Calling An Audible: Or, When News is Too Big To Ignore
This Week's 'The Letter' From All Access News-Talk-Sports by Perry Michael Simon
March 11, 2011 at 9:00 AM (PT)
And sometimes, you have to throw out everything on which you've worked and go with the big story.
That's the case FRIDAY morning as I write this. I had a column all written last night, and then awoke to the news of the massive quake in JAPAN. The column seemed a little less germane to the current situation. It can wait. And so it will.
I've been randomly checking Talk stations around AMERICA to see what they're doing with the story, and the results are mixed. A majority of the stations are at least talking about the quake and the tsunami. But some morning shows are just plowing ahead as if nothing's happening, and I think that's, at best, a missed opportunity.
Sure, if you're not on the West Coast or in HAWAII, and you're not going to directly be slammed by a wave, the temptation is to leave this story to the top-of-the-hour news, but that, I believe, is a mistake. This is the kind of massive water-cooler did-you-see-that story that people everywhere will be talking about all FRIDAY morning. Even if the destruction is limited to JAPAN, it has implications for the economy around the world. There's video on TV right now of homes being washed away and towns underwater, and, I mean, come on, it's an 8.9 quake, a "Big One," yet some stations I sampled were talking about political topics that, honestly, can wait until later. People are waking up Friday morning and there's really only one story that's dominating the moment; it was the first thing everyone said to me as I started the day at 3 am ("man, did you see..."). If you're in talk radio, it's incumbent upon you to talk about the dominant story, or at least to not go very long before you provide updates. I'm not suggesting that a station in the MIDWEST go wall-to-wall with coverage, but I AM suggesting that you shouldn't go more than a short time -- certainly, not a half-hour -- before telling people what's going on.
It's about expectations. Your listeners expect you to be on top of the hot topics when they're breaking. Here's your hot topic. Some of the stations I've checked are on it, but just as many, local and syndicated, aren't. But I did not hear a single non-quake topic that couldn't have waited until later. You had a universal, holy-S news story that most listeners were probably sleeping through when it happened, and you're the place they turn to for the hot news. If you gave them the usual political stuff and didn't talk about the dominant story of the morning, even if just to let people know that it happened and HAWAII and the West Coast were being warned, I'm not sure exactly how big a story has to be to get your attention.
When there's no big story out there, on the other hand, you can always come to Talk Topics, the show prep column at AllAccess.com, and there's the usual collection of hundreds of news items and conversation starters and kicker stories, everything from "real news" like LIBYA and WISCONSIN and, yes, the quake to coleslaw wrestling, the all-MCDONALD'S marathon training diet, and empathetic chickens. Go here for the column. Don't miss the rest of ALL ACCESS, too, with all the news and features and ratings and job listings and other resources you need, updated all day every day, and all free.
I'll also take this opportunity to plug my other non-radio writing: I'm editing, and writing for, CHRIS HARDWICK's Nerdist.com, a celebration of nerd culture from sci-fi to comedy to indie rock and more, and I'm about to hit the eighth anniversary of pmsimon.com, a celebration of the dregs of pop culture, sports, and other facets of life about which nobody else cares. Twitter? Why, yes, at @pmsimon.
Oh, and one more thing. It's that time of year again, when my wife FRAN and I celebrate life and survival by walking in the annual REVLON RUN/WALK FOR WOMEN in LOS ANGELES to raise money to fight women's cancers. This year's walk on May 7th marks FRAN's fifth year of life after breast cancer, and that's worth celebrating. Once again, knowing that the economy, although improved, still kinda sucks, I'll limit my annoying appeals to this weekly space and maybe a tweet or two. But if you can give, it's a good cause. The place to donate is do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon, and every donation will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!