Archive for July 2006

It’s started.

July 31, 2006

I woke up to the sounds of silence at 4:45 Monday morning. Normally that’s not a bad thing except the whole house was quiet. No AC running, nothing. It’s amazing how quickly a house can start heating up this time of the year in the MidSouth, especially after the power has been off for a full hour. Still I figured if that’s the worse thing that can happen, I’m lucky.
Then I got an email from a friend of mine about the resignation of Howard Meagle as GM from WMC. At this point, I don’t know the particulars and I’m sure someone out there does. Heck, I don’t even have it confirmed. I’m merely sharing at this point what was on Shoptalk.
But I have to admit if it’s true, I hate to see Howard leave. He was station manager at KFVS in Cape Garagedoor (Girardeau) Missouri when I first signed on with that station. He left not long after that to take a GM post with the company in Savannah. I liked Howard and found him to be a friendly, straight talking manager. I always felt I knew where I stood with Howard. You don’t get that much from many managers these days. I had met with him earlier this year and we had an enjoyable chat. I’m not sure if the ratings turn-around on Union was the primary cause of his decision or if it was just a factor. Anyway, best of luck to Howard as he moves forward.
I would imagine that some folks on Union have been feeling a little antsy these days with the slide from atop the ratings pyramid. One does not have to have any great powers of foresight to anticipate more changes there.

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Keep a former employee from down on the river in your thoughts and prayers

July 30, 2006

I saw in the CA that Nancy Sawtelle Hayslip of Bartlett died this past week. She is the mother of former NC3 anchor and reporter Steve Hayslip who now anchors the morning show at WTVF in Nashville and reports for them as well.
For those of you who know Steve then you know he is a class act as is his dad, Jimmy who used to work for the county school system. I really didn’t know anything about Mrs. Hayslip but if Steve is a reflection of her then she must have been a great lady. I understand she died after a battle with cancer and having lost my father earlier this year to cancer I can appreciate what the family has gone through. Keep them in your thoughts.

We’re Number One, We’re Number One and people are leaving.

July 26, 2006

You work hard to earn the Number One spot in the market and people start leaving.
A second reporter from down 0n the river turned in his notice that he’s leaving the market. R.E. is moving off to the East Coast where I’m told he will do some freelance work. A producer for the morning show is headed off for the Northwest and according to what I’ve been told just about every other producer DOTR is working hard to vacate the premises. I’m hearing the NYTimes has closed the purse and doesn’t plan to spend anything else at this point in time. While some would say the producers aren’t being overworked by doing double duty on some shows, the producers must have a different opinion and apparently want to show their feelings with their feet.
There’s no doubt the broadcast business is hurting these days and election year money from campaigns is usually a big boost to the bottom line. But in Memphis, the NYTimes poured a lot of money into the station after a promise was made to make the station Numero Uno for its 50th anniversary which is this year. They bought a chopper and expanded staff among other stuff to help boost the ratings over the folks over on Union. So with the July book wrapping up, it looks like a trend is indeed showing DOTR and they get to brag they’re tops in just about every local time slot. I say congratulations to them. I was working on the morning show down there when we managed to climb to the top spot twice during my eleven year stint. It’s a good feeling. Some of the honchos down there have been wanting to do that across the board since the head of the Broadcast group first started working at the station as a part-timer more than three decades ago.
As was pointed out to me, you would think everyone down on the river would be doing cartwheels at being at the top of the game in the market and that no one would want to leave now that they’re at the top. Maybe there is truth in the adage that “Wanting is sometimes better than having”.
I’m also reminded of something said be a former head of the Broadcast Group who also served a stint as GM DOTR. He said “I’d rather be a profitable Number 2 than a broke Number 1”.

When the ship starts to flounder, one of the first things they want to do is toss the anchor overboard!

