Give your newsroom some guiding principles

March 21, 2016 01:30

By Treena Wood, RTDNA Contributor

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify, Netflix, email, instant messaging – they’re all competing for the average person’s time, and that’s just on their phone. How is a lumbering old AM all-news radio station expected to win and keep someone’s attention?

The way radio always has – with killer content that grabs hold and doesn’t let go.

Every story we tell, we tell with the listener in mind. In every single story that goes to air, we answer these questions: Why would someone care? How does it impact that person? What is the most factual, compelling, and entertaining way we can tell this story?

Our newsroom has found success by adhering to three guiding principles that guarantee we cut through the noise and make ourselves indispensable to the listener. Here they are, as created by the team:
  1. First, we get it right. Nothing goes to air or online before it’s independently confirmed. We wait, make the phone calls, put out the emails, gather the evidence, and get our facts straight before rushing to get something out there, no matter what everyone else in the media is doing. No one remembers who got it first, but everyone remembers who got it wrong.

  2. People over process. The pointy end or hook of a story is always how it impacts someone. “Vancouver City Council has voted 5-4 in favour of changing the garbage pickup schedule” is the process. “Your garbage will be picked up less often in Vancouver after a close vote by city council” is the people. Find the “people” angle or the “you” in the story, and you’ve found the lede.

  3. Talk the way people talk. Would you say to your parent/partner/friend “Hey, guess what? A lone male has unlawfully entered a residence in Surrey, produced a firearm, and threatened the homeowner before fleeing on foot in a westerly direction. An arrest has not yet been made!” You wouldn’t.  That’s a classic example of cop speak, and if you dash off a quick write from a news release, that’s what we’ll sound like on air. You’re more likely to say “Hey, guess what? A man just busted into a home in Surrey and waved a gun at someone! He took off and police are looking for him now!” Conversational language will help the listener identify with us as people.
The only other rule in our newsroom is “there are no rules.” Everything can be tried, all ideas are up for discussion, and no one will ever be penalized for taking a calculated risk. Our job is to create the most compelling radio we can with the tools and resources we have. That’s what’s led to our success, and I’m confident it’s what will keep us there, no matter what’s streaming on Neflix.

If your news team doesn’t have an agreed-upon set of principles, standards, or style, I’d strongly urge you to go through the process. Make it a team effort, because when everyone is involved, they will own it, evangelize it, and hold each other accountable to it. It will make your team better, and your news product better – and that’s what will keep you viable.

Does your newsroom have a set of principles it uses as a starting point for doing your best work? Let us know in the comments below.

Treena Wood is News Director at CKWX-AM in Vancouver, BC.


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