In the NewsSeeing Your Way Through Sweeps

Wow! We’ve made it through the May book and you don’t have to worry about ratings again until November. I know there’s a book in July, but no one counts that; don’t let your boss tell you otherwise.

The May book was mostly uneventful. The war was over, Osama was still missing, and Michael Jackson refrained from having plastic surgery. If it weren’t for Scott Peterson making a run for the border, we wouldn’t have had any news at all.

The folks in the Midwest did have to deal with a couple of hundred tornadoes in May. But for the rest of the nation it was a quiet news month.

That did not mean that there weren’t any sweeps stunts. Jay Leno and Katie Couric switched jobs for a day—we’re sure Jay was hoping to switch paychecks for a day as well.

One station did the story about how a camera with night vision can see through people’s clothes. This is a story that has been done many times over, but you can always count on at least one station doing it during ratings.

Every time I see or hear that story it reminds me of when I was a kid and I ordered those X-ray glasses off the back of a comic book. I was so excited waiting for them in the mail, because I thought they would allow me to see through Claudia Burnett’s shirt in school. Since Claudia was in the 5th grade with me, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to see, but that did not stop the enthusiasm.

I’ll never forget coming home from school and seeing the package with my brand new X-ray glasses inside. I remember ripping open the package and thinking that soon I would see what Claudia didn’t want seen.

I put on the glasses and looked around. I couldn’t see through anything. I looked at my dog, and while he looked fuzzy, I didn’t see through him. I knew then and there I had been ripped off. I spent, like, $2.50 and all I saw was fuzzy stuff.

At that point I knew I had to do something. I took the glasses to school the next day and wore them around. I acted like I could see through everyone’s clothes and they all believed me. Al Gorman said he wanted to try them on (he had a thing for Claudia as well). I told him that no one was allowed to use these X-ray glasses except me.

Al kept begging me; I finally told him I would sell him the glasses for $3.50. He agreed and after giving me the money, I gave him his new X-ray glasses.

The minute he put them on, I could tell he was pissed. He realized in a matter of seconds that he had been had. What did he do? He acted just like I did; he went around the school making believe that he could see through people’s clothes. He then sold the glasses to Brian Stevens for $4.

Last I saw, Brian was selling them to Cathy Renker for $4.25 and then I lost track of the glasses.

The bottom line was everyone fell for the story; they all thought you could really see through clothes.

Just like ratings today, the story doesn’t have to be true; you just have to make people believe it’s true. So when the November book comes around, you know what story to pitch to your boss. Tell him about the camera that sees through clothes and how it will make a great sweeps piece. You just know Sony loves it when a station does that story. Sales for its cameras with NightShot must jump every time.

Last I heard, Claudia Burnett bought one of those cameras at Wal-Mart. If she only knew...

Until next time...keep your ratings up and your blood pressure down.

Scott Jones is a former photographer, reporter, assignment editor, producer, executive producer, and Top 20 news director. He runs and can be reached by email at