“Just Watch the Game” is not your typical Pittsburgh Sports book. No punches are pulled here. I honor the good guys and great performances that I covered and I trash the bad guys. I also remember the good-old days when watching and playing sports were about the games. Before “snack moms” and everybody getting a trophy. If you’re of a certain age, it will bring back fond memories. If you’re too young to have experienced it, as my Dad used to say, Read this. You might learn something.
Excerpt from Just Watch the Game:
“The Six O’Clock Snews” Is a fairly long chapter that includes a lot of Pittsburgh local news history and compares how the news is being presented now to when I got involved in the late ’70s. Being the wonderful person and excellent journalist that I am, I also include a radical idea or two about how local news can be saved. It’s the least I can do.
I have a little extra time to kill here, so, I’m going to give local news directors everywhere a way to set themselves apart from their competitors and actually get better ratings.
Watch Fox News.
Wait. Before you watch, check the ratings.
Fox wins everything and it’s not close. They get more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.
Why? For starters, Fox isn’t liberal. That sets it apart from every other network. But what makes Fox so much more compelling is debate.
Of course, confrontation and controversy follow from debate. I know it’s national news and that’s a different animal but, if a Pittsburgh station were to hire a local version of Bill O’Reilly and do a local newscast that was produced in segments the way that The O’Reilly Factor is produced, it just might save local news.
No more weather at 15 after the hour unless the weather actually is a story because it might actually have an effect on the viewers’ day. No sports unless it’s either a really big story or includes some controversy or both.
Politicians would be put on notice that they would be invited in to answer the tough questions put to them by the local O’Reilly and, if they didn’t come in, they could expect to be ambushed by a reporter and a camera at any time.
No voiceovers of traffic accidents or fires.
Murders don’t make the news unless they have a major effect on the community. Actually, if a news director felt he had to devote some time to the typical local news trivia, it could all be done in a minute or two of voice over before the first commercial break. Instead of devoting time and resources to finding people to chase ambulances and fire trucks, hire good, smart, aggressive, creative producers who would be looking for compelling news stories that lend themselves to controversy and debate.
In the beginning, the ratings wouldn’t come close to what the three stations are getting now, but it would be a lot less expensive to produce and that could translate to the corporate owners’ favorite word.
I used to sit in the sports office at KDKA and watch boring story after boring story come across the screen and wonder how we had any viewers left. It wasn’t the reporters’ fault. It was the story selection or the way a story was treated. I would constantly see stories that could be turned into compelling 15 minute segments if there had been anybody in management with the creativity or, more importantly, the guts to do it.
An example: There was a story, I believe in Westmoreland County, about a kid who showed up at school wearing a baseball cap with the Confederate flag on the front. I don’t remember all the details, but I think he was sent home and the parents protested. I don’t remember how it turned out, but the point is that the story got about a minute and a half of air time and just kind of floated along with the rest of the flotsam in the newscast.
Here’s what I would have done with the story:
I would have called the kid and his parents and invited them to come to the studio and offered them a limo if necessary. I also would have invited officials from the school and we would have had a nice debate about how offensive the Confederate flag is and whether the kid had the right to wear it to school.
If the school officials refused to come in, their names would be on empty chairs next to the kid and his parents.
I would have invited viewers to email their comments and read some of them at the end of the newscast.
You can bring in all the high paid consultants you want, but nobody is going to convince me that stories like that, done well, wouldn’t bring you more viewers in the long run than a four minute weather forecast or four minutes of fire/crash/murder video.