In defence of “news”
Let me be upfront from the outset. I have an agenda. I am a journalist.
Putting modesty to one side, I’m even an award winning one: New York Radio Festival silver medallist for a documentary aired on commercial FM.
Yes, on commercial FM radio!
I’m also a newsreader and have been for many, many years. I fell in love with it at radio school and I still get a buzz out of it. I have also taught journalism. Not just news reading, but writing, reporting and researching.
My cards are officially on the table. You know where I stand. I love ‘doing the news’. It’s what I do and it’s what I enjoy.
So, it pains me to ask; when did ‘news’ become such a dirty word in the programmer’s dictionary? When did ‘news’ become such an inconvenience?
I’m aware that I might be biting the hand that feeds me, but I’m talking FM radio here – not the news enriched stations on the AM band.
And in case it is ‘just me’, I’ve asked around and there is a belief that news isn’t regarded as a necessity, but a nuisance. And if the industry can only come up with two awards on the ACRA ‘night of nights’, can journos not be forgiven for feeling unloved?
So, why do I think news is important and deserving more than a begrudgingly given 60 seconds? Beyond the obvious sharing of information, I maintain that the news is one of the main reasons people listen to the radio.
I know, I know. Listeners don’t switch on their favourite station for the news alone. God knows, I’ve heard that many times before from programmers I admire and whose opinions, generally, I respect greatly.
But, I’d argue that they might not come for the news, but they’ll switch if they don’t hear it. News sets an appointment across the day. It gives reference points as the day progresses.
News is the number one driver of listeners to a station’s website. A mention of a story within news, pointing to the website invariably leads to a spike in traffic. Why else do programmers give us outcues with the station website or instruct us to tag stories with the address? But make sure you keep it within the 60-second time frame.
Then there's the cost factor. “It costs too much, there's no return on investment”. “News can't pay for itself, so we'd better cut back to the bare basics to make the bottom line look good”.
That attitude puzzles me. To quote a colleague of mine, “why do programmers and managers subscribe to the belief that news doesn't generate revenue”? It's a good question, because we know that “news” makes money.
Of course it does. Why else do you pack the top of the hour with so many ads? Why do sales teams ask for, and get, a premium for ad placements around the news? Some regional and provincial stations set a load of up to 25 per cent for ad content around news. Yes, news makes money.
I've heard also over and over again, that people's news consumption has changed and that radio isn't a prime source of their news, that they're 'going online' for their news.
Really? You sure of that?
A recent study by McKinsey and Company in the US found that 92 per cent of people get their news needs met by 'legacy' platforms: TV (45%), newspapers and magazines (31%), RADIO (16%), tablets etc (8%).
Interesting figures. 16% still relying on radio for their news consumption. Admittedly, we don't get a demographic breakdown of these figures and it is a US study. But on the face of it, they tell a compelling story. 16% turn on the radio to find out what's been happening.
You may accuse me of being precious, but it’s a tag I’m willing to wear in the defence of news. So, tell me again why news doesn’t matter?
Nikole Gunn has 20+ years in radio and is the former DMG Melbourne news director.