Daily Archives: September 30, 2008

Tough questions

In the months since Steve Schwaid became news director at WGCL, the station’s news department has shed a couple of embarrassing habits.  It no longer obsessively leads its newscasts with “only on CBS-46” exclusives, saving those moments for times when a) they seem to make sense and b) there aren’t other Big Stories that obviously deserve the lead slot.  That’s good news for viewers with a hair-trigger gag reflex, and good for advancing the cause of making WGCL competitive.

WGCL is doing some other interesting things.  We’ve seen some multi-hit stories, with the first hit serving as an extended tease for the subsequent one.  Teases are typically formulaic, “coming up next!” quickies.  These are more informative and longer.  The approach is interesting, and it doesn’t appear WGCL is overusing it.  But honestly, we don’t watch enough to really know.

And WGCL has begun using a “we ask the tough questions” promo that we kinda like.  One of the frustrations of reporting is that slick interviewees are often able to successfully dissemble and obfuscate and divert in the face of hard questions.  Too often in a minute-thirty TV story, the slick answer shows up on TV without the context of the question.  Frequently, the question is better than the answer.  It highlights the issue.  The downside is that it can cut into the reporter’s obligation to present the interviewee’s viewpoint in a “balanced” story.

Viewers want to know that the hard question– the obvious question, maybe, in their minds– is being asked by the guy / gal slinging that microphone.  Even when the answer is poor, it’s worthwhile to show the reporter asking the questions.  Investigative reporters, like Richard Belcher at WSB and the I-Team folks at WAGA, do it consistently.  It makes their stories better.

WGCL is doing the “tough questions” campaign as stand-alone promos.  But the station is also using it within the newscast sometimes as a lead-in, when the producer knows that a reporter has, in fact, cranked out a story with a hard question in it.  It’s a compelling way to keep the viewer from clicking elsewhere.

There’s a whole ‘nother angle to that “tough questions” thing.  It can tempt a reporter to grandstand.  And at WGCL, there’s the weird business of the tough questions asked in this perennial LAF favorite.  We’ll rant again about this WGCL embarrassment — and how it’s changed — in another post.  Meantime, let’s give WGCL and its new leadership some credit for giving that station a shot at some respectability.