And Now…the News

I’ve done a fair bit of traveling in my career as an outdoor writer and editor. I’ve covered tournaments in lots of little towns, attended conferences in various cities and been to events in major metropolises (“metropoli”?).

When I’m on the road, I don’t watch much, if any, television. The days start too early and end too late for that. But occasionally I’ll watch the local news to check the weather or to see if they’re covering the event I’m attending.

I’m fascinated by the local news because it’s a barometer of that market and where it fits in the hierarchy of on-air talent. This is not universally true, of course. There are some exceptions to the rule, but it’s true enough that I can see it at work every time I turn on the television in my hotel room.

When you flip on the local news in small town Iowa, you get a different caliber anchor, sports and weather reporter than when you’re watching the national news out of New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta, or when you’re watching a network affiliate out of Chicago or Houston. You can’t help but notice this.

The set and choreography of the news is very much the same everywhere. The anchors sit behind a curved and illuminated desk that could be in Pittsburgh or Peoria. The camera positions seem identical no matter what the station, and in even the smallest markets one of the stations calls itself “Eyewitness News.” There are differences in production quality, but the biggest difference is in the quality of the on-air “talent.”

The personalities in the big markets are smooth as silk. They look good. They’re well-dressed and flawlessly made up.

Small market talent, on the other hand, can usually be divided into one of four groups.

There are the “up-and-comers” — young reporters renting apartments in the small or medium-sized town because they plan to advance quickly through the ranks and get to an “A” market.

There are the “down-and-outers” who once worked in bigger markets but lost those positions when they eventually got sacrificed in a ratings drive.

There are the “lifers,” who may have been good enough for a bigger market, but never aspired to it. They’re beloved pillars of the community and the station builds entire marketing campaigns around them.

And there are the “short timers,” who lack the talent to move up … or even the talent to hold their current job. As soon as the station has a chance, it will trade them in for an “up-and-comer,” a “down-and-outer,” or even another “short timer” with whiter teeth.

When I watch local news, I mentally categorize each of the talking heads. It may not be fair, and I may not be accurate, but it’s a little exercise I can’t resist.

I think about fishing tackle stores in a similar way, even though they’re more diverse and more a representation of ownership and management than a statement about market size.

Retail tackle shops don’t have the same built-in limitations as TV news programs, but if I’m near a major fishery, I expect a certain caliber of tackle shop, certain amenities, certain square footage and noticeable marketing. The bigger and more popular the fishery, the more I expect. But, of course, that’s not always reality.

I really enjoy being surprised when I walk into an independent tackle store. I want to see something different, but mostly I want to see something that puts that shop a notch above what I might expect given the surroundings, the fishery or the size of the market.

Under no circumstances do I want or should I see the tackle shop equivalent of “Boom goes the dynamite,” but it happens too often.

In business, there are expectations of all of us. When a customer walks into your store does he expect the equivalent of a national news program or a middle school audio-visual production?

More important, what does he get?