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The truth behind broadcast news “If it bleeds it leads” PR pros are told

The following is an insight and observation that apparently hasn’t change over the last decade

By George S. Mc Quade III

“I think the deciding factor is if it’s easy, it gets on TV, not if it bleeds it leads,”  said Adam Symson, former special assignment investigative producer, KCBS-TV, Los Angeles, told about 60 people attending a seminar sponsored by Public Communicators of Los Angeles, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, March 14, 2001. (10 years ago)

Broadcast News Panel at PCLA event in Los Angeles

(L-R) Adam Symson, former producer, KCBS-TV, Maryhelen Campa, Former Assign. Mgr., KVEA-TV and now works at CBS, Vance Scott, Assign. Mgr, KTLA-TV.

The panel also included Vance Scott, assignment manager, KTLA-TV, Ch. 5, and Maryhelen Campa, former assignment desk manager, KVEA-TV, Ch. 52, one of three Spanish-speaking stations in LA, who is now working at CBS.

These are comments of 10 years ago, and believe it or not these seasoned journalists are still around and still working in the same position.

Most broadcast assignment Editors prefer  “Email”, but 10 years ago it was fax or snail mail and below is what Vance Scott said about email a decade ago.

Vance Scott KTLA

“We get 1,000 phone calls a day, and the segment producers receives about 200 calls while their doing their jobs, so it’s best to fax your story and follow up with a phone call later,” explained Scott. “The Morning news is starving for news ideas, and it’s wide open,” he said but you have to be “zany, crazy or out of the box before your story idea will fly on the three hour news block in the AM.  Don’t send Email. Email is really used primarily for internal folks, and it takes me an hour just to find something in my email inbox.”

Sometimes PR folks need to step aside according to Symson. “PR people are not always the right people to pitch a story,” he said. “If you give your boss or client the ammo he or she needs to pitch the story, it comes across much stronger.”

(I believe he is referring to folks who do not have a clue in pitching the story, in that case, maybe the client, but remember a CEO calling an editor gives the appearance of being self serving.)

Adam symson (far left) at media workshop

Here’s another news tip:

“All TV assignment editors face a time management and personnel crunch, and we do accept video news releases, if we do not have a enough crews to cover the story, but we’re interested in your story idea or event,” said Symson.

Editor’s note:That policy has changed in some markets and stations due to the newsroom or content room cutbacks editors are now using B-roll or soundbites from the video news releases or videos posted online. In fact, many are using blog posts and Twitter quotes, too.

Vance Scott, Assign. Mgr, KTLA-TV

Viewers have “a morbid curiosity” says KTLA’s Vance Scott

“I’ve spent my entire 32-year TV career running from  PR folks,” kidded Scott. “There is not much integrity to defend in TV news, because the downfall began the day it became profitable. Everything we do is done for the dollar. The industry was founded by journalists, and the whole motive then was to sell newspapers, which is why there is a motive to run crime, it sells, it’s cheap, it’s a no brainer, and people are fascinated.

When I ask the news director are we serving the public interests? He says yes. KABC-TV ran a high-speed chase yesterday on their news, and KNBC did not.  KABC received higher ratings (A 7 rating, while KNBC received a 2),” he said.  Scott says big fires, nasty accidents and someone going down the freeway at 120 miles per hour gets a viewer’s attention. “People won’t admit they have a morbid curiosity,” Scott told the crowd.

PR Pros need to take proactive view to succeed

Adamn Sympson, Producer

“We have often found that PR professionals take an oppositional stance when we do our investigative work,” noted Symson. “When I call and tell someone like the school district, for example, that they are spending $10 million a year, sending administrators all over the country, or we have an employee doing something wrong on video, the first response is ‘you’re lying,’ and later when I show them the invoices and receipts they change their tune. We would be irresponsible journalist to report something wrong without verifying the facts. A better response would be “we’ve suspended that person, or we’re looking into it, and we’ll get back to you right away. At least give us something,” Symson said.

Strong video and breaking news always leads “I don’t watch TV news, and I don’t let my kids watch because there is so much violence,” said Scott. “However, it is the strength of the video that determines the lead, after all this is television. If we can get our hands on a bank robbery video it will be the lead story.

I did have a problem this week covering a story out of Orange County, CA, which was only a rumor about a school shooting, planned over the Internet. What’s flashy, titillating and of little conscience often leads,” said Scott.

(Editor’s note: KTLA Channel 5 starts a new weekend show on Sat and Sunday morning starting April 7th)
Don’t rule out radio news, millions are listening in traffic

Frank Mottek and Frank Stolz

“We’re interested in any community issue, however, you need to have a good English-speaking person to get your message across,” said Frank Mottek, anchor/reporter, KNX news radio. It needs to meet the question of ‘who cares test,’ whether it is crime, business or a feature. The number one reason people listen to KNX is for traffic. So we have to write shorter, sharper and stronger stories. Sometimes I go to a news conference at 10:00 AM, and I might be writing and calling in the story three to five minutes later. Keep your stories, news releases and pitches short,” explained Mottek.

