Saturday, June 27

. . . and Nothing But the Truth

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 anymoreonly 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 storiesforeign 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 foreverMarisa 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 breakingand 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.

Just sayin'.

Be well.


Anonymous said...


Your analysis is spot on. I spent many years in News at 16. I don't watch much local TV news anymore. When I do, I too flip back and forth between 16 and 28 -- often preferring 28. I have nothing against the staff at 16; they're some of TV's best people. If they had the upper management support they used to have in the NYT days, they'd still be doing real news. But the new owners have obviously gutted WNEP, forcing some talented people out of the picture, and forcing the remaining talented people to kowtow to the diktat of just filling the news-hole without concern for real reporting. I think back on all the great reporting of people like Bob Reynolds, Silvia Gambardella, Maddy Fitzgerald, and Joe Zone in Sports, to name just a few, and I regretfully see that the landscape is changing, evolving, and that TV news will never be the same. Still, 28 is at least giving journalism some effort; 16 is a shadow of its former self.

Anonymous said...

Eyewitness News's problem is that nobody knows what they are doing. Yes, they're out hustling 16. They're beating the pants off of them. Who knows.
Not the person who fills out the Nielsen diary in crayon.
God-forbid we should have electronic ratings.
WNEP could put up colarbars at 6 and 11 and still win.
Why even try?
Besides, WBRE/WYOU doesn't buy Nielsens,

Anonymous said...

While I can't speak specifically for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market these days (since I don't live there anymore) I know for a fact that your description of local TV news is correct for every market in the Northeast (where I travel.)
Because of the economic crunch in the broadcasting/advertising business, the money has dried up to support local TV news as we knew it...I fear we will never again see the kind of strong digging and reporting that we stressed in our news director days.
As you know most station these days are own by "investors" not local families with strong ties to the community, and those corporations have to answer to stockholders who only care about return on their investment. Doing good "journalism" is not part of the equation.
I tune into my local news for the top story and the weather, then tune in again for the national news at 6:30 PM, AND read the morning paper (or what's left of that institution!)

Anonymous said...

Poor WNEP. Except for their web page (and there are many, many better ones out there) 16 hasn't had a news innovation this century! The act is threadbare, but no one really notices because no one is really paying any attention.

tombech said...

Right on, brother! Ed and I are saving your rocker on the front porch of the Ole News Farts' Home where we regularly discuss the low state of local television news. Who cares? Well, it would appear that would be "no one." It's a different world.

Bill said...

I have to agree. I too am no longer in the S/WB market, and while I still tune into the 11 p.m. news, for the few top stories and the wx, I keep seeing more VNR's, and the thing that really burns me, is the obviously devious usage of fake live shots. No they are not putting the LIVE on the screen, but toss to the reporter, stand up open, some b-roll, stand up close. Ethics as well as reporting have taken a seat in the back of the bus.

do more with less, well guess what bean counters, there is only so much you can do with less.

Not that they care.
journalism is dead and TV news on life support.

Anonymous said...

Paul u are right on the money! 16 is just a shadow of what it once was...It's sad ;-(
No more investigative reporting (anyone remember Bob Reynolds reports on everything from vote fraud to finding toxic waste dumps?) The staff is too busy filling multiple newscasts. No more looking forward to go to work. If u really take a hard look @ 16 u will find that it's filled with court proceedings, turned around news releases, and once in awhile a story no one else has.
28 on the other hand has been turning around some good reports and some bad reports too..Some of their fact checking leaves a lot to be desired and the story fills a minute 30 but makes no sense. the there are the good stories. A friend of mine who works @ 16 says u know that the staff there does when that happens? Laughs, makes fun of it, but DEEP down they know they have been beat--BUT WILL NOT admit it.

Anonymous said...

A disturbing leftover from the Bob Absher regime. If 16 didn't cover it, it wasn't a story, and would NEVER get covered.

Now, with 19-year-olds covering the courthouse in W-B, with Mehalshick and Holden regularly kicking 16's behind, they pick nits ... and continue to run on reputation.

A quick glance at WNEP tells you they don't watch much news there--not even their own (sloppy) newscasts!

