Archive for August 2009

It’s Not the Size But What You Do With It That’s Important & Another TV Group Faces Financial Issues

August 31, 2009

Some people will tell you size is not important but the bigger it is, the more bragging you will hear.  I’m talking about TV market ranking folks.  And the latest market rankings show that Memphis has slipped again, this time from #48 to #50. There was a time when it was the largest market in the (then NYTimes Broadcast Group) now Local TV stable of stations.  It was somewhere in the low 40s.  It had sister stations in Oklahoma City and Norfolk, VA right there with it.  Those markets are still in the low 40s.  Memphis is hemorrhaging people pretty fast to be dropping as it is.  Having said that, market size does not necessarily denote quality.  I’ve worked in small to medium sized markets I’ve found there are some small markets that acted like small market operations while other small market operations were head and shoulders above some of their bigger market cousins. I started out at WBBJ in Jackson, TN when I think it was about a 190 market.  When I was there, it ran like it was in an even smaller market.  The ranking is #173.  I haven’t seen their product lately so I can’t tell you anything about it but it could only go up since I worked there.  (Case in point: when I was there we had only one field camera for the entire newsroom including sports and we had one editor for the entire station.  Sports would borrow the production camera on Monday and shoot all the sports stories for the week on Monday.  Nuff said there.) At the same time KAIT in nearby Jonesboro, AR was about the same size market (it’s now #181)  and was head and shoulders above WBBJ in equipment and production values.  KFVS in Cape Girardeau. MO was my next stop (now #78 in a hyphenated market). It had generally good equipment and the people to get things done.  It was a good place to work and there was steady competition from nearby WPSD in Paducah while not so much from WSIL in Harrisburg, IL.  I traveled next to Tallahassee, FL (now #106) where I worked for WTXL.  That station at the time didn’t have great equipment and was up against a powerhouse station WCTV which had a lot of money and a lot of people.  Ft Myers was my next stop (now a #62 market) and at the time it was in the high 80s or low 90s I think.  Jack, you’ll have to help me out on this one.  There was some good TV being produced in that market.  After that, I ended up in Memphis where the product and equipment at WREG was good IMHO.  So size really doesn’t matter if you compare what you do with it (your news product that is) and not just measure your market size.  Oh sure, there are people who will brag that they are in a top 20 or 30 market but I’ve seen some real crap come out of those markets and some of that stuff, well, I wouldn’t brag about it for sure.  Moving on.

I see yet another broadcast/newspaper group has fallen on hard times.  Freedom Communications of Irving, California, which owns eight TV stations and a number of newspapers was supposed to announce it was filing for bankruptcy.  That’s a shame because it has some good TV operations in its stable including WTVC in Chattanooga and WPEC in West Palm Beach, FL (both considered strong stations).  I don’t know what this means to the stations involved but I guess if the price is right, maybe Oak Hill might come a-courting.  We’ll wait and see.

If You Know Something Your Co-Workers Don’t, Be Careful How You Share It.

August 28, 2009

Time was, a newsroom (TV, radio, newspaper) held a plethora of potential “Trivial Pursuit” game participants.  That’s because in those newsrooms, one could generally find folks with good liberal arts backgrounds, people tended to be well read, and they were constantly exposed to a variety of subjects and topics since they had to be able to be “instant experts” of the story de jour they were covering for the day.  Many of those had a noggin  filled with tidbits of both useful and useless information.  That was also one of the advantages of working with the “old timers” in a newsroom who knew the history of a town or region.  One could pick up tidbits of history or trivia from the old farts in the newsroom before it became cheaper to get rid of them and hire folks right out of college who would work for a half of the pay.  Hey, it’s not personal, it’s just business.  I understand that.  The downside is that the overall knowledge base in the newsroom was diminished somewhat when the old guard left.  Yes, the young pups can now “Google” information on the “internets” but that doesn’t always work.  Case in point, a friend and former co-worker of mine who works in a medium sized CBS affiliate told me last month that a producer on the morning show was asking a question about running a possible story.  It seems the producer kept getting these URGENT bulletins from the wire about some guy named “Walter Cronkite” being hospitalized.  The producer was trying to decide whether to stick something in the newscast because apparently this guy used to be somebody but wasn’t sure whether to put something in the line-up.  I can just picture my friend rolling his eyes and strongly suggesting some action.  Those darned kids these days!

