For TV stations, the May sweeps period is important because, based on the viewership, advertising rates are set from now until late this fall.
The stations sell you, their audience, to companies and organizations that are willing to pay to share their goods or service with you. That’s how these commercial enterprises work.
For stations with news operations, the staffers who work on special assignments, investigations and promotions go into overdrive. They have meetings with ideas and calendar in hand. They plot out evolving storylines and decide which nights the stories will run.
Managers hold the information close to the vest, making sure details don’t get leaked to the competition … where others can scramble to do similar reports and steal part of the audience. Promotion spots are created for these stories, to do their best to tease the audience to be aware of the report and make sure they tune in to watch. The more sensational and the more visual it is, the better chance the promotion will catch your eye.
Investigations that news stations could be working on for months will be held, to run during the sweeps, trying to maximize the audience. There is a skill, a science really, to sweeps planning. Each TV news operation across the nation does sweeps planning to one degree or another. Trust me when I say this task is far from easy.
Milwaukee Police Department Chief Ed Flynn called a news conference on Monday, and news staffers from the area TV stations showed up. Journalists – some involved and most others not having any connection to this incident – had to sit through a presentation in which Flynn went after one station for using video of an officer without disclosing all of the details to entice people to watch the story airing at 10 p.m. on Monday night.
You can see the chief's press conference at the bottom of this column.
Here’s some background:
An incident involving an officer at an ATM with a person withdrawing money caught the attention of bank officials, and the video was shared with the MPD, the FBI and WTMJ-TV Ch. 4. The incident took place in February. In March, the results of an internal investigation cleared the officer in the video of any wrong-doing. According to MPD, the officer was assisting in an incident with a person in a dispute with a taxi driver. Money had to be withdrawn to settle the transaction.
WTMJ staff knew the officer was cleared. Flynn questioned why the station would bother to report on this incident, and reacted when he became aware of the promotion videos running on the station throughout the weekend.
You can read the report and watch the video here.
In the opening of the video, anchor Mike Jacobs reads the line that people are chatting about this video. Truth be told, people were probably chatting about the video because of the way the station positioned it in promos. The news story in the evening newscasts and online covered all of the details of the officer being investigated and cleared … however, its promotion treatment and timing by WTMJ raised a number of questions with the MPD, Flynn and a number of others on social media.
Was this still a true TV investigation once the officer was cleared? Was WTMJ right that the feeling of distrust of the police department within the community – and the reason they were given the video – justified running with it? Did WTMJ over sensationalize and misrepresent the officer in video for the promo?
Those are questions that could draw a number of opinions based on perspective.
The larger question is this: Did the station not report on this in March, and hold onto the video and report – which they knew they had exclusively – until May?
Media is bombarding us everywhere.
Instead of sheltering his brain from the onslaught, Steve embraces the news stories, entertainment, billboards, blogs, talk shows and everything in between.
The former writer, editor and producer in TV, radio, Web and newspapers, will be talking about what media does in our community and how it shapes who we are and what we do.