Archive for June 2007

The Brouha-ha Over Whether Folks in the News Business Should Contribute to Political Candidates

June 26, 2007

Wow, It’s amazing how quickly one can stir up a hornets nest by following up on a couple of tips sent to me by a couple of former co-workers. I discovered (according to one person) that I was racist and that this blog had racist overtones. Go figure.  Of course I also found that one person who took me to task also had openly supported on a blog (as is her or his right) the same congressional candidate (who lost) as one of the news people mentioned on the list by MSNBC.  But that’s okay too. The vehement reaction does make more sense now.

But that’s not why I’m posting this. I had a few extra minutes and was cruising through MSNBC’s website and it turns out that the political contribution list story has sent a few ripples out there across the country. It seems one TV reporter from Omaha was given the boot after the MSNBC story became public. That reporter said she was glad that it had happened at age 23 and not 33 and that she has learned a lesson. A free-lance editorial cartoonist in Lincoln, Nebraska who said he really didn’t care about the newspaper’s policy on political contributions was given the boot. And a newspaper in Washington state cancelled the planned debut in their paper of a syndicated ethicist columnist for the NYTimes after that columnist’s name appeared on the list.

Which leads me back to my original point of posting. Is it that big of a deal? Is it okay if you make it known that you’ve done this? Does it have anything to do with the price of tea in China?

According to an on-line poll at MSNBC, the opinions are pretty well mixed.  Here’s the survey:

Should news organizations allow journalists to make political contributions?   * 20552 responses

Not a scientific survey. Click to learn more. Results may not total 100% due to rounding.

 

 

But this story is not that big of a deal.  How do I know this?  Because there’s some really big news out there today that everybody is covering instead.  That story? Paris is out of jail.  We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

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Can a News Person Support a Political Candidate and Still Be Objective In the News Business?

June 21, 2007

Wow, I don’t post for a week and suddenly two posts in one day.  This after I get two emails from former co-workers sharing the same tip.  It comes from MSNBC and is a list of journalists who wrote political checks.  The list shares the names and occupations of 144 news types who made campaign contributions from 2004 through the first quarter of 2007, according to Federal Election Commission records studied by MSNBC.com .

Among those 144 is Markova Reed, morning and noon anchor at WREG.  Here is what the article on MSNBC’s website said about Reed’s political activity:

(D) CBS affiliate in Memphis, WREG, Markova Reed, anchor of morning and noon news, $250 to Ed Stanton, a Democratic House candidate from Memphis, in January 2006.

Reed did not return calls. WREG’s president and general manager, Ronald A. Walter, said, “Yes, we do restrict employees, journalists particularly, from engaging in political activity. We don’t want people doing that. We feel that in this particular case it was an innocent mistake on her part, and we have handled it internally.”

First, a reality check:  IMHO, it can be difficult to completely remove one’s self from what goes on in the world.  Everyone has an opinion about things and while you try to be objective as you are supposed to be in the news business, you may like or not like a particular person in office or running for office.  That’s a reality.  Still, I think most would agree that one does not voice that opinion, especially if you are in the news business.  We’ve all seen what “Fair & Balanced” gets you.  The GM at the station DOTR  says it was an innocent mistake and that the issue has been dealt with internally.  I have no reason to doubt that.  But the bigger question is this: Should a news person, especially an anchor or columnist be allowed to support a candidate of his or her choice?  Can you support a particular candidate as long as you recuse yourself from writing or reading  on a broadcast, a story about the person you support or those running against your candidate?   Is it okay to tell people that you support President Bush’s policies on this or that.  Markova Reed has some good company on the list.  That doesn’t make it right but does it make it wrong?  Yes, you will be accused of being biased.  I would imagine that there are others in the media who support candidates and they just do it in ways there  their support is not detected.  I know my wife and I attended a Lincoln Day dinner as a guest of my mother-in-law who is a die-hard Republican.  I didn’t make a contribution and was there because my mother-in-law bought a table and wanted to fill it up.  It was free food and booze and I was a warm body.  I did want to hear what the candidates said.  I also have attended gatherings where Democrats gathered so I could hear what they had to say.  Again, I didn’t make a contribution but I did buy myself some drinks.

I’d be curious as to what others both inside and outside the news business have to say about the Markova Reed thing and the scenarios that I described.  The internet is now open.

Even the Prettiest Garden Only Stays Pretty If You Trim It Back Each Year

June 21, 2007

First a couple of notes: I’ve been out of pocket because of some projects and because of a trip to Tulsa over the weekend. Having said that, it was a pleasant surprise to have a note waiting for me from P.L. alerting me to an article in TVNewsday that he felt would be of interest to folks now working for LocalTV LLC (formerly NYTimes Broadcasting) and I think it would be of interest to their competitors as well.

