Defund police initiatives and general anti-police sentiment across the United States have led to low morale and high turnover. In today’s news cycle, you are hard pressed to find images and stories of police making a difference in their communities.
In fact, I would argue that with local television news ratings plummeting, it would be counterproductive for news outlets to run stories about police that do not involve some type of fear-based programming.
When I ran a digital news outlet in Western New York our analytics begged for the sensationalistic approach. Our views, engagements, and shares would skyrocket if we ran a story that entailed violence, especially involving police.
Shortly after the Derek Chauvin verdict came down on Friday, I started thinking about how difficult it must be for people inside law enforcement to try and rehabilitate an image that has taken such a hit. The fact of the matter is that every day citizens are unlikely to die at the hands of a police officer. People are not getting killed randomly by well-intended officers of the law.
Former combat veteran and current public information officer Todd Wivell works for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Officer. Last year, his agency dealt with Black Lives Matter rallies, some of which became aggressive.
It is Wivell’s job to shield the agency from the wrath of the media while controlling a general narrative and providing the public with accurate and timely information. Wivell was hired last October and has done a fantastic job connecting the sheriff’s office to the community.
Ryan Hedrick: What is your role as a public information officer (PIO) for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office?
Todd Wivell: In addition to getting timely, accurate information out from crime scenes or investigations to the media, my job is to be a barrier between our deputies and the press. When I go and I meet with our patrol teams and I meet with our sergeants and our leaders, I always try to tell them let me be that barrier for you. You guys don’t have to answer any media questions. I will do it. That really seems to work for us at the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.
RH: With so many political conversations entering the law enforcement arena, how do you ignore those conversations and do your job without making statements or comments that could be construed as political?
TW: My first goal is to always serve the public, the people, the sheriff’s office, the deputies, and treat everyone equally. That is a very thin line that I can not cross. I cannot do anything to help the sheriff with his election, I can’t get on the department’s social media page and talk about what the sheriff is doing for the election. There are times when people view posts from our department as political in nature, but we have no control over what people think or what they post.
RH: What have you learned about the role social media plays and how it can help you do your job?
TW: One of the things I have learned is that people want their news, and they want it now. It is no longer the 24-hour news cycle, it is the 24 second news cycle. Whatever is going on right now they want something, and the best way to do that is through social media. I am a little bit older and what I found out recently is that the older generations of us, we like Facebook. For us in the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, we get the most bang for the buck on Facebook. I also use Twitter and Instagram.
RH: How do police and law enforcement officials that you interact with, feel about the treatment from the media?
TW: For me, as a public information officer representing a law enforcement agency, what I try to do is inform Frederick County residents of what is going on in the county. It is not about defunding the police, it is not about the political issues, it is not about the argument to remove police from schools, it is about us telling the truth about what is going on inside the county.
RH: How can police officers exhibit behavior that makes them look human in the public eye?
TW: I think a great example of this comes from one of our Facebook posts Friday where we had a deputy stop by a local neighborhood in Ballenger Creek and interact with the kids. We received this great Facebook message from this local resident saying this is so nice and that this is the kind of stuff that we want to see. The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office is getting out and about into all of the communities as much as possible.
RH: Do you have any more examples of how community policing is working in your jurisdiction?
TW: National Night Out is coming up on August 3. We are going to be in a local community called Urbana at the brand-new YMCA, that is going to be our primary location, but we are going to be in other towns and locations as well. We have deputies that patrol this county which is the largest land mass county in all of Maryland. In addition, we also have deputies in three different towns because they value that, and they want us there.
RH: What do police not understand about social media and the importance of portraying themselves in a good image?
TW: I think because of today’s environment where you have the George Floyd death or you have the death where the officer thought she was shooting her taser but instead she fired her service weapon, it seems like a lot of the media focuses on the negative of law enforcement. Our officers have a reluctance to go in front of the media or to go and put themselves out there too much.
Erick Erickson Aspires To Be Heard on America’s Top Stations
“I learned almost everything I know about radio from Rush. I think they broke the mold when they made him. If I could get close, I would be honored.”
There are dozens of conservative radio hosts in the U.S., but one of the most intelligent and easygoing with his audience must be Erick Erickson.
Erickson, a lawyer by trade, has been able to effectively use his courtroom skills to motivate listeners. The leading GOP voice for a decade has been hosting a show on WSB during that time.
