was in my senior semester TV news class that I found out local news was done live.

Yep. Just ask Professor Rick Peterson at USC if we didn’t have that conversation in the middle of the control room. I’m sure he remembers because of the look he gave me told me that question definitely made an impression on him.

It wasn’t a good impression. That tells you how far off my radar local news was before college. Boy, I had a lot to learn before I got out of there.

It was sometime in early 2003. I remember sitting in Gambrell Hall, thumbing through a textbook and coming across the Founding Fathers’ writings and quotes on the importance of a free press and its role in the experiment of this system of government. Now, I’m a guy that has read the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, most of the arguments made in the Continental Congress. I have a deep appreciation for how this country ever came to be.

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I’m also one of the nerds who tear up reading the things our Founders wrote, understanding the passion they had for this country, this system of government and the trust they had in ordinary people to govern themselves in the human pursuit of happiness.

One of the main things the founders agreed on was ensuring people had the freedom of speech and a free press to keep a check on the powerful. The ability to investigate and the public’s ability to freely criticize our leaders was important to those men.

They believed it was essential in making sure the public knew the conduct of the folks who govern them.

It took opening a textbook and really understanding why “the media” exists that caused something in me to change my career choice. Here are the five quotes that swayed me in that book that day. I scribbled them down and they are still in my wallet today:

“The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.” –Sam Adams

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” –George Washington

“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody,there would be very little printed.” –Ben Franklin

“The press must be free; it has always been so and much evil has been corrected by it. If government finds itself annoyed by it, let it examine its own conduct and it will find the cause.” –Thomas Erskine

I knew then that there was a calling in journalism and a tangible role the free press plays in our system of government.

I’m talking A-block journalism. That stuff that comes before first weather!

It’s easy to get lost in what dominates today’s “journalism”: the features (although they have a place, I guess), the “viral” social media postings, shared click bait, anything animal-related, etc. Those are interesting to a segment of the public and the clicks prove it. But, the substantive journalism, AKA: investigative journalism, will reach a broad audience, as well.

I believe it’s the latter in the above paragraph that will allow you to be taken seriously. Instantly. It’s that type of journalism that allows us to stay close to the real reason why we exist: to be one of the final checks on those who control our laws, our tax dollars, our freedoms and to ensure the playing field is level for all of us ordinary people.

I also believe it’s imperative that new and aspiring journalists take an old school approach to journalism. After all, there’s a very large segment of the public who view journalists in the same vein as used car dealers and ambulance-chasing lawsuit attorneys. (No offense to those I know who dabble in such professions.)

Perhaps this could be a way to turn the perception of our profession around. I can tell you the absolute most rewarding letters and emails I’ve ever gotten were from investigative reports that made a difference to someone who had no means to fight the powerful. Or someone who knew something wasn’t right and wanted it fixed.

If you’re struggling to find your journalistic purpose, I say get back to the basics of this profession. Learn why we do what we do. Kind of like Waylon sang, “Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love.”

It’ll focus your pursuits. At least, it did for me.

Here are a couple other quotes you might find useful along the trail:

“When the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.” Jefferson

“It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news, and raise hell.” Wilbur Storey

“When a dog bites a man that is not news, but when a man bites a dog, that is news.” John B. Bogart NY Sun News editor

“The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” F.P. Dunne

“I am a journalist myself and shall appeal to fellow journalists to realize their responsibility and to carry on their work with no idea other than that of upholding the truth.” Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

 

The Power of Confidence

By: Mandy Mitchell

Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence. -Vince Lombardi

I was a sports reporter in my first on-air job in TV news, better known among sporties as a “#3.” That means I didn’t have an anchor shift. I would fill-in, very occasionally, for the weekend sports guy or the main sports guy.

We had one of those old-fashioned intros to sports that included the name of the person anchoring. (I know some stations still use this. It was lame in 2004 and it’s super lame now.)

Anyway, since I didn’t have an anchor shift, I would always have to begin my sportscast saying the phrase “I’m Mandy Mitchell in for (name of other anchor).”

This sucked.

And this isn’t because I had a big ego and wanted my own intro or anything like that. It was simply because I started every sportscast with the idea of “Hey you watching, I’m not supposed to be here!” That vibe carried its way through the entire performance. I said the words and I believed I wasn’t actually supposed to be in that chair. Because of this, I delivered some absolutely brutal sportscasts.

I tell you this quick story to illustrate something: You MUST believe you belong in the chair you are in or you will not be there long.

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Confidence is a very important part of this business no matter where you sit in the newsroom. If you think you are out of your league, you will act like you are out of your league and all of a sudden you will be out of your league.

