Archive for September 2006

Tanned, Rested and Ready and Do We Really Need This Particular Technological Device

September 25, 2006

Okay, I’m back in the saddle and ready to roll. My lovely and talented bride and I traveled to the wilds of northern Montana to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. On our big vacations we try to travel to someplace we’ve never been. We figure there is so much of the world to see, why should we go back to the same place year after year. This year was different. We had traveled to Glacier National Park about five years ago and absolutely loved it. When we talked about places we might go on our 20th, we kept talking about Glacier, especially since some experts predict that the active glaciers in the park will be pretty much gone by 2030. We did a lot of hiking in the mountains (one 12-mile round trip to stand on one of the glaciers) saw a lot of wildlife (the real stuff, not the party scene) and even did a little flyfishing. My wife is the only person I know who still looks great wearing a set of fishing waders! The weather could have been more cooperative but despite the rain it was so nice to enjoy the cool and cold weather. We returned to Memphis Saturday night and the heat and humidity embraced us like a loving, overweight matronly aunt who hadn’t seen us in a few years. We found we could barely breathe as we got off the flight in Memphis. Yah, nothing like a dose of high humidity to slap you back into reality. Still, I’m wearing my vacation glow like a mantle and I hope it stays with me for at least a week. In my previous life as a news type person I found it usually only took about an hour or so for someone to “harsh my mellow” and take the shine off my vacation. Now I’m ready to rock and roll and get my new business venture off and running. My wife and I have talked about adding video production to her marketing business and we’ve been gearing up for this for some time now. I know it won’t be easy but we have faith and committment and that goes a long way. I also have enough knowledge to be dangerous. Hey, at least I admit it.
Shifting gears now, it’s been said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a pathway to your door. I admit it, I’m a gadget guy. I like gizmos and like to see new technology that will help make life easier. I remember when I was about four years old (yes that was a while back) and I encountered my first automatic door opener at a grocery store. I was fascinated with electric windows on cars. A conveyor belt to move you to your destination in an airport is so cool. You can find such things as toilet facilities that flush themselves, faucets that turn themselves on and paper towel dispensers that roll out the paper just for you as you wave your hand. But it was at the airport in Minneapolis that I found a gadget I’m not quite ready for. I had to dash into the restroom between flights and there was the urinal that flushed itself. No problem. I put my hands under the faucet to wet them and the water turned itself on. No problem. And then there was the liquid soap dispenser. I looked for the pump and couldn’t find it. It was only after my hand passed under the protruding spout that it spurted a stream of goo across my palm. It actually startled me. I won’t say anything more about but suffice it to say, that’s one bit of gadgetry you can keep. I’ll stick with the soap pump for now.
And those who know me know that timing is everything. My wife and I have been reluctant to fly in the past few months because of increased security measures that won’t let you take liquids on board airliners. Like everyone else though, we sucked it up and did what we needed to do to fly to Montana. Now, two days after we got back, the powers that be announced they will allow a small amount of certain products on board. It’s all about……timing!

Oh woe is me, woe is me!

September 15, 2006

The world is turning upside down. I was driving on Stage Road near Raleigh-Lagrange and I did a double take as I saw a bunch of cars lined up at a gas station. The big attraction? Unleaded regular priced at $2.19 a gallon. How did it manage to drop so much? The cynics among us might say that someway, somehow the drop in the gas prices as we approach the midterm elections is a ploy to keep a certain politcal party in power. I personally don’t buy into the suggestion that a group of companies that managed to rake in obscene profits would stoop to such levels. Neither would their cronies.
Then the news this week that the NYTimes is getting out of the broadcasting business so it can concentrate on its other interests. Not many people outside the company realize that not only is WREG (aka the station Down On The River) the first broadcast property purchased by the NYTimes, it is also considered their flagship station and is where the broadcast group is headquartered. Some folks in the building are strictly employees of the NYTimes, not WREG. I consider some of those to be friends and hate to see them lose their jobs which they will if they can’t be absorbed into the local station. How will the employees at the station DOTR function when the NYTimes not only takes its blue flag but also the “Rules of the Road”. For those not familiar with that piece of HR work, it’s a list of how people should conduct themselves and treat each other inside and outside the station. They were so proud of them that each employee got a wallet sized laminated copy and an 81/2 by 11 inch laminated copy for the desk. One overzealous ND even had a copy printed that was about two feet by three feet and was displayed on a brass easel in the newsroom. It was finally taken down when the ND realized the studio crew kept hiding it to keep it out of camera shots in the newsroom. I found the wallet sized copy of the Rules of the Road opened a lot of doors for me. You just slip it behind the lock, pull it forward and voila’, the door is open. (Goodnight folks, try the veal, it’s the chef’s favorite!) I was often accused of being in the ditch instead of the road where the rules where. I think the general concensus was that the RotR were followed by most of the higher ups when it suited them.
I’m also concerned about what will happen to all the stuffed “moose” that were distributed with the copies of the Rules of the Road. According to HR, The Moose was to be used to level the playing field between the littel guys and the big guys in the NYTimes. If you presented your Moose, you could share your opinions even if they might not be shared by the big guys. (Note to self, the Magic of the Moose didn’t work.) Perhaps I shouldn’t have let my dog use my moose as a chew toy.
Will the honchos at the NYTimes want their RotR and Moose back? I hope not. Maybe they could sell them to the new owners of the broadcast group which might in turn help the NYTimes stock.
These things have me so troubled that I don’t think I’ll be able to blog for at least a week. I need to see if I can work through this. So, bye for now.

