It’s Presidents Day. For most of you, it marks the start of a shortened work week. Mine will be a six-day work week. My coworkers will experience the same thing. This will be the second of three six-day work weeks for us.
It’s been foreordained for months. WXIA is carrying the winter Olympics, a wildly popular TV event. Our news operation gets a spike in viewership whenever the Olympics airs. Erego, our staff is asked to bust its hump to show these viewers what we can do.
The timing of this particular six-day work week is noteworthy (actually, “brutal” is the correct word), given the workload of the previous week. For most of last week, much of our staff worked 12-18 hour days and never went home because of the round-the-clock coverage we gave to the ice storm that struck north Georgia. I spent two nights away from the family and sweet-talked my way out of a third.
It really struck me when I turned on the TV Sunday and saw Paul Crawley covering some sort of mayhem. Crawley was an animal during our 24 hour coverage; it seemed like he was on TV constantly, describing ad infinitum the snow and ice he encountered in Cobb County on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Crawley got a one-day weekend after that, like the rest of us.
So here’s why I’m not complaining.
My workplace is in a dogfight to remain competitive and relevant and to win the hearts and minds of viewers and web users as news consumption habits change.
This is further aggravated by the fact that one Atlanta TV station, WSB, has been wildly successful at all-but cornering the market and hoarding the ratings. To its credit, WSB appears to have plowed its profits back into its news operation. They’ve hired talented staff. They pay them well. They have lots of up-to-date gear, and they keep it in good working order. Despite some hubris that comes with being at the top of the heap, they do good work and are a formidable presence.
During the Olympics, many of their viewers keep their TVs somewhat locked on WXIA. When our newscast shows up following Olympic coverage, our job is to keep those viewers’ brains from firing the synapses required to pick up their clickers and switch the channel or shut down the TV set.
The overnight ratings show that we are somewhat successful in this venture. The goal is to seduce those viewers into enjoying a fulfilling, long-term relationship with our news operation.
We’ve tried this previously. We had the same ratings spikes during the 2012 summer Olympics. When the games ended, our gains were largely temporary.
So why do it again? Because we can’t afford not to. Plus, our product is worth showcasing. There’s no better newsman in town than Paul Crawley. It’s high time some of those habitual WSB viewers, watching WXIA on a Sunday, noticed that.
The dogfight to which I referred earlier is quite real. Behind WSB, there are three other stations clumped together, stepping on each other’s heads to try to become the most viable alternative. The one that fails most could become the first local news operation in town to just go away completely.
My boss, Ellen Crooke, has been struggling for six years to make WXIA the top alternative to WSB. She is sharp, energetic and creative and can be a little off-the-wall. She is pursuing this goal with one hand tied behind her back; her budget is a fraction of WSB’s, and she can’t do a damned thing about that.
Yet she doesn’t give up — which would be easy to do, given the stubbornness of Atlanta news viewers to stick with WSB.
So when there are fresh eyeballs glued to WXIA, and she asks me to work a bit harder, my response is: Yes ma’am. It’s not just because I need to stay in her good graces. It’s because I want my employer to survive. If it could also thrive, that would be a nice bonus.
Here’s hoping you’re enjoying your Presidents Day holiday, and WXIA’s Olympics coverage. And here’s hoping you’ll stick around for the A-block of our newscast. You might actually like what you see. And change your viewing habits, already! Geez.