So how do you build confidence? The easy answer is time, but we all know we don’t often have time in this business. It is very common to be “thrown to the wolves.”

This isn’t a problem for everyone. We all know there are people in the newsroom who ooze confidence. We may even say these people are “cocky.” I, from the very beginning, was not one of those people, so I really had to work at it.

The first thing to do is to realize you do actually belong where you are. You have done something to get that job and stand out among hundreds of applications. If it’s your first job, you no doubt busted your tail in J-school. If it’s your second or third job, you have been “paying your dues” somewhere.

There is really nothing special about the other people in the newsroom you are entering. They, too, went to college and worked hard and probably started in a smaller market. You have way more in common with the people around you than you think.

The second thing to do is to focus on preparation. So much of confidence comes from how prepared you are in any given moment. This means everything from knowing how to pronounce weird town names to preparing your mind to accept its first criticism from your new boss.

Think of what it is going to feel like under the new and flashy bright lights of that new set. Prepare for being nervous. Prepare for the thought to enter your brain that you may not “belong” here. If you think about that before you get into the situation, you are more likely to handle it with confidence and that will show in your performance.

This is not an easy thing to master. I still find myself in situations where I am not as confident as I should be. The key is to recognize that and work to change it.

Make Sure It’s Purposeful TV

Rusty Ray is the morning anchor at WBTW in Myrtle Beach, SC. He’s been in the market more than a decade.

Think about that stand-up you did that one time. Were you walking in front of the jail, careful to start and stop just inside the frame of your lens (or, if you have a photographer, where he or she tells you to stop?) Were you flashing handfuls of white paper as you spoke, assuring the audience that those were the documents you said they were—and that their contents were as important as you said they were?  Maybe you were picking up something or closing or opening something as you spoke. Did that serve any purpose?

Does anything we do on-camera, whether it’s something we say, some graphic that we use, or a sound bite we choose to include in our stories have purpose?

It should.

Otherwise, whose time are we wasting more—ours, or, worse, our viewers’?

Everything we do has to have a purpose.

Don’t move in your stand-up unless it’s critical to the story, unless you can’t tell me what you need to tell me without moving, or unless it advances the story in a meaningful (purposeful) manner. The dreaded “walk to nowhere” is a huge example of this. If we’re watching your stand-up, and your inexplicably walking slowly—dare I say seductively—toward us, what are we supposed to think?

“Gee..he/she is getting kind of close…oh…crap…what was he/she saying again?”

If you’re looking to prove you can walk and talk, try being a crossing guard or something else. You don’t have to prove that to be successful in TV news, or even to have a good resume’ reel.

Likewise, waving white papers in our faces during live shots and stand-ups may be the least purposeful thing on TV.  Are we really supposed to believe those are the documents you say? If they’re really that critical to your story, why not shoot video of the words?

Otherwise, it seems you’re double-checking that we trust you when you tell us the documents say what you say they do.

If we didn’t trust you, we wouldn’t still be watching.

These are just two examples of how we can—hopefully—better think our choices.

It’s not just reporters/MMJs. Producers can make the same critical decisions about graphics, shot placement, or story placement.  

Don’t do anything to distract from what we’re doing—passing along information we hope is vital to our viewers in big and small ways.

 

 

Rusty also wrote about: approaching the grieving and how to make a fast start in a small market

 

Life outside of work

Miranda Dotson is an Emmy-award winning news producer with WRAL in Raleigh NC. Previously she worked as an associate producer and then as a news producer at WLOS in Asheville, NC. Miranda received her Master’s in Technology and Communication from UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, and her B.A. in Communication from Wake Forest University.
As you start a new job in any field, nurturing your off-work time is just as important
as excelling in your new career. It can be difficult for anyone to maintain
relationships, friendship and otherwise, while balancing work demands – and that’s
even when you’re off work in time to meet people for happy hour. With the crazy hours and schedules in news, you really have to be creative.

Your family will always be your family, but they need to know right away that you
just won’t be able to come home every holiday or call at 6pm each night. Managing
expectations is key, and it can help avoid some hurt feelings when the holidays roll
around. They won’t be mad at you, per se, but they also may not understand when
you tell them you don’t have a choice in your schedule right now.

With friends and relationships, this is where things can easily get dicey. My best
advice is to not give up, and don’t let your friends give up either. Often times
someone may ask you to hang out, and when the answer has to be “no” enough, the
invites just stop coming. Don’t let that happen! Make sure people you meet know
that you hate missing the time, but tell them to please keep asking. You may also
have to take things into your own hands and start doing the asking when you’re free.
It shows your friends you mean it, and reminds them not to forget to invite you to
things.