Psssst! Hey buddy, wanna buy some TV stations?

September 12, 2006

Wow. I walked in the door this afternoon and my wife told me she had just heard on NPR that the New York Times was selling its broadcast group. Then I sat down at my computer and had seven posts from folks telling me the same thing. This is a big deal. I’m told the NYTimes will try to sell the stations as a group and by the end of the year if at possible. That makes me think that they already have a buyer lined up. For the most part, the NYTimes stations are very strong in the market or were. Some are part of the TailBone patrol. Still, they make money. This ia a big turnaround from about five or six years ago when they NYTimes was trying to buy a group of stations to expand its holdings. I remember one of the stations was in Hawaii. Somebody else, possibly Raycom bought the stations and the only expansion by the NYTimes was to add one station in Oklahoma City to the stable.
The NYTimes is a very good company to work for. It was the best company I ever worked for. Stock options, 401K, about as good of health benefits as one could get in a broadcast environment. I think some folks who have been with the company for a while have gotten spoiled. A company buying the group would be hard pressed to match those benefits (if they even bother trying).
And then there is this little caveat. One of the reasons I left back in 2004 (in addition to the terrible morning show hours) was an extremely one-sided and restrictive contract. I remember when my wife read through it she commented “Didn’t they abolish indentured servitude a while back”. I was told the new and improved contract was being implemented across the broadcast group. One of the clauses in the new contract (which by now most on air people have signed) basically allows the station to reduce salaries or move people around and there’s nothing that anyone who signed the contract can do about it. When questions were raised about it, managers said “Oh, that’s just something the legal department wanted to put in there. We would never do anything like that.” When I asked why it needed to be in there, people tended to get huffy about it and I never got a straight answer. The new contract gives the station all the control and the talent none. If they leave, their non-compete clause, which is even more restrictive than it was five years ago, prevents anyone from doing anything but breathing in this market and I’m not sure about the breathing part.
All of this may be a moot point but if someone was trying to make the bottom line more attractive, wouldn’t they start trimming salaries or start letting people go. I know as a buyer, knowing that 20 percent (or more) of the newsroom salaries could be cut, would make things a lot more attractive for me.
But all of this speculation may be for naught. I’m sure whoever comes in to buy the group will want everything to be kept just as it is and any cuts will be made strictly at the senior management level. By the way, I’ve got the Hernando Desoto I-40 Bridge for sale too.

What Makes a Place a Good Place to Work

September 12, 2006

What makes a particular operation a good place to work? That’s a question I’ve pondered for about a quarter of a century at least when it comes to news operations which is where most of my experience omes from. Good ratings help but I’ve worked at Number 1 stations and for strong Number 2 operations and there’s still a lot of grumbling. It seems that so much money has to be spent to achieve the Number 1 slot that there’s little money to go around for the “worker bees”. I still remember hearing a quote attributed to one manager who said he’d rather have a profitable Number 2 station than a Number 1 station barely making budget.
Good equipment is a big plus. I’ve worked at stations where you weren’t sure if the video you shot was good until you got back to the edit bay and even then you had to keep your fingers crossed that the machines didn’t eat the tape. Good, strong management is a plus but they have to be more than cheerleaders. Good managers lead by example. Employees usually have good BS detectors since a little incompetence by managers goes a long way. One of my favorite NDs told me once that I could ask him anything. He said if hf he knew the answer, he’d tell me and if he didn’t know the answer he’s tell me that. He also said if he couldn’t tell me something, he’d tell me that as well. On the other hand, I’ve had managers lie to me knowing that I knew they were lying.
I think pride in the operation is a big deal. I know of stations and have worked at some where they might not have the top ratings or the best equipment or the best building but there is a “can-do” team spirit. Yah, you will always have people who bitch and moan but sometimes being the underdog making headway against the big dogs helps inspire team spirit more than any stuffed animal or slogan from the HR department.
Hiring and keeping good employees is a must. If they aren’t doing the job, get someone who will do it and then reward them. Don’t tell them how lucky they are to have a job. Tell them how lucky you are to have them working with. Loyalty is a big deal. If you want loyalty, make sure you give it as well. And remember there should be no such thing as an unimportant person in any operation. Even the person who takes out the garbage becomes very important if he or she isn’t doing the job.
Where am I going with this? No where in particular. Most of this is common sense that seems to have slipped by a lot of folks these days. Just consider it a random musing on this Tuesday morning as I finish my coffee.

