Another Death in the Local News Family: WTVH/Syracuse Eliminates News, Fires Entire Staff

As shell-shocked local newsers held a wake Saturday night at a club called La Rumba in Denver, drinking and telling 150 years of war stories on the day of the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News’ final edition, suits clear across the country in New York were preparing for their own momentous newsroom announcement–Monday’s meeting to tell staffers the company was killing off the oldest television news operation in Syracuse, New York, WTVH.

The folks at Granite Broadcasting Corporation rolled into the CBS affiliate’s building for a 10 o’clock a.m. staff meeting, and just like the Scripps suits did in Denver, broke it to ’em fast. We’re sorry, you did a good job, the economy’s bad, so your last newscast is tonight at 11.  See HR for details on severance, and we’ve got boxes ready for you to take home your stuff.

Keep the Calls, Lose the People

Keep the Calls, Lose the People

According to ithacajournal.com, the station will “outsource its news programming to Barrington Broadcasting’s WSTM,” an NBC station.  In the process, 40 people lose their jobs.  “We report on job losses in my business every day and you always think in the back of your mind that you could be next,” said Keith Kobland, a morning anchor and producer for 20 years. “I don’t know if this town has the ability to sustain the number of news operations that we have,” reported newsday.com.
The story was not even the lead on WTVH’s website, played down the page, and as a “joining of forces” between two stations, rather than the death of a news operation that dates back to WTVH’s sign-on in 1948:  “This arrangement provides opportunities for substantial operating efficiencies by allowing us to use existing infrastructure to expand the breadth of local news and services provided to the viewers of Central NY, while enhancing the revenue and profitability of both stations,” said Granite Broadcasting CEO Don Cornwell in a statement on the WTVH site.

NBCs Al Roker, Who Started His Career at WTVH in 1974

NBC's Al Roker, Who Started His Career at WTVH in 1974

I get the financials.  Fire 40 people, save their salaries, benefits, any overtime, workers’ comp claims, whatever, and you’ve trimmed your expenses handsomely.  And all those pricey news toys, like cars, and gas, and cameras that break, and telephones and pens… Well, it does get expensive to report the news.  What I’m not quite clear on is how killing off a newsroom will “expand the breadth of local news and services provided to the viewers of Central New York.”  Wow.  Those newsers over at WSTM must have been training for some super extra doing-the-work-of-two-people-breadth-expanding, because my tiny brain associates “breadth” with fullness, and “expansion” with, you know, getting bigger–or in the case of “news and services,” getting MORE.

Maybe it’s News 2.0 magic.  But it sounds more like a garbage news release to me that doesn’t even have the decency (I wanted to say balls) to come right out and say that it’s firing its entire news staff, instead lightly dancing around the truth of it with the line, “details of expense and staff reductions have not yet been released.”

Central New York?  Here are the details they have yet to release to you:  the folks you see on Channel 5 every night?  You won’t see them on Channel 5 anymore.  They’re being fired to save money.  But hey, on the upside, the cheery release goes on to talk about the two stations’ continued commitment to the community, and while actual local reporting will be outsourced, you’ll still get the quality syndicated fare you’ve come to love, like Dr. Phil and Jeopardy.

Photo by Joe Murphy/via TwitPic

Photo by Joe Murphy/via TwitPic

In Denver, Scripps executives admitted they’d failed, and complimented their teary-eyed news staff for their hard work.  But they wasted no time removing the Scripps name from the Rocky’s building, and by Saturday, even the name “Rocky Mountain News” was gone as well.  A Twitpic posted over the weekend caught the word “Rocky” floating in a gray sky, held aloft by a crane that made me wonder:  when did that crane operator get hired?

In Syracuse, the news release plays it not like a corporate failure, but a big win for Central New York, with all its talk of “combining resources” and becoming “better community citizens” and “measurable benefits for our viewers and advertisers,” according to WSTM owner Barrington Broadcasting CEO Jim Yager, who called Granite a “forward thinking” company.  Maybe fewer newsrooms is forward thinking.  I can’t debate that business-wise.  But “better community citizens?”  Please.

