Archive for February 2009

What Will You Do When You Lose Your Job in the News Business? & Dealing with New Forms of Communication

February 27, 2009

What will you do when you lose your job in the news business?  I was chatting with my good friend and former co-worker Jamey Tucker about that.  He had posted that on his blog a while back and he was also talking to some of his current TV co-workers in Nashville about it.  This is especially relevant these days as newsrooms across the country make cuts and in the case of some broadcast groups, they not only tighten belts but some (Young Broadcasting for one) have filed for bankruptcy protection.  JT said he spoke to almost two dozen co-workers and if I understood him correctly, no one, NOT A SINGLE ONE, had an action plan or a fallback position.  Folks, I hate to break this to you but I don’t think there is ANY such thing as a secure job in the TV, radio or newspaper business anymore.  Case in point, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, CO closed its doors after 150-years in the business.  Locally, I’m told by a reliable source that The Commercial Appeal, which has announced that cuts are coming, will lay off 18 folks in “Editorial” March 12.

Some might think “hey, I’m a manager and high up on the totem pole.  They won’t cut me!”  I think that is rather foolish thinking.  I know when I was in the newsroom folks would say “hey, I can always flip burgers if I lose my job”.  You might be surprised to find that there are even fewer of those jobs out there these days.  Some news people (especially those on-air) might think they can slip into some PR role in the community.  Maybe so, but even demand for those has increased and they don’t pay as much as you might think IF you can find an open position.  What’s the answer?  I wish I knew.  I’m still trying to unload some stocks that I thought would never be worth as little as they are today.  Someone mentioned the other day that the NYTimes stock had dropped to the point that shares were selling for about 75 cents more than the Sunday paper?  Now that is pretty bad.  A couple of years ago I would have bet money (and I did) that the NYTimes would never go under and now I think it is a very real possibility.  Moving on…

I think I’ve mentioned previously that I really try to embrace new technologies and forms of communications.  I wasn’t on the cutting edge of blogging but I’ve jumped in and tried to keep up with it.  I’ve considered doing a podcast or perhaps doing some video on this but I’m afraid that someone clicking on my blog might be scared away if my big old talking head suddenly comes up on their computer screen.  While I’ve not Twittered, I have joined Facebook and Linkedin. …and that’s about it.  I get notifications all the time about becoming friends with someone and to be honest, I just don’t have the time to sit down and take care of all of that.  I’ve noticed (and this is not a slam by any means) that many (not all, mind you) folks who have a lot of time to post on Facebook have a paying job that gives them the time for that luxury.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a lot to be said for networking but I finally checked in on my Facebook page for the first time in more than a month!  And here’s an observation: If you are really needing to get in touch with me about something you want me to do;  email me, text me or call me.  If you rely on my Facebook connection to get in touch with me then you are liable to be SOL in a BOW.  Again, moving on..

As I said I’m trying to embrace new forms of technology.  I remember in grade school back in the 60s where we were told we would have video-telephones to communicate, jet packs to get around town and we would just take pills and not have to eat food.  Well, I NEED to eat pills instead of food and that would help my waistline.  I don’t use a jetpack but I do fly an airplane. And my oldest son asked me if I would join Skype so we could have video communication.  Apparently I’m the only parent/Grandparent in the family who hasn’t joined up so far.  I’ve installed the software on my computer and have hooked up my video and audio gear to provide the picture and sound.  I still haven’t made contact with anyone but I hope to try it out for the first time this weekend.  It may turn out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread or it could be like my sky-blue polyester disco suit from the 70s:  one of those things that just seemed like the thing to have or do at the time.  I’ll keep you posted.

What Kind of Confidence Does This Inspire?

February 19, 2009

Everyone who has bills to pay knows that things are tough out there.  Managers are constantly reminding employees to hold down expenses and “work smarter” and “we can get through this”.  It can be tough to keep thinking those positive thoughts when the head of an organization announces his or her resignation.  It’s especially tough when that “leader” plans to leave quickly.