FRANK MOTTEK, KNX Business Hour

A Frank Mottek, anchor/reporter, BusinessHour, KNX Newsradio 1070 AM

“KNX still does news, on a national and regional and local basis, but we have been impacted by the mudslide of tabloid kind of stories and the so-called water cooler kicker stories. We don’t have to worry about pictures. Charles Osgood said it best years ago ‘the pictures are better on the radio,’” said Mottek. Mottek said building a relationship with a reporter is critical. He recalled when the space shuttle “Challenger,” blew up and when a NASA announcer said, “abort to orbit” when an engine failed on another launch he relied on a public affairs friend for new lingo in space technology.

If it bleeds it leads doesn’t apply in public radio

Frank Stolz, KPCC


Frank Stoltze, reporter, KPCC public radio

“If it bleeds it leads doesn’t apply in public radio,” Frank Stoltze, reporter, KPCC told the crowd. “ We go for the big picture, trends and we’ll also talk to the academic community to learn more detail about a story, because we have more time. Since Minnesota public radio took over KPCC, our newsroom has grown from one person to six, and we’re focusing more on local news. We have two hours of covering issues,news and several talk shows.”

Reporters hate it when PR Pros hide the issues

“Instead of pretending like their side is the only issue, PR pros who give the other side of the story or sometimes even provide the opposition’s phone number, we appreciate it more. We get offended when you pretend there is no other side, and in fact we feel insulted by a cover-up. You know we’re going to call the other side for their opinion,” he said.
Pro Pros sometimes have to be pushy to get heard

Frank Stolz (middle)

“Never be afraid to call the newsroom if you feel you did not get a fair shake,” said Stoltze. “I would think three calls to the newsroom, and one to the news director would not be out of line if you feel your client did not get a fair shake or if you felt we should have run your story.” The fax number at KPCC is 626.585.3160.

“The best way to get on our story assignments is to call the desk after you email or fax your story, and ask for the  assignment editor. Our Fax is 323.964.8329. We prefer faxes over email. We just like that piece of paper to look at,” said Mottek.

Live interviews are another option. Both KNX’s Frank Mottek and KPCC Larry Mantle prefer having an interview by phone, than an audio feed, because there are other questions needed to be asked. As for exclusive stories, “it’s an over used term, and is not appealing,” said KPCC’s Frank Stoltze.

media workshop 2001

There is no matrix formula to covering news say Mottek and Mantle. Both agree that story assignments are weighed against what’s being reported in the newspaper, and in other media and  how the news announcements (news releases) are relevant to those stories. One word of caution: “Know what station your calling before you pick up the phone, said Mottek. “You be surprised how many people call and ask what the name of the DJ’s are at our station and what kind of music we play, when we do all news.”

Broadcast news is spoon-fed information by City News Service

Yet Lock, City News Service

”All TV and radio, and most newspaper outlets subscribed to City News Service,” said Yet Lock, vice president, of the LA’s only 24/7 metro newswire service.  “AP, Wall Street Journal, New York times and all of the different language media subscribe to our services, which has been in business since 1939 when we wrote our first contract with Long Beach press Telegram newspaper, which has a contract still today. Five years ago we had to start charging for listing some budget items, because stations began complaining there were more than 100 items daily to read. We narrowed the event listings to 75 – 80. We do news advisories and breaking news, and provide background details to top stories in LA and Orange County. We opened a bureau in San Diego a few years ago, but our primary audience is LA and Orange County. I find that celebrity or high profile personality stories draw much more interest among broadcast news,” said Lock.


“No” doesn’t always mean “No” at the City News Service

“If we say no to putting your story or event up, there is also a daybook budget listing for events, where we charge a small fee to list it. Nonprofit runs $25 and others around $47,” explained Lock. “We have to limit the story listing, due to complaints from our news clients. We have no deadlines, and we have all day to do a the story, however we suggest that you try to get your event or story in before 10 AM, and everything must have a contact name and phone number, or we do not run it.

City News Service prefers faxes at 310-481-0416.  Most newsrooms have the wire service  via computer in their newsrooms, however some still prefer the teletype system.”

Not everything that bleeds leads

“Our viewers are very conservative and concerned about family values and education, so our focus is a little different, and we might do more stories on immigration, because I’ll admit, many of our viewers are illegally here,” said Campa. “Our audience is poor with the average immigrant making 20,000 a year, so they’re powerless, and want to know how to get the best deals and get documented. They are very interested in immigration, however, when the story is violent, it is the way it goes and we try to maintain a balance with those breaking stories, she explained.

Maryhelen Campa, CBS

Maryhelen Campa, assign. mgr. switch from English speaking KNBC-TV and KCAL-TV to all Spanish Speaking KVEA-TV. “We never have problems finding a spokesperson to speak Spanish, which is half of LA’s population.” (Campa now works at CBS TV network)

News you can use is popular among Spanish TV news stations

Mary Helen Campa recently made the switch from assigning stories in English at KNBC-TV and KCAL-TV to “more meaningful stories” at the all-Spanish speaking station KVEA. “I made the switch, because I was looking for some more challenging, different and new,” said Campa.

“You might now believe it, but we never have a problems finding someone to speak in Spanish. We more interested in stories that offer our viewers ways to better their lives. For example, how someone who makes 25,000 a year can buy a house, or better deals to fix their car. I predict that all TV stations will also offer Spanish versions of their news in five years, because of the bi-coastal viewers.  KVEA is about to buy KWHY-TV 22, another all Spanish speaking TV station, because of the demand.”

The orginal post 10 years ago is located at

“EYE ON PR” at MAYO Communications

If it bleeds, it leads..the truth about broadcast news