Archive for March 2009

An Offer He Couldn’t Refuse

March 30, 2009

I went out to run a few errands this Monday afternoon and there was one topic that had just about everybody talking: It appears John Calipari is headed for the University of Kentucky as head basketball coach.  Oh there are the denials and the need to get various pemissions to do this and to do that.  As a Kentucky fan, I think JC would be a great asset to the UK squad.  Of course, coaching basketball at UK is like being the football coach at Alabama.  Fans are very unforgiving for anything less than a stellar season which for Wildcat roundballers means at the least an appearance in the Final Four each year.  Now JC may back up and surprise everyone by NOT going to one of the storied programs of the country but I doubt it.

All of this does two things: It kind of rankles me and it also reminds me of my first time to break a story nationally.  Last things first: I was working as a reporter at radio station WLBJ in Bowling Green, KY, home of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.  My starter wife (I’ve since remarried) was working in the book-keeping department for some folks who had a close connection to the athletic program at WKU.  I got word that the basketball coach at WKU, Gene Keady, was going to leave The Big Red for Purdue.  This was big news for WKU which was coming off a big season.  I scrambled everywhere trying to find Keady and finally tracked him down and got confirmation from some folks that he was indeed leaving.  I rather nervously filed the story with the Associated Press in Louisville and soon the story was being flashed with an “urgent” on the national wires.  I received a very nice letter from the AP Bureau Chief and I still have it and the original wire copy from the old style teletype machine as it moved on the wires with my name credited on the story.  Now, having shared that story, this is why my backside is feeling a bit burned.

Coach Cal is a great guy.  He and his family attend the same church as my mother-in-law so I’ve seen him in the non-basketball situation.  He’s a great salesman and has really done wonders for the city of Memphis and the University.  Last Friday, he was all over about “not leaving Memphis”.  He was happy here he told everybody who would listen.  Then suddenly he’s ready to go to UK.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge anyone an opportunity to better their situation.  But how about a little honesty up front.  We’re all big people.  We can take the truth.  What I have trouble with are people I feel are yanking my chain.  It puts me in the mind of the guy who said “I don’t mind someone taking a whiz on MY shoes.  But it insults my intelligence when you do it and try to convince me that it’s raining”.   The bottom line:I wish JC the best of luck at the U of K if that is indeed where he goes.   But I can’t help but feel a little jaded because I feel this guy I held in such high regard is trying to tell me it’s been raining.

The Dreaded “Meet & Greet” by HR

March 19, 2009

There’s nothing like being greeted at the door of the company you work for by the folks from Human Resources  who tell you to “follow them”.  That apparently was the first real indication the employees had at The Commercial Appeal that Wednesday, March 18th was their “unlucky Day”.  According to information from the inside. if you made it to your desk in the newsroom, then you were home safe.  Then like watching the migrating animals crossing the croc-filled river in the National Georgraphic videos, there was nothing to really do except watch from your desk and speculate as to who was going to get nabbed next.  It had to be a depressing event to see the company you work for being reduced one person at a time.  Unfortunately, that is the reality of the times.  That doesn’t make it any easier though.

I guess part of the problem I have is that I’ve never really had a high opinion of H-R to begin with.  As a disclaimer I will admit that one of my brothers-in-law ( I have three) is an HR honcho with a big company.  I like him well enough; I just don’t really care for HR in general.  While they can do some good things, HR people tend to remind me of the “political officers” who played such big roles in the former Soviet Union.  I really get the impression that they made up a lot of busy work so they could keep their jobs and make it look like they contributed to the company’s bottom line somehow.  Yes, that may be a little short-sighted on my part but that’s my opinion.   I know HR can be involved in training and improving conditions but I have found they can come up with a nonsensical crap as well.  Does anyone with the former NYTimes Broadcasting division remember “the Moose”? I may post on that another.

Anyway, if you see someone from the C-A and they look a little dazed, buy them a beer but try to keep them away from  sharp objects.  They’ve been through a rough time.  The ironic thing about the lay-offs though may be that those let go from the company may be the lucky ones.  We’ll see.

Thus Endeth the Lesson

March 16, 2009

In the TV news business, we’re supposed to ask questions and get answers.  Unfortunately because of the constraints of time and the lack of warm bodies in news operations these days, too many reporters end up with the news article that the folks on the desk clipped from the newspaper, and either with the shooter assigned to the story or in some cases  their own camera, head out the door.  It’s not unusual for some reporters to have written their stories before they walk out and just get soundbites to fill in the holes.  I’m also told by one friend still in the business that news managers in his shop won’t really even consider a story idea unless it’s appeared in the local newspaper.  I guess that way everyone can be sure its news.  The problem is, except in some rare cases, we really never get any real answers to any really pressing questions.  That in turn makes TV news less relevant, viewers turn away and managers huddle with consultants to figure out a gimmick to get viewers to tune in such as giveaways, there’s less time for relevant stories and the “graveyard spiral” continues.

Having said that, if someone wants to see one of the best if not THE best interviewer on television, then turn to…..wait for it….The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  JS has great technique and unlike many others on TV, he doesn’t let someone off the hook no matter how much they squirm.  He also has one of the best research staffs in the business.  I’d put them up against the staff of Meet the Press.  If some talking head has said something and then denies it, Stewart’s staff can find the video clip busting the talking head.