Erickson took a step toward establishing a national brand when he brought his Atlanta-based show to Cox Media Group. He also moved into the noon-3p ET slot, to fill the void left by the death of Rush Limbaugh.
For now, they have cobbled together approximately 20 affiliates, through Cox and separately in Georgia, but Erickson has bigger dreams for his three-hour daily broadcast.
“I would very much love to be nationwide and on the big stations,” Erickson told BNM.
But the midday competition is tight for air space. iHeart has Clay Travis and Buck Sexton holding down the Limbaugh slot. Cumulus features Dan Bongino, and Audacy has Dana Loesch.
“It definitely puts me behind the pack,” Erickson admits. “I don’t plan on doing anything else for the rest my life, so I’m going to be here for a while.”
Erickson is a native of Jackson, Louisiana, who has been tied to Macon, Georgia, for years, even winning a city council seat in that city. He is tied to his Southern roots and his listener base. However, for a successful syndicated product, he makes some production tweaks. Not only will he focus more on Georgia stories, but Erickson will also even localize with the weather, an element that wouldn’t work across a wider market scope.
As he builds the network, Erickson will drop the Georgia political angles instead because it has broader appeal.
Erickson followed the model of talk show host Neal Boortz, who he would guest host for early in his radio career. Boortz, who also was Atlanta-based and had a national presence, would find ways to use hyper-local stories for a larger audience.
Even before expanding his radio footprint, Erickson was already seeing a national audience from his livestream.
“I learned almost everything I know about radio from Rush,” Erickson said of his mentor.
Limbaugh took Erickson under his wings, as the two became friends. The legendary broadcaster would be a sounding board for Erickson, who could “send him an email at 3 o’clock in the morning and get a response.”
The bond would lead to fill-in opportunities on Limbaugh’s show.
But more important, Limbaugh pushed the lawyer to forge his own path in front of the microphone.
“I was not going to go into radio, but he told me he would never talk to me again if I didn’t do it,” Erickson recalls.
Rush was integral in an Erickson morning syndicated show, helping connect him to his agent.
“I would not have been doing what I’m doing, but for him,” Erickson said.
Limbaugh is missed within conservative circles, even as the Travis/Sexton tandem gets established. But Erickson knows the broadcasting heavyweight is not replaceable. In one conversation between them, Erickson confided that he would rather back up Limbaugh instead of hosting his own show.
He didn’t want to compete against the greatness of Limbaugh and feared that no one would listen to him.
“Don’t worry about it. Even if I’m dead you still won’t be as good as I am. So just be yourself,” he recalled Limbaugh’s remarks. “There’s something liberating about that.”
Erickson has a good rapport with his audience, something else he learned from Limbaugh. As the next generation of conservative talkers deal with the fractured market share, finding an heir apparent to the “Excellence in Broadcasting” great, who died in February, would appear to be a daunting task.
“I would like to think that I could be doing what he did and not just make it about politics,” Erickson admitted. “But he was very unique. I think they broke the mold when they made him. If I could get close, I would be honored.
Erickson’s key to growth is staying true to himself. He cautions that those who want to become the next Limbaugh by doing a version of him will not make a lasting “impression” with listeners.
“Radio’s very relational, so you’ve got to be as honest about yourself and as authentic as possible,” he said.
Touching All Bases
Even before Erickson started his radio gig at WSB, the conservative evangelical was an influential figure in the GOP. By 2016, he was named the most powerful conservative in America, according to Atlantic Magazine.
Erickson, who is in the seminary, has a knack for engaging listeners in debate and conversation, not anger and vitriol. But in this heavily politicalized climate, started with the Trump presidential campaign in 2015, not all opinions are welcome.
Erickson has been a harsh critic of Trump. Although he did support the one-term chief executive’s re-election bid, Erickson was not in bed with every move Trump made. Most dramatically, would come after the 2020 election where Trump fought baseless charges of fraud.
“I told my audience, ‘No, it wasn’t stolen. Here’s why.’” Erickson said.
That take did not sit well with many of his avid listeners, but it has also brought some liberals into the flock, who “hate listen because I get email from them all the time.”
Erickson, 46, is sure there are moderates tuning in as well.
