How they do the TV news

Story by Chris Graham
newdominion@ntelos.net
 

It’s 9:30. Make that 9:32, actually. The staff is already gathered round the small table in front of the whiteboard near the entrance to the newsroom.

Ed Reams wants to know what the WHSV-TV3 news team has, and the answer is – plenty. It’s the morning of the United Way of Greater Augusta campaign kickoff, which would work well for noon. As would an update on the victim of a Staunton trolley accident. Reams asked aloud if anybody had any ideas on local reaction to comments made by former president Jimmy Carter on race and President Barack Obama, which was a local story because Carter was about to be honored by James Madison University for his work on international peace initiatives.

For close to a half-hour the staff, including morning weather anchor Mallory Brooke, updating the group on what was news in the world of meteorology, pitched story ideas to Reams and assignment editor Calvin Trice.

Then it came time to winnow it all down to what would make the air at noon, five, six and 11.

“You have the events that are scheduled. You have the breaking news. Then you have the enterprise things, the things that are exclusive to us and are born out of an idea or issue or that type of thing. We spend a lot of time looking forward, not just where we are right now. We have to be prepared,” said Reams, who has been the news director at TV3 since 2006.

Reams’ broadcast-journalism career got its start at WHSV back in 1991 in the Augusta County bureau, back before few outside of the military had heard the word Internet, and TV news was, well, TV news.

The term TV news in the 21st century is almost a misnomer.

“We’re moving away from being a television station into being a content provider,” Reams said. “We provide content on what’s going on in our community. The medium in which we push that content out now depends on the time of day. We always try to do web first. The web is always on. It’s 24-7. So that’s going to be our first focus. Especially if we’re not in the midst of a newscast. If there’s breaking news going on at 3 o’clock, the first place it goes is on the website and on text messages and on e-mail alerts and Twitter and Facebook.”

It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on. Plain and simple – you have to go where the viewers are, Reams said, “and they’re not all sitting down in front of their TVs all the time. They’re in front of their computers, they have their cell phones, they’re driving home from work, they’re picking up their kids from school. So the TV isn’t the only medium we use to get out the content that we gather throughout the day.”

“We’ve moved away from the newscast being the focus to the web as the number-one focus for us. The web is where we break news. We very rarely break news on the air, unless it’s an enterprise or exclusive story that’s unique to us. If there’s a train accident in Waynesboro, you’re going to see it on the web and then on Facebook and Twitter before you even see it on the air, unless we’re in the midst of a newscast,” Reams said.

There are, of course, also still plenty of over-the-air broadcasts to fill – at 5 a.m., noon, 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Each, like the web, “has its own personality, like your kids,” Reams said.

The 5 a.m. show is “what’s happening since I went to bed,” Reams said. The noon show is what’s happening now in the middle of the day, “and it’s more featurey. We have lifestyles, gardening, we’ll have interview segments on how-to things, entertainment.” The 5 o’clock news is “our right-now format,” Reams said. “That’s the first newscast after four hours of not being on the air with news. People want to know what’s going on right now.

The 6 o’clock news is “the newscast of record. Basically what has happened throughout the day locally. It doesn’t have much national news, because ‘World News’ comes on right after that. And it’s not just the nuts and bolts of the story, but it also should feature the people affected by it positively or negatively. So 6 o’clock is where you’ll see your more personal impact-type stories,” Reams said.

“At 11, your biggest enemy is the off button, because people are trying to go to sleep. The viewers are smart. They know if they’ve seen a story before, they know that every other story after that is probably something that they’ve seen. So our goal at 11 is to do as much new at 11 so that people don’t see just a rehash of the 6 o’clock news,” Reams said.

It’s now 10 a.m. at the station. The reporters have their assignments for the day. News will break, no doubt, wreaking havoc on the best-laid plans of mice and men, but that’s all in a day’s work in news.

The key to good TV news – “a lot of planning.”

“You can’t just be reactive all the time,” Reams said. “You have to be proactive to be able to do it effectively, and take the time to be able to gather different perspectives. You have to have that think time.”



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