Understanding what your viewers really need out of your newscast is the first step to growing ratings.
Every story in your newscast is really about humanity.
Even if you’ve got 10 or 12 or 24 hours of news every day, it’s still true. News teams that don’t understand the importance of human connection in stories have a hard time understanding why viewers don’t find their newscasts valuable.
I have to credit long-time journalism professor Dr. Bill Silcock for planting this phrase in my consciousness as a young journalist: “Stories are about people, and people have faces.” In this context, he was talking about video editing for newscasts, but it applies far beyond that.
It gets at the very core of why something is newsworthy.
From a storytelling perspective, the next time you’re watching a newscast with someone outside the business (maybe while visiting your in-laws, for example), pay attention to when their eyes engage with the newscast. You’ll soon notice a pattern: any time real people are part of the story, the viewer becomes more engaged.
This is true for in-depth, people-focused stories (and every reporter should learn from Bob Dotson and read Make it Memorable, his excellent book about telling great TV stories), but it’s also true for all the other stories in a newscast.
Why is a vacant house fire news? That’s a question I’ve heard many times, and I think it’s a symptom of us forgetting why things are newsworthy in the first place. Here are just some of the effects of a vacant house fire:
- It’s a big deal to anyone living on that block
- There is or was a danger of spreading
- The house will likely stay a burned-out shell for several months before being repaired or demolished
- Whatever people or thing started this fire could also cause others
- There may have been a traffic impact
- A person owns that house (or doesn’t, which is another story)
But let’s say you don’t have any of those angles for your 15-second VO in your morning show. You will still have an angle affecting the people who are at every fire, however: the firefighters. If nothing else, write your story about the firefighters responding, and you will form a personal connection with your viewers, even in a short VO.
Here are two versions of a generic fire story with the same limited information:
Low impact fire VO
A vacant house burned down in the 100 block of Main street. 911 calls about the fire came in around 3 am. No injuries were reported. The cause of the fire is unclear.
Higher impact fire VO
Firefighters rushed to keep a vacant house fire from spreading to other homes. Neighbors called 911 around 3 am when they saw the flames. This was in the 100 block of Main Street. No one was injured. Fire investigators are working right now to figure out what started the fire.
What about car crashes? Why do we care? It’s not just the possibility that it will or did affect my commute. It’s really for the same reason we all rubberneck when we see a crash. We wonder if anyone was hurt, how it happened, and especially whether we could have avoided it if we were the drivers. Almost every one of us drives a vehicle, and we all connect that crash to our own driving.
That’s what I mean when I say every story is about humanity. Basic information stories, like construction road closures, are about me, the viewer, and my commute. Snow closings are about whether my children will go to school today (and might bring forth snow day memories of my childhood). Even pet stories are really about the emotions we people feel for our pets.
We don’t have to overtly mention humanity every time, but take a look at the stories in your newscast and ask whether they have the script and video to connect with your viewers. If not, work with your team to re-focus on the real people involved in the stories , whether that’s by interviewing the people involved or by telling the story in a way that connects the viewer to their own human experience. Remember — officials using official-speak don’t count as real people in this case!
Viewers will find value in your newscasts if you can give them the information they need and bring them the human connection we all seek. And they will keep coming back.
Of course, you need to get people to your newscast before they can see the value. Click here to read about the promotion approach that can bring viewers from their phones to your newscasts.