July 18, 2006

Some news operations are like that. If they see they really aren’t going anywhere like the consultants convinced them they should be, then they (the ND and GM) start tossing the anchors and other on-air folks overboard. They’ll usually give folks a couple of years to “make a difference” and then it’s time to pull the plug if they aren’t producing.
I don’t think we’ll see any of that in Memphis just yet, but I can bet you there are some folks out there sweating just a wee bit. I’m not just talking talent either. Yah, news can be a cyclical thing and you never really know in a ratings month what viewers will do although you do have a pretty good idea. You know November and February are times when the weather isn’t great, at least here in the MidSouth and folks will tend to be indoors watching TV. During May, the weather is nicer. It’s still a big month since what you do in May will dictate the sales rates to November. Technically July is a ratings month but unless it’s absolutely hot as hell, folks will be out and about and not watching much TV. Some news folks even blow it off, especially if they’re losing the book. Others like to tout the numbers, especially if they’re making gains or are winning.
All of this leads up to a point which I make now. The station down on the river appears to be holding on to its claim as the News Channel in Memphis That’s according to the numbers I’ve seen so far and I will admit, I’ve only seen a sampling of the numbers. Yah, demographics determine the sales but bragging rights are also based on the ratings, at least in the newsroom.
So, it might not just be the heat that has some folks here in the Bluff City sweating. And while it may be cooler in the drink, nobody wants to get tossed overboard.

Imitation is still the most sincere form of flattery

July 14, 2006

For years folks in the Memphis area could vote on what they considered “The Best” the city had to offer. Everything from the best burger to the best weather guy. It was always fun to read the results in the weekly Memphis Flyer. I think it was this survey that had a standout TV reporter from down on the river winning the dubious honor of Best and Worst reporter in the same issue although that might have been Memphis Magazine. I almost always pick up a copy of the Flyer when I stop to get a pie from the Memphis Pizza Cafe. Good reading with good pizza.
Now, I don’t know if the newspaper world has consultants stumbling all over themselves like they do in the world of TeeVee News, but it sounds like they do. Anyone who has been in the television news business knows there are about a half dozen new ideas that surface each year in the broadcast business and some of these aren’t really new. They’ve been stolen from news operations from overseas somewhere. These TV consultants then go preach the gospel to NDs and GMs about how implementing these ideas will boost ratings, increase sales, restore virginity and lead us all a little closer to broadcasting nirvana. Pretty soon, everyone is doing the same thing in every market and even more people stop watching local news.
It sounds like some consultant or perhaps some person high up the food chain at the CA in Memphis finally tried to figure out why the Flyer is popular and decided to do some of what they do over there. At the CA you can vote on “The Readers Choice” awards. You too can share your thoughts on the Best Burger and the Best Weather anchor. Remember, if you haven’t read it, it’s still news. A great slogan.
And one final note that might fall under the heading of full disclosure. My wife was checking out something on the Memphis Flyer’s website when she informed me that my blog was listed under the Flyer’s heading of “blogs we like”. I’m quite flattered to be among those listed. Now, like Navin R. Johnson who found his name listed in the phone directory, “I’m somebody.”