How exactly do you meet people? The answers vary, of course, but joining a gym or
going to workout classes can be a good way – or become involved in something you
enjoy. Run clubs, book clubs, you name it and they exist. Think about volunteering
for a cause you care about! Organizations may need someone who’s available those
hours when few other people are. Also check out http://www.meetup.com. Groups there
range from interest, to networking, to singles groups. Meetup is free, unless you’re
attending a specific paid activity, and you can choose to go or not go when you’re
available. I found some good friends this way, and if nothing else, it puts you out
there in the social world a bit. It’s a great jumping off point to connect with people
and then start hanging out with them outside of the organized events.

As for relationships, we’re back to managing expectations (see above). Don’t be
afraid to try out some dating apps or websites – Hinge, Tinder, Match, eHarmony,
etc. It all depends what you’re looking for. I met several great people online, with the
same issue as me – we all had demanding careers and were struggling to find time to
balance the dating scene, too. At the time, I was working nightside, so that meant I
had to tell any potential dates about my odd schedule right away: lunch, anyone?

Everyone I met was really accommodating and wanted to work with my schedule,
and who doesn’t want to date someone with some understanding? So yes, I went on
a lot of lunch dates. And it was really fun! Even with people I only met a few times,
just putting myself out there socially and trying new places around the city was a
good experience. Plus, I found a great guy who actually puts up with the hours and
stress of news, and hasn’t run away yet; can’t beat that.

The biggest risk you face, I think, is to resign yourself to a less-than-ideal schedule
and sit at home alone every day. Not only is that boring, it can lead to bitterness and
burnout very quickly. Balancing your personal and your work time ensures you
enjoy yourself in a new city, get to know your surroundings, and have some fun both
at and OFF work.

Ask a Question

By: Mandy Mitchell

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I was waiting for the right time to address this issue. Returning from the Super Bowl, where I attended multiple press conferences, seems like the right time.

ATTENTION REPORTERS: “TALK ABOUT…” IS NOT A QUESTION!!!

If you have ever been to a press gathering you have heard it.

Coach…talk about the Broncos defense.

Officer…talk about what caused the fire.

Mr. Smith…talk about how you ran your car into that swimming pool.

There is a very easy fix to this: Ask a question!

Coach…what makes the Broncos defense so had to prepare for?

Officer…what do you think caused the fire?

Mr. Smith…did you not see the pool before you drove into it?

This is the epitome of lazy when it comes to reporting. You can’t think of a question, or how to phrase the question, so you make a statement and expect the person to just give you the answer you want. If you say “talk about,” I guarantee you half the reporters at the presser will be rolling their eyes. The other half will be thinking of things they would also like the person to talk about.

You are smart enough to figure out a way to turn your statement into a question so please do so.

 

 

Boy Anchor: Leaving the Desk to Become a Reporter

Chris Stanford is a journalist in Wichita who’s worked in couple top 25 markets, 10+ years experience.

I stole the title of this post from a chapter in Peter Jennings: A Reporter’s Life.  At age 24 Jennings was an Canadian network TV anchor and by the time he was 26 he was anchoring for ABC.  Then, he quit.  He abandoned many journalists dream job because he wanted to become a better reporter.  That sounds unheard of, because typically reporters work their tails off for a shot at becoming an anchor.  But Jennings did it and well… now he’s a legend. In my mind, the greatest. End of discussion.  I was a kid when he explained to us what Operation Desert Storm was about.  I was glued to the TV set on 9/11 because I wanted to hear what was happening from Peter.

His decision to leave the desk had a major impact on my career path.  A path that would impact my life immensely, not only in my carrer but my personal life; where I lived, the friends I made, and where my wife and I would raise our family.

I read that book when I was 23 and anchoring a morning show in Wisconsin in the market I grew up in.  I felt at the time that if I didn’t make any huge mistakes, I could work there forever.  I took another anchor job close by, and read Peter’s book again. This time, his choice to pursue reporting resonated.  I got an agent and told him, “I want to report”.  “I need to earn my stripes”.  I understood that in order to make significant leaps in my career, that’s what I needed to do. So that’s what I did.  I jumped from market 127 to 15, granted I also went from being a Main Anchor to Morning Reporter. And it was great.

I loved reporting and still do.  In Minneapolis I was given valuable opportunities to anchor now and then in a huge market, for veteran producers.  The people around you at work can either drive you to be better or drag you down. I’d never learned so much so quickly reporting in Minneapolis. I absorbed everything I could from other reporters, producers, photographers, you name it.  The job was incredible.  But I left. On my own. I needed to see how other news markets did it, so I took a job in St. Louis.  The news was the opposite of what we were doing in the Twin Cities.  That comparison could be its own post.

