News Bias

Facts and Fiction


Recently a friend of mine asked what I thought about the bias he senses in many news organizations. As journalists we hear that question a lot. From my perspective there are several biases:

  • Intentional bias
  • Normal bias
  • Viewer bias

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The Power  of


July 11, 2016


During the last several weeks events in this country and worldwide have triggered some powerful emotions. Every newscast is filled with emotion on the day an innocent black man is shot by a police officer. When 5 police officers are killed, emotions flood one’s mind. In either case, we are filled with a sense of outrage and disgust. However, on normal days, most newscasts fail to capture any sense of emotion. Establishing an emotional connection with viewers is critical to the success of on air, online and on mobile viewership. People form emotional bonds because of a newscast’s content, the way that content is produced and the people who deliver it.

Emotions sell all kinds of products.

Every successful brand from iPads to Porsche to Planters have five things in common. They are:

·        Differentiated

·        Relevant

·        Credible

·        Consistent

·        Emotionally Connected

Owning an iPad is cool. Few people buy a Porsche because it is fast and handles well. They purchase it because of the way it makes them think of themselves. Planters packages nuts. So do many other companies. But, Planters resonates with the nostalgia in all of us and the belief that it sell the best nuts. Emotions that resonate drive media products, too.

Most reality programs are driven by one of the more interesting emotions, hate. Viewers root for the demise of the duplicitous, slimy character(s).

Hate can also drive the success of some films. Darth Vader was an evil character and filmgoers wanted to see him defeated. In "Legally Blonde", Reese Witherspoon was an underdog. Watching an actor overcome adversity gives most people joy.

People also watch newscasts that reflect their core beliefs and emotions. Those beliefs vary from market to market. It is important to have research that reveals what those drivers are in your market. In some cities disdain for state and local government rules. Some markets are driven by pride. The most interesting emotional driver in a market is self-centeredness. Think about a quote from one person in a focus group in Los Angeles: “I live in Santa Monica so I can walk MY dog on MY beach. If MY neighbor’s house is burning down, I don’t care. I just don’t want the smoke to blow into MY apartment.” Clearly, people in LA think that “it’s all about ME.”

The bottom line is that if you don’t know what emotions and core values drive decisions, you are missing huge opportunities to attract more end 




Get Noticed

June 19, 2016

I recently screened all of the newscasts from two top twenty markets. I don’t remember the name of a single reporter. Only one stood out, but her name was never fonted. Everyone else seemed to be nothing more than an interchangeable part. Research over the years indicates that the best known reporters get no more than a 5% unaided recall. Most don’t even show up in a study.



To get noticed you have to be seen. Standing in front of a non-descript building does nothing to set you apart. News reporting, regardless of the screen, should be about show and tell. You are the viewers’ conduit to information and should walk the viewers through the story. Effective standup bridges not only help the watchers get a better sense of the scene, they establish you as an eyewitness to an event. And, they make you more memorable. Use them. Use them even if you are live at the top and bottom of a report.



When it comes to live shots, pick an interesting and relevant location. In focus groups viewers are adamant that a reporter standing live in front of a building just wastes their time. This is particularly true in the early morning and late news when the background is usually dark. Imagine you are covering a murder trial. What is more interesting, the front of the courthouse or the location where the crime took place? Whatever you do, don’t forget to reference your background.


Two Shots and Reversals

Some of the more engaging interviews are done while a reporter and the person he/she is interviewing are walking. For example, it would be quite effective to walk through an area which had been flooded with a home owner. But make sure it is done on a two shot. Some stations place restrictions on reversals. If yours permits it, shoot your question on a reversal. Obviously, make sure you ask the exact same question, in the same tone, as you did in the original take.  


Clearly you must be working with a skilled photographer to accomplish most of these suggestions. The key to this is to use these techniques consistently. You will help your station and yourself. It also puts you or your agent in a position to negotiate a better deal when your contract is up.


Building a positive relationship with a consumer takes a long time. It may take less than a minute or two to destroy it.

Disconnecting Your Customers


10-07-2014 03:04 PM

Human interactions can be face to face or on the phone. Customer frustrations during phone calls are common. The voicemail prompts are endless and often one is connected with an employee who can’t solve the problem. This can result in a loss of repeat business.

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A potentially great brand will fail unless it has an internal company culture that can execute it.

Power Brands: Building a Foundation

09-26-2014 11:22 PM

A potentially great brand will fail unless it has an internal company culture that can execute it. Cultures are the muscle tissue that hold an organization together. When they are honed everyone knows instinctively what to do and how to do it.

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If you are not streaming your newscasts and live breaking news you will soon find yourself “sleeping with the fishes.”

TV News

Swimming Upstream

09-20-2014 11:17 AM

If you are not streaming your newscasts and live breaking news you will soon find yourself “sleeping with the fishes.” You will drown in a world where news consumers are very adept at getting information from a variety of sources where and when they want it. You can invest now and begin to reap some short term rewards. If you take a longer view, streaming live video will be a profitable necessity.

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Does Your Social Media Sizzle?

09-17-2014 10:57 PM


Social media is not going away, but what good is it if you don’t truly connect with viewers? Some broadcasters use it well. Others do not. Stations and some networks run the gamut from good to bad to almost nonexistent. Social media is the current frontier. Companies are experimenting and playing by their own rules. However, some beliefs are generally accepted:

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Credibility: Stormy Weather for National News

12-02-2013 11:49 AM

One national news organization claimed this storm battered Buffalo and brought the City to its knees. Really?

I woke up on Wednesday November 27 and gazed at the winter view from a rear window in our home.  Snow was glistening on the trees and grass. The street in front of our Buffalo home was plowed down to the bare pavement. Traffic was moving smoothly. And while I spent 5 minutes shoveling a path for our Norwich Terrier, this was hardly a snowfall to remember. Not by Buffalo standards. The problem is that one national news organization claimed this storm battered Buffalo and brought the City to its knees. Really? The story was even more incredible because that news organization had a live crew here for what they called the “crippling storm.” The video the crew captured did not support the alleged weather phenomenon.

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The Road to Innovation

11-12-2013 12:22 PM

Media companies must innovate, but often get mixed results

Innovation is more than just a nice idea. It is essential for media companies today. Without innovation there is stagnation and eventually a business is no longer viable.

So why do media companies get mixed results when they attempt to innovate?

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All Ratings are Not Created Equal

06-16-2013 05:02 PM

It is not good enough to build a solid brand based on great newscasts if the ratings system is missing the mark.

Is there really any difference between a 2 rating in San Francisco versus a 2 rating in Richmond?  Yes, and it is way more than the fact that the 2 in San Francisco may represent hundreds of thousands of viewers, while Richmond’s 2 may mean a few thousand.

When we talk about Nielsen, we are talking about 3 major types of different market measurement systems: Local People Meters, Meter-Diary and Diary Only. But that’s only the surface, as each also has its own batch of idiosyncrasies. LPM markets use a People Meter to gather both demographic and household viewing numbers. And this system is operable 365 days a year. Meter-diary markets have set-top tuning boxes to collect household data all year long, but the demos are collected via the old fashioned sweeps diaries during the traditional sweeps months. Then the whole mess is thrown into a computer to create a ratings book. And lastly, in most markets smaller than the top tiers, diaries are still employed for those 4 seasonal sweeps.

To think that a one-size-fits-all branding or news strategy would work when measurement is so diverse in these markets begs credulity. It simply can’t. But wait, there's more.

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