The Ripple from the Nipple

July 12, 2006

Who could have foreseen that exposing a nipple on a television screen could possibly jeopardize live shots in local news. Huh? What’s the connection here?
Well, according to an article by Brooks Boliek in the Hollywood Reporter, “…in a continuing crack down on on-air profanity the FCC has requested numerous tapes of broadcasters that might include vulgar remarks by unruly sports spectators, coaches and athletes at live sporting events.”
The article goes on the say the FCC has requested 30 tapes of live sporting and news programs where profanity was involved.
What has been deemed indecent speech can be aired safely between 10pm and 6am (not sure if that is Central or Eastern time).
If I understand this correctly, some yahoo who gets through the screening process for a town hall meeting during prime time can utter the “F’ word or tell someone to eat “s**t” and “BAM”, the station is facing a fine up to $325, 000. That’s up from the previous maximum of $32, 500, with the boost in fines thanks to the outrage over people seeing Janet Jackson’s nipple on the air back during the SuperBowl debaucle.
Granted, you can pre-screen participants at the town hall meeting but get around some folks who’ve had too much to drink (Memphis in May Barbecue Fest, and MidSouth Fair to name a couple) and it might give pause for some to reconsider those live shots or at least make them all “look-lives”. I’m familiar with seven second delays for audio, but not for video.
Then there’s the live shot at the scene of a crime or after a hotly contested trial where emotions are running high and the enterprising reporter grabs a person from the crowd to get reaction and you get the idea of what could happen. Don’t forget about those live phoners from people who have called in during severe weather. All it takes is someone to get a little excited as they describe those powerful storm winds and the fact that “sh*t is blowing around everywhere”. Yah, it makes some powerful TV and now a potentially hefty fine.
Then there are the cases where the reporter is live and being harassed by the crowd to the point that he or she loses it. How many times have you heard about reporters who thought they were off the air and using language they shouldn’t. It’s enough to give a manager nightmares.
There was a time when people would act decently when they get around a TV camera, especially when they knew it was live. Not anymore. I know I wouldn’t bet on it.
Accidents happen and words slip on occasion. But with the FCC determined to crack down, live shots could become less live and less common.

We’re live and the scene is dead!

July 11, 2006

Over the last week or so I’ve noticed several rants in articles from folks in various parts of the country who seem to have discovered that some television stations put reporters live on the scene where absolutely nothing is happening or where whatever happened is long over. To borrow from Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca “I’m shocked, shocked that such a practice is taking place. ” (Could you move your live truck, it’s interfering with OUR live truck). The next thing you know, some television news operation somewhere in this country would start hyping breaking news with a special open and….. oh wait, that’s pretty much a common practice too.
According to several of the things I’ve read on Shoptalk (from Cincinnati and Louisville to name a couple) some folks are finally mad as hell and say they aren’t going to take it anymore. How do they propose to do this one might ask? By turning away from local television outlets. Wait, that’s happening alrady too.
Viewers say they are tired of having a breaking news open roll across their screen and then see something they don’t feel is breaking news on their TV. I know I’ve been on the anchor desk when I was informed that we had breaking news and be prepared to talk about what it is we saw on the screen whether it was a routine car crash on the interstate or perhaps a car on fire on a city street or even a house fire. Yah, the incident affected a couple of folks and I always felt bad for them, but so many times we went live because we could and we knew the competition would as well and we had to be able to say we had it first. So, we’d roll the breaking news open and away we’d go. Then four or five hours later, we’d send a reporter back to the scene for a live report from the scene and there was nothing going on. All this time, we were also rolling a crawl at the bottom of the screen with Chyroned information.
Proponents of the breaking news concept and live for the sake of live say this is what research says the audience wants. I’d love to have sat in on that audience. I think like it as long as it doesn’t interfere with what they’re watching. Just cut in with breaking news to Mee-Maw’s soap opera and you’ll get a phone call with language that would make a sailor blush. I know. I’ve been on the receiving end of those calls. Add to the mix that the reporter doing the live shot is at a scene where not much is happening but the ND felt that a presence in the field is needed and it really cranks up the venom of the caller.
Contrary to what some might think, I personally don’t think it helps the credibility of a local news operation to go live for the sake of live or have regularly scheduled breaking news. I’m still amazed at how many times breaking news occurs right at the beginning of a newscast. Why not just report the news as news. Don’t break it. But then, I’m not a consultant, just a viewer and not much of one of those anymore.
I always figured somewhere there were a couple of consultants sitting around a bar watching the screen and saying something like, “Just wait until we share our latest suggestions with the local stations. We’re going to have balloon captions like you’d see in the comics and these will be placed by each of the anchors. If we present these to the ND, SM and GM of each station and tell them they can boost their ratings, you know they’ll buy into it.” Then the consultants just laugh and take another drink of whiskey.