Thursday, August 27
First things first. I haven’t got a single bad thing to say about Ron. I enjoyed working with him, and I respect his talent and his drive. From my vantage point (here on the outside) I think he’s done a decent job over his three-and-a-half years in the hot seat, ATC/UTC. If you want to say something different, you can post a comment below. I’m just not feeling in a Ron-bashing mood. I’m sure he did his best ATC/UTC.
That’s my phrase to describe everything at Nexstar: All Things Considered/Under the Circumstances. You can read in my posts here how disappointed I was, how miserable I was, every single day I worked at WBRE. Any success I might have had in the past was in building news departments. Maybe it’s a shortcoming on my part, but I was never very good at dismantling things. My biggest accomplishment at WBRE was that I was able to do (I thought) a fairly decent job of disguising the cuts I was forced to make against my better judgment. I wasn’t built to manage a shoe factory, to rely solely on the bottom line in making news decisions. So I was out of step, out of touch, and then out of work. So it goes.
ATC/UTC I thought Ron did a pretty good job of keeping the WBRE news product inching in the right direction during very troubling times.
His legacy, unfortunately, is that he will always be remembered most as the news director who shut down WYOU-TV’s news department. A CBS affiliate in a (roughly) top-fifty market without a news department, without local news? Who’d have thought it could happen? Obviously, Nexstar thought it could/should happen, and it fell to Ron to make it happen. But it wasn’t his fault, really. I can’t imagine that he dreamed up the idea. As I said in another posting, WYOU hit the iceberg a long, long time ago. Ron just happened to be standing on the bridge when the ship finally sank.
So why is Ron out? I honestly don’t know. Don’t have a clue. Some sort of “smoking gun” that made his firing inevitable? I can’t imagine what it might be. Or did he resign?
I’m tempted to say it’s just showbiz. It’s just Nexstar, once again throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. “Well, that didn’t work, let’s try something else.” In many cases that means, “Let’s try someONE else.” Good luck to whoever sits in that seat next.
How many have there been since the late, much-honored Tom Bigler? I’m not sure even I know them all. But in there somewhere was a Larry, a Micah, a Terry, an Al and a Paul. Oh ... and a Ron. I might have missed someone.
I guess it’s like being a pro basketball coach. I love this quote: “The day a coach is hired, he’s also fired. We just haven’t worked out the timetable.”
Thursday, August 13
This, of course is the man who killed off local news on WYOU-TV (and the entire news department with it). I guess his "vision" for the future of WYOU didn't quite match the vision of the people who had worked there for 10, 20 or 30 years. But that's television, and we don't "do" TV anymore!
A friend commented that making Sook "Broadcaster of the Year" is like giving Hitler a humanitarian award for ending overcrowding in the Jewish ghettos.
B&C Names Perry Sook Broadcaster of the Year
Nexstar chairman, president and CEO will be honored September 10
By B&C Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/11/2009 12:30:00 PM EDT
"B&C has made an outstanding choice," said TVB President Chris Rohrs. "Perry pioneered the retransmission-consent revenue stream and has been a staunch advocate of multiplatform development. He is one of the industry's great innovators and visionaries."
Sook is hailed as a pioneer who fought cable operators for retransmission-consent cash back when nearly all in broadcasting were content to sit on the sidelines.
Nexstar also this year added CW affiliate WCWJ in Jacksonville, the group's first station in Florida and the 63rd for which it provides sales, programming or other services.
Under Sook, the company also cut a deal this year to provide management services for the seven stations owned by Four Points Media Group, an affiliate of Cerberus Capital Management.
Sook currently serves as a director of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, the Television Bureau of Advertising and as a trustee for the Ohio University Foundation.
The B&C Broadcaster of the Year award has been presented at TVB events since 2002.
Previous Broadcasters of the Year include Meredith's Paul Karpowicz, Gannett's Roger Ogden, Belo's Jack Sander, Post-Newsweek's Alan Frank, Hearst's David Barrett, Tribune Co.'s Dennis FitzSimons and Fox Television's Dennis Swanson (when he was general manager of WNBC New York).
Sunday, August 9
Up for discussion: WNEP-TV'S "Gerbil Racing". Discuss amongst yourselves and report back.
Our first comment (below) came complete with pictures of Bobby Gunther Walsh and J. Kristopher. Heck ... Dialing for Dollars was even before my time!
Friday, August 7
16 on 16.
WNEP is adding yet another half-hour local newscast (it's 16th) to its weekday lineup, at four in the afternoon. Sixteen half-hours of news a day!
