Last week, Lacey Crisp, a reporter from WOIO-TV in Cleveland, arranged an interview with a man who was Facebook friends with a family who had recently been murdered in a nearby town. He didn't show up for that interview, but the next evening, he sent Crisp a message, saying the house where he was staying was being surrounded by police. She realized what was happening, discussed the situation with her news managers and worked with the police to communicate with him. You can read a transcript of how it unfolded here.
In the wake of that story in which one of the television station's reporters became part of the news, WOIO General Manager Erik Schrader spoke in an on-air editorial about what happened, and how his employees acted as good citizens, putting the needs of the community ahead of their role as journalists.
Although this example of a news story is remarkable, editorials are routine at WOIO, as they are at Raycom stations across the country. Schrader says at least a few times a month, there is an opportunity to speak to viewers about the station's coverage of the news.
"Our goal is to be as transparent as possible," said Schrader. "We have a way to respond to viewer feedback that comes in via phone, social media, and so on, and explain to viewers why we made the decisions we made."
The station engages viewers daily on its social media channels, but the on-air editorial is a way to reach a large audience about bigger issues, such as deciding not to name a sexual assault suspect, the role of video of a murder that was seen on social media, perceptions of bias, and even about why the station refers to the president as "Mr. Trump" in it's news stories.
"Amid all of the talk about "fake news," transparency is good because they know what motivates us," Schrader said. "It's a little bit disarming to critics when we let them in on our process."
"It helps a lot," added WOIO News Director Fred D'Ambrosi. "It lowers the complaint calls. It's a great tool because they have an explanation."
D'Ambrosi said in the case of the murder suspect exchanging messages with his reporter, his anchors did talk about what they were doing and how. But he says an editorial a couple of days later offers time for reflection.
"Erik can put together a more complete piece talking about our thought process. The viewers like to know that some thought went into it, as opposed to decisions being random."
Schrader says the editorials also dovetail with the station's "Getting Answers" brand, so explaining what's going on behind the scenes fits perfectly.
"Every week, something comes up that gives us an opportunity to let the viewers behind the curtain," he said. "It humanizes us, and shows that we're not a faceless machine that churns out news. We love that we have an outlet for conversation."
Does your station use editorials as a way to talk about your coverage and newsroom decisions? Let us know in the comments below.