Eureka's KIEM-TV, Channel 3, isn't in the smallest television market in the country, but it is near the bottom of a 200+ deck. Why should you care? The bigger the TV market size, the more money a station can command in advertising fees and the more it can spend on its evening and morning news. There shouldn't be a connection between money and quality, but of course there is. A big one.
That means that you can assume that the owners of this NBC affiliate, Pollack/Belz Broadcasting, LLC, which owns only one other TV station, don't pull in huge amounts of money from this station. So they won't likely devote a huge amount of money to improve it with better technology and staff training for the producers and reporters of its news operation. The quality of the broadcast screams low-cost operation.
Until now, I kept myself from criticizing the news team at Channel 3 in print. I try not to criticize what I can't improve, and I figured that if I couldn't suggest zero-cost improvements I might as well put my typing fingers to other uses.
But I'm now addicted to the 6 o'clock news. I find it tells me things I didn't know, such as the status of the closed Martins Ferry Bridge, which the Eureka Reporter and, until Monday, the Times-Standard have all but ignored. I can't help wanting to make the newscast better. Plus, since early December I've read The Little Train That Could at least a dozen times, and the story is insidious. I now think almost anyone can get over any hill with just the right amount of grit.
So here is my list of tips for the overworked, ridiculously underpaid team at Channel 3, who I know try the best they can with so very little.
1. Assume your viewers know nothing. When you tell me about Martins Ferry Bridge, tell me where the heck it is. I happen to know that the bridge is in Hoopa and affects a too-often ignored population of Native American people. But most of your viewers have no clue. So ...
2. Never forget the basics: Who, What, Where, When, How and Why for every story. If you can't find out that basic information you shouldn't run the story. That brings me to the Who ...
3. Identify people you interview on video.It frustrates viewers to no end when you show someone saying blah, blah, blah, blah, but there is no name or title or town of residency for that person.
4. Give me pertinent details. Roughly how many people live on the wrong side of Martins Ferry Bridge? From the multiple stories I saw on Channel 3, I have no idea whether we're talking five or 500 people stranded without access to schools or markets.
5. Don't show dull video. Want to send your viewers to Cold Case Files or Tucker Carlson? Show them video of a roomful of people's backs at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors, or a panel of city council people who you don't identify, or unnamed students walking down some path at HSU or College of the Redwoods. Take a minute while you are out on a shoot to be a bit more creative with the video camera.
6. Think multi-part series. Since you cover some stories over and over again, you might as well think about covering the story as a multi-part series. Let's get back to Martins Ferry. I've seen three broadcasts on this story. But the station reported the story the same way many newspapers handle ongoing police investigations. Newspapers slap two inches of new copy on top of what is basically the same story they've run over and over again. The TV station seems to give me the latest action or inaction of the Board of Supervisors over the same old video of an empty bridge, or of unidentified people crossing
Instead, think about covering any story that you think might have legs as a five-part series. There are five days in the week, and each day you do a short piece on the subject focusing on a different part of the story.
Monday: The who. Tell us about some of the people the problem actually affects.
Tuesday: The What. Give us a rough summary of what's going on.
Wednesday: The Where. Tell us a little bit about the unique problems that are occurring because of where the problem is taking place. The problem with Martins Ferry Bridge is that it's located an hour from Eureka. If it were located 10 minutes from Eureka it would already be fixed.
Thursday: The When. Find some
expert who can give us the skinny on when we can see some real action.
Friday: The How and Why. If the supervisors finally agree to fix the bridge once and for all, how will engineers go about doing that? Why fix it like that?
The beauty of a five-part series, based on five days of the week, is it gives you some economy of scale for news. Each interview makes each other interview easier, because you don't come in cold. Each person you interview can give you the name and contact number for the next person to interview. If you shoot a good amount of video the first day, you can use it throughout the week. You probably only have to do reporting for the first three days but you'll be able to fill up five days worth of airtime. And even as you actually save yourself time and labor you give your viewers deeper coverage. You can put the pieces all together on your Web site and give Web surfers the idea that you are a sophisticated news operation. And your viewers will appreciate it. Believe it or not, some of us actually do watch you.
Speaking of the Little Train That Could, I can't end this column without setting aside some space for my students at the Lumberjack newspaper. On March 1, Humboldt State's student-produced, student-run newspaper took four awards at the California College Media Association awards for weekly college papers: First Place for feature photograph, First Place for best back-to-school issue, Third Place for best editorial and Third Place for general excellence. You won't find a news team more overworked, underpaid and less appreciated in Humboldt County, or one that I criticize more severely week after week. Congratulations. You earned it.