This article will leave you with an understanding of how information gets reported on TV at NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox stations. There may be minor variations between networks, for example, NBC does news for more hours a day, and Fox does a lot more local news.
IMPORTANT: Most NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox stations are not owned by NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox. Those companies have no control over what goes on your local channel. These stations are most often owned by local broadcast groups with names like Sinclair and Nexstar. There are some exceptions to this rule, but only in major cities.
If you would rather read about how national news works first, click here.
Key vocabulary & bias/trust guide
Read this briefly and refer back to it as you read the article. It is not important that you fully understand everything in this list immediately, as I will give examples that will make it clearer in this article.
Journalist — A wide category of jobs for people involved in the process of collecting new information. This includes producers, photojournalists, editors, managers, MMJs, columnists, sound gatherers, news directors, and TV anchors.
Reporter — The person who focuses on collecting new information from sources. This person works hard to be unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
MMJ — This is another name for a reporter. At some stations, reporters do their own camera recording, so they are called MMJs (multimedia journalist). This person works hard to be unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
Photojournalist — The person who focuses on recording video and sound for the reporter to use. This person works hard to be unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
Anchor — The person who focuses on writing the news as simply and as understandably as possible, then presenting it to the audience. This is what I do on TikTok! This person works hard to be unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
Producer — The person who controls all the stories that appear in a one-hour block. They focus on selecting stories and organizing them. This person works hard to be unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
News director or other manager — The person who focuses on fact-checking what the anchors and reporters wrote. This person works hard to be unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
General assignment — General assignment is a word used to describe a type of TV reporter. These reporters cover everything from house fires to business openings to police shootings to the 4-H club to fashion shows. They cover news in general. If a beat reporter (described below) has too many things happening in their beat on a given day, a general assignment helps with the simpler story.
Beat reporting — There are other reporters called beat reporters, who only cover specific topics, also known as “beats.” An example of this is a reporter who covers local or state politics, schools, health, investigations, or sports.
Liveshot—A reporter appears on TV live, meaning they’re able to include new information in their report up to the minute before they go live. This also lets them talk back and forth with anchors on TV. The information within is unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on liveshots for truthful information. You can trust them.
Package—A news vlog with a reporter’s voiceover. The information within is unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on packages for truthful information. You can trust them.
VOSOT — A news vlog with an anchor’s voiceover. The information within is unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on VOSOTs at the local level for truthful information. You can trust them.
Deciding what to cover
Every day around 4:30 a.m. hundreds of sleep-deprived TV reporters, photojournalists, and producers walk (or dial) into conference rooms to decide what goes on TV that day. This is called an editorial meeting, and there is another exactly like it around 2 p.m. later that day.
Everyone works together to decide which stories to cover. Sometimes there are heated arguments, sometimes everyone is too tired to do anything but nod and sip their coffee. But everyone cares about their community and wants to do what they think best serves the public.
Any stories involving death are guaranteed coverage because the purpose of journalism is to point out things that have gone wrong so our government can fix them. Except suicides. We don’t cover suicides unless there’s a really really really good reason. I have never covered a suicide in my 11 year career. Read why here.
A manager leads the meeting and includes producers, photojournalists, and reporters in the discussion. General assignment reporters and photojournalists talk about things happening in the community. Beat reporters talk about things happening in their area of expertise. The best ideas usually come from reporters and photojournalists who found stories ahead of the meeting.
Producers make sassy comments and scroll through Twitter on their phones. Anchors are usually busy writing their script and don’t have time to attend the meeting.
Once there is a consensus on which stories are important to have a physical presence at, the manager decides which reporters and photojournalists should go to which story or approves stories reporters arranged in advance. The meeting ends, and everyone shuffles out of the room or hangs up the phone.
The day begins
The assignment desk is the hub of all activity in a TV newsroom. Producers working on the assignment desk (often called assignment editors) have four jobs.
- Answering the tip line, listening to police radios, checking the station’s email inbox, Facebook and Instagram messages, and making phone calls to know exactly what is happening within the city or county at all times.
- Communicating with field crews where to go to shoot video and interview people.
- Keeping a calendar of all major local events (government meetings, court cases, festivals, business openings, economic reports, etc)
- Booking satellites for TV trucks to hit
The producer on the assignment desk emails each reporter or reporter-photojournalist the exact address of the story for the day. The photojournalist takes their regularly assigned equipment, or signs out shared equipment. The reporter and photojournalist begin driving to where the news is happening.
As this happens, a producer is creating a list of news that will be covered in every hour, called a “rundown.” This list mainly focuses on local and state news but also can include national news. Producers will sometimes include pre-written stories created by other producers at the parent company if they need to fill time, or think the story is cute. This is similar to hundreds of newspapers around the country including stories from the Associated Press, except newspapers have to pay for the AP, and these producers don’t have to pay for this because the person that wrote the script is a journalist hired by the company.
Show producers also search local newspapers, Twitter and the Associated Press feed for interesting stories to do VOSOTs about. Then they create graphics and find video and soundbites to accompany the story. Show producers also help anchors with writing scripts.
Reporters and photojournalists start working
Once a reporter (MMJ) or reporter-photojournalist pairing arrives at a place where news will happen, they find parking (which always sucks) start interviewing people and shooting video.
They transfer the video from their camera to their laptop and begin editing, then transmit the video back to the station. When a reporter is ready to speak to the show’s audience on TV, they use a cell phone to call a special number where they can hear what the anchor says. This is called “dialing IFB.” They read the script they wrote, hopefully the control room doesn’t screw up and the video, soundbites, and graphics all work perfectly. Once they’re finished, they have to try to get more interviews with people involved while keeping an eye on what is happening with the story that they’re covering, because as new things happen, they have to update their script or package, because they have to do this process all over again in an hour for the next show.
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