Why are White House coronavirus briefings at such a strange time?
The daily White House coronavirus task force briefings in the 5 to 6 p.m. eastern block is a yet another mess for TV producers to deal with as they try to get coronavirus news and updates out to viewers.
On the east coast, most TV stations would be on the air with 5 p.m. local news at the time and many central time zone stations are airing 4 p.m. news.
Mountain and Pacific time viewers are less affected because it’s 3 and 2 p.m. local time, respectively at 5 p.m. eastern, when many stations are in the middle of syndicated programming (one notable exception is “ABC World News Tonight” that airs at 3:30 p.m. local time in Los Angeles).
So far, most networks have stuck to offering special reports with these briefings live, despite at least one prominent cable anchor’s calls to stop doing so because of what she calls often unhinged nature of the events with conflicting information.
Local stations have been largely carrying the special reports from their respective networks as well.
The other challenge, on the network side, is that 6:30 p.m. eastern is when the first feed of evening newscasts start and the daily briefings often come very close to that time.
Some networks are also offering “post briefing” analysis that leads right up to 6:30 p.m. eastern evening news broadcasts.
On Sunday, March 22, 2020, in fact, the briefing ended up covering the network newscasts in the eastern and central time zones, though full editions were still produced and made available online and for the other time zones.
Why, exactly, the White House has picked this time for these briefings is a bit of a strange choice in many ways — first, it’s removing opportunities for a lot of local stations to get important information out to viewers.
Plus, the tighter turnaround makes it just a bit more challenging for networks to include briefing content in their evening newscasts (though with today’s technology, it’s much easier to do a fast turnaround).
Taking a cynical view, meanwhile, one could wonder if having briefings cover local news and run right into evening newscasts could be a strategic way to “control the messaging.”