News, Views and Audio Boos

Whenever I’m introduced to someone and they find out what I do, one of their first questions is “Where do you get your stories from?” And it’s all too easy to trot out the answer “Everywhere!”. The idea that journalism is just about a telling a story is part of our DNA. Yet I still find it amusing when I see that concept trying to be applied to a real working newsroom.
The chances are that in this industry you’re working on one of three types of stories:

1. The predictable : diary items that can be perfectly planned. Controversially here I’m going to add the “exclusive” to the predictable – as these are largely stories that individuals have been working on and bring to the wicket.

2. The unpredictable : breaking news of whatever type. It could be a riot, a major fire, a resignation, a hiring – something unexpected.

3. The “ideas led” : these are the stories that every radio station does – but in slightly different ways. Often it revolves around the morning prospects meeting – a free-for-all discussion about what we, as journalists, think should be in the news. And all too often, they end up sounding like a middle class rant on topics so insignificant to the real world that you may as well just finish the Guardian Quick Crossword before ordering your third caramel latte of the day and speculating on whether Croatia or the Caribbean would be best value for your winter sun holiday.

So this week it’s hats off to Metro Radio in Newcastle, which decided to do something a little bit different.

Power to the people – listeners choose the news

The concept of handing the news agenda over to the listener is nothing new. The basic vox pop allows people to have their say on the big stories – it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. But opening up your newsroom and your editorial process to public scrutiny is a brave move. And adding the elements of Facebook and Twitter is an interesting use of social media.

Anyone who’s ever presented a phone in will tell you. Ask people to call and text with their opinions and you’ll often attract the Fairly Sensible and the Downright Loony (the latter are usually in the majority). But put the power to shape the news in their hands and you may get a very different outcome.

Metro’s Head of News, Justin King, championed the day thus:

Justin kings
“We strive to put out news on air and on line which is relevant to Metro’s listeners and “News You Choose Day” will give us a unique insight into what the audience cares about. We know many listeners use Facebook and Twitter as part of their everyday lives and here’s a chance to use social media to help us broadcast news from the north east to the north east. Will we have radically different news to other media on the day? Possibly but that’s up to every listener taking part!”
This link provides a flavour of what actually happened. And here is a chance to see the morning prospects meeting. In reality, only a small number of listeners ended up taking part. And given the day of the experiment (Wednesday 10th August), it’s perhaps unsurprising that the big talking point was the riots and what should be done to deal with those responsible.
And it’s inevitable that the day was shaped by the Metro news team, who were encouraged to add their own ideas to try and get a bit of spark going.
Will what Metro did last week change the world of journalism forever? Probably not. But it does demonstrate a really important basic for all journalists.
Get out and meet your audience.
And if your work schedule doesn’t allow you to get out, connect with the listeners via any means possible – including and especially social media.
It should be something we all do instinctively. But putting yourself in the shoes of a listener only works if you appreciate how they live their lives, and how they listen to radio news. That comes from experience and instinct – not from a style guide.

3 thoughts on “News, Views and Audio Boos

  1. I certainly agree with what you say, however, my worry is that a good idea gets jumped on by other producers and managers without the planning that Metro will have done. On the face of it the idea is wonderful, but I’m sure that they filtered all of the content and ideas before getting things on air, so it won’t have been as simple as ‘your news’ more sort of ‘your news chosen by us so that the nutters don’t get through’.

    With BBC guidelines of fair dealing and impartiality when your average BBC local tries something similar it’ll turn into a mass of on air announcements saying that they can’t cover all the news etc.

    Well done to Metro for having the balls to do it, but they don’t have the BBC red tape…

    And this is from someone that doesn’t like the punters running the news agenda (the ‘Put The Phone-In Down’ post)

    1. You’re absolutely right – story ideas and comments from this particular experiment will have been vetted and filtered in pretty much the same way as you do for any story. The last thing you want to do is broadcast or publish a defamatory comment.

      One of the wider point that I think deserves attention and discussion is how much time is spent on planning (ie: meetings) in your workplace? There’s a school of thought that says an extra five minutes’ discussion can turn a good idea into great output. But equally I find that some journalists spend hours agonising over story treatment. A common comment I hear is

      “But how can we take this ON for the morning?”

      The simply answer is, if you spend too much time thinking about a take-on line, there probably isn’t one. But equally, the listener isn’t going to chastise you for revisiting the same subject IF it has talkability.

      1. I also think that there is a problem with a great idea in a meeting, just not working in real life, or the journo not being given time to make it. The cry of…

        “but how can we take this ON for the morning?” should sometimes be “What can we do about this next week when the dust has settled?”

        The number of times I’ve witnessed a genius twisted and surprising idea turn into a vox and a guest because the journo had to do SOMETHING depressed me. I called them ‘ghost stories’ they were a phantom of what they should have been if the journo had either been given more time or had the ability to say…

        “this isn’t working, can we drop it and wait until it will?”

        There’s a culture that doesn’t allow things to be done when they’re ready because the deadline is the driver not whether something is ready to go on air. It’s a difficult choice to make, do you have a programme today, or a really good programme tomorrow?

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