He took another controversial stance with his recent comments about the COVID-19 anti-vaxxers, calling them “idiots” for believing the conspiracy theories after saying on his show that an unvaccinated relative died of the virus.
“I never want to be held hostage by my audience,” Erickson said.
Making those remarks won’t be popular with his base, and could even potentially hurt worse if advertisers dropped him. But Erickson said that big picture concerns no longer enter his mind. What’s vital is building trust with the audience.
In 2015, while running conservative blogger RedState.com, Erickson was holding an annual conference, inviting the entire list of Republicans vying for the White House, including Trump.
However, as this was right after Trump’s infamous comment about Megyn Kelly at a debate, Erickson disinvited the future 45th president.
“I did it because I thought it would be a distraction if he came. Little did I know he would make me a distraction. He came after me in every way, shape or form,” Erickson recalled. “A lot of people were calling my station demanding I be fired.”
As his listener base grew, Erickson had the confidence to announce he would not endorse Trump in 2016.
“I know people who didn’t support Trump in 2016 and are no longer in talk radio,” Erickson said. “My audience and I–we have a relationship.”
However, Erickson has dealt with his share of people crossing the line in a dangerous way.
“Oh gosh, I’ve had people show up at my front porch,” he said. “When I didn’t support the president in 2016, we had to have security at our house for several months. My kids got chased through a store, a guy yelling at them that I was destroying the country by not supporting Donald Trump.”
His children’s schools were switched because of bullying based on their father’s position.
“I get hate mail all the time,” Erickson said. “At this point, it comes with the territory.”
A hope for syndication expansion brings the financial resources to protect his family “with a lot of land and a big high wall around the house.”
But any ugliness from listeners is not a deterrent to doing the job. “If anything it motivates me to double down,” although Erickson doesn’t make light of the serious incidents.
“It was definitely scary. They’re alarming,” Erickson said.
The impact is felt even more by his children, who are “less likely to want to go with me to Atlanta.”
The Erickson family lives about an hour away from the city.
The heightened sense of fear would come to a head for his children as they shopped in Atlanta’s Lenox Square. A woman approached Erickson screaming his name.
“Both of my kids, at the moment, thought they were going to be dead,” he remembered.
It turned out to be just a “superfan,” who wanted to have a photo with Erickson. The lady was nice, but “it alarmed my kids so [badly]. That was three, four years ago and my now 12-year-old still refuses to go back to that mall.”
When it comes to checking the rivals, Erickson follows the Limbaugh mantra, not listening to other hosts, including those who would fill in for him. Limbaugh would give that tidbit in response to Erickson, who had been guest hosting for him.
With that in mind, Erickson never heard Buck Sexton and Clay Travis, who launched their midday show on June 21.
“I’m the only talk radio show that I listen to,” he said.
The only person that Erickson will listen to on occasion is Mark Levin, because “I find him deeply entertaining and I like the guy personally. It’s not meant to be disrespectful of anyone else. I just don’t want anyone else’s voice in my head when I’m trying to shape my own voice for my audience.”
Dana Loesch is also a viable option for the right-wing side of radio. Erickson, who knows Loesch and her husband well, holds her in high regard, but “we do different things.”
Overall, many hosts are trying to keep the Trump supporters intact or have a bombastic delivery, he said.
Erickson incorporates his legal and seminary training to bring the most complete package.
While he admits to getting “preachy” at times, his most effective approach is to put all the details on the table — “the facts that help me, the facts that hurt me,”– before giving his conservative take on any specific story.
“I don’t want to think for anybody else,” Erickson said.
Another commodity among the conservatives is Larry Elder, who took his celebrity to the recent recall efforts against California Governor Gavin Newsom.
“I think that Larry Elder had as much right to be in that race as anyone else,” Erickson said.
However, once Elder became the face of the opposition, Erickson said, he was doomed.
“The moment it became a race between Newsom and Elder was the moment that it became the race that Newsom would win,” he said.
TV or Not TV
Before his radio days even began, Erickson was approached about an opportunity to join CNN as a contributor. From 2010-2013, Erickson was a prominent conservative voice on the cable news network, thought by many to have more of liberal slant.
He sought the counsel of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Limbaugh.
They felt he could get a Fox deal where he’d be safe and comfortable or take the CNN job in “enemy territory” where it would be more beneficial learning to deal with people you disagree with.
