Gluttons for punishment, folks with axes to grind and news junkies may try an extraordinary offer from WXIA: Become part of the station’s 3pm meeting, which is when the nightside crew brainstorms content for the 10pm newscast on WATL, and the 11pm on WXIA.
The “punishment” part of the meeting is well-known to newsfolk. The meeting begins. A roundtable ensues. An assignment editor reads the rundown of events and tips. Then the fun begins. Reporters start pitching ideas. The ideas get met with polite nods or stony silence, with young producers evaluating them based on a) whether the story is lead-worthy; b) whether the story is teaseable and; c) what formulaic slot the story fills in the show if not as a lead story.
As the North Carolina photog known as Lenslinger writes of such meetings: “Yeah, most days I’d rather take a two-by-four to the face than watch my immediate fate ricochet around a small conference room.”
This overstates, of course, but only somewhat. Depending on the mood of the crankiest manager, the evening (or morning) meeting can be tortuous, a spirit-deadening exercise that is one part inertia, several parts chest-thumping, a few parts joke-telling / diversion into personal anecdotes, and many parts hopeful rhetoric falling on deaf ears. The exception is when a reporter or producer walks in with an original, killer idea. It happens occasionally. But given the crush of newscasts week in and week out, those moments get lost in a repetitious cacaphony of ass-covering, finger-pointing and audience pandering. It’s a meeting you don’t attend unless summoned.
WXIA actually webcasts audio and video of its evening meeting. You, the viewer, may weigh in via a chat line. During Wednesday’s meeting, one viewer pitched a story via the web on a bill in the legislature. The viewer appeared to have some insider knowledge (and an apparent ax to grind). It showed that the exercise has some value, though it didn’t appear that the story idea made the cut.
The aforementioned horrors aside, WXIA’s meeting may be instructive to those unfamiliar with the unscientific sausage-making process that is commercial journalism. The well-meaning stories get consideration. The bottom-line question, though, becomes: What will make the audience tune in? And it’s asked out loud in this forum.
WXIA understands that this webcast has its potential perils. The participants in the meeting are obviously aware they have an audience, however small. Wednesday’s meeting concluded with an “executive session” (our term) wherein the video feed stayed hot but the audio shut down.
WXIA knows its competitors can listen in, too. If they can stand the punishment.