With that in mind, the case of an anchor at a small market serving the AR/LA/MS area (Monroe, LA-El Dorado, AR/market 136 ) has been floating around the internet.  You can read details by clicking this link. In a nutshell, the news director at his station recently was asking about the  “Enola Gay”, the B-29 that delivered the first atomic weapon over Japan and this particular anchor posted on his personal Facebook account that he was apparently the only person under 40 in the newsroom who knew about the aircraft and its historic significance.  Granted, it may not have been the smartest thing to do but hey, some of the stuff  I see posted on Facebook is questionable anyway.  The news director came to the anchor and told him to take it down and I understand it, he instead shutdown his entire Facebook account.  The anchor thought that solved the problem and instead was informed a day later that he was being terminated because he basically had embarrassed the station.  Wow.  That’s a tough manager.  Still, there are a couple of lessons to be learned here.  Be careful what you post on the social media pages.  Just about anyone who has ever worked in the news business knows there are always people out there just waiting to be offended.  Chances are, they will find you.  If you know something or have some information, be careful how you share and with whom you share.  Not everyone is going to be as impressed with you as you might think.  Again, there are plenty of folks out there waiting to be offended and chances are they will be.  (This by the way written by someone who lives in a city where 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders will no longer be held back if they have failing grades because it might hurt their self esteem.)  I will admit that while I have a Facebook account, I really don’t do much with it.  I would imagine there are people out there who will do some re-evaluation of what they post as well.  In fact, one friend of mine who works at a TV station says he’s seriously considering de-friending everyone of his co-workers from his Facebook account.  He’s concerned if he doesn’t, it could cost him his job some day.

Excuse Mr. Larkins, Would You Like Some Cheese with your Whine?

August 27, 2009

For years I’ve heard the expression that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”.  It paid off this week although one friend told me that I basically sounded like his cranky old grandfather. The issue was the pile of yard waste (bags of grass from the lawn and other debris that had been sitting in front of my house since early August and it was getting larger each week.  I had written about it in my previous blog post.

I received an email from WMCTV5 reporter Jamel Major Wednesday morning indicating that they were working on a story about the slow pick-up of yard waste and that he wanted to talk to me.  As I responded to the email, I heard a knock on the door and “lo and behold” there was Mr. Major and videographer Erik Honeycutt.  And while I was chatting with them in my front yard, trucks and crews from the City of Memphis showed up and started loading the debris. Apparently they had called the city to tell them they were doing a story on the slow pick-up of yard waste and that they would be at my house.    I told them they were “on my side” better than Andy Wise.  They both just laughed.  I will admit that during the on-camera interview, I felt kind of awkward and wasn’t sure how goofy I was going to come off looking.  It wasn’t too bad and I even received a phone call right after the story aired from a woman I first met when I first showed up in town more than 20-years ago.  She called to let me know that she had just “seen me on TV” and that I got my point across to the viewers.  Thanks Rosemarie.  For that I thank Mr. Major and Mr. Honeycutt.  If you are so inclined, you can see the story AND read the transcript of the story a the WMC website.  Here’s the link.

I can also share with you that I’m already getting grief from my friends about all of this.  Tommy Stafford who lives in Virginia posted a comment on my previous post accusing me of auditoning for WMC.  LOL

Sometimes You Just Have to Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

August 24, 2009

I know from personal experience that when it comes to new systems and new operations that it somestimes takes a littel time to get the bugs worked out.  At the station I worked at in the Ft. Myers/Naples area, the now defunct ABC affiliate WEVU-TV, (it exists in some other form or fashion under different call letters I think) we moved into a brand-new building over the course of a weekend.  Our first newscast was the early evening news.  The anchors sat on set, the news open rolled and voila!, no audio could be heard from our microphones.  That hadn’t been hooked up yet!  We went to black, popped in some other show and didn’t have an early news.  At 11pm, the problem was resolved and while we may have had another minor glitch, everything else was okay.  As I said, I understand there are always a few SNAFUs to work out in the early days.  Having said that, I’m more than a little annoyed by the new yard waste collection effort by the city of Memphis.  They changed over to the new system the first full week of July.  Up until that point if you placed yard waste (bagged grass, tree limbs, etc. by the curb, it got picked up when the rest of your garbage was collected.  It’s one of the services we expect by paying our city fees.  Yes, there is a caveat that “yard waste will be picked up when possible” and I understand that.  But that usually means the system is bogged down by things such as Hurricane Elvis or other bad storms.  So, after having hauled our yard waste to the curb, I expected to see it gone sometime during the week.  Not anymore.  The last time the city picked up yard waste at my house was August 7th.  Since then when I cut the grass, I had to move the debris since it was killing our grass next to North Parkway.  I moved it yet again this past weekend as it still hadn’t been picked up.  I asked the folks collecting the garbage on Friday if there was a problem and they said no, and that it was supposed to be collected when all other garbage was collected.  After hearing that, I went into my office, got on the computer and made up the following signs and posted them in my front yard where all who drive by can see them. 

