Thursday, March 13, 2014

Confessions: Secrets of The Local Newsroom

LOS ANGELES - So you are watching the news, or maybe have it on as background noise, and suddenly you hear that jarring end of the World breaking news jingle and a for a few seconds your full attention is to the television, or radio. Other times, and less dramatically, you will hear the anchor say, "This just coming into the newsroom." Well, have you ever wondered just how Southern California newsrooms hear and learn about most of the news that they report to you?

Whether you watch channel 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 22, 34, 52 or 62, listen to 1070 AM or 89.3 FM, or read certain articles in local newspapers, here is a secret as to where local Southern California newsrooms obtains most of its news leads.

While our local news organizations have a lot of original reporting what a lot of readers and viewers probably do not know is our newsrooms receive most of their news leads from two sources, City News Service and Metro Networks.

City News Service is the better known of the two and in local media circles is known as CNS (this CNS is not to be confused with a separate website called CNSNews as the two are not related).

Here is how most local news gets to the newsroom. It starts with CNS sending out what amounts these days to be a glorified instant message to the newsroom that, for example, a fire is burning a commercial building at 3333 Magnolia Avenue in Burbank, or a major court verdict is about to be announced, or a bomb threat has been reported at L.A. City Hall.

A lot of times breaking news or developing news comes into CNS by scanner, and often when they send the first report to the newsroom it is accompanied by the words atop of the report, "NOT FOR PUBLICATION, BROADCAST OR DISTRIBUTION."

Often these are the first scanner reports CNS passes to the newsroom. At that point what is suppose to happen despite CNS' bold statement not to broadcast it, provided the newsroom has not been gutted in the name of budget cuts, is the person at the news desk, which could be the producer or editor (sometimes even the intern), calls the proper agency, like Los Angeles Police for example, and confirm the report, and if it is confirmed to try to get some more information, and sometimes, depending on the media outlet, get the official on-the-air right away. Ideally CNS is suppose to quickly send a follow-up either confirming the incident is true with more information, and that it is allowed for distribution, or that it is nothing, and maybe even a false call.

Of course if you are an on the ball producer/editor, or an intern showing great initiative, you call the LAPD Watch Commander thinking you have a great lead for the 4 o'clock news and urgently inquire about the information CNS just sent only to be told by the LAPD Watch Commander that they have no idea what you are talking about. You read verbatim to the officer what CNS sent you, and you hear the Watch Commander clicking through the computer, and still the Watch Commander has no idea what you are going on about. You say, "Thank you" to the Watch Commander, and hang up. You feel annoyed, but in keeping your cool you telephone CNS and let them know nothing is up. Then amid the normal chaos in the newsroom you discover CNS sends out a correction that made you look foolish with the LAPD Watch Commander, and you note it only took CNS a hour to send the correction.

This is one way developing and breaking news is sent to the newsroom. Other times throughout the day CNS will send information that other local news organizations are reporting.

Aside from breaking news events there are planned events throughout the week in Southern California that are often covered by local media.

Ever wonder how local newsrooms know when certain events are happening, like what day somebody will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or what day the LAPD will honor certain officers, or when Metrolink holds a rail safety campaign, or when a high school holds a special event? Well, CNS sends what is called "The Budget" to the newsrooms. Despite the name "The Budget" has absolutely nothing to do with money, but its an old newspaper saying as "budget" means the budgeting or allocation of space in a newspaper. The CNS budget gives leads to local newsrooms, and in these budget leads are contact numbers for the reporter or producer.

For example, here is a typical CNS budget (The following events, names and telephone numbers in this example are completely fictitious):

By City News Service

8:30 a.m. ANAHEIM - Anaheim High School students to be honored by Anaheim Police, and the state's department of education. 123 w. Lincoln Ave. Contact: Jim Jimbo, Anaheim High School Affairs Program, (714) 555-5555; Bob Smith, Anaheim PD PIO, (714) 555-5555.

9 a.m. FULLERTON - Jury verdict is expected in the trial of Bobby Robert, who is accused of fatally shooting a man during a birthday party in Anaheim. Dept. C34, Central Justice Center, 700 W. Civic Center Drive. Contact: (714) 555-5555.

In addition to providing breaking news and leads CNS provides full stories much like the Associated Press and Reuters. Some newspapers and broadcast news websites put the full CNS story on their website with full credit to the wire service. Other times certain media outlets take some liberties with the full CNS story adding or deleting paragraphs and giving no credit to CNS.

 photo ap-teletype.jpg
Old AP teletype machine; date unknown. Along with AP and Reuters before they moved to computers to send news CNS also used the teletype machine. Shown for historic and educational purposes; no copyright infringement intended.

Now CNS is nothing new as it has been apart of the local newsroom landscape for many decades, and CNS for a very long time was the equivalent of Twitter news feeds for many newsrooms.

Many Twitter feeds of police, fire departments and other officials, along with reader's and viewer's Twitter feeds, in addition to local blogs and micro-local blogs, have made news gathering maybe a little less reliant on CNS. However CNS is still, and will be for sometime, the dominate local news wire and news sharing service. 

On that note, CNS has been sharing and reporting news reported on certain blogs in recent times.

A service like CNS is nothing unique to Southern California as other major markets, like New York and San Francisco, have similar news sharing services like CNS. 

Now you know a little bit how news gets to the newsroom. 

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