“It gave me a fun role at CNN where I could talk about Republicans as a conservative activist who really didn’t care for the Republican establishment,” Erickson said.
He followed that with a five-year stint at Fox News.
Rise in Radio
A career path in radio happened by accident for Erickson. In his hometown of Macon, Georgia, a morning show host was arrested in a drug raid. The local Cumulus station needed someone for the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Erickson was already known for his CNN work and was a guest putting on his elections lawyer hat to discuss current events.
The host, embroiled in legal hot water, was fired. Erickson held on to the slot for three months. The positive feel for Erickson didn’t end there. As Erickson was told, Bob Neil, the former CEO of Cox Media, was driving his family to Disney World and heard Erickson’s show as they passed through Macon. Liking what he heard, Neil wanted to bring him into their broadcasting family.
“I had no experience in radio whatsoever,” Erickson said.
He declined a regular weekend show but was willing to fill in for Herman Cain. Shortly thereafter, with Cain running for president, Cox needed to replace him.
His hesitancy melted away with encouragement from Limbaugh, and Erickson never looked back as he polished his performance.
In 2016, he had a health scare with blood clots in the lungs that nearly killed him. His wife has an incurable form of lung cancer.
“I try to live life and be as relatable with my listeners, maybe sometimes to my detriment,” he said. “[I’m] trying to just interact with my audience and make sure that they’re not alone.”
He recalls another piece of advice from his mentor Limbaugh: “Remember you’re not there to save the world; you’re there to keep people company.”
Showing Community Support is Key for News Anchors
Think of all the different ways there are in 2021 to consume news media.
Without the slightest hesitation I can think of at least ten channels that offer nearly around the clock coverage. Then there are daily podcasts, live streams across multiple digital platforms, push notifications, social media and the host who talks to you on GSTV while you pump gas.
Don’t forget about newspapers – digital and print – and magazines either.
With all of these options to consume news and content, how does one host separate themselves from the pack?
There are multiple tactics – many of which we’ll breakdown on weekly Barrett News Media columns. However, outside of credibility and honesty, consumers of media want to tune in to someone they can relate to on a personal level.
To simplify that, if you’re on the radio in blue-collar city where people carry their lunch pail uphill to work both ways, most fans probably won’t care about your vacation home in Palm Springs.
Yes, that’s an extreme comparison but you get the point.
One of the easiest ways to show fans that you are one of them, is to get involved in the community, and truly caring about the causes and issues that affect the area in which you broadcast.
Personal story time – I was recently listening to a radio segment on a friend’s show. They wanted honest feedback about a new segment they were trying out.
During said segment, a live read for a charitable community event was scheduled.
Once the read was finished, I thought to myself, ‘they could not have cared less about that event, or what they were reading. No talent fee, no care huh?’
Reality check: When you don’t care about something, it shows through your voice. Very few anchors are members of the Screen Actors Guild. And if the audience thinks that you don’t care, what’s to stop them from listening to someone else. As we mentioned before, there are plenty of options.
I remember being new to a market – I’ve moved a ton during my career thus far – and attending two separate run/walk events in the same weekend. Both were emcee’d by local news talents who not only were personally attached to the causes supported, but both who I watched take time to meet-and-greet people in attendance. So, when learning the market and deciding which morning news to watch, guess who I tuned in to?
People want to tune in to people they relate to and like.
It’s a simple connection, but their authenticity off the microphone made me want to watch them for important news information. If they would have been total duds, I would have skipped right over their channel on the guide.
This isn’t just for charities either.
Showing love for local restaurants, attending sporting events, really embracing the local vibes, will undoubtedly go a long way in being accepted and trusted by the market.
This isn’t 1950 any more, when the local news anchor was born, raised and played a JV sport at the high school down the block. Millennials, like myself, move around and try new cities and different markets. It’s important we make ourselves more of adoptee than a transplant.
Gaining trust in your market is as much sales related as it is content. When I lived in Cleveland, I never thought I’d root for the Browns, much less attend games and tailgates – when I wasn’t even working – and while my team was on TV. But integrating myself into that community was important, and it paid off. And although they won a total of one football game my entire time living there, I still look at their box score on Sunday’s and hope to see a victory.
