The news director is the person who runs the news operation at a television station or network. They are the ones who choose what you see as “news” on television. In the US in 2013, only 4% were Black.
News directors are driven by two main things:
- Ratings – how many people watch their show. This is the number they live or die by.
- Pictures – What makes good television news is what makes a good picture. Thus all those fires and wars and wanted criminals and ribbon-cutting ceremonies and not, say, the dry-as-dust stuff of government policy. “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Some would add a third thing:
- Watchdog groups, like Media Matters, which watch to see if shows cover the news unfairly. I would not count them because they seem to have little effect. The Sunday morning news talk shows, for example, lean as much to the right as they ever did. Fox News is even worse.
To get their ratings up, they often hire a news consultant. Despite the name, news consultants do not know much about news. What they do know is how to run focus groups, small groups of people who represent the Target Demographic that advertisers want to reach (aka White people who can afford new cars) and see what they think of different news presenters and reporters. Some of them have video of almost every television news reporter in the country. This is why many people on the news seem to have more beauty than brains.
Where news directors get news from (in no particular order):
- newspapers – which have more reporters and cover the news much more thoroughly.
- news wires – like the Associated Press.
- The police and fire department – a gold mine.
- tips from viewers.
- ideas from reporters.
- huge news events – like 9/11.
- the daybook – a list of the day’s events, like press conferences, ceremonies, protests, etc. Some of these are:
- photo ops and staged events – particularly by leaders. The mayor or president would much rather you show him cutting a ribbon than have you talk about what he is not doing about poverty.
- press releases and video news releases (VNRs) – from government, businesses, politicians and lobbyists, mostly made by public relations firms.
The last is the worst. PR firms know that news operations work under a deadline, so they serve up ready-made news, not just the words but even the video and sometimes the “reporter”! What makes it bad is that the news will use those words and pictures without telling you where they came from, be it the State Department or a herbal remedy company or wherever. It is not regarded as plagiarism because the whole point is to get that content on the news.
Martin Luther King, Jr understood that television news needed pictures and that he needed a way to show racism. He did that by filling up a city’s jail with protesters and then keep on protesting, hoping the police would then do something desperate. “Film at 11.”
– Abagond, 2015.
Sources: Pew Research (2014), “How to Watch TV News” (2008) by Neil Postman and Steve Powers.
- the press
- Fox News
- the police