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Keeping Calm in a Crisis: The Programmer’s Perspective

“Be factual, get the information on quickly but also remember a little empathy is important.”

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When I was managing KIRO Radio in Seattle, I had a very funny routine with our afternoon news anchor, Heather Bosch.

Heather is a pro’s pro who was in her second stint at KIRO after spending 5 years in New York at CBS News.  She knows her craft and knows it well.

Anyway, the routine would happen during a breaking news situation.  I would be in my office, get word of a story, and then sprint to the newsroom to alert the team.  Usually before I could even make it to the editor’s desk, Heather would wave me off.

“We’re on it, chief,” she would say (usually while feverishly typing).

I would then give her a thumbs up before retreating into my office.

What I learned from Heather and the great news team at KIRO was- less is more when it comes to management in situations like this.  At times, this was a tough pill for me to swallow.  Ask anyone that’s worked with me and they’ll tell you that I’m very hands on.  When breaking news happens, I like writing stories, editing audio, doing interviews, posting on social media, etc.  I like being “in the trenches” with the team. 

However, doing that often only causes disruption.  Step one in “keeping calm in a crisis” is KEEPING CALM.  If the PD is running around with their hair on fire, they’re doing their entire staff a disservice. Odds are, they will follow their lead for better or worse. If you’ve done your job as a PD or News Director, you’ve hired a staff of talented, anchors, editors, producers, hosts, reporters, and digital specialists.  You’ve established procedures for how to handle breaking news from step “A” to step “Z”.   Let your people do their jobs and be thinking of ways to support their efforts strategically, not tactically.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know Ken Charles, who currently serves as the Program Director of All-News KNX-AM in Los Angeles.  Ken and I have had the chance to discuss and exchange ideas on radio, news and the media and I’ve found him to be one of the more insightful programming minds in the format. I wanted to get his perspective for the finale of my three-part series for BNM.

RM- What are the best things a PD of an all-news or news-talk station can do in a breaking news situation?  

KC- Big breaking stories are an evolution.  Often you really don’t know what you have, especially in a social media world, until you get eyes on the incident. So, advice number one is – trust your people and stay out of their way.  Your reporters are on the scene and can see things you cannot back at the station.  Your editors/producers are in contact with your reporters and also making calls, scanning social media etc. to find out exactly what is going on. Let them do it, let them work the story.  As a manager my role is to let them be in the now while I am looking a few hours or even a few days ahead to make sure we are properly staffed, we don’t burn out our team and we can maintain our coverage for hours, days or even longer.  I have seen too many situations where a station didn’t look ahead and got caught out of position and without proper coverage as the story continued beyond the first few hours.  Think of the PD role as the Head Coach, the ND’s role is the offensive coordinator and the anchors, reporters are your players on the field.  Lastly, most of the preparation for breaking news occurred the last 87 times you covered breaking news.  While every story is different with unique components you learn something new every time and that makes your coverage a little better the next time.   We have an amazing team of professionals who have covered way too many earthquakes, wildfires, “trials of the century” police situations, protests, school shootings, terror incidents etc. etc. etc.  All of those events have prepared us for the last 8 months and through the 2020 election and into the next big breaking story. 

I remember covering a hurricane that was racing up the East Coast.  While my reporter was on the beach in North Carolina as the storm roared overhead, the competition had their reporter stuck in Charleston hundreds of miles from the actual story.  My reporter was feeding live shot and you could hear the wind while the other guys were reporting it was 86 and sunny.  Being prepared, learning from previous events, and allowing our team to report the now while my role was looking ahead allowed us to completely own the story. 

RM- What do you convey to your hosts, producers, editors, reporters, and hosts in situations like that? 

KC- Be factual, get the information on quickly but also remember a little empathy is important.  Stories affect real people, and those real people are our neighbors, friends and in some cases coworkers.

RM- Can you recall 1-2 anecdotal examples of how your station handled a breaking news story or crisis?  What did you do? 

