Would You Pay to View “On-Line” Content and What Would TV Stations do Without local Newspapers

Posted October 19, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

The boom of the Internet has been a thorn in the side of news gathering organizations from almost the beginning, especially the print media.  How do they make money on something that in many cases is given away free of charge.  The news gathering organizations still have to pay reporters/producers/editors etc. and when they make the information available on-line, it is often there like an apple ready to be picked.  There it is sometimes copied by some and placed on aggregate internet sites where the information is shared by even more folks, sometimes with attribution, sometimes without.  I know I’ve accessed information from various sources and usually cut and paste a section of the article with a link to the full article.  I generally do attribute the source of information.  However, I’ve not paid for the information and therein lies the rub for some organizations.  The Associated Press has indicated that it plans to go after those who use their content.  Think they can’t?  It’s copyrighted material.  Remember the music industry?  They decided to make examples of some folks who were sharing downloaded music.  Yes, it was a public relations nightmare for the music industry but after slapping some folks with lawsuits asking for large sums of cash helped tone down the whole music sharing thing.  Yes, some people still do it but not like it was in the hey-day.

The problem is how to charge without driving folks completely away.  It puts me in the mind of the airlines and the issue of raising the price of airfares.  If one company raised ticket prices and no one else did, potential passengers drifted to the lower priced carriers and that in turn prompted the original air carrier to lower its prices.  (They finally hit on the idea of charging for baggage and now they add surcharges for everything but that’s a topic for another time).   The reality is: No one wants to go it alone although they (the companies) make some noise about it. Right now,  Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is considering charging for access to its on-line content and A-P has been talking about it.  They may have even started an effort to charge already, I don’t know.  I do know that companies/organizations can’t spend money on creating something and keep giving it away. They won’t stay in business very long and for some organizations, there is a real possibility they won’t be in business too long because of declining revenues. Yes, there are ads on websites but is that enough income.  Would you pay for access to a website’s news information?

Speaking of dinosaurs that some predict are marching to their demise: I read the special report on crime in Memphis in the Sunday edition of the Commercial Appeal.  The information was sobering and interesting and I’m sure there were a lot of folks in the area who read it and thought ” Man, I’m glad I’m out of that town”.  What caught my attention as much as anything was NOT the fact that we have crime in the city.  That’s a given.  It’s that the Commercial Appeal dedicated a team of reporters/photographers to the effort for the amount of time it required to get the job done.  That kind of reporting is necessary IMHO and that’s one of the things that makes a newspaper stand out.  Now,  I didn’t see the local TV news but I would imagine there was some kind of report on each of the stations that contained some information from the C-A reports.  How many stations handed that article to a reporter/photographer and told them to “go turn a piece on that ” for the newscast?  If the local stations did indeed go do that, how many attributed the information to the C-A?     I don’t know and was wondering if anybody could answer that question for me.  I know that it annoys the reporters in the local print when TV/radio folks “borrow” the information from their stories without any attribution but for now, that’s usually just the way it is.  One thing is for certain: If the C-A ever goes “belly up”, local TV news operations are going to be in a world of hurt.

Anchors Who Aren’t Selling It & Other Observations from the Road

Posted September 29, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m on the road in Rhode Island.  Actually, I’m siting in a conference in Newport and had a couple of minutes in between sessions so I thought I’d hit the keyboard for some observations.

Maybe it’s just me but it seems like there are some prompter related issues with the good folks at The Weather Channel.  I don’t know if it’s because the on-air folks just haven’t had a chance to pre-read their copy, the prompter is too far for them to see it or they just can’t read the words on the prompter.  Whatever the problem is, they aren’t selling it.  Sometimes it seems they get to the end of what appears to be a sentence and then they add a word that suddenly seems to have cropped up.  It’s like they really aren’t sure what is going on.  And it appears to be getting worse since more “news” is involved in the weather.  Perhaps it’s just me.  Has anyone else noticed this?

I caught the local news this morning as I was getting ready for my day and again, maybe it’s just me but the morning news crew on this particular station didn’t strike me as overly professional. My first reaction to the weather girl was that her black fingernail polish was a litle on the goth side.  Again, maybe that is cutting edge here in this particular part of this part of New England.  Actually my wife noticed the black nails before I did.  What caught my attention was the fact that they were recycling old news to fill air-time.  Granted, newspapers have been doing this for years but I had not seen TV stations re-visiting old stories from 20-years ago.  The piece I saw this morning appeared to be an old news package from 20-years back.  An interesting concept.  Is this something that others have seen or are currently doing on the air?  It’s a great way to fill air-time if you are short on reporters.  I would think it might work better if someone re-cut the pieces so there is a short anchor/reporter pkg or a VO covering multiple stories that ran about a minute.  Of course it is so much easier to re-cue an old package and that fills time so much better!