You know the old police motto, "To Protect and Serve"? I think this is all about serving and protecting. Yeah, it's about serving the viewers, but that's its secondary purpose. It's really much, much more about protecting jobs. And since I'm for jobs, and for broadcasting, I salute the station and its managers.
So as of September 8th, the Newswatch 16 lineup will include local half-hours at 5:00 a.m., 5:30, 6:00, 6:30, 12:00 p.m., 4:00, 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, 7:00, 10:00 (on WOLF, the FOX affiliate), and 11:00 p.m. That's still not counting the four half-hour live newscasts produced specifically for and aired on WNEP-2, the station's cable and Internet channel from 7:00-9:00 a.m. each weekday morning.
Do we really need all that news? C'mon, fess up: the audience doesn't. WNEP does ... as a way to justify it's (relatively) expensive news operation.
What can I tell you. Up until the Internet came along, there were two ways to make more money in broadcasting: charge more for your commercial minutes or find more commercial minutes!
Actually, I'm old enough to remember when stations did both! Coming out of the 60s, when NBC stations (the leaders) signed off at 1:00 a.m. after the Tonight show and signed on again at 7:00 a.m. for the Today show, it was easy to find more minutes. Simply run old movies overnight. Or repeat the 11:00 p.m. news at 1:00 a.m.. Or (and this was the brilliant part) put on your own local newscast at 6:30 a.m.! Then, in the 70s, as news gained in popularity it was easy to charge more because you were delivering more "eyeballs" to advertisers.
These days with stations programmed 24/7 and audiences shrinking it's tough to find more minutes or charge more for them. The Internet may be what they call a "revenue stream" someday. It doesn't seem to be there yet.
What do you say when the corporate bosses come around asking for budget cuts in every department, asking you to reduce your "head count"? You say, "Wait ... we need every single 'body' in the News Department ... because ... uh ... we're starting another newscast! Yeah ... that's the ticket ... another newscast."
So you take your news and production budgets and spread them over more newscasts, and subtract the savings for the syndicated program you now won't be buying to fill the slot, and voila! Corporate goes away happy.
When I became WNEP's news director in 1983, the station was airing news at 6:30 a.m., 12 Noon, 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. I desperately wanted to add another dinnertime half-hour: 5:00 or 5:30.
I made my case ... repeatedly ... to GM Elden Hale. Finally he said to me, "What kind of additional staff would you be talking about?"
"Well, we do four half-hours a day with a staff of 50. I think I could add another half-hour with just twelve more people."
If you know Elden, you know he's not one to bust a gut laughing. He's not a knee-slapping, fall-on-the-floor-in-hysterics kind of guy. But this time he came close to doing one of those Laurel & Hardy spit-takes with his coffee.
In the end I got what I really hoped for in the first place which was, if I remember, a staff increase of 5 or 6 people.
I think over the years the WNEP staff grew to more than 60 ... maybe even 70 ... but I think it's down again. Of course, I don't know how many people are involved in the web site. I also know that computers and advanced electronics and "one-man bands" have made news gathering more efficient. But I don't care how many people on your staff, you're spreading them pretty thin (if you ask me) to produce eight hours of news programming a day. That's more than a 400% increase in news product in the last 25 years!
Of course, it's the same everywhere. I came to WNEP straight from WABC in New York. when I left we were producing 2 1/2 hours of news a day with a staff of 245 (including 22 two-person video crews, 11 of them in live trucks)! Today they're still #1, but doing way more with way less.
The trick is repeat, repeat, repeat! I've said here before that less news ... less real news ... is being covered in this market than at any time I can remember. Hey, I love spot news as much as the next guy (OK, maybe more). But do we have to cover every single fender bender and every single vacant house fire? I said in an earlier post, that's not reporting that's covering.
I'm sure everyone feels ridden hard and pout away wet these days, especially when you add in the demands of the Internet presence.
I remember, though, that way back when I thought we were stretching Chief Meteorologist Tom Clark pretty thin by having him do so many weathercasts. Does today's announcement mean he'll appear in six half-hours broadcasts a day? And Joe Snedeker shows up multiple times in eight half-hours?
More work ... the same (or fewer) people. That's the troubling "media math" in 2009.
Friday, July 24
Manny Gordon has passed away at 97.
I was Manny's best friend. Of course, I guess it was a 500,000-person tie: Manny treated everyone he met as a new best friend. He wasn't like a politician who remembers your name, your wife's and where your kids go to school. Manny was genuinely fascinated by everyone he ever met. Maybe because of that, people were drawn to him. He honestly had a magnetic personality. Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn't like. He gets credit for the quote. I credit Manny Gordon for the attitude.
