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Shawn Anderson Handles News at WTOP With a Breakneck Pace

“I think there’s such a thing as going too fast. I think our pace and rhythm is…as fast as a CHR station.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Shawn Anderson and the WTOP logo
(Photo: WTOP)

Washington D.C. doesn’t see the fluctuation that many other locales will see when it comes to its focus on the news. The nation’s capital is the permanent focus of the news world. That’s something WTOP afternoon news anchor Shawn Anderson is keenly aware of, but the federal government isn’t the only topic during a Beltway newscast.

“We’re lucky that stuff that happens in Congress and things that happen in the federal government or in the military are local stories. They’re not far away national stories. They’re local stories to us,” Anderson admitted. “So not only do we have the general local news of what’s happening in everybody’s community, we have that other pool to draw from. We’re at our best we are balanced.”

Anderson added that, in his view, some all-news stations have an overreliance on crime stories. That’s something anchors at WTOP are cognizant of avoiding.

“We obviously do report crime, but we also are very big about getting into the communities and you trying to find what people care about. What the parents who have two kids in school care about,” he said. “We’re actually heavily local, we have a fair amount of national and international news, but we really try to provide a balance.

“Even though we can report on the federal government — and so many of our listeners are people who work in the government, they might work on Capitol Hill or they work for cabinet secretaries, what have you — we try not to get into government speak or police jargon. We feel we look at ourselves as we’re the station of the Washington working people. So it’s not just the people who are in high offices that we wouldn’t cater to them, per se. We’re happy that they listen to us, and that they consider us a viable source of information, but we’re not playing to them.”

Shawn Anderson — who hosts the afternoon newscast from 2-7 PM alongside Anne Kramer — has spent decades in the format, and enjoys the challenges that breaking news in the afternoon daypart presents.

“We have to do a lot of juggling, a lot of throwing out the script, and going live with breaking news. Breaking news is our premium content here at WTOP,” said Anderson. “So it’s not as scripted as you would think it is. Obviously, it’s scripted. It has to be scripted to a certain point because it is news and you have to be accurate with what you’re reporting. But there’s a lot of fungibility involved in getting through the day.”

“At two o’clock, it’s showtime, and from then I like to compare it to driving NASCAR on a world-class ski slope,” he added.

While the news is moving quickly, Shawn Anderson believes it is still important to give context that’s imperative to truly telling the story of the news.

“I think there’s such a thing as going too fast. We are fast. We are a fast-paced, high-energy radio station. Not just a news station, we are a fast-paced radio station. I think that our pace and rhythm is — at least I try to run it in the afternoon this way — as as fast as a CHR station.

“We bring that kind of bang-bang aspect to it, which is sort of like the opposite of what NPR does. We’re trying to be urgent. Our goal is to be urgent to everybody. But there’s a point where you are going so fast that people don’t understand what you’re doing. And I think one of our challenges — and I think we do it pretty well at WTOP — is that we try to find that balance between ‘Ok, we understand the attention spans are shorter, but yet we still have to make you understand what it is that we’re reporting on.’ We want you to understand what we’re doing. So there is a balance between going quickly and going short.”

One might think that there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with being a news anchor in the nation’s capital. After all, some of the most important leaders of the free world are relying on your information. However, Shawn Anderson doesn’t view it as pressure.

“I think of it as, as long as we are being credible, that as long as we’re being accurate and we’re being credible, that they will just continue to use us as a viable source of information. So I don’t put any more pressure on myself because they are listening. You are trying to be as accurate as possible.

“You’re trying to explain things as simply as possible so that everybody can understand. Yes, I want the person who’s working for the defense secretary to understand what I’m saying. But I want the mom with two kids in school in Bethesda to also understand at the same time, so I don’t put that kind of pressure on myself.”

In a hyper-politicized era of the news media, it is sometimes difficult to discern what is “news” and what is “commentary”. At WTOP, Shawn Anderson prides himself on there being a clear distinction between being the person delivering the news, rather than the person making the news.

“It’s definitely one of our big challenges in media today, right? People believe that somehow we are manipulating the news for some sort of nefarious political purpose. One thing I’m proud of at WTOP is — it’s a big thing for us is — to present the news in a compelling but unbiased way. I think we do have a pretty good reputation in Washington for doing that. We’re not paid to opine on the news and we strive to make sure that we are keeping political biases out of any news copy that we do.

“There are always going to be people who are upset with you for a story that you’re covering and claiming that you are favoring one side or another,” Shawn Anderson continued. “But we tend to get complaints from both sides of the political aisle. So as long as that is happening, we’re pretty sure we’re doing things right.”

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1 Comment

  1. Paul Brandus

    January 31, 2024 at 9:33 am

    Great piece. I had the privilege of working at WTOP between 2004-2007. Shawn is the best. Great journalist, great guy.