Yes, it’s just blowing off some steam and no, it probably won’t do any good.  But hey, it’s one step away from placing all of the trash into the traffic lane to get it off of my grass.  Of course then I’m sure I would receive a citation for littering if it moved the foot or so into the street while it’s just an eyesore when it stays where it is on the curb.

A Clever Way to Do A TV News Story When No One Will Talk on Camera

August 21, 2009

Anyone who has reported in TV news for any amount of time knows there is nothing more frustrating than to turn a story when no one will talk to you on camera.  I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I was told that there would be no comment from the principal parties or no one would talk about the issues, or someone told me they didn’t have enough information to address the issue or (and this is my favorite) someone wants to talk to you but not on camera and not for attribution. The last one is usually some yahoo who can’t wait to share his or her opinion but doesn’t have the gonads to stand behind his ir her comments publically.   Having said all of that, I was talking to my friend Jamey Tucker (formerly of WREG and now a VJ at WKRN in Nashville) about a story he was working on (as I understand it) regarding the banning of video shot by camera phones at SEC football games.  No one from the SEC wanted to talk about it, nobody at Vanderbilt in Nashville wanted to talk about it.  Basically he had a story to tell and no sound to do it.  Now, I have turned a story which amounted to long walking stand-ups and graphics and it got the point across but it wasn’t anything to write home about.  Jamey, IMHO, is a very resourceful and creative sort and he is one to make lemonade when someone hands him lemons.  Take a look at what he ended up doing with the story.  Again, IMHO, it conveys the information and does so in a humorous way.  Plus, it’s a story that I’M talking about.  Here’s the link, check in out.

The Man Who Helped Shape the Look of Modern TV News Passes and The Legacy of College Basketball in Memphis and Using Social Media to Promote Your Station

August 20, 2009

Yes, I know I’m late on posting on the passing of legendary newsman Don Hewitt but I just look at it as better late than never.  I won’t go into his many accomplishments but I will say that innovations he introduced changed the look of local TV as everybody strived to look “like the big boys” at network.  As I understand it, he introduced cue cards for anchors so they were looking at the camera instead of the news copy on their desk.  That move paved the way to the creation of teleprompters that allowed just about anyone who could read to sit in front of a camera and regurgitate the news of the day.  In the early says, the anchor/s may have written most of what was being read.  Later, that changed (in many cases) where the anchors just showed up, put on make-up, read the news and then spent the rest of the time surfing the internet, talking to friends on the phone about how hard they worked and making appointments to get their hair/nails done.  (That may no longer be the case with the budget crunch at TV stations since most operations are having to do more with less).   Hewitt is credited (I’m told) with introducing “word supers” on the screen along with some graphic information.  All of this eventually morphed into what we see today as the face of TV.   I can honestly say it was his simple approach at the then ground-breaking news magazine show “60-Minutes” that helped inspire me to want to go into TV news.  His idea was basically “tell them a story”.   I watched 60 Minutes early on and was inspired by the mix of hard news and features.  I found out later when I went off to college that the folks on 60-Minutes made it look easy when in fact it was not.  They also had resources/budgets  that many local TV stations just did not have, although a number of them tried with various levels of success.  Any news organization that worked with a weekly P.M. Magazine, monthly feature show or weekly Outdoor show can trace their beginnings back to D-H, IMHO.   I don’t think Hewitt’s original idea was to make a lot of money with 60-Minutes but its popularity soon caught the attention of those who managed the money at TV operations across the country.  Imagine, putting news resources to work and the results can make you money.  Wow, what a concept.  I will raise an adult beverage in your honor Mr. Hewitt.  I doubt we will see the likes of you again and you will be missed, at least by old farts like me.

