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Women/Minorities in Media
Looks vs. Brains?
What's News?
If it Bleads, it Leads
Building Community
The News Business
Behind the Story Photo of News Director

Why You See What You See
Watch Video The biggest challenge for any local news station is determining which issues most affect local communities, and then deciding how best to report events related to those issues. This process is practiced in news meetings held daily at virtually every station, in which reporters pitch their stories and the news director decides which ones to pursue. Behind the scenes, and even after stories are in production, reporters must fight for their work, which could be slashed from the news lineup at a moment's notice for a more sensational or more visually arresting story.

What's News? The news director constantly monitors local news on competing stations, comparing it with his or her reporters' coverage, and continually re-evaluates what viewers need and want to hear about. Amidst the drive to find breaking news no other station is covering, and to best the investigative work of other stations' reporters, the news director must be sure his station doesn't miss anything relevant and appealing to local viewers. "We've got a lot to prove," begins Keith Connors, WCNC News Director, as he delivers an inspirational speech to his team. "You know the world is watching all that you do! We've got to connect with that audience."

In LOCAL NEWS, reporters are switched and fired, stories are slashed, and relationships with investigative sources are challenged in an attempt to keep ahead of the competition and give viewers compelling reports. When a hurricane hits the North Carolina coast, it leads the news for hours, because ratings charts showed viewers felt very threatened by the storm and wanted to see what was coming.

Who Decides, and How?
The news director's role -- while deciding which stories to air -- is to inspire and drive his team to go the extra mile to get that report. Aside from the basic instinct of reporters to dig for news, they must also be mindful of what the viewers want and feel is appropriate. If the reporters, the news director, and station management fail in this task, viewership will decrease, precipitating a drop in advertising that could crush a local station. So the news we see on television is usually a complex mix including responsible coverage of current events and headline-grabbing sensationalism.

Watch Video In the LOCAL NEWS episode "To Work a Miracle," WCNC holds a staff meeting to discuss how they should cover a reported bomb threat at a local school. They debate whether to go on-air and talk of the treats, possibly raising public alarm, or to hold off and wait for more concrete information. This is the process that most big news stories go through before they make it into our homes. Reporters and management have to think carefully about the impact of their work, and they must decide what level of priority to assign each story. "Journalism is the process of editing what is acceptable and unacceptable. What happens in situations like Columbine happens because nothing has been thought through. There is no plan," says news director Connors. "You want to win on a big story. When they find what could be an explosive at a school the week after Colorado, it's a big story."

Reliable sources are particularly important in ascertaining what news is fit to air. The fire department may report that there is a fire on a particular block. At first, it may seem like a good piece of breaking news, until it's revealed by a source that it is just a small kitchen fire. It is the reporter's sources who can confirm the importance of stories.

At the end of the day, however, the news selection process is a difficult balancing act between what the public wants to know and what it needs to know. "If this was only all about a number, to have a rating, to get a dollar, well then it's a shallow, vacant, meaningless pursuit," says Connors.

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