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When Breaking News Happens

Jason Barrett

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The past few days I’ve had the benefit of enjoying some time off and during that time I couldn’t help but be drawn more to CNN, Fox News and MSNBC as a result of the situation in Ferguson, MO. Having spent 5 years of my career and life in the St. Louis area and still maintaining friends in the area today, I was curious to find out what was going on with the chaotic situation that has been unfolding for more than a week now.

fergusonWhat started as a curiosity on my part to learn more about the story, ended up becoming a reminder of how important it is to handle breaking news coverage the right way. Some of this may seem obvious but as simple as it may appear, not every individual or brand handles things right when it comes to dealing with major stories that require an ability to think and react quickly and wisely.

Case in point this past weekend’s news television programming. I think most would agree that the Ferguson, MO shooting and situation between the police, protesters and looters qualified as a major breaking news story. If you work in news television then it would qualify as an all hands on deck type of situation. What occurred though was perplexing.

KMOXOn the positive side, 1120AM KMOX in St. Louis was on top of the story every single minute. The station went wall to wall with on-air coverage and I saw numerous people involved with the radio station tweeting, posting photos and continuing dialogue with listeners. I could tell quickly that the brand was connected with its audience and invested in making sure they had the most up to the minute information on the story.

Dana Loesch who hosts her own syndicated radio show and works for “The Blaze” network, was also highly invested in the story and offering different viewpoints on the situation. She too was dialed in with her audience on Twitter and was supplying audio samples of things that she had gathered on the show to further help with gaining perspective.

KMOX and Dana Loesch are both St. Louis based so they had an opportunity to be closer to the situation and to their credit they took advantage of it and went full throttle on the story. In simpler terms, they played the hits and super served the needs of their audiences.

On the local television side in St. Louis, Fox-2 KTVU and News 4-KMOV did a stellar job covering the scene to provide eyewitness footage of what was taking place and they kept their focus on presenting the facts which is difficult in situations like this. So many outlets are battling for information and want to provide it to the viewer as quickly as possible so what impressed me with both stations was how they kept their standards high and just reported what they knew rather than try to become the story.

boycottOn the flip side, KSDK-4 in St. Louis dropped the ball big time. Rather than stick to reporting the news, the station became the news after they elected to sensationalize the story and show footage of the police officer’s home which had his address on the house. This caused an uproar from local viewers and led to the creation of a “Boycott KSDK” facebook page which as of last check had over 29,000 likes. Many of those people also planned to boycott outside the TV station to voice their unhappiness with the station’s lack of judgement.

The station to its credit came out and apologized after for their egregious error but the damage had been done. Poor judgement during a pivotal time cost the station its trust and loyalty from the audience and a whole lot of bad PR. One could make the case that their quest for higher ratings on this day, could cost them a lot more in the future.

FoxNewsSpinning it to the national side, Fox News almost always wins in the ratings because for the most part they do a good job. That top notch programming though wasn’t on display this weekend however. Instead I tuned in on 5 different occasions for coverage of the Ferguson story only to find the network showing taped programming or a quick news update. On one occasion they even presented a live show and focused content on Rick Perry’s issues in Texas rather than the Ferguson situation. That was very surprising and disappointing for a channel which is usually the first choice for news programming.

MSNBC meanwhile was slightly better than Fox News but they too were missing in action on the lead story too often. In a few instances I once again stumbled across taped programming rather than live coverage of the biggest news story in the country.

CNNThe one national network that owned the story was CNN. Anytime I put the channel on, they were focused on the story. While some of the coverage became tiresome due to repetition, they kept the focus on what mattered to most people and I felt after 3 days that if I wanted to know anything about the story from a national perspective that I could trust CNN for their commitment to it.

When stories like this unfold I think it’s extremely important to be all-in with your coverage. I can handle a listener complaining that we spent too much time on a major news story a lot better than having to explain why we were absent on it. Listeners and viewers turn to us hoping to receive information when things like this occur and if we’re not fully invested in the content that everyone is talking about, then we not only lose the audience today but we lose them in the future too when the next big event happens.

facts2I also think it’s critical when these types of stories come up to be very smart and factual when reporting information. When I see a channel like KSDK make an error and show a police officer’s address on live television during a time when tensions are high, I can’t help but wonder which manager made the call and what repercussions they’ll have to deal with for making such a bad judgement. The last thing you want to do in a situation like this is become the story and KSDK became that for a day when they made one really bad decision.

It reminded me of a situation I went through in St. Louis back in 2007. I was programming 590 The Fan in St. Louis the day the Mitchell Report was released. A ton of baseball players had been found guilty of using PED’s and rumors began to swirl that when the list was made public, Albert Pujols’ name would be on it. Albert was the most popular figure in St. Louis and had been a great representative of the city and his being on this list would no doubt crush his public perception and put his entire career under the microscope.

pujolsOur competitor 1380AM chose to go on-air and report that Pujols was indeed on the list. At the same time, Fox 2-KTVU made the same call and decided to send a crew over to Albert’s restaurant and ask patrons how they felt about Pujols being on the list and whether or not they’d eat at his place of business again in the future.

