Is Repetition Killing Your Newscast?

A photo of a man's face repeating itself on a tablet screen
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It's only natural to want to build your media brand by saying your TV station has the most news in town. Maybe your station has local news for several hours each morning, then a noon newscast, followed by a couple of hours in the evening and then the late newscast.

Adding news means increasing the size of your "news hole". That is, the amount of air time you have to fill each day. That means you're left repeating stories from morning to noon, to 5 and 6 and then again for your late newscast.

Why Repeating News Stories Is a Problem

A TV news producer may be left with little choice but to repeat news from earlier, especially if it's a slow news day. But that decision can damage your news brand.

That's because loyal viewers will tune in, only to say to themselves, "I've seen this already." Or, "The station must have let half the news department have the day off, because they sure don't have any new news today." Even, "Let me see what the other stations have that's different," followed by a click of the remote to a rival station.

So that news brand of having the most news? It may have backfired. Your loyal viewers may still watch your station, but maybe only for a half-hour. You trained them to think that's as much original news you can deliver each day. You've either sent them away from the TV or to your competitors if they still want to know more about what's happening in their community.

How to Determine Whether You've Caused Damage

That potential damage is only a theory, until you back it up with market research. Focus groups can show you how much viewers have noticed the repetition of stories and whether they have changed their viewing habits as a result.

In a two-hour morning newscast, it's possible that it's not a problem at all. During that time of day, viewers may only watch for 15 to 20 minutes. If you repeat stories each half-hour, most people are only going to see them one time anyway.

But it you have a typical early evening news block that runs from 5-6:30 p.m., you likely want viewers to stick around for 90 minutes. Repeating the same story every half hour during this part of the day can be a literal turnoff for people, especially if the story is presented in an identical way each time.

How to Make the Same News Appear Fresh

A resourceful home cook can take a leftover Thanksgiving turkey and whip it up into a fresh new casserole. Think about that while producing your newscast.

The story you do on a house fire at 5 p.m. can include new information at 6 p.m. that you can promote. At the end of the 5 o'clock story, your TV news anchor can say, "Coming up at 6, you will hear from an eyewitness who spotted the fire, called 9-1-1 and then rescued a dog from the flames." Then at 6, you can do a brief recap of the facts concerning the fire, but make your focus the eyewitness, which is fresh information.

This approach takes coordination between a lot of people. The TV news reporter covering the fire must know to purposely leave the eyewitness out of the 5 p.m. version of the story in order for the producer to have something new at 6. Reporters have to be trained on how to do that, because they instinctively want to put everything into the original version.

This only works with some stories and some facts. The 5 p.m. version can't be left stripped of basic information just to serve the 6. That cheats your 5 p.m. audience. So you wouldn't want to say during the 5 p.m. news, "Stay tuned to find out if anyone died in the fire, coming up at 6." If someone died, you have to say so in every version.

How Promotion and Teasing Can Help

One of the 3 ways to promote your newscast is through effective tease writing. A skilled news producer can use this to draw viewers through a long block of news, some of which may appear repetitive on the surface.

A news anchor could say, "At 5, we showed you the first day of school for local elementary school students. Coming up at 6, see how these same students are being kept safe as they walk home from school." You are acknowledging that viewers have seen part of your coverage, while trying to convince them to stick around because they're about to see something new.

Some stations go a step further and highlight an all-new story visually. You might see a font on the screen that reads, "All New at 6:00" or something similar to showcase a story that was intentionally saved for the 6 o'clock broadcast, even though it may have been put together the day before.

It's unlikely that any of these tricks were taught in journalism class. That's because they don't involve journalism at all. Instead, it's part of the marketing that most TV news pros learn on the job, when they realize news stories are a product that should be packaged, branded and delivered to the audience.