The Friday Afternoon News Dump
By Grant Ainsley | Tips | [comments] | Posted [date]
You may have heard the term "Friday Afternoon News Dump" and wondered what it means. Perhaps you've heard the media complaining about the government releasing bad news late on a Friday afternoon.
Pull up a chair and I'll explain how the Friday Afternoon News Dump works and why governments use it so frequently. In fact, one level of government will accuse another of pulling the stunt and then a few weeks later, do the same thing.
We had a recent example in Alberta and it was textbook.
Getting the Bad News Out
Late last Friday afternoon, Alberta Heath Minister Tylor Shandro posted the following Tweet to confirm that he had decided to reject the arguments of the Mayors of four Alberta cities, over who should control and operate ambulance dispatch services.
It didn’t take long for the Mayors to respond on Twitter. Just minutes later, the following statement was released and they pointed out the Friday Afternoon News Dump trick used by Shandro.
The Jason Kenney government and its ministers are becoming famous for releasing bad news, or at least controversial news, late on Friday afternoons. This one was no exception. Shandro’s Tweet was sent a few minutes after 4pm, as everyone was getting ready for the weekend.
How the Game is Played
There’s a method to the Friday afternoon madness. Here’s the way it usually works.
Government Minister A makes an announcement containing bad news, or at least something that will cause controversy for taxpayers, the opposition, or other levels of government.
The media then calls the Minister to get some comments on why the decision was made. Unfortunately, the media is told the Minister is not available/has left for the weekend/is enroute to his or her constituency for the weekend. A spokesperson will usually say the announcement is quite straight forward in the media release or announcement, but if they want comment from the Minister it will have to wait until Monday.
The media then chases those who will be affected by the announcement for comment. Some have also left for the weekend. Others may not want to comment until they’ve had a chance to digest the information, or spoken to others about it. Normally the response from opposition politicians and others is far less impactful than it should be. They’ve been caught off guard too.
The government’s announcement appears on TV supper hour newscasts with little reaction from opposition politicians, because there wasn’t enough time to gather it. Saturday newspapers again carry the government announcement, perhaps with some reaction from the other side, but the lede to the story is still the government’s announcement and not heated reaction to it.
By the time everyone gets back in their offices on Monday, the story is yesterday’s news. Sometimes reaction to the announcement will get carried in the media, but by then it has lost its impact. It’s as limp as lettuce left on the counter for too long.
On the weekend, people are concerned about their own lives, their kids sports and visits with family. Unless it’s a huge story, people don’t follow the news nearly as closely on weekends as they do during the week when they have different routines. They might totally miss the late afternoon bad news announcement.
The Friday Afternoon News Dump has worked beautifully for years and it’s even more effective today.
Why the Media Hates the Move
Think of it from the media’s standpoint. It’s a Friday and it’s just human nature to start thinking about the weekend and some time off as you get closer to it.
Reporters must groan when they see a Tweet like Shandro’s from last Friday afternoon. They know how the game works. They know what’s about to happen in terms of the difficulty in gathering reaction and who really wants to start chasing down a story an hour or so before your weekend begins?
The Friday Afternoon News Dump works even better today than it used to. The mainstream media used to have some reporters working on weekends. If they needed to chase down reaction to a story it could be done. Now it’s much more difficult because of cutbacks. Newspapers in major cities only have one or two reporters working on weekends, TV stations might only have one and most radio stations turn out the lights on Friday afternoons when the last person leaves the newsroom.
The difference these days is social media. Announcements like the one Shandro made last Friday get kicked around on Twitter, but it’s usually the same people complaining about the government.
Government communications people know it and politicians quickly learn the Friday afternoon trick too. It happens at all levels of government and I’m willing to bet those Mayors who were upset by Shandro’s timing on Friday may have pulled the same trick themselves over the years.
By the way, if you execute the Friday Afternoon News Dump properly before a long weekend you score bonus points because most papers won’t publish again until the following Tuesday. Most Postmedia newspapers struggle to get anything new into their papers after about 6:30pm, so you may not read a thing about the bad news until Tuesday. Is it even news then?
The next time you see bad news announced late on a Friday afternoon, remember the Friday Afternoon News Dump. It works like a charm and that’s why they do it.
Image credit: CTV Edmonton
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