Sweeps Week Resource Kit | January 2009
During sweeps weeks television networks engage in fierce competition for ratings and advertisement sales. Usually in February, May, July and November, networks air first-run programming as opposed to repeats featuring guest stars, controversial and unexpected plots or topics, extended episodes and finales in order to grab audience attention.
News programs also compete in sweeps programming, often airing poorly researched investigative reports with controversial topics and sensational headlines. At GLAAD, we have seen that these kinds of news stories can perpetuate social stigma and prejudice towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and undo important strides local communities have made towards fair, accurate and inclusive representation of LGBT people and events in the media.
Community organizations play a vital role in responding to sensational sweeps coverage with their own anti-defamation campaigns. With this Sweeps Weeks Toolkit, GLAAD encourages community members to contact stations that air sensational coverage about the LGBT community and tell them how such stories spread inaccurate or defamatory myths about us.
NIELSEN RATINGS AND SWEEPS PROGRAMMING
Nielsen Media Research uses “ratings” to analyze audience numbers and demographics. Ratings measure who is watching a show as a way to determine which advertisers would be the best fit, and they indicate how many people are watching a program to establish how much stations should charge advertisers to air their ads.
Ratings are collected through “diaries” (extensive surveys) and “set meters” (devices connected to every television in selected households). Television ratings are not an exact science, but they are a powerful force in determining the programming in an industry where millions of dollars are at stake every day.
“Sweeps” are designated months when Nielsen Media Research measures ratings of TV programs and the data are used by local stations and cable systems to set advertising rates and to make program decisions. The term “sweep” originated in the 1950s, when Nielsen Media Research mailed and processed diaries to sample households, starting with the East Coast and “sweeping” across the nation.
IMPACT OF SENSATIONAL PROGRAMMING IN SWEEPS WEEKS
Given that millions of dollars are on the line daily, television networks often employ unusual and, at times, irresponsible means of attracting viewers during sweeps. Sometimes local sensational sweeps coverage can be catapulted into the national spotlight if left unchecked, highlighting the important role community organizations play in responding to defamatory coverage in the media.
For example, on February 28, 2007, local ABC24 and CW30 affiliates in Memphis, Tennessee aired the report Gays Taking Over, which made false claims about “lesbian gangs” preying on women in the community. One June 21, 2007, the Fox News Channel aired a similar episode on The O’Reilly Factor about a Lesbian Gang Epidemic in America, claiming that there were more than 150 such gangs in the Washington, D.C. area alone. After GLAAD pointed out that the information reported was grossly exaggerated, O’Reilly admitted to his report’s shortcomings only after citing the Memphis story as a precursor to his show’s report.
HOW YOUR LGBT COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION CAN RESPOND TO DEFAMATORY SWEEPS COVERAGE
The progress made by local organizations working to advance LGBT visibility and equality often takes place over time. If a local organization has made steady gains on LGBT issues and an inaccurate or defamatory sweeps story airs, it can cast the whole community in an inaccurate, defamatory light and compromise the work of local advocates.
During sweeps weeks, GLAAD is asking our constituents to actively monitor and respond to defamatory or offensive television programming. Please consider the following suggestions about responding to harmful sweeps coverage and working with local media to promote fair, accurate and inclusive coverage of LGBT people and events.
Before the story airs:
Contact the station and request material for review.
Once you or a community member has seen the teaser ad, contact the station and request a copy of the segment or at least a copy of the teaser ad for review. In some cases, a problematic teaser does not necessarily indicate that the segment itself will be problematic, but it is often an important early warning indicator.
Contact GLAAD to discuss effective media strategies.
See the list of community resources below to contact a GLAAD media strategist and/or an LGBT organization in your area.
Make an assessment.
Is the story fair, accurate and inclusive? Does it accurately cite statistics and research and use appropriate spokespeople? Is the story the only recent one about the LGBT community or is it one of many? If coverage of the LGBT community is limited to one report, it can run the risk of unfairly representing LGBT people.
Reach out to the station and detail the problems and inaccuracies in the story.
Tell the station what’s problematic about the segment. How does it affect the perspectives of viewers? Does the coverage show a limited view of the LGBT community? Does it cause harm by condoning discrimination or influencing how legislators vote on issues concerning the civil rights of LGBT people? In rare cases, does the coverage incite violence?
Provide suggestions, resources and spokespeople.
Based on your assessment and overall approach, provide suggestions to the station, share resources like GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide and other publications (available at www.glaad.org), and offer trained spokespeople for the station’s present or future reports on LGBT issues.
If the story runs anyway:
Write and distribute a media release.
Hold the station accountable for its choice to air programming that portrays our community unfairly or inaccurately. Inform the press with a media release. Include the station’s contact information in your release (e.g., e-mail and phone numbers of news executives, reporters, etc.).
Mobilize your constituency.
Describe your communication with the station. Let your constituents know whom to contact to get involved. Identify local community members and trained spokespeople who can speak to the issue in response to the defamatory coverage (e.g., local LGBT leaders, the clergy, straight allies, parents, educators, elected officials, etc.).
Hold a press conference.
Bring attention to the issue and your organization’s work in addressing the problem by securing a venue and voicing your concern in a public forum. Invite your constituents and local media with a media alert.
Secure positive news coverage.
Pitch stories and events to local media outlets, send your release and offer trained spokespeople who are available for interviews. Speakers can be local professionals, straight allies, parents, the clergy, and members of your organization’s constituency or staff.
You can also file an incident report with GLAAD.
For more information on working with the media, visit GLAAD’s Media Essentials training manual.
LIST OF COMMUNITY RESOURCES
State Advocacy Organizations
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)