Assignment Desk Hell

There has never been any secret to trying to get an event covered.  You write up a media advisory which includes the five Ws: Who, What, Where, When and Why and make sure it gets put on the AP Daybook and faxed and emailed out to the  desks at the proper editorial section of the area newspapers, photo desks and television assignment desks.  Then come the follow up calls.  As anyone who has been through this process knows, there is never just one call made, especially when it comes to television assignment desks.  You usually make calls for three-four days, including the morning of an event.  I have worn out many a carpet at event sites pacing as I make follow up calls to desks.

Over the years, it usually was a positive sign to have a television assignment editor tell you that your event was on the agenda for coverage, providing they could get the crew to you.  However, the economy has taken a major bite out of available resources, and that positive word from the desk  can no longer be taken as set in stone.

I experienced that this weekend with an event I was helping Covermax Communications out with  in the Bronx.  It was the Pi5NY math tournament for middle school students.  Over 600 city kids screaming and yelling while competing in math.  Sounds like a great weekend story, right?  Heading into the morning, at least four crews were on their way to cover the story. The Daily News was on-site and it looked like a home run event.  Then the ABC-crew got stuck at another shoot, News 12 could not free up a camera, nor could NBC.

Major affiliates are entering into news pooling agreements in markets like New York.  Due to editorial restrictions caused by abusive video news releases, many outlets, such as WABC-TV in New York, will no longer take b-roll handouts from companies. 

Hopefully, the lack of resources is not affecting the news judgements of organizations. I have always felt that an event has to have news value.  If it doesn’t, you need to be honest and tell your client.  I would hate to see newsdesks make decisions based on logistics.  

When someone in the media says,  “don’t follow up, if you sent  us a fax or an email we will respond if we plan to cover your story, ” don’t listen to them.  That may apply to a magazine or feature news pitch. But if you are working an event, you must be persistent.  My colleague was called at home on Friday night by NY-1 telling him they were assigning a crew to the event.  On Saturday, a different assignment editor said they weren’t.

So what can a public relations pro do to ensure the assignment desks actually cover their event?  If you are in a major market like New York City, recommend that the event be held as close to the midtown area of the city as possible.  Placing an event on the outskirts makes it tougher for crews to get to you, especially when they need to shoot 2-3 other events. If the event is an annual program, hire a crew to put together video package that can be sent out in advance the following year to producers so they can get a feel for what the event is about.

The system has never been perfect.  Lack of resources is making it tougher by the day.  The only solution is more information and more calls. The earlier, the better.


Tom Cosentino


One Response to “Assignment Desk Hell”

  1. […] couple of weeks ago I lamented in this blog the problems dealing with what I termed, “Assignment Desk Hell, ”  and the frustration of trying to get a network affiliate news camera to cover a local […]

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