I will post some of the article involving the magazine’s conversation with LocalTV honcho Randy Michaels along with some highlights in just a moment. First, it was suggested that perhaps Mr. Michaels might be following along the same general path as Bill Applegate. I never worked for Mr. Applegate but knew of his influence and approach when he was GM at WMC in Memphis. Some liked him and some did not. Regardless of what you thought about him, he left no doubt where he stood on issues and he appeared to be ready to share his opinion on the TV news business. I believe it was under Applegate’s reign that WMC copyrighted the term “Storm Team” being used by WREG’s Weather Team and then issued a “Cease and Desist” order for WREG to stop using it. It really honked off the management DOTR and I think they were POed that Applegate had pulled this one on them. Hey, Applegate plays to win. It appears that Mr. Michaels is also one who plans to take no prisoners and indicates that it will NOT be business as usual in the former NYTimes group.

One of the things that Michaels pointed out was that the NYTimes Broadcast group had too many layers and that fat has been or will be cut. He says they want to put more photographers, reporters and salespeople on the streets and wants to flatten the structure by getting rid of (his words) middle-management, bureaucratic jobs. Basically a leaner/meaner machine. And he indicates more cuts could come.

Talking about employees he says: “There are net fewer today. But I can tell you that in three months my expectation is there will be more. We are not about running a low-cost operation. But, look, even the prettiest garden only stays pretty if it’s pruned every spring. We had the opportunity, because this was an asset sale, to reshape the company. I?m also not suggesting that every position we eliminated is because the particular person involved was not a performer."

He also indicates (no suprise) that the NYTimes is probably just the first of the investment groups TV station acquisitions.

As promised, here is the first part of the interview. Since it is lengthy, I’ll let you go to TVNEWSDAY to read it in its entirety. Some of the best topics are in the interview on the website. Since this was copied over to this blog, you may find some extraneous punctuation marks or symbols. I can’t do anything about those or the small type.

Enjoy.

EXECUTIVE SESSION WITH RANDY MICHAELS.

THERE’S A NEW BROADCASTER IN TOWN

TVNEWSDAY, Jun. 19, 7:35 AM ET

The sometimes outrageous DJ-turned-corporate suit is shaking things up at the New York Times TV stations he bought in May. Right now, that means eight markets. But with the backing of Oak Hill equity fund, his presence may soon be felt in many more. Randy Michael closed on the purchased on the New York Times TV group in May. Backed by Oak Hill Capital, a private equity firm, he handed over $575 million and took charge of nine TV stations in eight mid-sized markets. But his formal announcement that he had returned to broadcasting came two weeks ago when he accused a competitor of stealing video from his station in the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa, WQAD. In a warning letter released to the press, Michaels charges that Young Broadcasting?s KQWC of had ripped off live helicopter coverage of tornado damage that had been shot for WQAD by its sister station in Des Moines. KQWC told TVNEWSDAY that it did nothing wrong, that it was entitled to the video through a network sharing arrangement with the Des Moines station, which is, like KQWC, an NBC affiliate.

Nonsense, counters Michaels. You’ve got to give KWQC some credit for spinning this like, oh, gee that was just an NBC feed. No, they took a direct feed from our helicopter that was intended for channel 8 [WQAD] that had never gone near an NBC station and stole it and we?re not going to let that happen.? WQAD drove home the message in a promo: ?When you need to know what?s going on, get your breaking news where Channel 6 [KQWC] gets theirs?WQAD?s NewsChannel 8.? Regardless of how it all turns out, Michaels had made a larger point: The old New York Times stations have a new, combative attitude.

Michaels brings to TV a reputation for competitiveness and for attracting attention in unconventional and sometimes provocative ways, a reputation earned during his long career in radio, which took him from shock jock to the pinnacle of the largest radio group in the country, that of Clear Channel Communications. Everyone understands that we?re going to play to win,? he says of his new job. ?We?re going to take intelligent risk. You know you don?t shake things up just to shake them up. You do it purposely.?In diary markets, you?re dealing with recall. It doesn?t matter what people watch, it?s what they remember they watch. So a noise level is helpful there too.?In this interview with TVNEWSDAY, his first since launching Local TV LLC, Michaels outlines a long-term strategy for generating big returns for the Oak Hill investors through more aggressive selling, leaner management and state-of-the-art automation. And he acknowledges that the New York Times deal will likely not be his last.

