Lobster Free Newscasts

By Doug Drew 

The most successful stations in the country know exactly who their viewers are and select stories targeted toward that audience.

Do you know who your viewers are and what’s on their mind? While each market, each station, and each time period is different, the one thing we know about most viewers right now is that they are probably watching their pennies. The economy is dismal and the jobless rate is high. According to the US Labor Department, the number of unemployed persons increased by almost 500,000 in August to about 15 million people. Let me say that again. 15 million people are unemployed, and even those that are working are probably working more and may be making less.

How do you address this in your newscasts? It is more complex than doing a money saving report once a day. The thought process has to go deeper. It has to be part of the daily coverage strategy. It has to be talked about in the editorial meetings and has to be on the mind of every producer, reporter, anchor, writer and assignment editor when conversing, reporting and writing stories.


The other day I was watching a morning newscast that had a chef preparing a lobster salad. Lobster? How many of your viewers do you think can afford lobster? Even Red Lobster is not talking about lobster these days. Its commercials feature a chicken and shrimp $6.99 special!

A few days later, I was watching another morning newscast that had a back-to-school kids clothing segment. Some of the items featured included a $79 vest, a pair of jeans for $55, and a kid’s backpack for $65. How many of your viewers do you think can afford kids clothing like that? Your viewers are probably shopping at Walmart, Target or Kmart looking for $10 jeans and $15 backpacks.

When The New York Times reported on the latest unemployment statistics, the article included two very interesting real life stories:

In Williamsburg, Va., Ginny Hoover, 49, has remained unemployed since she lost her job at a pharmaceutical company in November 2007. She has maxed out her credit cards and borrowed money from friends. She broke her apartment lease and moved in with her boyfriend. But other than an offer to sell insurance door-to-door for commissions only, she has found no work.

“I thought maybe a month or two and I’d have another job,” Ms. Hoover said. “I never would have guessed that it would be as brutal as it was out there.”

In Delray Beach, Fla., Donna Angelillo lost her job as a property manager in May and quickly exhausted her savings. Her $1,000 monthly unemployment check does not cover her $1,030 monthly rent. “Jobs are scarce,” she said. “Past-due bills are abundant.”

“I don’t have September rent, but right now I’m more concerned about the electricity,” she said. “Either today or tomorrow, they’re going to shut it off. I’m getting desperate.”
(The New York Times, 9/4/09)

Donna and Ginny are your viewers. Each day in every newscast you have to think about them and others like them in their situation. The more you are in tune with your viewers, the more likely they will watch. Viewers select local newscasts based on which ones they connect with best. If you are not connecting with your viewers based on their worries about the economy, your chances for ratings success will be slim.

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications. You can reach him at ddrew@602communications.com.