To sum it up, my managers demanded hard-assed reporting with an attitude.  Funny, because you should’ve seen my resume tape, it was the opposite of that. But I learned their style, which when done responsibly and ethically can be great.  Then, unarmed Michael Brown was shot by a Ferguson police officer.  Journalists can go their entire careers without covering a story of that magnitude.

I would’ve never covered that story if I hadn’t left Minneapolis, had I never left the desk in Wisconsin, had I never read that book.  Leaving the desk made me a better journalist.  No doubt about it.  It was the best career move I’ve ever made because it set up some incredible opportunities, to inform more people and better provide for my family.

Jennings inspired me to be better, to pursue a career of journalism and not anchoring.  I believe whatever your job is in the newsroom, we should be journalists first. We owe it to Peter.

Taking Care of Your Web Folks

Jeremy Turnage is the digital content manager for wistv.com. He’s been at the station for almost 8 years and started as a web producer before receiving a promotion to help run the department. 

I’ve been in the news business for almost 8 full years — yes, that’s a considerable amount of time these days feels like — and there’s only one constant I’ve seen: change.

The Internet side of news is an ever-evolving beast that can never be tamed, but you can learn to stay on it for more than 8 seconds.
I have one word of advice for any new reporter entering news and even some of you older, wily reporters: take care of your web folks.
Now, there are many things you can do to get in the good graces of your web department, but I’ll keep with the basics.
1. Be ready to write: There is no excuse these days for reporters who do not produce their own copy. The days of “I don’t have time for that” are dead and buried. If you’re pitching a story at 9:30 a.m., that story better be fairly fleshed out and ready to turn into 200+ words for the web folks — breaking news aside, of course.
Web is largely a traffic-driven business. It’s not a dirty secret. By producing your story a little bit early, you’re likely going to help your web folks generate a couple hundred extra page views before noon than you are waiting until after your story airs after 6 p.m.
If you have a fairly lengthy sweeps piece that you worked extensively on, be prepared to write that for the web department as well. The web department is not going to know as much about that story than you. Of course, that saves your bacon legally speaking as well. You wouldn’t want someone working on your story that could open yourself and your station up to litigation.
2. Extra stuff helps a WHOLE BUNCH: Extra stuff means just about anything that you may having laying around that helped you produce your story — pictures, extra video, PDFs, data, etc. All of it can be used to garner extra traffic for your web department.
Let me share with you a story — I had a reporter working on a story about how the state dealt with meth labs. She went inside a meth home as state investigators first discovered there was meth being mad there. It was a great story about what goes on behind the scenes of investigating meth in the state.
Two days before air, she’s putting the finishing touches on the story and I finally sit down with her to see what kind of extra stuff she might have for us to publish with her story.
“Well,” she said, “I have a spreadsheet of all the meth labs the State Law Enforcement Division has investigated with addresses and other information.”
My eyes lit up. I knew exactly what we could do with that data: turn it into an interactive map. A day and a half of furiously working with the data, we turned the data into a map showing meth lab busts in the state from 2011 to 2014.
The story went to air at 11 p.m., but we decided to publish the map an hour before the story aired. Believe it or not, that map received more traffic than the story alone. At last count, it received over 20,000 page views.
I also had another reporter — who actually is in this group and knows exactly who he is — who was constantly giving us extra items for his stories. It was a large source of pride for him whenever he saw his stories generate gobs of traffic for us.
For example, he was working on a story about the mayor of Columbia and his involvement with a former university board member under federal indictment. Our reporter cornered the mayor on camera to ask him a few questions, but the mayor wasn’t having it.
“Grow up,” he told our reporter. He got the whole exchange on camera.
Our reporter returned with the video and immediately shot it over to us knowing exactly what he had. We published the video on our website hours before it aired and it gave us several thousand video views over the course of several days.
So, to sum up, don’t be afraid to ask your web folks if they want any extra items because they could create valuable traffic that you didn’t even think about.
3. Be active on social media: Here’s a big one these days. If you’re not active on social — be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, Friendster (boy that joke is an antique) — then you’re doing it wrong.
Now, what constitutes “active” on social media? One post a day does not mean active, by the way. I’m talking multiple posts through the day. Social media is all day, everyday.
I’ll explain the big two that we use the most in local news: Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter is best used for breaking news and small updates. There’s not a faster way to deliver breaking news than Twitter. Use it whenever something big breaks locally or nationally and don’t forget to use hashtags.
Locally speaking, Twitter is going to be the fastest way to get information to your followers and the folks back in the news room.
If you’re out on a scene — let’s just say it’s a shooting — expect to use Twitter to tweet out updates from the scene. That means pictures, video, small updates, and so on and so forth.
Facebook is a completely different animal than Twitter. It also generates more traffic than anything else I’ve seen.
Video thrives better on Facebook. It is also weighed more heavily in the Facebook algorthm, meaning your Facebook fans are more likely to see videos from your page in their news feed than anything else. Confused? TIME Magazine has a good primer on the algorhtm.
If you have some very compelling video — say a tornado or something highly visual — posting it to your own Facebook page would not be a bad idea. However, the key here is to include a link back to your station’s main website in order get folks back to the site.
That’s really the key to social media — getting folks back to the website. Outside of direct traffic to the website, social media has become the best way to generate traffic and create new viewers.
To conclude, let me just say I think working the web is the best, most experimental portion of our business today. I am biased, of course, but I’ve seen even the most harden TV reporters turn into true believers when their stuff goes viral and winds up on the front page of Facebook, Drudge Report, Fark, Reddit, etc.
We can do so much more on web outside of the 1:30 PKG or 30-second VOSOT and we’re not even close to realizing its potential.

