Integrating News&Talk for Radio, TV and the Web

If you work in talk, you already know it’s not just “radio” anymore. You work as a communicator to grow audiences across all platforms. And the “traditional” lines between news and talk programming have blurred. As newsroom staffs have been cut to the bone, many talk stations have begun breaking news through the interviews and talk programming. How can news and talk work together effectively to grow audiences for stations? Break down the walls! – Valerie Geller


Research tells us that most audiences for news-talk radio perceive both the news and the talk elements as equally important. But due to tight budgets and restrictive formats, many full-time news-talk radio newsrooms have been cut down, and now may consist of only two to four people, sometimes fewer, and not all of them are full time.


Some newsrooms work with a lot of syndicated content and the staff is often comprised of people who must be responsible for producing both news and talk, or a hybrid of both.


It is not the ideal situation. Image is not reality. There is a growing trend with “digital newsrooms” working across all platforms to blur the lines between news and talk, or commentary. Of course, it’s better to have a large professional news staff. But if you just have a couple of talented news reporters and anchors, you can make it work.


It is possible to maintain a news image with very little actual news reporting, because when talk hosts discuss news stories and current issues on their programs, the station conveys the impression of being “on top of the news.”


News-talk stations short on people use a lot of smoke and mirrors. They may have any or all of the following: several network news services, special reports from the field, people with mobile phones calling in or texting to report traffic tie-ups or as eyewitnesses to breaking news stories. Some stations use their talk hosts in live remote or outside broadcasts from places where news is happening. Savvy radio news people and talk hosts call on their friends and connections at newspapers, TV stations, and magazines to debrief them on the air about stories they may be covering.


Good reporters and news presenters work very, very hard. The fact that most stations now have smaller news staffs does not mean less work—it means more. Being number one is never an accident. Radio news is not for the lazy.


Break Down the Brick Wall


Have you ever noticed a psychological “brick wall” between the news and programming departments? It bears mentioning because news and talk should always work together, but often don’t. News and talk presenters are often surprised to learn that audiences don’t differentiate if they have heard a certain item on the news or in the talk shows. Somehow, the news department got separated from the rest of the programming. This is the old “Let’s take a break for the news” routine. In the news-talk format, this is not a good thing. You must break down that brick wall, or at least put some holes in it.


Remember, your audience does not know there are two “camps” at work here; they only know that their radio is on, and, if you are lucky, they know which station they are listening to. They want interesting, relevant talk. Listeners do not care whether they get their information from a guy wearing a news hat or a talk hat. Fight the war against the competition, not each other.

Look for Talkable Topics


Another way to build the relationship between the news and talk staffs is for the news people to keep a lookout for “discussable” news items. There is not much to say about a fire, flood, or breaking story other than giving the facts and information as they become available. After the facts are in about the massive car crash on the bridge, the talk show topic may actually be: “Why are citizens willing to endure life-threatening conditions to save ten minutes on their commute?”


A hard news story can generate a softer talk topic. Train your people to save the stories about Supreme Court decisions or any polls or items about which people are likely to have strong views. Peel the “onion” that is your story to find material for an in-depth, open-phone talk show.


Develop a Daily System


If you want to integrate your news-talk product, it takes extra effort. The list that follows is a system to develop news-talk integration:


Work together. Meet with the producers, talk show hosts and the news assignment manager or news director every day. Compare what you know about the news and events of the day. If it cannot be done in person, do it for five minutes on the phone, by instant messaging or e-mail


Take today. Go through the list of today’s topics, discuss:
What will news do with the stories? What will talk do with the stories?


Any ideas that anyone else has.


Prospect for gold. Share the loot. Everyone should look through the wires, newspapers, and any other usual source materials. Talk about multi-version reports or anything that can be done in short-form news, then moved into a long-form talk.


Pick the right talent for the subject. If a newsperson or host has an affinity for a specific topic, he or she will do a better job. Why not send your baseball fanatic out to do the baseball story? Utilize your talent’s natural interests, background, and experiences. This means you will really need to get to know your talent. If you don’t know, ask. “Is anyone interested in alternative medicine?” Again, interested is interesting and powerful.


Be flexible. Things change quickly. You’ve got to be ready to change plans.


Listen to everyone’ s ideas. If people are assigned stories or topics they do not like, ask them to give you better ideas. People always work better when the idea is theirs.


Communicate. If things change news-wise or events happen throughout the day, talk to each other. This is a team effort, and the listeners are not necessarily aware that there is a brick wall between the newsroom and the talent area.


Listen to each other. News departments, when they can, ought to be aware of the content of the various talk shows and whatever else is on air. Keep the radio on at the station. Talk hosts: Listen to the news!


Create a future file. When notices arrive regarding future events, designate a person to file them in the computer in daily calendar form. Both news and talk should utilize these lists for topic and story ideas. Newspapers work these types of files as much as five years ahead.


Create a follow-up file. On dull days when not much is going on, look back. Did the station cover any stories that need to be updated? An updated news story might ask:


“Where are they now?”
“Did the child in the custody fight live happily ever after?” “What happened to the neighborhood after the rapist was released?”
Looking ahead is good, but you can also do mighty powerful radio when you look backward.


Do not fight over guests. If there is a guest or an interview that a newsperson has set up and the talk host wants to interview him- or herself, work it out. Protect the on-air product, not your territory. Perhaps borrowing a clip, or piece, of that interview audio from the news department will be enough to get discussion going for a powerful talk show.


Conversely, if something noteworthy is said during one of the station’s talk shows, use it in the news. You’ll have an exclusive. Producers: Endear your host to the news staff by getting that audio to the newsroom fast!


Break Format When News Breaks


This is when news-talk is at its best. During times of national or local catastrophe, go ahead and break format. Have a procedure (whom to call, commercials to move, etc.) in place in the event of an urgent news story. Get the information on air right now. Nobody cares about your “cover story” or “topic A” when all hell is breaking loose and lives and property are at stake.


Drop what you had planned and go with the breaking story. Debrief news reporters on the air. Ask them questions about the story. If it makes sense to do so, have them stay on the air and take calls. Talk hosts: Give the news department all the time it needs to get information on the air, even if it cuts heavily into your show.


Always Archive


Remember to keep audio and, if you have them, video files. If you have the archived audio and video accessible, you can easily re-purpose magic moments on air for promos, or later for awards submissions.


Reprinted with permission from Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age. [] by Valerie Geller, copyright 2011 Focal Press.


About the Writer


Valerie Geller, president of Geller Media International Broadcast Consultants, works to help communicators become more powerful in 30 countries for news, talk, information and personality. Through consulting and individual coaching for news and talk talent, Geller finds and develops personalities, leads “Creating Powerful Radio” and “Communicate Powerfully” workshops and seminars for radio and TV broadcasters, internet radio and podcasters. Geller is the recipient of the Conclave’s 2010 Rockwell Lifetime Achievement Award and is the author of four books about radio including her latest from Focal Press Beyond Powerful Radio – A Communicator’s Guide to the Internet Age. To contact Valerie Geller for a one-on-one coaching or consulting appointment, or for information on the “Powerful Radio” seminars and workshops, call 212 580-3385

Note: This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on and has been republished with permission.