KC- Over the last few months, in addition to COVID we’ve had protests in the streets, the 2020 election, the President getting COVID, wildfires and on and on and on and on..what haven’t we done?  I have an incredible staff of talented professionals, I have a news director who is great partner in making sure we execute the plan and don’t miss a thing, we have 2 dedicated women keeping our digital and social presence moving at the same speed as the on air product and together they all make sure we cover the story, hopefully make an impact on people’s lives and help either get them through the story and keep them informed throughout the story.  What do I do?  Trust them and stay out of the way.

RM- What are the best traits a young pro looking to get in this field should have that would best prepare them for a crisis? 

KC- Being fearless and inquisitive and remembering that the story is not happening at the command center, it is happening in a neighborhood, building or sadly a school.  Go where the story is not where the PIOs tell you to go.  Talk to real people, not just officials.  Officials aren’t the story, people are. 

RM- 2020 has been (to say the least) a unique year for the news media.   How do you keep your team balanced amongst the chaos? 

KC- It has just been crazy.  For the team still in the building the goal is to try to be as normal as possible despite masks, plexiglass and gallons of hand sanitizer and remember to laugh and try to still have some fun.  For the team who is not coming into the building it is to keep constant communication, make sure they have the things they need to do their jobs and for every one constantly remember that safety is the most important thing.

BNM Writers

It’s Not a Vaccine Mandate, It’s a Test Mandate

“Chuck Todd from Meet The Press, the New York Times, CNN, numerous other media outlets and even the White House spokesman have called Biden’s policy a vaccine mandate. It’s not. So, why do they keep reporting it as such?”

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I feel I must disclose my feelings on Covid-19 before my column this week so everyone knows my bias. 

If you want to take the horse dewormer medicine, Ivermectin, for Covid-19, I DON’T CARE.

If you want to wear a mask in a crowd indoors or out, I DON’T CARE

If you don’t want to get a Covid-19 vaccine, again, I DON’T CARE. 

In terms of full disclosure, I have been vaccinated. As far as I know, I haven’t had Covid-19, and only my dog has had some form of Ivermectin. 

With that out of the way, can we talk about how President Biden’s mandate is being discussed and reported on? This is not a liberal or conservative issue, and it’s not a CNN vs FOX News issue. Most everyone has an opinion on it, yet most don’t care to find out what was actually proposed. Even the White House is misleading folks with its own policy. 

This is not a vaccine mandate, it’s a test mandate. 

President Biden’s policy has made two changes. All federal workers must receive a vaccine. You don’t have to work for the federal government, but if you do, you must be vaccinated. Again, not a mandate. No one is forcing you to work for the federal government. That’s your choice.  

Delta Airlines implemented a policy charging employees $200 if they choose not to be vaccinated. As a result, thousands have received the Covid-19 vaccine to avoid the penalty. That is their choice. 

Schools, public and private universities, hospitals, and companies big and small have made similar rules. If you want to work or attend, you must get a vaccine. Not a vaccine mandate, big difference.

Companies make all sorts of rules, some smart, some dumb. I know a radio station that will not let their on-air hosts talk to the media (dumb). My company policy says, I can’t eat food in the studio (smart). You can agree or disagree with a policy, and if you choose not to follow it, that is your choice. Nobody from the government is going to come to your home, hold you down, and jab a needle in your arm. Yet I’ve heard that said a few hundred times in the last few weeks.

Part two of President Biden’s policy says that if you are a company with over 100 employees, your employees will be required to have a vaccine or get tested weekly to see if they are Covid-19 positive. Again, this is not a vaccine mandate. It’s just a test, once a week. A test mandate, if you will.

Chuck Todd from Meet The Press, the New York Times, CNN, numerous other media outlets and even the White House spokesman have called Biden’s policy a vaccine mandate. It’s not. So, why do they keep reporting it as such?   

I talk to neighbors, callers, and friends, and they’re all arguing over something that isn’t happening. Some have gotten really angry and stood defiant. They will not, under any circumstances, be forced to get a vaccine. 

“How about a test?” 

“Wait, what?”  

These are crazy times. We talk past each other, we debate our own set of facts, we get to choose the news we like, and disregard and disqualify the news we don’t. I’m afraid we have crossed some type of rubicon. Everyone is arguing and debating a policy but nobody knows the actual policy.

If you think taking a test to find out if you have a life threatening virus that could harm you, a family member, or a coworker is government overreach, I DON’T CARE. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted by the screaming. But if you are going to argue about it, you should do yourself a favor and know what the policy is before you decide you are for it or against it. 