Anonymous said...

The "scoop" on the vacation pay that turned out to be a clerical error was huge. WBRE forgetting to cover Chiavarella's testimony in Allentown last week? That was huge too.

Tying My Shoes... said...

Ah, a 16 employee weighs in! I wasn't aware of any "clerical error." The last I heard Luzerne County officials were changing policies to prevent employees (lots of them) from taking vacation days (lots of them) without any accounting, allowing them to later claim unearned vacation pay.

But then again, I don't watch much news anymore.

Anonymous said...

Someone brought up Bob Absher and that got me thinking about one of his regular questions. He'd ask, "Why should I care?", when reporters suggested a story. If we couldn't answer, it wasn't likely to make air.

I didn't like it then, but years later realize it was a way to gauge whether viewers would be interested.

It's doubtful anyone asks that question now at WNEP. If they did, much of what passes as a news story wouldn't be seen.

Anonymous said...

Judging by how many people are watching I guess the why-should-I-care question is being answered quite well. Maybe WBRE should be asking if people care what THEY are reporting on.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that question was ever asked at WBRE or WYOU.

Can't say we'll ever know why so many people watch WNEP. None of the owners today would pay for the research.

Anonymous said...

9:29 AM--
Look at the ratings, not the shares. WNEP continues to get an extraordinarily high share of a rapidly dwindling audience. The # of homes watching a WNEP newscast has been plummeting. 16's answer has been to develop a "What, me worry?" attitude, and the audience has developed a "Why should I care?" attitude.

16 may succeed in driving 28 out of the news business, but it won't be because they produce high-quality newscasts. Face it, they're not relevant to viewers in 2009.

Anonymous said...

According to the Times-Trib article, the ratings and shares were up. Guess the audience must not be dwindling too rapidly.

Tying My Shoes... said...

Now CHILDREN, don't make me come down there and knock some heads together!

Remember, a rating point is a percentage of all TVs, off or on, watching a given program. A share point is a percentage of all TVs actually ON watching a program.

WNEP'S most recent 6:00 p.m. numbers, a 20.3 rating and a 42 share are remarkable, phenomenal, fantastic! They're the envy of the broadcasting industry!


But there was a time when WNEP was doing a 36 rating and a 53 share at 6:00.

Old math, new math ... my original post wasn't about numbers, it was about QUALITY!

You two can get into a pissing match about who is seen in how many homes. Fine, if that's how you measure success.

My admittedly subjective judgment is that the quality of news has dropped precipitously in the market: TV, radio and newspapers.

Anonymous said...

Yeah yeah. Everything was better back in the old days. Everything now is crap and if they'd just bring back the film cameras and stop with that newfangledinternet things'd be better. The old reporters were better and the old anchors were better and everyone now is crap and how dare anyone not want to stay in NEPA forever. These kids today just aren't the same. Back in the old days (when folks only had 3 channels to pick from) the ratings were better and the shares were better. dagnabbit.

Your best point was posting the Murrow speech about how TV was losing its way and things weren't as good as back 10 years back.

That speech was posted in 1958.

Guess the good old days are highly subjective.

Tying My Shoes... said...

Point well made, and point taken. And I carefully stated my bona fides as "Old Fart Emeritus" early on in the post.

That doesn't make me stop wondering what today's young broadcasters will be saying about their "good old days" 25 years from now: "Yeah, I was there when WYOU became THE local source for infomercials and Judge Joe Brown."

Doesn't have much of a ring to it, does it?

Anonymous said...

Neither does "I took the last flight in Skycam 16."

Are you sure THESE are the good old days?

Anonymous said...

Let me throw out something sure to start more arguments. Today's tv reporters do so little reporting because no one taught them how. Today's news directors are likely to be former reporters who never learned either, so who would do the teaching?

Reporter is a title, not a description of one's work day. Maybe we should just blame it on other media. After all, didn't tv get get the earliest reporters from newspapers, then from radio news in the 60s and 70s? Those people had been taught how to find a story before they got to televison. Kinda difficult to find the next tv reporter that way now.