I don’t know the particulars but I received an email that the GM at WPTY/WLMT in Memphis, Jack Peck, announced his resignation Wednesday afternoon.  The information I received said he would be gone in two weeks.  Wow.  People in TV stations (specifically newsrooms) are used to someone fired and escorted out the door but that is usually for the worker bees although I have seen that done to a couple of mid-level managers.  But when the GM of a TV station gives two weeks notice, it starts folks to wondering if the ship is floundering and that leader is getting out while the getting is good.  That may not be the case over on Union Extended and perhaps someone will share.

I’ve discovered that even if the leader of a company or business isn’t well liked, the departure of that person can still create an unsettled feeling since in some cases it’s “better the devil you than the devil you don’t.”  I do know of one incident not too long ago when a GM at WHBQ decided to leave.   This guy (as I understand) was rather heavy-handed in his dismissal of employees.  And, (again if I remember correctly) after telling everyone he had to let them go as a cost cutting measure, he shows up to work on a shiny new motorcycle.  I’m not sure but it seems to me when he finally left, he basically told the staff they could kiss his backside.  Now this might be urban myth but I heard it from a couple of former folks from over on Highland so maybe there is truth.  Anyone know enough to be able to share?

If TV Viewers Aren’t Ready by Now for the Switch, Waiting a Few Months Isn’t Going to Help and What do You do When the Station You Work for Files for Bankruptcy protection.

February 17, 2009

People who know me know I’m probably not the most technically savvy person out there.  Oh, I can figure things out eventually but I’m not the person who has to have the first high-tech gadget or new software program.  But I will say I know when it’s time to get on board the bandwagon.  I like to see where the technology is going before I pull the trigger on buying something.  That’s why I never ended up with a consumer grade Sony Beta Video recorder.  I waited and bought into the VHS thing.  Same thing with the DVD thing and I’m still waiting to see if this Blu-Ray thing is worth while.  Having said all of that, I can’t understand why the federal government put the change-over to digital TV on hold until June 12.  For years, February 17 (today) was supposed to be the big day.  Stations geared up for it.  Cable and satellite providers promoted the heck out of it.  But it seems that there are some folks out there who haven’t gotten the message and someone is afraid they won’t know what to do.  Well, I hate to break the news to those folks, but if they haven’t figured it out by now, they still won’t have it figured out by June 12.  Sure Meemaw and Pappaw and probably Cousin Rufus and his brood might miss out on their favorite soaps or reality TV show.  But at what point do you say “it’s time” and do what you need to do.

The GM has pointed out on this blog that it costs a lot of money to keep analog AND digital transmitters running.   So that means  if it costs more to operate a station and you were counting on pulling the analog plug, well now you have an additional expense for about a half a year that you weren’t counting on.  Where will that money come from?  Will you have to cut jobs to make up the loss?  Since I don’t run a station, I’m not sure of the answer.  I just think that the delay of the digital change-over is not going to make much of a difference to those who haven’t figured it out.  I also predict that come June 11, there will be some folks wringing their hands and on June 12th, they will be calling the local TV stations (and their congressmen no doubt) to ask what is going on with the TV signal.  IMHO the delay is not worth it.  Nuff said there.

I’ve worked at a variety of radio and TV stations since college.  While all the stations made noise about keeping expenses under control, you knew which ones cared about providing employees with the tools and equipment they needed to do the job properly and those that pinched a penny so hard that Mr. Lincoln was choking.  And while I was let go from one station and that proved to be traumatic enough, I never worked at a station that filed for bankruptcy protection while I was there.  I got a call recently that Young Broadcasting which has a station in San Francisco (KRON) and one in Nashville (WKRN) among other stations has filed for bankruptcy.  I’m not sure if it was Chapter 7 or 11 but that has to be an unsettling event no matter which way it goes.  I would imagine that the night after that announcement, folks couldn’t get into an edit bay at stations owned by Young as people lined up to get their resume tapes in order.  The managers apparently told the employees at those stations that it would be business as usual but after that kind of announcement, can it ever be business as usual?