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BNM Writers

Few Media Outlets Were Brave Enough to #NeverForget Both Sides

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Saturday marked 20 years since Sept. 11, 2001.

Everyone has a 9/11 story. Where they were. How they reacted. What they remember about that treacherous day in America.

Consuming media coverage and memorials over the weekend, there was one very common theme.

Unity. Unofficially the word was said 42,365,789 times this weekend.

Listening to the radio, I heard one newstalk host romanticize about how the entire country came together as one, and he didn’t feel we did the same fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Before the NFL kicked off on Sunday, both Fox and CBS aired extended memorial video montages. The New York Yankees and New York Mets played the Subway Series and on Saturday wore hats representing the Fire and Police Departments of their city.

Netflix, Hulu and Peacock dropped streaming documentaries.

All of this coverage focused on the heroism, the devastation that destroyed 2,996 families, and the unified aftermath. Stats were dropped about the sales of United States flags hitting all-time highs. The patriotic shirt and bumper stickers industry was booming for months.

Let’s be clear – this aforementioned coverage was extremely important.

The following might be controversial, so I unfortunately feel obligated to include the following disclaimer:

I think 9/11 memorial coverage is necessary. #NeverForget is important. I’ve often thought that we don’t talk enough Pearl Harbor where 2,403 Americans also died, maybe that’s a generational coverage thing. So, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, we should keep these stories prominent and always celebrate the heroes of that harrowing day.

Now that my stance on 9/11 coverage is very very clear…

We should also talk more about the racist hate-crime filled society we created for Muslims, Arabic speaking Americans, Sikhs, and anyone who appeared middle eastern or had dark brown skin. We should also never forget those innocent people whose lives were extremely affected during the aftermath.

Their stories are important. Acknowledging the ugliness can assist in learning from those mistakes.

Although the coverage wasn’t front page, there were news outlets brave enough to hit on those topics over the weekend. I wanted to take time to highlight them, quoting some excerpts that may be tough to read:

Anita Snow and Noreen Nasir of Associated Press for ABC News: “Sikh entrepreneur Balbir Singh Sodhi was killed at his Arizona gas station four days after the Sept. 11 attacks by a man who declared he was “going to go out and shoot some towel-heads” and mistook him for an Arab Muslim.”

Sodhi’s brother spoke with Kimmy Yam of NBC News and reflected on the hate crime.

Kiara Alfonseca for ABC News: “Mosques were burned or destroyed and death threats and harassment followed many Muslims in the weeks following the attacks, according to congressional testimony from the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2011. Some victims were beaten, attacked or held at gunpoint for merely being perceived as Muslim, the organization said.”

Maria Lisignoli of NBC 15 in Madison, WI spoke with a local principal:

“But, you know, as often as you will speak to other Muslim and millennials especially, they feel like we feel like we’ve had to answer for the crimes of other people,” Warsi said.

He says linking the Islamic faith with these attacks was damaging mentally and physically.

“I myself have been discriminated against been a victim to hate crime with physical assault, just because I’m Muslim,” Warsi said.

Dorothy Hastings for PBS: “Since 2001, Muslims have been the second most frequent target for religiously motivated hate crimes, according to the federal hate crime data.”

Newstalk program directors, news directors and journalists should always strive to tell both sides of the story. It’s not the feel-good unified story, but nothing about journalism is easy. The industry isn’t for propaganda.

There are tough truths that need to be told. It’s part of the job.

The stories are important. The coverage is necessary.

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BNM Writers

The Weather Channel Was Go To Outlet for Hurricane Ida Coverage

The three major cable news outlets were surprisingly slow in covering Hurricane Ida, despite most of their offices located in New York City.

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Hurricane Ida continued to wreak havoc on Wednesday, Sep. 1, as the storm that rocked Louisiana the previous weekend unleashed its fury upon the northeast.