The 5th Year Anniversary

September 10, 2006

Wow, it’s been five years. At times it seems like it was only last week and other times it seems it’s been more than five years. Somewhere around the house I have on videotape a special produced by one of the network news divisions one year after the attacks. I’ve never been able to watch it nor have I any interest in any of the films produced about the attacks or even the so called “mock-u-drama” that has caused such a ruckus on ABC. I frequently think about how life has changed for people in the U-S and around the world since the terrorist attacks. I wonder sometimes if the entire world hasn’t gone insane. I worry about the future my sons, my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter face. You hope it gets better but what I’m seeing on the horizon doesn’t look very promising.
However to give up is to give in and I’m nowhere close to giving up. So far I’ve been fortunate. I did not lose a relative in the terror attacks and I’ve not lost a family member in the war against terror.
Monday morning I plan to observe a moment of silence in honor of those who have died. And while I’m not a religous man, I will also say a prayer as well not only for those who have died but for the world as well. These days I think we need all the help we can get.

What TV News Doesn’t Want You to Know & Edutainment

September 7, 2006

If you don’t stop by Shoptalk on occasion, you miss some real gems about the TV news business.
An article Wednesday by Brock London of Quazen.com revealed what most in the TV news business already know and regular viewers have a pretty good idea exists. I won’t list details but here are the “Ten Truths”.
1-The news anchors really don’t like each other all that much.
2-When writing or videotaping news coverage. emotion is more important than information.
3-Decisions on what to report are driven by artificial factors.
4-Reporters tell you what they think you want to hear, not what you need to know.
5-Adding live coverage to stories creates the false impression of importance or even crisis.
6-Reporters walk when they talk to avoid even a few seconds with no movement on screen.
7-When the anchor asks a reporter a question, it almost always has been prewritten.
8-Despite its constant use, very few events are worthy of being called “breaking” news.
9-Image consultants often select the haircuts, clothing and makeup worn by TV personalities.
10-Most of the story ideas and useful information appearing in local newscasts has been been “borrowed” from newspapers or news magazines.

Again, for the most part, this list is nothing new to those in the business. I’m sure there are those who will dispute some or all of these points but the truth of the matter is, a lot of these ring true. Granted there are exceptions to the rule. I know of anchors who form close friendships over the years and it shows on air. Other times it’s like oil and water and that shows on air as well. As for story content, consultants will tell you “sell the sizzle, not the steak”. Just remember to keep the fires burning hot.
Shifting gears, I heard a new phrase last night. “Edu-tainment”. That word was used to describe the Crocodile Hunter and his genre of television. The question was raised on whether edu-tainment is putting the lives of people at risk as they get up close and personal with various creatures and nature in general. Admit it, viewers have been waiting to see if the Crocodile guy and his imitators would get tagged by the black Mamba snake or if the guy on National Geographic is going to fall into the volcano. I guess if something bad happens we can always say, “Hey, I won’t grab a poisonous snake by the tail today”. See, we can learn something from TV.

A Story Begging for an Investigation and So Long to the Crocodile Hunter

September 4, 2006

I don’t see, hear or read too many things that make my jaw actually drop in disbelief. One of those rare events happened Saturday morning when I picked up the paper and read about the Ole Miss football recruit Jerrell Powe.
In a nutshell this 340 pound defensive tackle was recruited by Ole Miss to play football. Turns out there was a slight problem for this person recruited to this institution of higher learning. He can’t read. At least that’s what his mother states in a letter appealing for Ole Miss to “give him a chance”. The school now says “no” but he filed a lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order allowing him into the school and allowing him to play ball.
Some additional background info: According to the CA, he didn’t get a diploma but rather a certificate from his high school. After high school, he spent a year at a military school where he got “Ds” and “Fs” in nearly half of his courses. However, once he started taking correspondence courses from BYU, he managed to turn his grades around from “Fs” to “As”. This occurred in justs five months time. Wow!
This posting isn’t so much about this specific player. You know and I know that it happens way too frequently and it shouldn’t happen at all. But it does and in my opinion, it’s a crime. People should be outraged but I’d bet that most aren’t. Still, my point is, there’s a great story out there just waiting to be covered. I’m talking about this BYU Correspondence school that seems to work miracles. It’s not a story that will or could even be covered by local TV news. It takes way too much time and effort. It could be covered by local newspapers or magazines if there is a “will” there. I’m not sure how much of a “will” is there. Some cable news outlet or national news magazine might be able to do it justice but probably won’t because Ole Miss isn’t a national powerhouse. It’s probably just a great story that will never get done and that’s a shame. So we end up with this guy who may or may not play for Ole Miss and if he doesn’t, he has managed to make it through at least 12 years of public and some private education and can’t read. What an incredible shame.
And then there is the extremely bad luck of the Crocodile Hunter. My younger brother told me about Steve Irwin back in the early 90’s. He told me that I really needed to see this guy. I actually tuned in a few times, waiting to see him get bitten by some nasty creature and hear him utter “Crikey!” He always seemed to be a disaster waiting to happen but always narrowly avoided it. His luck ran out over the weekend when he was swimming close to a stingray while doing some videotaping. The stingray whipped up its tail and the barb not only penetrated his chest, it pierced his heart. I’m sure we’ll see the video at some point in time. Just give them a few weeks to get it turned around in post.