For years there have been predictions that the number of news operations in the market will be whittled down as some stations decide it just isn’t worth it to keep shoveling money to newsrooms that aren’t able to really compete.  This might be the signal that the change is coming.  And folks, if you haven’t proven yourself to be a multi-tasking, team player, then you may just find you don’t have a job and your lack of skills may keep you from getting another job across town or anywhere else in the TV news biz.

Is The Concept of a One Man Band/Video Journalist A Habit We Have to Learn

February 9, 2009

If you want to get some news folks involved in a heated argument really fast, mention One Man Bands/Video Journalists/Backpack Journalist.  There may be another term or two but I’m not familiar with them.    Anway, I ran across a topic on the Watercooler section of TVSpy/Shoptalk and it was on OMB/VJ.

Since some of you may not be able to read this blurb, here is what the poster said: Feb 9, 2009 6:54 AM EST

I’m a VJ in a top 100 market at a station with a well implemented core of VJers who consistently win awards/turn out quality paks for both shooting AND reporting.

I believe that if the gear is light, if the training is fluid and management only expects a segment of their WILLING staff to VJ… it not only works, it is an incredibly viable way to create quality content. I don’t think an all VJ shop is smart per say, but it can work at all levels.

Are there problems? Yes. Do I wish I had more collaboration once and a while? Of course. Is it harder to do certain things that would be better with a two person team? It is. However, 9 times out of 10 everything is fine. As long as they don’t expect live shots, big sweep pieces or special projects to be 100% VJd, I’m okay with it.

The key is that management knows and understands I’m a VJ… that I may need a little more time or that I can’t take on something epic on a daily basis. That line of communication is the difference between a dramatic reduction in understanding and quality.

The last and most important thing for the older generation to understand… from school to the time I was hired, to now, I’ve never had a shooter. I’m actually more comfortable on my own then I am with one and I love the control I get over the story. There will be more and more like me every year.

As long as this job exists, people will adapt at an earlier age to do it. Reporting is too popular a medium.

Willingness and understanding will even the balance in quality. I believe it will improve.

I have read and respected your opinions for some time now. I understand that it’s largely not a personal fear about taking on more work, but an overall encompassing concern that the quality of journalism with decrease. I share that same concern. Stations will go both ways in this, as they have on several forks in the past.

There are many wrong ways to do it, but more and more, the right ways are emerging. I believe my situation is at the least, a decent example of that.

It’s me again. I have worked both side of this and I have done it with the old heavy equipment of 30-years ago and I have done it with the new lightweight equipment we have now.  I’ve worked with some great shooters and I’ve worked with some who didn’t seem to know which end of the camera to point at the action.  I worked with one guy who asked me if I thought he ought to re-white balance after changing locations and lighting conditions.  IMHO, there is nothing like having a great shooter who is always thinking two steps ahead and wants to talk over the story with you before you get to where you are going.  On the other hand, there are few things worse than dealing with a shooter who stays on his/her cell phone the entire time you are traveling to your location and then asks you as you are getting out of the vehicle what the story is about or what shots you want.  It’s happened to me before and it’s during the latter situation that I had wished that I had been a OMB/VJ.  If I have to tell the shooter everything to shoot, why not do it myself.   I agree that there are some situations that call for a two man crew and there are just no two ways around it.  Trying to get an interview in the midst of a tightly packed crowd is tough enough with a reporter clearing your path.  It’s almost impossible for a OMB/VJ to do it.  Oh, it can be done but it’s stressful.  I think the key to a successful OMB/VJ operation is what WKRN was working for when they first started their efforts about three years ago before abandoning the initial premise.  They had the VJs on a beat system and allowed them a day or so each week to plan things out.  It was only when WKRN decided to have VJ’s abandon the beat system  and turn a pack every day that the VJs began to feel abused.  I know some VJs on staff there enjoyed their work before the change from the beat system.  Sure, there were some folks who tried to “game” the system and just basically phoned in the effort but you will have those folks in every news operation.