Odds and Ends on an Overcast Thursday Morning

Posted September 24, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

“Hey Joe, where you been man.  Are you ever going to post anything on your blog again.  Do you realize that it’s been almost a month since you posted last?” This is what I’ve been hearing lately from folks I’ve run into and I have to be honest.  There just hasn’t been a lot to post on locally.  Oh, I’ve heard some rumors and such and I will share here but not a lot of folks are forthcoming with information these days.  Still, there are some tidbits floating around and I will share what I’ve been hearing which isn’t a lot.

Steve Dawson’s departure from WHBQ Fox 13 over the weekend of September 11/12/13 has prompted about four versions of why he left.  One version indicated he retired, another said he resigned, another said he resigned before…..well, whatever the reason, a familiar face to viewers at Fox 13 is no longer there.  What will that mean to the ratings/viewers?  These days probably not much.  The reality is, some viewers will miss SD and some will vow to never watch again.  The truth is, there are many people who watch a channel only out of habit and they really don’t care who delivers the news.  That’s why from New York City to Missoula, Montana, long-timers are being thrown under the bus and replaced by young pups who will work for peanuts just so they can be on TV.  Hey, it’s merely an observation.  Don’t believe me?  Ask any long-timer currently working at a TV station and if they are honest, they will tell you they sweat bullets on a daily basis on how long they have a job.  That’s why many tend to color/tint their hair and cover the wrinkles the best they can.

I’ve heard rumors (again, only rumors) that more cutbacks/salary reductions could be taking place at the station on Union.  I’ve heard there are some folks making big bucks who will be asked to take a salary reduction and that some worker bees will get the boot altogether.  I’m sure there are folks busy at all stations updating their resumes and trying to learn new skills so they can prove their worth when the budget ax is brought out at the end of the year.  Folks, now is not the time to try to start proving your worth. Ask any turkey.  The farmer has already set his/her eye on the bird well before the Thanksgiving holiday and the ax is being sharpened.

At the station DOTR, I’ve heard they have had so many cutbacks that over the previous years that there really is no other place to cut.  One person tells me things actually seem to be turning around down there.  The one rumor that has cropped up is that one of the big guns in the news department is not seeing eye to eye with a station honcho at this particular moment in time.  What that means or could mean remains to be seen.

Just when I think folks representing Memphis can’t do anything more to embarrass the Bluff City, someone proves me wrong.   If some elected official wants to announce that he was basically chosen by God to lead and that no one else can do the job, then yes, it is a little uncomfortable.  Generally speaking, the story tends to stay local.  And when some of the local politicians do crazy things or talk that crazy talk, you tend to treat them like the whacked out uncle or aunt who took that blow to the head back in 1941.  Again, that kind of stuff tends to stay local and it’s easier to forget about it.  But, when the leader of your local government welcomes an internationally recognized leader with the words “Hello Dalai” to the Dalai Lama and then gives him the old fist bump, then it’s time to stop and re-evaluate IMHO.  I know when I travel out of town in upcoming weeks, I will NOT mention that I’m from Memphis.

I was cutting the grass in between the recent monsoons we’ve been having.   I’ve used hearing protectors for the last 20-years whenever I cut the grass to protect my diminishing hearing and for that entire time I usually listen to …..silence.  That’s not a bad thing since I do a lot of thinking and soul-searching while I’m pushing the mower.  (and you thought all of that smoke was just coming from the mower’s engine).  Recently I started listening to the Ipod part of my Iphone while mowing.  I just slide the ears buds into my ears and pull the hearing protection muffs over my ears.  It really works well.  It was while I was cutting my grass that a song came on that instantly reminded me of WTVF in Nashville.  The music was by Floyd Cramer and called “The Homecoming”.  WTVF used to close out its newscasts with that song every night and now I can’t hear it without thinking of credits rolling at the end of the newscast.  I think it worked quite well since another station in Nashville, now WKRN, used to close its newscast with the song “Musicbox Dancer” which was being played on local pop stations for a while.  I’m not sure if any other stations around the country used popular music during their newscasts or not.  I know that WBBJ in Jackson used the theme music from the movie “Electric Horseman” for its news open but that was because they were too cheap to spend money on a news music package.  Can anyone help me out on popular music or commercially available music used by local TV.  I’m just curious.  Okay, I’m done here.

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

Posted August 31, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

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.

Posted August 28, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

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?

Posted August 27, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

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

Posted August 24, 2009 by joelarkins
Categories: Uncategorized

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.