behind the scenes

Your Guide to Local TV News

3:01:00 PM

For the past several days, my station has been dealing with the fallout from US Open tennis coverage. Somewhere between the first and thousandth phone call I've taken from outraged viewers, I realized not everyone understands the way local television news stations operate. But never fear! I, your resident expert, am here to save the day and educate the masses on the reality of the newsroom.

If you think your local news station is sending crews to cover major national and international events like the Boston Marathon bombing or the crisis in Syria... I have some ocean-front property in Arizona I'll sell you at a great price.

Most local news stations are affiliates of a major network like CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox. That does not mean we work for the network. In fact, we have practically no ties to the network until we do a story they're interested in. Until that point, we might as well not exist to them.

So what does it mean to be an affiliate? In a nutshell, we pay for our time slots and access to the network's video and stories. Even then though, we're not guaranteed that time slot if something better comes up, i.e. the US Open tennis tournament.

We have absolutely no say over which sporting events our network chooses to air, which shows come on at what time, what stories the network decides to include in their newscast, etc. Calling to yell at us because Hawaii Five-0 was an hour late or because you don't like tennis is a waste of our time and a waste of your breath. About the only thing we can do is give you the network's complaint hotline; however, I've found that most viewers would rather rant at me than call CBS to complain.

Affiliates are at the mercy of their respective network. Often we find ourselves in situations where we've had to condense a 30-minute newscast down to five minutes or watched all our time run out and not gone on at all. Like I told an angry tennis caller last week, we're not happy when the show we've worked on for hours just doesn't happen.

So here's my advice for all those people who like to call their local station and complain about what Ellen did today: find something more productive to do. If worse comes to worst, change the channel. No one's forcing you to watch, after all.

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