As Seen in the RTDNA – Radio Television Digital News Association | Communicator
Live news coverage is a challenging pursuit. It requires news stations to plan for the unexpected. Well-run news stations can successfully capture these unplanned breaking news stories by implementing a series of best practices that always keep it prepared. On Call Communications, a leading provider of IP based mobile satellite solutions, spoke recently with client Marian Pittman, News Director for WSB-TV in Atlanta, about the best practices for live news coverage.
“There are probably five best practices in each area from talent, production, technology, etc.” according to Pittman. “I’ll talk about the practices that make live news engaging and informative although there will probably be more than five.”
What strikes us the most in our conversation is how many of the best practices have to do with the ability to manage people.
Hire and keep the best people.
First and foremost, it is crucial to recruit the right people. Hiring and retaining the top candidates requires critical thinking. A good news director needs to keep a watch list. The watch list contains candidates that show good promise, but are currently under contract elsewhere. Part of the news director’s job is to network with potential candidates through outside organizations, such as RTDNA, to be able to identify and build relationships with these prospects.
During the hiring stage, prospects should be interviewed by numerous members of the news team as part of the vetting process. It is vital that new hires be team players especially for the photographer/reporter teams. Once hired, invest in your best employees to help retain them.
Communicate with your team and give them accountability.
Straightforward communication prevents misunderstandings. Managers need to be aligned and clearly lay out goals and expectations on a daily basis. Then, the employees need to be held accountable. Accountability should not be mistaken as mere discipline. Positive responsiveness like praise must also be given and strengths recognized.
It is also very important to offer growth opportunities to internal candidates. It is key to motivating employees and fostering their loyalty. Pittman herself started on the floor crew and worked her way up to News Director through her recognized and proven performance.
Continue to invest in your employees through training.
The investment in employees should continue after they are hired to keep them up-to-date and on trend. Newsrooms should constantly invest in training on the latest technology and skill sets.
It is especially helpful to have someone working in the newsroom capable of training veteran news people on the latest technology such as shooting footage on iphones and editing on laptops. In Pittman’s case, one of her staff members serves this role in addition to his regular duties. This not only saves the company money on third party training, it also allows the trainer to better know his trainees strengths and weaknesses. It is also vital that there be continuous training around legal issues to maintain up-to-date and ethical standards in journalism. All of the training ultimately pays off as an investment in the newsroom’s employees’ careers.
Cast based on strengths.
Casting is a very important element of the newscast. WSB-TV holds an 8 a.m. conference call each day followed by a 9 a.m. editorial meeting. This meeting is used to match the strengths of the right person with the right story. The news director needs to know and assign the best people for crime stories, live newscasts, investigative reports, etc.
WSB-TV has a fleet of 13 live trucks. The trucks use a variety of technology so the best technology is always available as the situation demands. It allows the station to go live a lot rather than prerecorded. The ability to go live makes news stories more compelling and also helps the station to meet its deadlines.
Know the power of television and practice ethical journalism.
Finally, ethical journalism is a best practice that cannot be stressed enough. Newsrooms need to understand the power of television. It makes a huge impact on a mass audience. It is very easy to destroy someone’s life through irresponsible, unethical reporting. Therefore, in addition to continuous ethics trainings, it is extremely important that newsrooms maintain several levels of editorial control and use well-seasoned journalists.