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News In An Election Year Mike McVay

The 2024 Election Cycle really began early in 2023 leading to the official start of primary season which was yesterday, January 15th. The Iowa Caucus is first and continues into early summer. All of it pushing to the General Election on November 5th. The Mid-term and General election years are always high profile and create big interest among the audience. How you are guiding and directing your anchors regarding writing the news is critical. The role of news on News stations, Talk stations and Music stations can vary greatly.

Meeting the audiences’ expectations for your station is important. Do they expect you to be the station that they can depend on for the latest news, frequent updates when something significant happens, are you the station that is known for providing survival information. On many music stations the most important news is the traffic and weather. Those stations are usually aware that when a disaster the magnitude of 9-11 or the Coronavirus Pandemic occurs, they will see audience loss. That awareness doesn’t give them permission to ignore such major news stories.

The question is “are the lines between news and commentary clearly defined and obvious?” It is impossible to ignore the extreme right and left partisans of both major political parties. However, the news is the news and there’s no place for commentary or opinion inside of the news. During my time as a corporate team member tasked with Content & Programming I played referee a few times when a News Anchor had an opinion different than that of an on-air commentator and it spilled over into the newscast. That can’t happen. The news is the news without commentary. Written factually and delivered credibly.

Given the significance of the upcoming Presidential campaign, I invited well known News/Talk consultant Holland Cooke and Lesley Lotto, Founder/CEO Remote News Service, to participate in this article. Cooke has programmed multiple radio stations in America including WTOP/Washington, DC. He worked at Sky Radio, was an anchor for RT America where he hosted the television program “The Big Picture.” He has been a consultant since 1995.

Lotto has experience as both a news reporter and anchor. She most recently worked at Bloomberg and also anchored at Fox News. She helped create The Blaze in 2013. She launched Remote News Service to provide quality anchors and writers virtually. Live talent delivering local news.

When it comes to news content, Cooke notes that many stations leave national news to their network news service to cover those topics. He says, “Local is the litmus test.” Is the national candidate appearing somewhere locally. Are they taking a stand that would impact local jobs? He adds that “with all of the House and a third of the Senate up for re-election, those races hit home more than Presidential politics.” All that despite the lightening rod of debate that comes with a Presidential election.

Lotto adds “Report on what’s trending. It’s about knowing your audience. Remaining objective and neutral. Focusing on what’s really important to your local audience. What they care about the most may not be what the national news is reporting.” She also points out that today’s listener can get national news on Facebook, Snapchat, and TikTok.” Lesley emphasized as did Cooke that Local matters. Use national news only when it matters to the locals.

To my point referenced earlier, there is a difference between Commentary and News Reporting. The two agree on there being no room for commentary inside of a newscast. There is a bit of a different perspective as to what is which.

Holland believes that the first 5 minutes of a Talk radio hour (“News Reporting”) are facts, which can change, dramatically/quickly. The next 55 minutes (“Commentary”) are feelings, and tend to change no minds. He says “What newscasters can-and-should contribute atop the hour is surmise, observable trends, i.e., the predicted “Red Wave” that fizzled into the 2022 off-year “Roe-vember” backlash that continued to surface in Kansas and Ohio and elsewhere where abortion was on a ballot. Results and exit polling demonstrate a widening gender gap, and reporting that isn’t commentary.”

Lotto, who works exclusively with news anchors and reporters believes that “there is no place for commentary from an anchor. It is important that they remain neutral. To do otherwise could lead to a dismissal.”

The two are very much on the same page when it comes to how to craft a news story that can be presented in a way that makes it cut through the noisy world we live in. How do you make a story meaningful and memorable? “Write the first sentence as though you were only allowed one sentence. Then use audio, if any.” Says Cooke. “Latest-aspect-first; what-happens-next (if known) last.” Lotto encourages her talent to “Write in a way that allows you to construct a story that can be told in a way that sounds conversational.”

What are the most important things for news anchors to think of as the Presidential campaigns ramp up? Ms. Lotto says “Be sure that what you’re reporting is true and accurate. Have 3 or 4 sources to be sure that your reporting is factual. And have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Holland Cooke says “Brace for the unforeseen. Although Trump’s legal problems only seem to fortify base loyalty, he could disqualify. Either-or-both candidates’ health could too, and provide a face-saving exit from the race if victory seems untenable.” When it comes to delivery he suggests to “Avoid sounding like someone you wouldn’t want to sit next to on a long flight. Even with such encouraging recent economic news, perceived Inflation is still a bigger issue than who’s-up-this-week in national polling.”

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