I think we will see a gradual shift to OMB/VJ operations until just about every medium to small market has a few or perhaps as many as half of the reporting staff as OMB in the newsroom.  Heck,  Tommy Stafford and Doug Viar used to do it for WREG and other stations through the 80s and 90s.  We might even see more OMBs in the larger markets.  I think part of the key to this is to develop the proper mindset before the newsies get out of college.  Those folks who “don’t want to report, they just want to anchor” are just lazy and will fall by the wayside.  If one instills the positive side of OMB/VJ early on, AND  they get the proper training, AND the OMB/VJ is NOT ABUSED by some moron manager/desk person who has never been in the field and doesn’t have a clue as to what goes on in a video shoot AND the pay is as good as anyone else shooting and reporting, then I think the OMB/VJ concept has the potential to take off and in fact be embraced. Of course trying to make everything in that last line might be impossible but that’s what it will take to make it work. And those who shoot and report may just find that they like it. 



Say Goodbye to the Outdoor Show in Memphis, and I hope You Aren’t TOO Attached to that News Chopper Either.

February 3, 2009

Occasionally something crosses my desk that really gets my attention.  This morning was one of those times.  I was asked if I knew that WREG had canceled its long-running News Channel 3 Outdoors Show.  I had not heard that.  Word has it that the axe was dropped Monday afternoon.  The two man crew who made the show happen each week, Jeff Woods and Dan Patton, will go back into the videographer pool for news.  The show, first known as MidSouth Outdoors and also known by some insiders as “The Redneck Roundup” and the “Huntin’ and Killin’ Show” first went on the air back in 1995.  It was based on an extremely popular  show at sister-station WNEP called Pennsylvania Outdoors and was the only locally produced outdoor show in the Memphis area.  Unlike many outdoor shows, this one involved creating a new 30-minute show about 48 weeks of the year.  Those shows were only canceled because of sporting events such as basketball during March Madness.  When the show started, I was actively involved, more so than in the last years where I mainly co-hosted it.  When it first started, Jeff Woods was the videographer, Mark Wright (now an attorney in Memphis) was the producer,  I was the host and we had guests hosts of the show rotate in.  Also the show was shot in the extra studio at WREG.  When Mark Wright left, Jeff Woods took over the role of producer/co-host and Dan Patton was hired as videographer/editor.  We started shooting all the segments including the “Ins” and “Outs”  in the field as well.  The show developed a following and had about as many viewers on the replay at 5:30 Saturday morning as it did in the original time slot of 6:30 Saturday night.  They must still air reruns with me because I still have people telling me that they really enjoy me on “that outdoor show”.

No reason was shared for me as to why the plug was pulled but I’m sure that one will be forthcoming.   I’m also told that two videographers were let go Monday at WREG including Ron Guidry (who had been there since the late 90s and shot sports when I was there).   Not sure if they did that to make room for Dan and Jeff or not.  Anyway, I have a lot of fond memories from the Outdoor Show including two segments I shot with my dad.  One includes the “jumping fish” which I still have people asking about.  Fortunately for Jeff Woods and Dan Patton, they have skills the station can use.  Jeff knows the area inside and out and could still sling a camera on his shoulder when needed.  Dan is a great shooter (perhaps one of the top ones at WREG) but he is an even better editor.  News used to press him in service when they needed special “opens” for their newscasts.   They will do well.  They may not enjoy life as much in news rotation as they did covering the outdoors but “hey”, at least they have jobs.  I think the Outdoor Show will be missed. Moving on.

Times are definitely tough at the Station Down On The River.  I hear rumors that the Big Red News Chopper 3 could find itself on the chopping block.  Yes, choppers are high profile newsgathering tools and they can really make a difference in a big story.  But they are also expensive to fly and maintain.  Apparently we shouldn’t be surprised to see NC3 fly off in the sunset anytime soon.  This comes as WREG’s sister station WNEP announced it is selling its news helicopter.  WNEP, located in the mountains of Pennsylvania and serves the market of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, has had a news helicopter since I first started at WREG.  It actually owns its chopper unlike WREG which leases theirs.  I think having that chopper at WNEP helped make it the dominant news station in that part of the country.  It will be interesting to see how it fares after that whirlybird has flown the coop.

Yes sir, these are tough times…tough times indeed.