TV stations don’t spy on each other with secret cameras or listening devices — but they do keep close tabs on each other.
Producers and assignment desk editors typically watch multiple broadcasts at a time while their own show is on air. They’re keeping track of what stories the competition covers, but especially the lead (or first) story. On topics of interest, they are noting what interviews and other direct and indirect evidence the competition got, along with the angles covered and the context provided.
But, just like news lit students learn to look for what ISN’T there, so do broadcast news journalists. They notice if top reporters aren’t in the newscast or if a station skipped a ho-hum story that everyone else was covering — these are signs that the competition might be working on something big.
They also monitor social media posts from the competition. Sometimes a reporter or anchor might tip off a big story with a tweet. Reporters are encouraged to tweet about the news they cover, but they also need to be tightlipped when their tweets might alert a competing station in time to send a crew and match the otherwise exclusive story.
I was always careful to monitor tweets sent to the competition. Often regular people will tweet news tips to a station — and when they sent a tip to my competition, I got it at the same time.
As cutthroat as the competition can be between local TV news stations, it’s important to remember that the individual reporters, editors and show producers are often friends with their counterparts at other stations. It’s common for someone to start working at NY1 and then get a job at WNBC or WABC. There are editors who have worked for all of the local TV stations in New York City at some point. So while the competition between institutions can be intense, relations between individuals are often congenial. You never know when your competitor will suddenly become your colleague.