Home > Uncategorized > Is It Wrong to Wish for a Busy News Summer?

Is It Wrong to Wish for a Busy News Summer?

-first posted at RTDNA.org on May 25, 2009

Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer vacation season.  That’s welcome news for millions of kids not facing the early morning school bell for a while, but is a dread day on the calendar of many an assignment editor across the country.  Before I was a news director I ran the desk here and at my Florida station.  And I knew well then that as the white shoes and white belts came out for summer, I was raising the white flag on trying to come up with enough stories to keep us going all summer.

I know that some of you are thinking of some very big summer stories. Hurricane Katrina hit while there were still three weeks left in the season, and the World Trade Center attacks came with just shy of two weeks left before fall.  But I’m talking about the dog days of July and August here—that time when the assignment folder is as empty as the school classroom across the road.  Those are the times that try even the hardiest of assignment editor.

Still think I’m exaggerating?  Check out these summer blockbusters that peppered the airwaves in years gone by.  Just last year, when we all could have been doing a little more digging on the mortgage meltdown and Wall Street crisis that was heading our way, what did we focus on?  How bad the pollution was in Beijing for the Olympic athletes.  Three years earlier every news network had hourly reports from Aruba on missing American Natalee Holloway.  That gem started in May and was only swept off the air by the rising waters in New Orleans following Katrina.  Similarly, in the months leading up to 9/11, we spent the entire summer speculating what that evil Gary Condit must have done the Chandra Levy.  Only now are we getting some reporting on the man who appears to be the real perpetrator of that crime.

Personally, I’ve always found August to be the worst of the summer drought months.  It’s the month that never gets any respect.  Aside from being a vacation time for many, leaving workplaces half-empty for its entire span, August can’t even get the respect of having a single holiday.  It’s the only month that doesn’t have or share a holiday of its own.

Some would argue that we, the media, cover lighter news in the summer because that’s what people want for their vacation time.  While there could be some truth to that, I see two flaws in that logic.  First, what we sometimes report on may be light, but it’s far from what people want to hear on vacation.  Back in summer of 2001, battling the Levy story for the headlines, was the “Summer of the Shark.”  Time magazine called it that and the networks followed, giving us daily reports on shark attacks and threats worldwide.  Is that really what you want to see before your week in Pensacola?  The other problem is that news does seem to happen other places in the summer—just not here.  From politics to the economy to science, there are summer stories all over the world—just none of them seem to be American.

This all brings me to the question in the title of this blog: is it wrong to wish for a busy summer of news?  Knowing what we consider news to be, wishing for it does seem to be wishing crime, death, disease, and other horrors on people just for the sake of giving us something to do.  There was a time when I guess I thought that wasn’t as full of bad karma as I do now.  What producer out there doesn’t hope for one more piece of breaking news to spice up a 10 o’clock newscast—or even just put the show on time.  We usually don’t think about the person at the receiving end of that wish, having some personal tragedy to provide our crews with something to cover.  Do firefighters wish for a good apartment blaze to break up a slow Saturday shift?  Does the NTSB investigator hope for a commuter plane mishap in Minnesota to get him out of the stifling humidity of DC in the summer?  Both of those prospects seem horrible when you put them down on paper.  But is what we sometimes jokingly wish for so different?

Maybe it’s time to fill the summer with stories we enterprise on our own and don’t wait to come over the scanner.  If you think about it, what better time to go out and dig up some stories—when there’s nothing else going on.  Reporters reading this should brush up on their investigative skills and turn a small project for a favorite producer.  Producers can team up with some pet reporters to build a block about an important public policy issue in town.  The possibilities are nearly endless—and none of them involve waiting for an event that’s not coming anyway.

I guess my wish for a busy news summer is to see enterprise spring up like the grass in my yard right now.  I spent my Memorial Day weekend tending to it.  Now you spend the rest of your summer germinating your own good enterprise ideas.

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