I’ve always felt that, in a perverse way, local television stations are a lot like the old Soviet Union. There’s the cult of personality; the way we line our hallways with oversized smiling photos of our dear leaders on the 6 and 11, and the way we shoot those heartwarming promos at the holidays showing the loving newsteam–all outfitted in holiday sweaters, whether the station’s in Minneapolis or Miami. We’re constantly using words like “family” to describe a group of employees. At least, until something goes wrong.
A beloved family member gets busted for DUI, or a contract doesn’t get renewed, and–poof!–it’s like they never existed. No farewell mention on the news; the picture just vanishes off the wall of heroes in the lobby, and the holiday image promo gets a quick re-edit. Just like Stalin used to do after a purge: cut the pictures out of the history books, and carefully remove the comrade who has fallen out of favor.
And so it is, in this season of layoffs, with local news websites, where the top banner’s usually reserved for a smiling collection of anchor heads–the Action News “family,” and inside pages have glowing bios describing the health reporter’s love for rescued puppies, and the sports guy’s years of participation in the Big Brothers program.
But as Neal Zoren writes in the Delco Times, the last place you’d want to go for information on what’s happening to the members of your favorite news team–would be the station’s web site. Think of them as promotional vehicles with a few pop-up ads, some news content, and a striking resemblance to a Soviet history textbook. Because when you fall out of favor–no matter how many chili cook-offs you’ve attended over the years in your Channel 7 polo shirt–you just vanish without a trace: “At a volatile time when layoffs are adding to the missing persons lists, there should be a handy place to find out who, so to speak, is on first,” Zoren writes. “Between firings, resignations, and transfers of market, voluntary and involuntary, station personnel has shifted a lot in the last few weeks.”
But the websites–they just keep on with their family first and all’s well approach. The WJLA/DC website, for instance, would not be your best source on information regarding Andrea McCarren’s layoff. As the cliche goes, her “picture has been removed from the station’s website,” usually an immediate indication that you are no longer part of the family. Ditto for Jay DeDapper at WNBC, and, back in Philly, the notorious departures of Alycia Lane and Larry Mendte.
Until a week ago, Andrea McCarren, a well-respected and high-profile journalist was a key player at WJLA. Today, enter “andrea mccarren” into the search box on the WJLA website, and you get no news story explaining her departure, only a list of stories, presumably reported by McCarren, the most recent of which dates to 2007.
To its credit, the revamped “NBC Philadelphia” website, if prompted by entering “Alycia Lane” in the search box, will cough up a series of articles on the legal wrangling between Lane and Mendte. So maybe there’s hope? Maybe we local newsers will start actually reporting honestly about the stories that involve, you know, us?
Or, then again, maybe not. What was that name again? McCarren something? Nope. Not ringing any bells.