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BNM Writers

Proof That Both CNN and Fox News Manipulate Their Audiences

Playing with numbers and technicalities is a function of what the media does today. Since the average person just reads the headline, viewers will likely move on if it confirms their own bias.

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When news organizations collide, journalism loses. Last week, CNN posted on X saying “US inflation cooled down in January, offering some relief for Americans who have suffered through the steepest price hikes in four decades.” The same day Fox News posted “BREAKING: Inflation rises faster than expected in January as high prices persist.”

While these are seemingly opposite statements, both can be true at the same time. More importantly, both of these outlets are manipulating their audience.

People like their own opinions and want those opinions verified by others. This is what social media has done to news: You read the post, see your opinion is valid, and then move on to the next clickbait (confirmation bias). More importantly, both of these tweets are true because one is based on an estimate, and one is based on actual numbers.

Looking at CNN, while their post on X seems positive, their business headline is a little less positive, “Inflation cooled last month, but some price hikes continue to cause pain.” The change from tweet to headline is striking. One says Americans are getting inflation relief, the other says inflation continuing to cause pain. In today’s world of “Read the headline and move on,” this is why people feel CNN lies. Its post is in conflict with the headline— even though both are true statements.

It’s not until you read the article that people can see how this is possible. The outlet notes overall inflation did cool when comparing January 2023 (6.4%) to January 2024 (3.1%). Four sentences into the article it says, “CPI rose by 0.3% in January.” It goes on to break down why inflation is still high and causing pain in the pockets of Americans. Although the X post is factually correct, people on the right side of the political spectrum feel CNN is untrue because they see the inflation problem in their bank account.

Meanwhile, the Fox News X post and Fox Business headline are identical, “Inflation rises faster than expected in January as high prices persist.” However, the keyword here is “expected.” Inflation did cool year-over-year. However, because Fox is comparing the January 2024 number to what experts expected the number to be, what they have posted is factually correct. This nuance is sometimes lost on readers.

The article does not mention inflation is down year-over-year. However, nine sentences into the article, the business outlet says, “Inflation has fallen considerably from a peak of 9.1%.” The nuance of “expected” combined with the lack of mentioning year-over-year inflation is down is why the left side of the political spectrum believes Fox lies.

Let’s be clear, neither CNN nor Fox News have lied (on this one specific topic). They both chose to present the same data differently. It also needs to be noted, CNN and Fox News are not the only outlets that do this. They all do. Playing with numbers and technicalities is a function of what the media does today. Since the average person just reads the headline, viewers will likely move on if it confirms their own bias. The problem is twofold.

  • Facts are no longer direct but skewed to fit a narrative.
  • Some viewers accept headlines and posts without diving deeper into the article.

We have been trained to share a headline without reading the article. We’ve known this since 2016 when Columbia University and the French National Institute found 59% of shared social media links were never read. We’ve gone from headlines selling newspapers, forcing people to read the articles, to headlines being shared on social media, but people won’t read the articles.

This is only a small part of why The Messenger failed: neutrality. The sentiment of unbiased news was well-intentioned. However, America has lacked unbiased news since 1987 when the Fairness Doctrine was abolished. Many on the left believe this has helped right-leaning outlets. This is false. Not only has it benefited both sides of the aisle, it can be argued the progressives have benefited more than the conservatives (but that is a different article for a different day).

When news outlets collide, the American public loses. Not because we lack news, but because we lack the ability to read the full scope of the issues in one place. Outlets are not forced to present all sides of the political argument or present the entirety of data sets. Additionally, news is not being fully read. Headlines are now king. Shares, clicks, and likes keep the lights on in newsrooms. Most importantly, facts are now nuanced. This forces debate instead of continuity and cohesion.

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BNM Writers

Does Dealing With Criticism Ever Get Easier?

Engage in the content of the criticism and ignore the rest – or at least take the high road. If that gets difficult, end the conversation.

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A photo of the word Truth written on a typewriter

Thick skin. If you work in media, you gotta have it. If you don’t, you either won’t last or you won’t sleep – or both.

Even if you are neutral politically, super nice, and in it for all the right reasons, there always will be people who criticize you, and some will even make it personal.

Having “thick skin” is a cliché I’ve been thinking about and dealing with for years. I find it fascinating that, somehow, I am way more sensitive at home than I am at work – and by at work, I mean on the air for hours every day.

Even the angriest of listeners are engaging, and engagement is what I want. Sometimes, it can throw a show off-balance, but if handled properly, it should never fully derail you.

Over the years, I have modified my professional behavior, perspective, and attitude, yet my foundational approach has not changed. It began with my first full-time television job when a journalist/mentor of mine told me not to ever act interested in ratings. Rather, he said, focus on my performance and content — the rest would take care of itself.

