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Can labels improve appreciation for news?

Readers love their local newspaper.

OK, maybe they just really, really like it. Most of them do, anyway.

How do we win over the rest of them in time for National Newspaper Week Oct. 6-12?

The secret might be to adopt the market-tested labels used by television news.

If we packaged our reporting as TV does, you could see a lot of new terms in the newspaper.

For example:

EXCLUSIVE

INTERVIEW

This means that no other media outlet had a reporter present when the TV station/network conducted an interview with a news source.

News conferences, speeches, and media mob interviews outside courtrooms don’t count. And it doesn’t matter if other news outlets have also interviewed the same source recently.

On those occasions when a TV reporter does a one-on-one Q&A, it gets labeled as an “exclusive interview.”

The problem for newspapers is that nearly every interview they do is a one-on-one “exclusive” – whether it’s done by appointment or during a chance encounter on the street or in the halls of government.

If we label every “exclusive” interview we conduct, readers will get annoyed at the continual self-promotion.

Not a good idea for us.

BREAKING NEWS

Marketing consultants have told TV news operations to use this label a lot, along with “Developing Story.”

Chicago stations also like to use “New at 10” for their late-night newscasts. But very little news is “new” at that time of night.

Those labels are intended to make you think the news is urgent and important, even if they’re applied to stories that are hours – even days – old.

All that labeling is supposed to convince viewers that competitors are not on top of things – if you want to know what’s going on, don’t turn that channel!

But a newspaper “breaks” almost every local story it reports – Who else is going to? – and ongoing coverage of any subject or controversy seems to make it a “developing story.” For some reason, every newscast needs one – or more.

We’ll make you a deal: As long as you understand that nearly every local report in this newspaper is a “developing story” based on “exclusive interviews,” we won’t put all those labels in the headlines.

That’s our final offer.

ON THE SCENE

This editor watched a TV reporter last week reporting “Live” from in front of an empty school administration building – during the 10 p.m. newscast. He was reporting on a school issue.

No school official had been in that building for several hours, but that didn’t stop the reporter from being “Live” and “On the scene” outside the place to report a “developing story” – which seems to mean coverage of an issue that hasn’t been resolved.

Of course, newspapers are everywhere, and TV isn’t. And newspapers have much larger local news staffs than electronic media outlets do, so TV and radio (if they’re smart) depend on newspaper reporting for many of their story ideas. While TV usually does much of its own interviewing, the “original reporting” topics often are reported elsewhere first.

That makes TV want to promote its primary advantage over print – “Live.”

“Live” is supposed to convey an additional immediacy to a news report – even if the news itself doesn’t warrant immediate attention.

Sometimes, TV newscasts include reporters “reporting live from the newsroom,” just to ensure that all the news isn’t being read by the well-coifed news anchors with the bright-white smiles.

Although the reporters might be only a few feet away from the anchors’ desk, they’re still reporting “Live” from somewhere.

For what that’s worth.

DIGGING DEEPER

We get a kick out of CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who uses labels to add an air of importance to pretty basic news reporting.

His “Keeping them honest” reports usually involve asking a public official to explain why s/he changed his mind or provided inaccurate information. Research shows that news consumers like to know that a newspaper or TV network is looking out for their interests, which “Keeping them honest” purports to do.

During one “Digging deeper” episode, Cooper questioned a news reporter about a story before turning to tell his audience that CNN was “digging deeper” – a segment that consisted of asking a CNN commentator for his opinion.

Journalism is in trouble if “digging deeper” involves merely getting the observations of a political pundit.

When a newspaper reporter is asked to dig deeper, he is expected to do additional research, comb through public records, and conduct extensive interviews to track down elusive answers to probing questions.

But that’s a lot harder than asking someone for his opinion.

And it cannot be done in 2 minutes.

MAYBE MARKETING slogans are not the answer for newspapers.

All of the TV labels on reporting seem to be the news department’s equivalent of the “laugh track” on sitcoms – designed to prompt the audience to give a desired response to the programming stimulus.

Maybe newspaper readers should be left to decide for themselves whether the reporting is relevant, credible and complete – without giving it a label.

And if it’s not, you know the reporter’s email and phone number, because we print it at the top of every story.

That way, you can call or write to your favorite local journalists to wish them a happy National Newspaper Week next month.

But if you don’t, that’s OK.

Just as long as you keep reading.

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