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WCPO 9 newsroom staffers break down the life cycle of a news story

Posted at 3:05 PM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 23:28:05-05

Editor's note: This story is part of WCPO's partnership with E.W. Scripps Co. and the News Literacy Project to celebrate National News Literacy Week, Jan. 24-29, 2021.

CINCINNATI -- Take any WCPO 9 news story and rewind it back to its beginning -- before we shoot a frame of video -- and you'll see reporters, managers and producers debating everything you are about to see and hear.

From the initial pitch, through editorial meetings, to writing, revising, editing and finally airing and publication, our news stories go through a complex life cycle.

Finding the story

It always starts with the pitch, usually from a reporter and usually based on something they have encountered or have seen out in the community.

"We have a system," said WCPO 9 News reporter Mariel Carbone. "We put our story ideas in the system, and it goes to our managers, who look through and decide what they think is newsworthy for the week."

Carbone most often covers government and politics, but those aren't the limits of her coverage.

WCPO 9 News reporter Mariel Carbone interviews a New Miami High School student-athlete for a story, Jan. 18, 2021.

"I'm finding my stories through people I talk to, through people I meet, and through (government) meetings I'm pulling agenda items from," Carbone said. "Four out of five days a week, I'm moving forward with stories I've pitched myself."

Other times, the stories find us.

Erica Thomas was looking for any help she could find to salvage her daycare business, Beehive Learning Center in Colerain Township, as it struggled to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I was on the phone. I was calling news places," she said. "It was like, 'Wait, wait, don't forget about us.'"

'Why should I care?'

Then, the process moves to the newsroom's editorial managers, who meet with reporters at the start of each shift to discuss their pitches.

"As an editor, I'm listening for, 'Why should I care? How does this impact me or someone I care about, or how many people does it impact?'" said Tasha Stewart, senior manager of engagement and one of about a half-dozen managers who make the final call on what stories reporters will pursue.

"A lot of times, we have to incorporate breaking news," she added.

When the day's plans change

For all stories -- but especially in the case of breaking news -- WCPO 9 relies on its team of real-time editors, whose primary role is two-fold: to dispatch photographers and to write breaking news stories for WCPO.com.

"Essentially...we are the breaking news hub," said real-time editor Felicia Jordan. "A lot of it is through police scanners and just listening and hearing what's going on in the communities."

WCPO 9 News real-time editor Sarah Walsh stands on a chair to see a co-worker she is calling across the newsroom from WCPO's real-time desk, here photographed March, 6, 2019.

The real-time editor team monitors dozens of emergency scanners each day to determine what incidents could have relevance or wide impact on a neighborhood or community.

Jordan said the decision of whether to cover a breaking news event sometimes comes down to who is available at that time to go cover it.

"It's also about resource management: whether we have a photographer available, whether we have a reporter available," she said.

Accurately representing the communities we cover

Even after writing scripts -- and rewriting scripts -- the process isn't over. Managers like Stewart thoroughly comb through every script that will go to air, whether it's a long segment written by a reporter or a shorter segment written by a news producer.

"I will read it out loud, and I will imitate the reporters, just to make sure it also sounds correct, it also sounds concise and clear," Stewart said.

The goal is accurate, fair reporting of stories that are important, interesting or reflect our community.

Independent, but not perfect...

WCPO 9 Director of Local Content Mike Canan is the final word on what does and does not make it on-air and online.

This week, he wrote a column unpacking some of the most common questions and assumptions he sees about WCPO 9's process. He said the most common assumption from viewers is that there is outside or corporate influence at play in managers' decisions.

Mike Canan
WCPO 9 news director Mike Canan in 2016.

"That never happens," Canan said. "There's no business from the sales side that (is) influencing us in any way. There's no 'corporates' telling us what stories to tell."

That doesn't mean, however, that reporters and managers are infallible, he said.

"We're not robots. We do have biases; every single one of us does," he said.

But there's one key difference.

"The difference is between us and some random person out in the community is we literally have professional training on how to keep our biases in check."