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.