The guys on my staff started to get antsy and wanted to run with the story and a few were starting to question why I was holding back on going with the story. I remember getting into a spirited argument with one of my guys and I told him “I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to St. Louis’ biggest superstar and if I’m late reporting on him cheating the game of baseball I can live with it….but I won’t be ok sleeping tonight if we make a decision to report him as guilty when we don’t have evidence to show that he is“.

pujolsAn hour later the Mitchell Report came out and Albert Pujols’ name wasn’t on it. The staff seemed to be more relieved that we didn’t get beat to the story than happy that we were accurate but truth be told, it was a big risk. I had a 50/50 shot of being the hero or the goat and I chose to follow my gut and my beliefs which were “you’re innocent until proven guilty“. Maybe I’m old fashioned with situations like this but I’d rather be late and right than first and wrong.

The next day, I got a call from a member of Albert’s camp thanking me for how we handled the story and I specifically remember Albert expressing his disappointment with the local media during his first local news conference. Because we hadn’t presumed him guilty, he would grant a sit down interview with one of my reporters and one other local TV outlet who had also elected not to assassinate his character without evidence.

Now I didn’t care if Albert liked my radio station or not and I didn’t make that call hoping it would lead to him appearing on a show, I did it because it felt right and I believe attacking one’s character is only warranted when there’s evidence to support doing so. Going on witch hunts and reporting speculation is a dangerous area that usually results in the broadcaster having egg on their face. I can recall more personalities being suspended, fired and/or sued then those coming out on top after accusing someone of something without evidence.

tfIt sounds basic but when breaking news happens I think you’ve got to be on top of it immediately and you’ve got to ask the right questions. As difficult as it may be, you’ve got to separate fact and speculation and do so quickly. So many people are in a rush to get content on the air that they hear one side of a story and run with it and then when the other side comes out later, they look foolish. It’s ok to report the one side that you know but how you paint the picture has a lot to do with how you’ll have to navigate the next part later on.

Even worse though is turning a blind eye to a story and pretending it isn’t there. When we first launched 95.7 The Game in San Francisco we spent a lot of time talking about these types of situations and sure enough, during our first month on-air there was a huge local story that I felt our crew did an excellent job with while our competitor missed the boat.

49ersThe 49ers and Raiders played a pre-season game at Candlestick Park in August 2011 and at that game a number of fights broke out in the stands and bathrooms. There was also a shooting in the parking lot. It was a scary situation and easily the number one story throughout the Bay Area.

Our competitor that Monday did a nice job of landing Joe Montana for an interview fifteen minutes before we did, so they had the advantage of getting the perspective on the situation first from one of the most famous San Francisco 49ers of all-time – except they never asked him about the situation.

Instead they spent 8 minutes of the interview asking Joe about the San Francisco Giants and 2 minutes on Alex Smith’s QB abilities. As soon as I heard what they were doing, I called my morning producer to make sure we had a strong plan ready for when Joe appeared with us and sure enough we did.

montanaJoe then joined us right after that conversation and the first question from my morning crew was about the violence at Candlestick Park. We then spent the first 6-7 minutes of the interview talking about the situation with Joe and he was engaged in the topic and went as far as to tell us that when he played for the 49ers, he too saw similar situations occur in the stadium and didn’t always feel safe there. His comments would go on to make national news that day and become a topic of conversation for the rest of the broadcast day.

What happened that day was a result of good/bad strategic execution and that’s the same thing that took place this past weekend with the news coverage of the Ferguson situation.

dotherightthingI’ve seen people lose careers over making the wrong calls in these kind of situations and my approach is simple “dive into the story immediately, share the facts, allow for audience interaction and voice your opinion based on what you know“.

In these cases, we’re not the story – we’re simply the messenger passing along the information and giving people an outlet to express their opinion at. Your brand’s loyalty and trust are at stake and how you handle things determines whether or not your audience will turn to you again in the future.

I can tell you this, as someone who watches news television on a very limited basis, when the next major news story breaks my first stop will be to CNN not MSNBC or Fox News. It’s then CNN’s job to present the information well, keep the programming interesting and give me a reason to stay. If they don’t, then they’ve created an opportunity for their competition.

This is exactly what you’re faced with when the next big story breaks. Don’t try to be the one person in the room who thinks that just because everyone else is talking about it you don’t need to. That’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you care about the needs of your audience and want their support in the future, give them what they came to you for.

GreenDayIt’s no different then going to see your favorite band. If they play every song that never was released and ignore the “hits“, chances are you’ll leave the show disappointed or less than satisfied. Those who crank out the tunes that everyone knows, usually benefit from having the crowd sing and dance along and spend more money on other CD’s, merchandise and tickets to future shows.

Like it or not, you work in the breaking news business and how you react to big events says a lot about your judgement and the way you value your audience. Embracing the subject, reporting the facts and allowing people an opportunity to weigh in puts you in position to form a deeper bond with the listener. Sensationalizing the content, reporting inaccurate information and choosing to ignore the story completely earns you mistrust, your brand being boycotted and in some cases unemployment.

Playing the hits isn’t difficult – you’ve just got to check your ego at the door and let the story be the star. Question is, can you do that?

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Blogs

Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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