I’ve sat through more than my fair share of morning meetings. (Waaaaaay more) And through the years, on more than one occasion, I’ve thought to myself, “if people saw the way we pick our stories, it’d be the best reality show on TV.” Not only for the backstabbing, brutal sarcasm about the subjects of news events, but for the reporter-on-reporter snark attacks and the producer-on-reporter eye-rolling at story pitches.
In one station, I knew a producer who would sit silently through the reporter pitches, keeping a silent tally with her pen, putting checkmarks next to reporters’ names each time a reporter would use the phrase, “I think it’d be interesting if we… ” In one morning meeting, the producer told me an energetic reporter hit the record: 5 “I think it’d be interesting”s in one story pitch. (Pitch, btw, failed)
So imagine my childlike delight at the news from the Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins, who writes of his recent workshop at WGAL/Lancaster, PA: “I trained the staff how to use lots of online sites, including CoveritLive.com, a Web site that makes it easy to hold a live online chat with anyone. That’s when WGAL photographer Greg Berkey chimed in with something like, ‘We should invite viewers to join us live in our morning meeting and pitch story ideas to the newsroom.'” Seriously. And they did it.
The idea launched this week, with viewers invited to join the meeting from 9:30 to 10:15. (Just imagine the pompous journalism with a capital “J” story ideas being floated… “I think we need to delve, yes delve, into the backstory on this bill!” “We’ve got to follow the money, people!”)
News Director Dan O”Donnell said viewers were pitching their own stories: “The first day people were chatting about the economy and a woman who runs a skills training program we had never heard of was in the chat room and invited us over. It was a good story. The second day we were working on a story about the ways people are still enjoying “luxury” at a lower cost. The chatters tossed out a whole bunch of ideas that we can work into our story.”
Oh boy. Prepare for 3 hour meetings, folks. O’Donnell admits there were a few phone-in “rants.” But what about the team at Action News dialing up the Eyewitness News morning meeting? O’Donnell says “I guess that’s a possibility. I have some good competitors. I’m sure they don’t need my chat room to come up with story ideas. It’s not really a concern.”
Maybe news directors could move the “show” directly to the station’s air. Morning Meeting! A perfect way for managers to turn layoffs into potentially profitable programming, as each morning, one reporter is voted out of the newsroom based on their knowledge of local events and the quality of their story pitches.
Each show ends with the news director confronting a teary-eyed soon-to-be-ex-employee: “I’m sorry, your story was not chosen. You have been eliminated.”