| The project started small--a few calls came in, a few
decent stories developed. News managers noticed that every time one
of these viewer-suggested stories aired, the station got 6 to 8 calls
offering other ideas. Eventually, they started promoting and showcasing
the reports under the "Your Stories" banner. But the idea
didn't really take off until the newsroom held a call-in night, with
reporters manning the phones, and received 650 calls in two hours.
Now, news director Ron Lombard says, "'Your Stories' is starting
to become what we are, what we are known for." The stories
presented under the "Your
banner cover a wide range of topics and are presented in a variety
of styles. But all of them have this in common: they are of immediate
Lombard says that's one reason the project has been a success.
While he hasn't seen any measurable ratings growth, his station
hasn't suffered the erosion in viewership that has plagued other
stations. "We're trying to build consistency and frequency
of viewership," Lombard says. "The more you can tell stories
that are relevant to [viewers], the more you can hook them."
WIXT-TV has a dedicated telephone line for "Your Stories"
suggestions that does not send callers to voice mail. To make sure
callers always speak to a person, staffers have shifts when they're
responsible for answering the line and getting basic information.
The station also holds call-in nights at least once a month, and
solicits viewer ideas on its Web
site. The result: At last check, they had a "dynamic database"
of 1400 story ideas to work from. To manage all that information,
the station's former planning editor has been named "Your Stories"
coordinator, responsible for researching stories and determining
whether and how to cover them.
"We guarantee that we'll listen, not that we'll do all the
stories," Lombard says. But he says that at least half of the
station's enterprise stories now develop from viewers' calls. Two
anchors and the station's investigative reporter are regularly assigned
to cover "Your Stories," but other reporters follow suggestions
that come up in their area of interest. And not every story becomes
a package. Some are covered in what Lombard calls a "triple"--in
which a reporter or anchor tells three stories (or answers three
viewer questions) in about 20 seconds each.
Other stations are making similar efforts to include viewers' suggestions
in their newscasts. WPBF-TV
in West Palm Beach, FL, calls its franchise "Talk to 25;"
WJET-TV in Erie,
PA, has its own "Your Stories" line and Web link. KMOL-TV
in San Antonio promotes "You
Choose the News," a project that urges viewers to vote
on stories they'd like to see covered, and which has been picked
up by WCNC-TV
in Charlotte, NC.
Imitation, it's been said, is the sincerest form of television,
and there's certainly been plenty of it over the years. We're all
too familiar with sweeps pieces that spread like a virus from market
to market. But what's being copied here is strategy, not content.
The stations reaching out to their viewers are finding stories that
matter to the communities they serve. As Ron Lombard puts it, "It's
a total home run."
Original post date: 2001.
Tortora was named news director in 2003. Lombard moved on to become
general manager of News 10 Now, the local cable news outlet in Syracuse.