Shane Dorrill is the manager of broadcast media relations for The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where he helps reporters with stories every day. Before joining the media relations staff, he served as a reporter, producer and news director for television and radio stations in the Birmingham, Alabama market. He also teaches broadcast news students in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media in UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences. You can follow Shane on Twitter @sdorrill.
It happened as I was watching my local 6:00 news. The anchor began telling me about all the graduation ceremonies that are happening this month. I braced myself in my chair, because I knew what was coming next. I’ve seen the same story year after year.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a good graduation story. However, the problem comes when reporters or producers decide to be lazy and do the same old, boring story that they’ve done in the past.
Being a former reporter, I know how the conversation in the morning meeting probably went: “Hey, I know, let’s do a story on graduation. Can we find some statistics on how many of these kids won’t have jobs when they finish school?” Sure enough, a simple Google search turned up a random website with the negative data they were looking for. All the reporter had to do was attribute the statistics to the website without giving any context to them and they had a story.
“It looks like a bleak future for those students graduating this month,” the anchor read in a solemn tone.
But is it true for your area? Are there really no jobs? Are the students graduating from your local high schools or colleges going to be destitute in a few months? Are they doomed to living at home in their parent’s basement?
A simple call to your local Chamber of Commerce or Industrial Development Authority may give you the answer. If the job market is weak in your area, it’s OK to tell your viewers. However, don’t leave it as a negative story. Find a way to talk about what is being done to change the job market. Interview someone from an organization that’s helping graduates get jobs, or find a student who already has a job waiting on them after graduation. Do more than just report negative statistics.
Better yet, get away from the job market story altogether this year. Find a way to focus on the positives of graduation. These students are commencing; in other words, they’re about to start something new. Find a student who has overcome major obstacles in life, yet still managed to succeed. Share their victories. Or, tell the story of a teacher who has given their entire career to helping students, but who will be retiring at the end of the school year, and commencing into a new chapter of their life.
Your local schools will thank you, and so will your viewers.