According to this year’s RTDNA survey, when TV stations add newscasts, they add morning shows.
The big winner was weekend mornings. Over 20% of the news directors who added newscasts listed Saturday morning, Sunday morning or both. Next came the early morning on weekdays, with the 4 am hour and 5 am hour each getting about 10% of all the additions.
WPTV morning executive producer Matthew Harris knows a lot about producing morning newscasts. He oversees 4.5 hours of morning news every weekday, supervising about 30 people, including multiple reporters and producers. He describes his job in three words.
“Interesting, trying and frustrating.”
“Like a lot of stations, we try to own the “Big Story,” says Harris. “We ask what are people talking about today and what do they need to know so they can leave the house informed?”
That part of the job can be trying when it’s 3:30 in the morning and the reporters don’t have as many options as they do during regular business hours.
“We have to figure out where are they going to be live and innovative in a way that tells the story; not standing in the dark in front of a courthouse or in front of police station,” Harris says.
The reporters seldom do packages, instead they work to come up with three important bullet points on the story and then tease ahead to the next hit.
“In the four and a half hours in the morning show, there may be 6 or 7 packages,” says Harris. “The typical story count in one hour is 65 stories.”
Harris says morning show producers have to realize that people are tuning in all morning long.
“We stack the newscast backwards, we’ll put in a fast-paced block of news with a bigger story at the bottom of the hour.”
The morning block has also done a way with headlines and long pre-produced opens, concentrating more on live pictures and breaking news.
“Headlines were traditionally there to sell the newscast, but you don’t have to sell me if you already have something good.”
WPTV’s morning show strategy has been very successful for the station. Yet, the sheer amount of content and people and platforms to manage can be frustrating, especially during breaking news.
“It’s not just TV, it’s the website, mobile, Facebook and Twitter, your crawl,” says Harris. “Then there’s moving crews, coaching the anchors and babysitting the control room.”
Of course, now we’re back to what makes producing morning news interesting.
“Today we had such a terrific morning; it was such a rush, we had breaking news and we really owned it,” Harris says. “We had crazy wind with high tide and waves were crashing against the shore. Right at the top at 4:30, we were already rolling with breaking news. That’s the thrill of producing; you’re the puppeteer behind all that.”