Okay, Another Station in Memphis Goes on the Block!

June 13, 2007

The other shoe has finally dropped.  We’ve been hearing rumors that some of the Fox O & Os would be sold and according to what I read on Shoptalk’s Watercooler  it’s happened.

Here is the release I found.

June 13, 2007 5:45 PM EST

News Corporation Announces Plan to Sell Nine Television Stations
NEW YORK, NY, June 13, 2007 – News Corporation announced today that it plans to sell nine of its FOX network affiliated television stations. News Corporation has retained Allen & Company to advise it on potential transactions.

The stations include:

– WJW in Cleveland, OH
– KDVR in Denver, CO
– KTVI in St. Louis, MO
– WDAF in Kansas City, KS
– WITI in Milwaukee, WI
– KSTU in Salt Lake City, UT
– WBRC in Birmingham, AL
– WHBQ in Memphis, TN
– WGHP in Greensboro, NC

News Corporation has 35 owned-and-operated stations in the United States, making the Fox Television Stations (FTS) group among the largest in the nation. Following the planned sale of the nine stations, FTS will remain one of the nation’s strongest and most successful station groups, with nine duopolies in major markets as well as single stations in eight mid- to large-sized markets. A full list of News Corporation’s U.S. stations is available at http://www.newscorp.com/operations/tvstations.html

Now the folks at Fox 13 get to go through what those at WREG and WPTY/WLMT dealt with this past year.  No word on any potential buyers so far.  So, I guess Raycom plans to keep its stable of stations since it bought and sold a few stations in the past couple of years.

The Check is in the Mail, I Will Start on It Tomorrow and It’s NOT About the Money, We Want Our Newscast to Grow

June 11, 2007

I used to chuckle about the Three Big Lies.  You know the first two about the check and when you would start something and the third one has been interchangeable.  I’ve heard “Yes, I ‘ll respect you in the morning, I’m from the government and here to help you and I promise I won’t…..well I won’t go there since I do try to keep some standards for this blog.  The latest lie comes from the owner of a Tyler, Texas TV station.  Here’s a excerpt from the town newspaper:  The Tyler, Texas, CBS affiliate will premier its latest news anchor next week – Lauren Jones, an actress, bikini model and former World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler with no journalism training or experience.

Why do I think this is a lie?  Because the only reason you’d want to boost ratings IS TO INCREASE REVENUE and the last time I checked revenue IS money!

I’m not familiar with this Lauren Jones person although I will admit she has some sultry looking publicity photos.  As I understand, she is part of some Fox reality program called Anchor Woman.  Already she says she is finding things “tough” in the TV news business.  For their part, folks in the TV station’s newsroom don’t like what’s going on.  I’m sure the female anchor being temporarily replaced REALLY doesn’t like it.  But this is not the first time some news operation has brought in an actress in an effort to boost ratings.  I’m not sure how often it works.  Face it, viewers like to turn on the Tube and see someone on the anchor desk who is easy on the eye.  Those sitting on the anchor desk can protest how they are there for journalistic reasons but the reality is this:If you are butt-ugly, the chances of you chosen to anchor are not that good no matter how great a reporter you are.  On the other hand, if you can turn the head/heads of viewers and you can speak and be understood, most managers really don’t care if you don’t know a soundbite from Shinola.   Some folks may disagree with that but it is the truth in TV newsrooms.  So, is this the end of the TV news as we know it?  Not yet.  We’ve still got a ways to go but we’re getting there.  I will admit that with as many wrasslin fans here in the Midsouth, this woman would be a big hit in the Memphis area.  As for the TV station in Texas, I think the newspaper reporter said it best by saying “the manager decided to pull his station’s news ratings out of the toilet by stepping into the gutter.  

I think that pretty well sums things up.

Has TV News Evolved to “News for Those Who Ride the Short Bus”?