The Weather Channel was the primary outlet for Ida coverage. Here was their ratings track as the storm reached New Jersey and New York that evening, according to Nielsen Media Research:

  • 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET: 0.391 million viewers; 158,000 adults 25-54
  • 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET: 0.461 million viewers; 154,000 adults 25-54
  • 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET: 0.348 million viewers; 111,000 adults 25-54
  • 11:00 p.m.-midnight ET: 0.269 million viewers; 100,000 adults 25-54
  • midnight-1:00 a.m. ET: 0.230 million viewers; 72,000 adults 25-54
  • 1:00-2:00 a.m. ET: 0.198 million viewers; 63,000 adults 25-54

3.15 inches of rain fell in Central Park from 8:51-9:51 p.m. ET — the largest amount of rainfall there within a one-hour period on record, a mark previously set just eleven days prior (Aug. 21) by the effects of Hurricane Henri’s storm (1.94 inches). 8.4 inches fell in Newark, New Jersey throughout the entire evening. Over 50 people in the northeast perished due to Ida.

The three major cable news outlets were surprisingly slow in covering Hurricane Ida, despite most of their offices located in New York City. Fox News Channel provided 10-minute special reports in the overnight of late Sep. 1/early Sep. 2:

  • 1:00-1:10 a.m. ET: 0.875 million viewers; 213,000 adults 25-54
  • 2:00-2:11 a.m. ET: 0.692 million viewers; 166,000 adults 25-54
  • 3:00-3:08 a.m. ET: 0.526 million viewers; 129,000 adults 25-54

CNN’s “Newsroom Live” began at 2 a.m. ET, reporting on Hurricane Ida. It averaged 411,000 viewers and 128,000 adults 25-54 for the hour.

On the following morning of Thursday, Sep. 2, the governors of New Jersey (Phil Murphy) and New York (Kathy Hochul) held separate press conferences addressing the aftermath of Ida. Fox News, averaging 1.6 million total viewers and 265,000 in the 25-54 demo from 10-11 a.m. ET, aired most of these conferences until bailing on them when the topic of climate change was mentioned.

CNN (967,000 viewers/228,000 adults 25-54 from 10-11 a.m. ET) and MSNBC (Murphy: 843,000 viewers/90,000 adults 25-54 from 10:19-10:38 a.m. ET; Hochul: 778,000 viewers/86,000 adults 25-54 from 10:38-11:12 a.m. ET) both aired the Murphy and Hochul press conferences in full.

Here are the cable news averages for August 30-September 5, 2021.

Total Day (August 30-September 5 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.548 million viewers; 259,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.744 million viewers; 84,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.653 million viewers; 145,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.247 million viewers; 57,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.201 million viewers; 61,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.145 million viewers; 33,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.140 million viewers; 20,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.096 million viewers; 10,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (August 30-September 4 @ 8-11 p.m.; September 5 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 2.642 million viewers; 434,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 1.260 million viewers; 145,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.876 million viewers; 202,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.259 million viewers; 72,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.218 million viewers; 62,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.199 million viewers; 60,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.163 million viewers; 33,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.054 million viewers; 6,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top MSNBC, CNN and The Weather Channel programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.312 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 4.130 million viewers

3. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.846 million viewers

4. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.841 million viewers

5. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.620 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.519 million viewers

7. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.506 million viewers

8. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.489 million viewers

9. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.393 million viewers

10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/2/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.317 million viewers

19. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 8/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.763 million viewers

125. Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN, Mon. 8/30/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.199 million viewers

190. America’s Morning Headquarters (TWC, Mon. 8/30/2021 10:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.909 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top  MSNBC, CNN and The Weather Channel programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:

1. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.778 million adults 25-54

2. Hannity (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.667 million adults 25-54

3. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.667 million adults 25-54

4. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.654 million adults 25-54

5. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.634 million adults 25-54

6. Hannity (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.613 million adults 25-54

7. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Thu. 9/2/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.574 million adults 25-54

8. The Ingraham Angle (FOXNC, Mon. 8/30/2021 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.569 million adults 25-54

9. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 8/31/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.564 million adults 25-54

10. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 9/1/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.552 million adults 25-54

32. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Mon. 8/30/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.367 million adults 25-54

71. Don Lemon Tonight (CNN, Mon. 8/30/2021 10:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.282 million adults 25-54

87. America’s Morning Headquarters (TWC, Mon. 8/30/2021 10:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.253 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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