Viewer Phone Calls

Kelly Riner is an assignment editor at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, NC. Kelly’s experience ranges from producing to working on the assignment desk. She also field produces and plans special projects. Kelly graduated University Valedictorian from North Carolina State University with a degree in Communication Media, and she has a Masters of Humanities from Duke University. She’s worked at WRAL for 14 years, and prior to that, she wrote for the Fayetteville Observer. Kelly also oversees the News Production Assistants at the station.

An internship or entry-level position at most TV stations will likely include a quick lesson on answering viewer phone calls. If you’re asked to help on the assignment desk, any assignment editor will gladly let you navigate your way through viewer calls starting on day one. There are those calls that are easy: people asking about programming, people wanting to know the high temperature for the day, or people asking about information included in a news story. The rest of the questions, well, they can be quite varied!

Within your first few days, you’ll surely have had your first “crazy caller.” You’ll most definitely have handled your first “angry caller.” And then there are those who call with story ideas and you won’t know if they’re legitimate, crazy, or a combination of both. Working on the assignment desk for 14 years, I’ve heard just about everything a viewer can say, yet I’m still taken by surprise occasionally. People have told me over and over again I should write a book about some of the wild things people say.

One day, I may. However, this blog is about how to handle these viewers. No matter what you may think of the caller, remain professional and calm. When a viewer is yelling at you, don’t raise your voice back and don’t get caught up in an argument with the viewer. You will not win, so just listen. Do not let your personal feelings, political persuasions, or views on a topic come out. Remain neutral. If someone begins cursing at you, politely tell the person you will be hanging up, and they are welcome to call back when they are able to talk with out cursing.

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If someone calls in with a story idea, take their information. Be sure and get their name and telephone number. Also find out from where they are calling. If it is something a reporter will pursue, the reporter will need as much information as possible. Follow through, and be sure and tell the assignment editor or producer about the story suggestion immediately. If it is a tip about a crime or accident, tell the others on the desk, and immediately start making phone calls to confirm the tip.

As tempting as it may be, don’t make fun of viewers who call on social media. You never know who may follow you on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Remember you represent your station. You in no way want to call out someone and have them see it and then believe the TV station is making fun of them or mocking them.

Treat viewers with respect. Many have likely watched your station for years. They come to think of the on-air talent as friends and family. They feel compelled to call because they believe they know you. Sometimes they are older, sometimes they have challenges, and sometimes they live alone. It’s sad to think about, but people do call the TV station just because they want someone to talk to them. Be compassionate, and give them some of your time. Believe me, you won’t realize it when they call at the busiest time of the day or catch you just as your logging off to go home, but after a while, if a few days go by and you don’t hear from one of your “regulars,” you’ll start to worry about them. My colleagues and I have called nursing homes or people’s home numbers just to check and make sure some of our viewers are ok.

 

Bottom line, viewer phone calls will run the gamut. From some, you’ll get invaluable news tips that help you and your station win on breaking news. Some will make you feel like a punching bag as they complain about something on your air or some wrong-doing they’ve experienced. Some will make you laugh out loud. And some will annoy you every day with their crazy questions, their weird assertions about news stories, etc. But, remember they aren’t just random people. They are your viewers. They keep the TV station going. And along the way, some of those crazy viewers may just become a friend or great tipster. Be nice, help when you can, and treat them like you’d want to be treated. This part of your job is all about customer service.