1998 Batten Symposium Panel Presentation:
Framing the Story in New Ways
Heroin: On Assignment
Executive News Director
I'll give you a little story lead . . . go back to your home markets and
after the May sweeps are over, in another week and a half, call your
stations and ask them how the ratings were. If their market is like our
market in Dallas/ Fort Worth, the network ratings are down on the order of
30 percent, which is a huge decline in a year. It's par for the course
that the networks lose a little every year, but to lose 30 percent, year to
year, that's astounding. I fear that we're on the cusp of a turn off.
We like to think at Channel 8 in Dallas that we do things for the right
reasons, instead of the short-term competitive reasons, so one of our
sweeps-month projects was a week-long effort that we put together on
heroin. The set-up for [my tape] is that in the last 24 months, more than
two dozen teenagers in our suburbs have dropped dead of heroin overdoses .
. . There's a new form of heroin out there being marketed by the cartels
and kids don't know what it is. They don't know it's heroin.
So we launched, for even a big station like ours, a major effort. We
assigned about 10 people to this project. They worked for about six weeks .
. . we ended up with about six days of coverage. We had stories on every
newscast. Our major push was at 10 o'clock. We did a town meeting, we did
phone banks, the whole nine yards.
Now, the flip side of this is . . . this didn't do great in the ratings.
I was feeling really down about that -- particularly the Wednesday night
program, which had the Bland family, which I think is one of the strongest
stories we’ve ever done. It got for us what is an average rating on a
So I went to the town meeting, which was on Thursday, and just stood in
the audience and listened. I came away from that convinced we’d done
exactly the right thing because people came up to us --well, you saw the
emotion that was displayed on the tape.
So long term, the best thing that broadcasters like us, or any
journalists, can do is to take a problem, take an issue like heroin, and go
full force at it with all the tricks, all the promotion, all the marketing
you can do, try to draw as much attention to it as you can and try to make
The problem is, in our business the competitive pressures are such that
nobody thinks like that. We're all thinking overnight, next morning
[ratings]. And that's why people aren't watching.
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