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Fiscal Cliff Notes

WUSA, the Gannett TV station in Washington, decided the “fiscal cliff” was a local news story big enough, complicated enough and important enough to warrant a new approach to informing viewers.

With negotiations between the White House and Congress representing what WUSA news director Fred D’Ambrosi calls D.C.’s “Detroit moment,” the station is running a series of “9 News Fiscal Cliff Notes” informational spots to help folks better understand the process.

That coverage includes on-air and online stories, and asks politicians to answer two questions: What are you willing to compromise on, and what are you willing to give up if you fail—some of your pay or vacation, for example.

D’Ambrosi said his staff brainstormed about covering the story and decided “a lot of people understood it was important but didn’t understand really what it was.”

They came up with the idea of using some of the promotional department’s PSA inventory to air short interstitials, which they christened Fiscal Cliff Notes, to run four or five times a day featuring informational spots about the potential impact of a budget stalemate on the Washington area, hosted by their main news anchors.

D’Ambrosi said when the news staff talked with the promotions department, they concluded they couldn’t just cover it once and say, “we did that story.” He maintained that even doing a story in several newscasts across all dayparts on a single day, there would still be people who would not get the info. “That was when we got the idea of it being more of a promotion/public service announcement that outlined different parts of the story, which meant it would run in many different dayparts over many different days.”

The spots are prerecorded with anchors and written to fit in a one-minute format. The spots began airing Nov. 19 and will run until the end of December, when the country either runs off that cliff or legislators compromise on a budget deal that avoids indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts.

The station has also teamed with online to give viewers a chance to find and email their congressman or senators. WUSA also has added a calculator on its website that allows viewers to put in their salaries and see how Democratic and Republican plans would affect them.