Anchoring, and being a local personality (not a fan of the word celebrity), is an around the clock gig. You have to almost always be ‘on.’ But once listeners realizer that you’re not very different after all, and you both like IPAs and care about the success of the local food bank, you’ll make a fan who won’t scroll straight past your broadcast next time.
In addition to creating great daily content, and being a trust worthy outlet, just remember to actually care. It goes much further than you think.
Identity Politics Are Hurting Democrats At The Ballot Box
The constant efforts by Democrats to divide Americans by race and ethnicity is clearly coming back to bite them at the ballot box.
Those are the ever-increasing sounds of the “canary in the coal mine,” foreshadowing the ongoing shift of Hispanic Americans away from identity pandering and toward the Republican party.
A few days ago, radio talk-show host Erick Erickson discussed this phenomenon on his program, detailing the shift that began being noticed a few years ago and continues in full force.
“Texas Monthly did a big story, and it turns out that Hispanic voters in south Texas if you force them to identify as a race, as opposed to an ethnicity, they identify as white,” Erickson began. “And they’re embracing what the media views as “whiteness,” which is they’re voting Republican.”
Erickson details how the increase in Hispanic voters is, contrary to Democrat predictions, making Texas, among other states, more Republican.
“Now there’s this, from of all places, NBC News. Here’s the headline… Democrats Warn of Canary in the Coal Mine for Latino Voters in California Recall,” he quoted. “Here’s the subtitle… While California voters voted to keep Governor Gavin Newsom in office, they did so by a smaller margin than Democrats have won in the past.”
Erickson continued to quote the story, saying “Donald Trump got a historic number of Latino votes in 2020, and you can claim it was because of this or because of that, but it’s not like Larry Elder broke through for these folks. There is something else going on,” said Michael Trujillo, a Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles, referring to the leading Republican candidate in the failed recall attempt.”
The article from NBC reported that California voters sided with Newsom and against the recall 60-40. This is a slightly smaller margin than Newsom and California Democrats have enjoyed in the past, as Newsom won 64% in his previous election. In contrast, black voters broke 83-17 for Newsom, while Asian voters picked Newsom by a spread of 64-36.
“It looks like Latino voters, even in California, are drifting away from the Democrats,” Erickson noted. “Now, not at such an alarming rate as they are in places such as Colorado, and in Texas, and in Florida, but they are. And it presents a problem for the Democrats.”
Erickson says his theory is different from what the media is pushing as the reason for this shift. His belief is that “Latino voters are historically immigrants to this country, surprise. And as immigrants to the United States, they are focused on America and being an American. So when you have Democratic candidates who try to treat them as Latino voters, you are treating them as something other than an American voter.”
As he continued, Erickson detailed how this covert racism against Hispanic Americans is creating a boomerang effect from the very people the Democratic party has been talking down to.
“They want desperately to have the American dream. Here come Democrats, telling them that they are oppressed by white people and they can’t have the American dream,” Erickson opined. “Meanwhile, the Latino voters are thinking, I can have the American dream.”
Erickson says Hispanic voters want politicians to pay attention to them not as Hispanic voters, but as Americans. At the same time, he believes the Republican party has often erred with phony outreach toward the Hispanic American community.
“It’s some white dude in his 20’s, who learned Spanish from Rosetta Stone and shows up and says “Hola Mi Amigos.” Nobody wants to pay attention to that guy. Just treat them like Americans,” he said.
Erickson, backed by the data from recent elections, pointed out that the right approach is by talking to all groups simply as Americans, based on shared concerns and common-sense solutions.
“That was the secret of what Donald Trump did,” the one-time “Never-Trumper” pointed out, citing Trump’s ability to improve conditions for all Americans, rather than cherry-picking based on race, gender, or ethnicity. “Donald Trump did not go talk to Hispanic voters as Hispanic voters. He didn’t even talk to them in Spanish. By and large, Donald Trump just talked to these people as Americans. As people who were hard workers. As people who needed a job. As people who saw loved ones go to jail. And it worked for him.”
Erickson summed up by saying the constant efforts by Democrats to divide Americans by race and ethnicity is clearly coming back to bite them at the ballot box.
“So keep on playing identity politics, Democrats,” Erickson concluded. “It’s amazing what happens when you divide up people by the color of their skin. They think you’re racist and don’t like you.”
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