I guess there's a chance some of you reading this never heard of Manny Gordon, never got to know him. I don't have the skills to put words together in a way that would let you know the treat you missed.
I met Manny for the first time when I came to WNEP in 1983. Let's see, using all my fingers and toes to do the math, that still means Manny was 71 when I first knew him. I was told he was a retired district forester for the State Bureau of Forestry, once responsible for overseeing more that a million acres of land in five counties in northeastern Pennsylvania.
He was such an educator and ambassador for conservation (he was "eco-friendly" before any of us even knew what "ecology" meant) that he quickly became the go-to guy for local newspapers, radio and TV on a variety of outdoors topics. Most foresters are publicity-shy. Not Manny Gordon. He had a message he was dying to spread, a message about caring for our natural resources, and he wanted to shout if from the rooftops! So it was a simple thing for him to continue appearing on local TV after his retirement. His catchphrase, "Enjoy, ENJOY" was applied to, at various times, "the greatest show on earth" (the state's fall colors) and "Pennsylvania's outdoor wonders" and all manner of nature topics.
I can't think of anything that could bring a smile to your face quicker than walking down the street with him and having people, beaming, come to up say "Enjoy, ENJOY" and pump his hand. He was the most approachable "star" I've ever known.
He was so popular and so well known that he started appearing on WNEP telethons and in parades and on various other programs. Elden Hale once offered Manny a job, which was promptly turned down. Elden tells me that Manny later kidded him that all he turned down was money: that he wound up working for WNEP anyway!
I didn't ask Elden, but I'm sure he'd say Manny's "job" at WNEP was Goodwill Ambassador Without Portfolio. Elden wrote me a note today saying that with his passing Manny, " . . . left a large warm footprint."
It's hard to feel bad for a man who led so long and productive life, who touched so many people, who spread so much joy, who had so many friends. But if you're sad, as I am, maybe it's because his megawatt smile is missing from our lives.
For now. But we still have memories of our friend, don't we?
Thanks, Manny. Put in a good word for me in heaven: if anyone's going there, you are! Enjoy, ENJOY the experience!
Saturday, July 18
Walter Cronkite was America's first anchorman. Literally.
He got the title from Don Hewitt, who later gained his greatest fame as the creator of 60 Minutes. Hewitt was looking for a term to describe the role he wanted 35-year-old Walter Cronkite to play as the main "presenter" during CBS' coverage of the Democratic and Republican political conventions in 1952. He wanted a team effort, all of the CBS News stars working as a unit, a relay team, with one man handling the "anchor leg." That man was Walter Cronkite, and he became the model for every anchor everywhere in the world ever since. Now he's dead at 92.
My purpose here isn't to offer a definitive obituary or a ringing eulogy. Far more learned people are writing lengthy (and well-deserved) tributes. My purpose here is to be brief and to be personal.
Quite simply: Walter Cronkite narrated my life and got me interested in television news.
There really was no television news until November 22, 1963. The CBS Evening News had recently expanded from 15 minutes to a half-hour. Affiliates of the three networks broadcast from roughly 7:00 in the morning (The Today Show) until 1:00 a.m., then signed off with the "Star Spangled Banner." TV was in black-and-white, there was no videotape, no local microwave trucks or satellites. Any story--every story shot in the field--had to be processed and edited and sent down an AT&T line to New York for broadcast.
It was, by today's standards, primitive. And then John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and Walter Cronkite told the world.
"From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: "President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time." 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago."
Few living Americans had experienced the shock and grief of a presidential assassination. All Americans gathered around their televisions. It was the first time TV had become the focal point for news and information. It had immediacy, it had impact: and Walter Cronkite on CBS and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC became our town criers.
I remember watching NBC, live, two days later when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, with Correspondent Tom Pettit doing, literally, the play-by-play. LIVE! Nothing like it had ever been seen before.
There was no sign-off that weekend. The networks stayed on round-the-clock: sometimes with news, but often, overnight, with prayer services and memorial concerts and political round-tables. Television became our national church.
I was 16 back then. They let us out of Mrs. Wagner's algebra class that Friday afternoon and sent us home, where our mothers and fathers tried to explain to us that the world was going to go on. They were reassuring, but were they sure?
America stopped that day. And when it restarted it was a different country and a different world and television was at the center of it. Suddenly TV news was an indispensable service--like electricity, or running water, or your phone--you had to have it.