June 7, 2007

As I prepare to celebrate or at least observe another birthday (July 3rd for those wanting to send gifts and money)  I’m reflecting on how my education has progressed in the now 18 years that I’ve been a home owner in Memphis.  I’ve learned some interesting tidbits and slang and I’ve learned NOT to repeat slang unless I know EXACTLY what it means.  (WARNING****WARNING, THE FOLLOWING ITEM MAY BE CONSIDERED POLITICALLY INCORRECT.  IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED, PLEASE DO NOT CONTINUE TO READ THIS POST!!!!)  One item I recall came not long after I started working in Memphis.  It came from a videographer who mentioned that a popular verbal “zing” when he was in high school concerned “riding the short bus”.  Now even in rural Western Kentucky, we had a “short bus”.  While I had never heard the term “riding the short bus” as a put-down, when I first heard the phrase as such, I knew immediately what it meant.  I still chuckle about it whenever I’m on the road and see “a short bus”.  All of this came back to mind Wednesday as I was chatting with a friend in the TV news business who referred to the “dumbing down of the news” as “news for those who ride the short bus.”  When I first got into TV news I was directed to write for someone who was in grade school.  I was told “Don’t use big words, use simple concepts and try not to hit too many points in one story”.  My friend tells me he’s been directed recently to “dumb” things down even more.  The argument presented to me was that “smart” people aren’t watching anymore, so write to the audience you have left.  Hey, I’m just repeating what was shared with me.  That particular conversation took place Wednesday morning and leads me to the point of this post.

Around lunchtime, I’m flipping through the channels to catch the news and I see MSNBC has some breathless anchor talking about the discovery of a missing teenager’s body.  I figure it’s got to be a huge story for this to be breaking news.  I figured it was perhaps cult related or had some really big news peg.  I kept waiting for the big reason that this was national news.  It turns out the girl was last seen walking out of a store in the Midwest and had been missing for four days.  They did catch the guy who killed he.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  This young girl is somebody’s daughter and her life was taken and it’s a sad story.  But it’s a LOCAL story.  Just as the Holloway teen from Alabama was and the Jon Benet Ramsey story in Colorado was.  The sad part is that individuals are killed or mysteriously disappear everyday and we don’t have breaking news on them.  Here in Memphis a couple of years ago we had a county inspector disappear and it was later discovered he had been killed and his body burned.  Did that have national anchors going with wall-to-wall coverage?  I don’t think so,  And please, let’s not make this into a “race” thing.  We’ve been down that particular road before.  Yes, the guy killed in Memphis was a black man but I don’t think that it would have mattered if he had been white.  It still would have been and should have been a local or perhaps at best, a regional story.  I could go on with stories that should have been local (Laci Petersen, the two boys abducted in Missouri come to mind) but I think you get my drift here.  Don’t get me wrong.  I feel sorry for the victims and their families.  But after a mention or even a full blown news package gets into the 24-hour news cycle, a story like that should be relegated  to where it belongs: the local or regional feed so it can only be seen on the closed circuit monitor on the short bus where, if you haven’t seen it, it’s still news.

Don’t Let Those Little Details Get in the Way of a Good Story

June 4, 2007

Real estate people will tell you it’s all about location, location, location. In the TV news business, location apparently isn’t that important to some folks. I was reminded of this by a letter to the editor in the Monday morning edition of the Commercial Appeal. It seems that a person in Whitehaven complained that people in the TV news business referred to some crime in South Memphis as occurring in Whitehaven. Now, in all fairness, it doesn’t help that Whitehaven IS in the SOUTH part of the city and the area known as South Memphis is NORTH OF Whitehaven. Yes, it can be confusing until you figure out the borders. That’s one of the problems you face when you hire producers and reporters new to the market and they don’t bother to learn or don’t care about the names of particular areas. Some might think you’re splitting hairs about whether an area is Whitehaven, Orange Mound, Downtown or Midtown or East Memphis or Germantown or Cordova or Bartlett. Unless of course you live there and some TV type has some sort of negative story they say occurred in your part of town when it in fact it didn’t. In addition to hurting the credibility of the reporter I found it didn’t help the credibility of the anchor who read the story intro. Often times when people complained about a story, they wanted to talk to that news person who read that story on the area. It was especially bad if the story in question was recorded for a CNN cut-in or some other cable segment because that meant it would run for hours unless corrected. It didn’t take me long to learn the borders of what was Oakhaven and and what was Whitehaven. As any producer or reporter I worked with can attest, I used to take them to task if they let things like this slide. I mean come on, if we got caught letting little facts like the location of something get by us, it raises questions about what other facts we might let slide in the name of a story. At WREG we used to have a big city map in the conference room with a breakdown of which areas were called what and it was even broken down into neighborhoods. Often times early morning producers were scrambling to put together three hours of newscasts and couldn’t get to the conference room to check the map while the reporter in the field often times didn’t have access to the info. If a veteran photog wasn’t there to offer location information, the reporter went with what he or she thought was right.

Some might think that the issue of whether some place is Whitehaven or South Memphis is no big deal but I tend to think it’s like being a little pregnant. Afterall, it’s not like there is already a credibility issue with the news business in general and the TV news business in particular.