Once upon a time, a frivolous story like “High-Heel Hell” would have been embraced by local television news operations during a ratings period.
The story would have been heavily promoted, even though its news value was the equivalent of candy. For better or worse, depending on your journalistic perspective, fluffy pieces like “High-Heel Hell” (it's the shoes -- it's gotta be the shoes) were sure to draw viewers.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, frivolity is “out” and serious journalism is “in.” That fundamental change will be evident in the sweeps-related promotions that we'll see in November.
“Things are much more serious now,” said WTOL-TV, Channel 11, news director C.J. Beutien. “Promotions where we try to lure people into the tents, so to speak, just seem out of place.”
Mr. Beutien said WTOL's top project for sweeps is called “Changing America: Coping Families.” It will follow three families - one is of Islamic faith, one lives in a rural area, and one lives in a metropolitan area - over the course of four to six weeks.
WTVG-TV, Channel 13, news director Janet Hundley said consumer-oriented stories - such as “High-Heel Hell” and “How to Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days!” - are proven ratings-winners. And last November, the story would have been promoted accordingly in radio and television commercials and newspaper ads.
“Those are stories that people would tune in to watch,” she said. “But they wouldn't quite fit this November.”
But that doesn't mean fluff stories won't run during the November ratings period (Nov. 1-28) -- they're just not going to be promoted heavily, as was the case in past years.
As WUPW-TV, Channel 36, news director Jose Suarez put it, “It's pretty hard to promote a story like that, and then say, ‘Plus, we'll have the latest on the war in Afghanistan.'”
You won't hear WNWO-TV, Channel 24, news director Lou Hebert complaining that serious journalism is back in style. He is committed to raising the journalistic bar at the station. This will be his first ratings period since being hired in July. He hopes his change at the anchor desk, pairing Nora Murray with Jon Clark, on all three evening newscasts will give the station a needed ratings boost.
BIG DIPPER: One of the most interesting demographic categories in Arbitron's summer survey is women age 18-plus. During the high-profile morning drive, Denny Schaffer's Breakfast Club on WVKS-FM (92.5) dropped from No. 2 to No. 4 -- even falling behind another talk show, on WSPD-AM (1370). And to think, Schaffer often belittles WSPD because “no one listens to that station.” Could it be that the Breakfast Club's motto -- “People are stupid” -- is wearing thin with the female audience, long considered Schaffer's strength?
CORPORATE LADDER: Toledo native Dan Bradley is vice president of news for Media General's broadcast division in Richmond, Va. The Central Catholic High School graduate was promoted to that position a year ago after serving as vice president/ news director of WFLA-TV in Tampa, Fla.
Bradley, 51, started his television career in Toledo. He was a photographer for WTOL and WDHO (which has since changed its call letters to WNWO).
Russ Lemmon's column on the local media appears Mondays. Readers may contact him at 1-419-724-6122, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.