And I think I decided then that I wanted to be a part of it.
Walter Cronkite narrated our collective journey over the next two decades. When he expressed his doubts about the Vietnam war, President Lyndon Johnson new it was a lost cause. Martin Luther King was assassinated, and Bobby Kennedy, and rioting broke out in the streets (and in the halls at the Democratic National Convention in Mayor Daly's Chicago), and Walter Cronkite gave it to us straight. When men landed on the Moon, it was Walter Cronkite who showed us it was OK to show tears of joy on television.
Somewhere in there I got out of college and went to work in television news.
CBS didn't do any really original reporting on Richard Nixon's Watergate scandals: but when Managing Editor Walter Cronkite decided to focus his broadcast's attention on it, Watergate reached what we today would call a "tipping point." Nixon resigned not long after.
Why? Because Cronkite was seen as (and named in a nationwide poll as) "the Most Trusted Man in America."
He was larger than life, but never larger than the story.
A final note. I met him once, for about ten seconds: time enough to shake his hand. I missed my big opportunity by a couple of months.
I joined WISH-TV in Indianapolis in the summer of 1976, at the height of the Carter-Ford political campaign, but after the primaries. So I missed the night Cronkite and company came to town to cover Jimmy Carter's primary campaign as it swung through the heartland.
The way the story goes, the phone rang in the newsroom late one night and a voice said, "THIS ... is WALL-turr CRON-kite. I need directions to your station."
The intern who answered the phone said, "Nice try, but not a very good imitation" and hung up phone. A half-hour later there was a knock on one of the the full-length windows that glassed in the newsroom. Outside were Walter Cronkite and a CBS production crew numbering about ten!
And that's the way that was!
Tuesday, June 30
One item caught my attention this morning. It seems that after 28 years at WDAF-TV in Kansas City, sports anchor Frank Boal is calling it quits: tonight's his last night. He's taking an early retirement package at the age of 62. James links to an article quoting Boal about his decision and his departure: "It was just one of those things where, being 62 and at the very end of my contract, and with the uncertainty of the future, that had a lot to do with taking the buyout."
Interesting ... and all too common, I'm afraid. But the last line of the NewsBlues story really caught my attention.
Wait a minute: Local TV LLC, the outfit that bought WNEP in this market not too long ago? A buyout deadline coming up this week for all its stations? Big-bucks buyouts for anyone 55+ with 15+ years of service?
"Local TV LLC offered a lucrative buyout to all of its employees age 55 or older with at least 15 years of service. The deadline for taking the offer is this week."
I've been racking my brain. There are still some old-timers--several of them--who've been at WNEP for 25+ years. I hired some of them. But they were all in their 20s when they started out. I'm not sure who's over 55 and eligible for this "lucrative buyout."
Anyone know who's eligible? Anyone know who's taking a hike?
Saturday, June 27
Local television stations saw their revenue from advertising sales drop by $3.5 million in 2008 to $56 million, down from $59.5 million in 2007, according to a report issued by BIA Financial Network Inc., a Virginia-based market research firm.
It marked the second year in a row that local stations saw revenues fall. In 2006, revenues from advertising hit a six-year high with stations collecting a combined $62.4 million ...
Top-rated WNEP-TV, the local ABC affiliate, raked in an estimated $27 million last year, which accounted for 48.2 percent of the total local revenue, down from 50.1 percent in 2007. WBRE-TV, the local NBC affiliate, had an estimated $11.5 million, or 20.5 percent, of the advertising revenue, down slightly from 20.6 percent in 2007.
WYOU-TV (CBS) earned an estimated $9.4 million, or 16.8 percent, up from 15.5 percent in 2007.
--Scranton Times-Tribune, 06/26/09
I haven't posted here in awhile. Sorry.
The reason is that I haven't been watching much television news. Sorry!
And the reason for that is my topic here today.
Let me say, up front, that I'm sure I'm as prone as the next (old) guy to "Old Fart Emeritus Disease."
Dagnabbit, ya goldurn young whippersnappers, none of youse knows that Chevy ain't made a good car since they took off them tailfins and them white sidewalls, consarn it!
You know what I'm talking about. I imagine I've got a bit of that in me. But even if you're not a grumpy old curmudgeon like me, you have to admit the news business--newspapers, radio, TV--ain't what it used to be. So I don't watch TV news: or at least I don't watch much of it, because there's not much to watch.