I was out of town on family business earlier this week in Western Kentucky and since some of my family members who still live in the Bluegrass State are big Kentucky Wildcast basketball fans, the topic of John Calipari came up.  For those of you not up to speed, Calipara left the University of Memphis to take over the coaching post at the University of Kentucky.  They’re still basically rubbing their hands with glee that they landed Calipari and I applaud them for it.  Hey, I’m still a Big Blue fan.  Having said that,  I’m reminded of the old adage “Be careful what you wish for”, especially after seeing the Thursday edition of the Commercial Appeal.  The headline was that the U of M will have to forfeit their season which helped land Calipari his job at Kentucky.  It seems the NCAA frowns on some of the stuff that took place (somebody else taking an athlete’s SAT exam for example) during Coach Cal’s reign.  That means for a second time, the great strides made by Calipari with a basketball program (remember UMass) have been stricken from the books because of “issues” that violate NCAA rules.  Knowing what I know about UK fans and their need to win, some don’t care what has to be done to win a national championship.  But if that title is ever taken away, Calipari will be gone faster than a mint julep on Derby Day.

Finally, I see a growing number of folks in the TV news business are using “social media” to get the word out about what is going on at their stations.  Hey, I applaud them.  While I’m signed up for Facebook, I still only manage to check in about once every three weeks to see what’s going on.  I know some people check in and write every hour or so.  It’s a great way to share information and keep your “peeps” in the loop of what’s going on.  I just haven’t been able to get into the swing of it and I can tell you Twitter is NOT in my future at all.  In fact, it’s all I can do to blog.  Having said that, I ran into an article in TVSpy/Shoptalk that I found to be interesting.  If you have time, check out “Using Social Media to Recruit Viewers, Six Rules You Should Never Break”.  I’m not saying that anyone has broken these rules, I’m just sharing the rules that were posted.  I’d be curious as to what others think about those rules.

Yet Another Reason to Pull the Plug on My Cable Service and Please Remove ALL the Caffeine from the Folks in the Morning at The Weather Channel.

August 10, 2009

I want to say “thank-you” to my local cable system.  You managed to weigh in on my side in an on-going family argument/discussion and didn’t even know it.

Here’s the deal:There aren’t a lot of shows I watch on TV.  I never got on board the reality TV train.  I watched a few minutes of one of the first reality shows to air on CBS (was that Survivor?) and found it to be contrived.  I consider it to be a source of pride that I’ve never watched ANY of the so-called reality show through its entirety and have no intention of doing so.  When I watch TV it is usually tuned to The History Channel (my wife refers to it as the ‘Hitler Channel’ since it shows so much WWII stuff), the Discovery Channel, AMC, TCM, The Weather Channel (more on that in a moment), CNN and MSNBC.  We generally only tune in to the local stations when bad weather is approaching.  I can’t remember the last time we intentionally watched the local news.  About 10 years ago, I had Direct TV installed with the intention of pulling the plug on the local cable TV.  My wife resisted because and ONLY because cable offered LOCAL WEATHER on The Weather Channel’s ‘Local on the Eights’.  She liked to watch MSNBC for news coverage, specifically Keith Olbermann and Rachael Maddow.  Well, the local cable operation recently gave my lovely and talented bride a reason to pull the plug when they dropped MSNBC from its lineup on Channel 45 and moved it to Channel 81 which one needs a digital cable tuner to watch.  So, where does my wife NOW get her MSNBC fix?  That’s right, on Direct TV!  Yes, I know, the loss of one household probably doesn’t concern the local cable company since a year’s worth of basic cable is only about $700 bucks to their bottom line. But 700 bucks to me is 700-bucks and I’m already figuring out where to spend it.

One of the first things I do after turning on the coffee maker in the morning is to turn on the TV to see what’s happening with the weather.  I generally already have an idea because I stepped out front to grab the paper and if the side-walk is wet, I know it’s raining, , etc.  And I know that the parent company of NBC bought The Weather Channel and has been busy transforming it from what it was to something new.  Also, let me go ahead and say that, having worked on a morning show, I know the importance of having enthusiasm by the on-air team.  But the good folks at The Weather Channel have gone WWAAAAAYYYYYYYYY overboard with this “Wake up with Al Roker” thing.  I think they’re trying too hard to show us how much fun they’re having and it comes off (to me at least) as being too contrived.  I now have to hit the mute button until I see the “Local on the 8s” segment.  The rest of the time, I end up reading the national maps with the sound off and figuring out the weather on my own.  That’s a shame too.  Plus, I swear they either repeat the wackiness/shenanigans or just replay the tape a little later in the morning in case some of the viewing audience missed some of the contrived hilarity/ jocularity that takes place.  Folks, sometimes the viewing public just wants information without the hijinx.  Unfortunately, the places where that is available appears to be diminishing each day.  Nuff said.