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The Radio Newsroom

8-17-2012

The fact that everyone is talking about it: challenged by it; disturbed by it; annoyed by it; loving it; cant wait to see the next one -- all of the above, we absolutely love it! That's Jeff Daniels, who stars in HBOs "The Newsroom" as network anchorman Will McAvoy, commenting on the controversy surrounding the show.

The Aaron Sorkin show has received scathing reviews from critics who accuse it of everything from being a preachy editorial rather than a drama, to its treatment of the female characters as being weak and incompetent. However, the show is a big ratings success with viewers and has already been renewed by HBO.

Jeff Daniels says he admires Sorkins writing because all the characters (including his) have flaws. The takeaway for radio personalities is that all the main characters have flaws to humanize them AND endearing qualities to give viewers a reason to care about them. The main characters also have inner conflicts or dilemmas that give them depth, make them real, and connect them emotionally with people.

Radio news has been evolving rapidly over the past few years as information has become ubiquitous online, and especially with the rise of smart phones. I spoke with two top news personalities to get their take on where radio news is today as well as their views on "The Newsroom." David Page, a Paris-based communications consultant and former news anchor/personality for several major French and American radio stations (WRQX/Washington, D.C. and WMC/Memphis), and Josh Spiegel, morning show co-host/news at 98 Rock and commentator for WBAL in Baltimore.

On The Power and Importance of Radio News:

David Page: Well written, produced, and delivered news segments are what many people remember most about radio. The Jeff Daniels character in the series asserts that broadcast media are responsible for the dumbing down of America. His character says broadcast journalists have an obligation to inform and educate.

"This creates a bit of a dilemma. The question is: What news stories do you choose? What people want to hear? Or what you think they need to know? The answer is both, resulting in the famous golden 50/50 rule. First, give them what they want to hear, so the audience is glued. Then, when you have their attention, give them what you think they need to know.

"The end result should be people telling their friends and neighbors about what they heard on your newscast so that others will then tune in. Also, to in some way elevate the subject matter so that the audience would become more open-minded and use your news as an inspiration to think!

Josh Spiegel: David mentions that Jeff Daniels said it's a reporter's job to inform and educate. The audience also has a responsibility to educate itself. Americans are partly to blame for dumbing down themselves. They have to be personally responsible and inform themselves.

"I agree with some of the critics that 'The Newsroom' is an editorial and probably not a completely accurate portrayal of network news. I think there's an agenda with the show. I don't know if they're looking for the truth or the truth as they see it.

"I like what David said about giving listeners what they want to hear and THEN what you think they need to hear. I think there can be concerns about doing stories that people need to hear because there's a fear of losing listeners if the story is deemed boring.

Me (Randy): I love the 50/50 Rule concept. It can be applied to News/Talk as well as music stations. The key is to know your target audience and first give them what they want and then what they need to know. News/Talk can avoid omitting relevant pop culture stories and music stations can avoid missing hard news stories that their listeners need to know about.

On Having Fun With the News and Credibility:

David Page: News can be fun, as long as your credibility remains intact. You can talk about outlandish stories but the method of delivery and commentary must preserve your credibility.

"You have to illicit a strong emotional reaction from the listener if you want to build a strong bridge of communication, and that applies to polarized personalities as well! You know, people you love to disagree with!  

Josh Spiegel: News people worry a lot about losing credibility if they have fun on the air. I don't think all news people can do it but all you have to do is look at Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News. He has hosted SNL. He's a regular on The Daily Show. He's also a regular on Jimmy Fallon where he 'slow jams' the news. That's a network TV news anchor! News people should 'loosen their ties,' so to speak.

Me: The credibility issue comes down to your treatment and tone of individual stories. That means knowing when to be serious and when to be playful. The next time you are confused about whether a newsperson can be part of the comedy outside the news segment, think about Josh Spiegels Brian Williams point.

David Page: [David believes that integrity, seemingly a major bone of contention in "The Newsroom," will always depend on the broadcaster.] In France and in Britain, the law prohibits advertising during news or news-related programs. Public broadcasters are always at the top of the ratings with huge budgets. In the U.S., the only public broadcasters, NPR for radio or PBS for TV, have very little public financing and spend a great deal of on-air time begging listeners for money, or they have sponsors.

"NPR does have decent ratings in many markets, but as theyre not competing for advertising, the programs dont have the financial means to do much better. A 'private' version of NPR that avoids all conflict of interest advertising would undoubtedly clean-up.

"The question will always remain, should news be a business? The answer is news can be a business and can be the most powerful tool radio, with its advantage of immediacy.

"Producing a news/information segment comes down to story choices, conversational writing, and storytelling (not reading) for your target audience. Audio almost always makes any news segment more engaging and memorable. Storytellers are personalities who not only deliver information, they also connect emotionally with listeners and can drive them back to your station again and again.

"Writing, delivering, and producing news in a unique and engaging way is crucial. As Jacobs Media pointed out in a recent study, most listeners already know most of the stories when they tune in because they get news on their phone, tablet, or computer.

What do you think is the most important aspect of delivering radio news? Do you agree with the 50/50 rule? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

You can reach David Page at www.davidpageconseil.com and Josh Spiegel at jspiegel@hearst.com. Follow us on Twitter @TheRandyLaneCo.




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