Don't get me wrong. Here in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market we've got oodles and oodles of news (noodles?). With WYOU-TV out of the news business, we're still left with two stations: WNEP (juggernaut!) and WBRE (also-ran). that between them air a live newscast each weekday at 5:00 a.m., 5:30, 6:00, 6:30, 11:00, 12:00 p.m., 5:00, 5:30, 6:00, 6:30, 10:00 (WNEP for WOLF) and 11:00 p.m.
In addition, WNEP produces two additional live hours of local news (7:00-9:00 a.m.) for 24-hour cable and the Internet ... and repeats all its newscasts pretty much 24/7 on cable and the Internet. The station is trying to make the move to other delivery platforms. You have to give them credit for trying to move forward.
Want to know what I watch? I sit with the clicker in my hand at 6:00 every night and bounce back and forth between 16 and 28. In the first six minutes I figure I've seen everything each one has to offer. Many nights it takes less than six minutes. Then I'm outa there, because I know that everything else is filler and fluff, and that it will be repeated again ... and again ... and again. Now that I think about it, I'm convinced that these days there are only four or five stories worthy of airtime on any given day!
That's right. All those newscasts, and there's LESS LOCAL NEWS being covered than ever before! Remember the long-time 1010 WINS all-news radio slogan: "You Give Us 22 Minutes, We'll give You the World?" Not around here. It doesn't take 22 minutes. Has no one noticed that the Emperor has no clothes?
And here's something else I've found. There's very little reporting going on anymore—only covering. Here's where I have to give WBRE a lot of credit. It's the only station routinely doing hard-hitting reporting in the market.
I'm disappointed in WNEP. I've written here that 30+ years ago, when Elden Hale was News Director, 16 decided to make it's rep by covering more stories in the outlying counties than WBRE or what was then WDAU. It worked! But in those days 16 still believed in reporting. The idea was to prove yourself every day the only place it counted ... in the street! Reporting! Saddle up!
These days it's covering. The typical WNEP newscast goes something like this: "We were in Scranton at this murder ... and in Wilkes-Barre at this stabbing ... and in Pottsville at this fire ... and in Shenandoah at this arraignment ... and in Stroudsburg at this convenience store robbery ... and in Bloomsburg at this fender-bender. We also got these still pictures sent in of a tree that fell during the storm in Williamsport ... and a car stuck in a creek in Towanda." What passes for reporting these days at WNEP is sticking a mic out at the "perp walk" and asking, Did you do it?
No one at WNEP is doing investigative reporting. It's been left to WBRE to break the big stories—foreign exchange students housed in deplorable conditions (leading to a grand jury investigation)—and possible double-dipping on vacation pay by Luzerne County employees (big policy changes promised). Those are two recent exclusives that spring to mind. And you know what? No one is watching! WNEP is still top-dog. Why? Because 16 is a habit.
WNEP is getting by on "star power:" three or four big names who have been there forever—Marisa Burke, Scott Schaffer; Tom Clark and Joe Snedeker on the weather.
For the rest of it, they've prettied up and dumbed down the product by hiring some terrific looking reporters who (on a good day) can find the courthouse (because they all have GPS units, right?). Don't get me wrong: some of them (most of them?) will probably have bright futures in TV news (if you'll grant the premise that there might actually BE a future for TV news). It's just that WNEP, still one of the most dominant TV stations in the country, used to be a destination for solid reporters who had experience and wanted to further develop their skills and sink roots in the community. Anymore it's just another stop along the way for bright kids looking to make their mark and move on.
What's the average age of the last five reporters hired at WNEP? How many area natives on the 16 staff these days? How many staffers plan to stay? What's the turnover rate? I rest my case.
So I watch WBRE to see what they're breaking—and they put on a consistently solid newscast given their financial limitations (tiny budget, smaller staff, fewer tools). They hustle! And I flip to WNEP a few times to see which convenience store was robbed overnight.
WNEP still knows the game plan. They must have copies of the original, from back in Elden's day, in a drawer somewhere. And whenever a new employee is hired, they make a copy of the copy of the copy and pass it out. And you know what happens to third or fourth-generation copies: they're faded and blurry and hard to read.
But WNEP sure looks good. They're just going through the motions, but the "product" looks good. They're just phoning it in, but it looks good.If you go for story count, not content, they look good. They're not flying the helicopter anymore, but hey: betcha Joe and Mary at home don't even notice anymore ... much.
Maybe that's because Joe and Mary aren't watching much local news anymore. Ever wonder what "People Meters" would tell you about news viewership in the market?
I'll bet they'd prove that my six minutes a night make me one of the more dedicated viewers out there.