In my first two anchor/host jobs, it worked wonderfully. I immersed myself in the job, and the ratings were strong. I thought it was a mandate to always take this approach, although in retrospect, I was probably more lucky than good. Regardless, following that mantra actually allowed me to learn my craft and not be overly aware that ratings mattered.

Ignorance was journalistic bliss.

Flash forward to 2024 and it all seems rather naïve, but I think the approach really works well with criticism, too, whether it be on social media, through phone calls or even with fellow hosts.

Just a quick note on nuance: Look at the sentence four paragraphs above – don’t act interested. Looking back at the guidance given by my mentor, his point also seemed to be that even if you are laser-focused on how a show is rating, don’t make it a major topic of conversation, and don’t let people think it defines you as a broadcaster and journalist.

All of it may seem like advice from Fantasyland, but in an indirect way, this approach also makes me less vulnerable to criticism. I simply don’t focus on it too much, and over time, it stopped bothering me even if I did focus on it. Make sense?

Of course, it’s not as if I like it when a listener rips me or the show, either directly or on social media; but I never engage emotionally, and if I do respond in any way, it’s usually content-focused.

That’s the key.

Engage in the content of the criticism and ignore the rest – or at least take the high road. If that gets difficult, end the conversation.

You have the conch. Never forget that.

Ultimately, you’ll feel better, especially knowing you did not take the bait and handled it professionally – no need to create any more tension than is already out in the media eether.

That brings me to the moment a host of a show on my station was sharply critical of an interview I had done, saying it was soft, and not holding the guest (a sitting U.S. Senator) accountable enough.

Specific questions were put forth that absolutely should have been asked, according to the host, and honestly, it was used as a chest puffer for that person to show why certain guests were scared to come on that later show.

And … I thought it was great.

Great?

Well, maybe not great, but I actually had no problem with it. First and foremost, they were talking about it, which is good. When I can provide that kind of grist, it’s good radio. It wasn’t always easy to listen to — I was still in the office doing some booking — but for some reason, it did not bother me. This from a guy who gets a one-second side eye from my wife of 20 years, and I think our marriage is in trouble.

In the end, a few of the criticisms were helpful, believe it or not: One or two of the suggested questions put forth on the later show should have been asked.

It’s all part of the balance I seek to create a place where members of both political parties feel comfortable coming on our network. I always reserve the right to ask difficult questions, and I do ask them (apparently not enough for some), but I also try and be balanced and manage relationships.

It’s delicate, and sometimes, elicits criticism – sometimes deserved. Meanwhile, I just focus on the content, naïve as that may be.

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BNM Writers

CBS Mornings Scores Big Post-Super Ratings Win

CBS Mornings became the most-watched program from 7-9 a.m. in total viewers for just the second time ever for a CBS morning news show.

Doug Pucci

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A photo of the CBS Mornings logo

The historic ratings milestones continue for CBS as a result of Super Bowl LVIII.

Less than nine hours following what turned out to be the most-watched telecast in U.S. TV history to date (120.25 million of the near-124 million watching Super Bowl LVIII did so on CBS), CBS Mornings became the most-watched program from 7-9 a.m. in total viewers for just the second time ever for a CBS morning news show.

For the Monday, Feb. 12 edition of CBS Mornings, which featured co-host Nate Burleson from Las Vegas, the site of Super Bowl LVIII, and a visit from Jon Stewart in New York to promote his Daily Show return (which generated great ratings milestones of its own later that night), it delivered 2.9 million total viewers including 654,000 within the key 25-54 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research. It marked its best total audience and demo figures since Feb. 4, 2022.

CBS Mornings topped ABC’s Good Morning America, the usual morning news viewer leader, by a mere 7,000 viewers; it also outdrew NBC’s Today (2.86 million) by 49,000 viewers.

CBS also bested ABC in A25-54 by +103,000; the sixth time CBS Mornings has led over Good Morning America this season based on the key demo.

This was not the first time a morning show benefited from a halo effect of what the network had aired the night prior. Mar. 8, 2021, was the first time CBS won in the morning. It was the day after Oprah Winfrey’s primetime interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had aired which drew 17.1 million viewers for CBS. The Mar. 8, 2021 edition of CBS This Morning featured an exclusive interview with Winfrey and the premiere of never-before-seen clips from the Meghan and Prince Harry discussion, had delivered 4.793 million viewers with 1.026 million of them in the 25-54 demographic.

The program changed its title to CBS Mornings in September 2021.

For this 2023-24 season, CBS Mornings has the smallest deficit margin in viewers with ABC’s Good Morning America since the 2017-18 season and the tightest margin in A25-54 ever.

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