What brings this to my attention is the interview Stewart conducted this past Thursday night with CNBC’s Jim Cramer. (by the way, this is only part 1 of the unedited interview available on-line) There had been a lot of hype leading up to the appearance by Cramer because Stewart had been going after some of the “financial experts” who some feel should have seen some of the economic disaster coming.  They didn’t.  In fact some appeared to be promoting some of the firms until just before they crashed.   I wasn’t sure what to expect when Stewart started the interview but it became very clear very quickly that JS was not joking around.  He held Cramer’s feet to the fire for the entire show and JS was asking some tough questions along with tough follow-ups.  It was great television.  The interview should be shown in every television newsroom and every college journalism classroom.  It may not put everyone back “on the path” but it may remind some why they got into the business in the first place.  Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming….

More Belt-Tightening at WREG, Just How Long Can Memphis Support All of These News Operations and a Former NYTimes Broadcast Executive is named GM in Memphis

March 9, 2009

Some folks at WREG are feeling the tightening of the financial belt and apparently it is being felt across the board as well at sister stations in the Local TV LLC group.  According to what I have been told there was a meeting late last week where personal time, sick time and vacation time were cut back and the benchmarks where one receives additional weeks of vacation were revamped.   Since it’s been four years since I was in the “system” there I can’t remember what the original bench marks were (one year you get one week of vacation, two years you get two weeks, etc.) but  those have been scaled back.  Now, instead of getting that extra week of vacation after ten years of employment, you must now be employed there for 14 years for that extra week.  Personal days were cut altogether, and you now only get one week of sick leave.  Apparently this applies even if someone is under contract.  And I would imagine if someone pitches a fit, then it would be time for re-evaluation on whether that person is indeed a team player.  I’m sure someone with more intimate knowledge of the system will want to weigh in and clarify.  Still, as more stations slash here and there, I would doubt that anyone would want to openly bitch and moan as they are still gainfully employed and there’s something to be said for that.

And speaking of which, it seems a growing number of stations are looking at the product they put on the air and the manpower (womanpower?) required to put those shows on the air and re-evaluating those things.  Apparently some stations are pulling the plug temporarily on some weekend evening news shows, especially those that are often pre-empted by sports programming running long.  I would imagine it is a tempting trend.   And that brings up a question that seems to have even more merit during these tough economic times.  HOW LONG CAN A MARKET SUSTAIN NEWS OPERATIONS AT EVERY TV STATION?  I know that just about every news operation has tried to squeeze as much as they can out of each employee and any employee who has half a brain knows they had better pitch in or they will find themselves out on the street.  But at what point in time do the people who control the purse strings say “hey, let’s cut news operations and save a million dollars or so a year”.  I would think that those folks in news operations that are perennial also-rans in the ratings have to be sweating bullets these days.

It is indeed a small world when it comes to the wonderful world of broadcasting.  I’ve said for years that there are only about 300 on-air people in the TV news business and every few years many of these folks shift to another station.  Well, it turns out that is also the case for managers as well.  It seems a former GM for one of the  former NYTimes stations is coming to Memphis to take over the operations of WPTY/WLMT.  Rene LaSpina will be take over when Mr. Peck departs.  LaSpina started out in sales at WNEP (sister station to WREG Memphis) in Scranton, PA before finally being named GM before leaving for WCCO in the Twin Cities.  She left there to take over Young Broadcasting’s WTEN in Albany, NY before heading to the Bluff City.  Welcome to Memphis.

News People Should Explore a Career in Sports, & A Memphis Newsperson Who Already Has a Plan B

March 4, 2009

These days it’s hard to escape the realities of the economy and the state of our 200.5Ks (formerly known as 401Ks which are now worth about half of what they were).  I received a call from my good friend and former co-worker Jack Church who was making a business call in my former hometown of Bowling Green, KY and the  home of the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky University.  Yes, I’m a Topper from back in the late 70s.  But I digress.  Jack called to tell me he was with some clients and they were listening to sports radio as they went to lunch or where ever and the news came on that Kurt Warner who led his Arizona Cardinals to a second place finish at the Superbowl was given a two year, 23 million dollar contract with a 15-million dollar signing bonus to stay with the Cardinals.   So, do you suppose he is worried about job security?  Then Jack shared with me that Manny Ramirez received a two year, 45 million dollar deal to stay with the LA Dodgers.  Apparently it’s all about being able to do something good with leather balls that will make you some serious money.   LOL  Moving on.

My recent post about newspeople (TV, newspaper and radio) needing to have a Plan B in case they suddenly find themselves in the unemployment line sparked some interest.  This point should really be driven home as the Commercial Appeal prepares to lay off folks from the editorial staff.  According to Mediaverse, those newspaper folks have received a reprieve of a few days. But it is just that: a reprieve.  Turns out at least one local TV person has a Plan B.  I’m talking about Corie Ventura, the traffic person on WREG TV’s morning show.  Corie started working at WREG around 2000 and spent until 2007 behind the scenes in the newsroom.  She’s cute, talented and I encouraged her to try for an on-air position before I left in 2004 but the news director suggested otherwise.  Apparently a member of management finally saw her talent and put her on morning traffic in addition to her other duties.  Well, it seems Corie’s on camera talent has really begun to shine through as she is involved in a web based soap opera.  And this really sweet girl plays a B*TCH in the soap opera.  It’s usually the other way around!  Wait, did I really just write that? LOL For those who haven’t caught Corie, check out this website. I hope this leads to bigger and better things so I can say I knew Corie when.