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John Culliton's Articles

Mergers, Acquisitions & You

All the talk of mergers and “will we be sold?” dominates a lot of brainpower lately. Most everybody you talk to is either for sale, buying somebody, or speculates if they are one or the other.

Hasn’t felt this way for a while—maybe never.

And…you begin asking yourself in most waking hours whether you’ll find threat or opportunity as things shake out. What do we hope will happen? What do we hope won’t happen?

Where have all the people gone?

We all put stories through different filters—patrolling for clarity, urgency, pace, meaning, context and more.

The one filter we were all taught on day 1 of journalism school or at our first small market job was that “news is about people.”

At this point, you kinda want to say duh-but instead I’m gonna say oops. As in oops - a lot of our coverage is missing real people. Where have they gone? How can we get them back?

I’ve seen countless newscasts where I can say:

The Next Modernization Of Digital And Live TV

Why do we inject digital references in our copy for live newscasts?

Easy answer, right? Pump up awareness for our digital platforms. Signal that our website, apps, and social media are alive and kicking all day and night. Some have gotten pretty good at blending in digital references without obliterating newscasts. Some overdo it.

ALSO: Saying, “we first told you_____on our APP at 2:30 today…” has become the 2018 way of saying we were FIRST to report a story, replacing the old version of back selling to the prior TV newscasts.

That’s was we’ve done. Here’s what we need to do next:

2018 Resolutions to Evolve

018 begins and with it comes resolutions— fresh terms and fresh thinking. If I were in charge of media terminology, here’s what I’d suggest we change in the new year:

- Old Term: Digital First New term: Audience First

Most stations have outgrown the fear of putting news on digital before broadcast. Most stations get it—that digital is a big deal. So, in 2018 let’s get smart and balance resources to deliver news on multiple platforms based on audience needs, habits, and lifestyles. AUDIENCE FIRST.

- Old term: Sweeps New Term: Planning

There are still lingering strategies to support “sweeps” months. There still might be some bragging rights associated with Nov/Feb/May—but ask any director of sales in 2018 and they’ll tell you they need year-round ratings to make money. So, it’s all about PLANNING for opportunities every month of the year.

- Old term: Professional New Term: Relatable

Being professional remains an objective for our on-air talent, but it’s simply not enough. Viewers are looking for more. More empathy, more authenticity, a greater understanding how stories affect their emotions. If it’s fake and scripted, it won’t work. But increasingly the audience wants real people, RELATABLE people on their screens.


The number one question I’ve been asked this year: What should a local TV station do to sustain and grow its credibility in light of the attacks on the news media?

The question is referring mostly to marketing, but news coverage is, and should be, part of the mix.

The second question, asked in tandem: Or, should we do anything at all?

Doing nothing is an option—especially if doing something exudes a Shakespearean sense that we “…doth protest too much.” That we’re denying something so adamantly, we might be guilty. No “protest” or apology is necessary for fair, factual reporting, no matter who tries to bully you.

Inversely, doing something—but using bad word choices in promos, like “fake news”—risks dragging local news into a pool of media to which it need not belong.

  • Research, including SmithGeiger and Pew, shows local TV news is more credible than national TV news, more trustworthy and less biased.
  • If we use pejorative terms directed at national media in our copy—and deny we’re fake news—it forces unnecessary questions about whether, in fact, we could be capable of “fake news.”

LOCAL NOT IMMUNE: National journalists take more heat—but local news is in the crosshairs, too. Ask any local reporter about the bad feedback they get on a political story—and they cringe. Ask managers at local TV stations what they worry about lately—and it’s about unnecessarily angering partisan viewers (on either side) and sending them off to watch their favorite, partisan cable news.

Balancing Local And National News

We all know this, right? Everybody picks a local story over a national story - if there’s a tie vote for what story leads a newscast, gets prominent play on a website/app, or gets posted on social.

It’s the rest of the hours and hours of news and digital postings that create issues. Here’s what I believe:

  • BREAKING national/int’l beats OLD LOCAL.
  • OLD NATIONAL/INT’L is a really bad thing for newscasts, but it’s everywhere.

Here’s the thinking behind these statements:

BREAKING national/int’l beats OLD LOCAL:

We have a lot of clients with LIVE DESKS/BREAKING NEWS CENTERS/ALERT CENTERS. Most started in the mornings, but now they’ve spread to afternoons, and I’ve spotted one on a competitor at 11 pm. These venues mostly report on national/int’l news.

But the question often comes up: do viewers really care about secondary stories that are not LOCAL? And the answer is NEW MATTERS. It doesn’t matter more than BIG LOCAL STORIES - but NEW MATTERS when many of the other stories in the newscast are getting old and repetitive. And the rate at which stories gets OLD is at an all-time high and growing.

What’s Our Story: Making or Breaking Broadcast in 2016

The term you hear is that “it’s all about the story you tell yourself.”

Sports psychologists, motivational speakers, and business-book writers use the term to inspire more positive thinking - assuming you have a positive story to tell.

What story are we telling ourselves in broadcasting in 2016? Here’s how one story goes:

News consumers - especially younger ones - are abandoning live TV news and moving to new platforms faster than we are; our stations (and networks) are stuck in an old paradigm with people who cannot react quickly enough to change and do not understand digital.

Let’s call this the “WE’RE ALL TOAST” story for broadcasting. (Kind of hate to write it down - but that’s how it sounds, sometimes).

Truth is: The growth of digital is dramatic and developing digital news products is essential, but there must be a way to tell ourselves a different story. Otherwise, we should all just go work for Google.

Keeping Stories Alive: Up or Out!

Do we get it? Just how quickly news gets distributed by multiple sources across multiple platforms? Yes, we know it but do we get it? Get just how fast a story—or at least its initial headline—gets old?

Do we get it? Just how quickly news gets distributed by multiple sources across multiple platforms? Yes, we know it but do we get it? Get just how fast a story—or at least its initial headline—gets old?

Not many get it; otherwise, we’d see much different behavior.

• A story from a network morning show would not run in a 4 p.m. newscast.
• A station’s news app would not have its first 10 stories be two hours or more old.
• A prime tease topical would not use the same headline from early news to sell a story.
• A late newscast would not have pacer stories that were merely a carry-over from early news.
• A morning newscast would not repeat secondary stories within a half hour of each other.
• A station would not act like they were premiering a “viral video” when it has 2 million views.

Enough with the “nots.” We were all taught it’s better to state things in the affirmative, so here goes:

The Power of Prayer

In some of our local news research, we've recently been asking people what they thought about in their lives (beyond news). One of the highest scoring categories was “…a closer relationship with God.”

The finding, a little bit of a surprise, prompted questions about whether certain religious stories might stir up some ratings (realizing a Pew study from May showed people retreating from organized religion). Aftera all, cable and network programs have found success in this area, too.

Sustained Urgency: An AM Mandate

To produce a morning newscast in 2015 - think two thoughts that are NEW to this moment in time.

  • The first screen the majority of viewers wake up to is their smartphone.
  • Viewers believe UPDATES ON ALL STORIES is of equal importance to Breaking News (a discovery first noted recently by SG research VP, Tony Calfo).

These two thoughts are connected: The more viewers get information from digital sources, the more it makes them expect even more updating from TV news - throughout the entire broadcast. It’s true in all day parts but particularly acute in the morning as a result of the smartphone being the first screen.

The findings have led to coin the phrase, SUSTAINED URGENCY, and it carries with it clear implications:

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