In defense of TV reporters

You know the public image of TV news reporters, right?  They’re unethical, lazy and overpaid. Not.

In this brilliant blog post, former Atlanta TV reporter Doug Richards  debunks  those myths, and several more–like this one:

They can tell you what’s really going on. Well, yes.  But chances are they’ve put almost everything they know into a story already.

It always amazed me, when I was reporting for CBS and CNN, how many people thought I knew much more than I was telling them on the air.  Of course there were times when I got stuff off the record, but my goal was always to find a way of confirming it so I could use it.   I heard this assumption a lot, too:

They have writers who tell them what to say. No.  They write it, which explains why some of it is so poorly written.

Ha! It also explains why one of my most requested workshop topics has always been “better broadcast writing.”

When news finds you

Sometimes, the most amazing stories just fall into your lap. NJ Burkett, a reporter at WABC-TV in New York, says a viewer phone call this week led him to this story about a trail of personal information found in the street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

I learned about the story when Burkett tweeted on Monday that he was on to something.

In newsvan now in Manhattan working on a maddening story about a real estate firm that apparently left its trash unsecured on the street…Now I’m calling people, “Hi, this is NJ Burkett. I found your name in the middle of Columbus Avenue along with your 401k statement…”

Wasn’t it risky to make that information public while still reporting the story?  Not really, says Burkett.

I didn’t put the name or address of the firm on Twitter because I know for a fact that several of my competitors (including at least one New York market news director) are following me.

He also held off on his Twitter post until the mess was largely cleaned up and “the exclusive was in the bag.”  By that time, he was setting up interviews with people whose names were on the documents found in the street. Or at least, he was trying. Burkett says many of the people he contacted thought he was a scam artist, pretending to be a reporter to talk them out of their personal information.

One of them was a doctor in Arizona, who finally agreed to be interviewed the next day. At that point, Burkett reached out to ABC’s Phoenix affiliate, KNXV.  He shared his video and script with reporter Tony Arranaga, who did the interview, sent it to New York, and then aired his own story.  More proof that it pays to listen when viewers call.