To the newsers at WTVH:  Hang in there, we’re with you, and kick ass on your last newscast.

[Special thanks to Tiffanie Wong, former Central New York newser and future @mrsstandupkid, who first heard the word from stunned friends in Syracuse and tipped me to the story.  Thanks, babe.]

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8 Comments

Filed under Cutbacks

8 responses to “Another Death in the Local News Family: WTVH/Syracuse Eliminates News, Fires Entire Staff

  1. ben

    Looks like a similar situation is happening in Illinois. Not familiar with these stations, but here’s something off the wire…

    BC-Illinois-TVStationsMe 03-02 0211
    BC-Illinois-TV Stations Merge,0125
    2 central Ill. TV stations merge operations
    Eds: APNewsNow.
    PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — Two central Illinois television stations
    have merged operations, citing financial concerns.
    The merger of WEEK-TV and WHOI-TV is effective Monday. The
    station’s owners did not say how many jobs will be lost as a result
    of the move.
    Granite Broadcasting Corp., owner of WEEK, will operate both
    stations from the WEEK studios in East Peoria and provide
    advertising and other administrative services for WHOI.
    Barrington Broadcasting Group remains owner of WHOI. In a
    similar arrangement, Barrington will provide administrative
    services for a Granite-owned station in Syracuse, N.Y.
    Mark DeSantis, president and general manager of WEEK and WHOI,
    says the deal is the result of the economic downturn.
    DeSantis says WEEK will keep 16 WHOI employees, including
    several anchors.
    (Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
    APNP-03-02-09 1758PST

  2. Chas

    Look, we all feel bad about the people who work at WTVH, but is it really that great a loss?

    Besides the fact that it’s not economically sustainable, a city the size of Syracuse doesn’t need
    as much local TV news as it’s getting. Especially not when they all cover the same stories. And not when they practice the sort of lazy journalism that goes on in local TV newsrooms all over the country.

    Local TV news plans their day around what the newspapers are reporting —and the best thing to ever happen is that papers like the Post-Standard break stories online. Now TV doesn’t have to wait until morning to see what’s going on.

    Don’t bother telling me that this isn’t what happens in TV newsrooms; I work in one.

  3. dk3

    There’s no arguing local t.v. news for the most part is going down the drain; it’s inevitable and hard to justify even being mad about it. But don’t those employees deserve a bit more respect? How can they say “joining forces” to the faces of those thrown out the door with not the slightest forewarning? I agree those who’ve invested their lives in this profession should be weighing other options/opportunities right about now, but how these folks (and many others across the country) have been treated is disgusting. And to then congratulate youselves on becoming better community citizens is inconceiveable. In times of crisis why do some people try to kill off their own humanity? And spreading the misery that they worry they’ll never escape from will somehow ease their own? There’s more to life than your money, people.

  4. Chris

    There’s an inarguable linkage between a good economy and the world of media. Obviously, advertising soars in a good economy because people are willing to buy what you advertise. But a good economy helps massively with getting eyeballs to see your product. Do you REALLY want to turn on the local news to be told by some grim business reporter that, yes, the Dow collapsed by ANOTHER 300 points that day? Of course not. So you choose to steer clear of the news because you figure it’s ‘all bad anyway.’ It’s the very essence of self-reinforcing negativity because it just exacerbates the problem.

  5. Mark– Your ire is well-placed, and your blog is kick-ass. Too bad so much of what you have to say reflects so much ugliness in the business.

    • Thanks, man. Coming from you–a guy I respect as both a journalist and a blogger–that’s a hell of a compliment. Working on my “I just became unemployed” post. Hard one to write.

  6. Don Ennis

    Hi Mark,

    This past Tuesday, I told my boss, News Director Mike Garber, the kind of reporter I think we need to hire: “we need a Mark Joyella.”

    Wednesday was my last day at the station.

    Relax! There is no correlation between those two events, but what happened in between is something I don’t want to comment on publicly.

    Bottom line: I’m out of a job, one I truly loved and didn’t want to ever leave. And the timing couldn’t be worse. I’m headed home to Connecticut to refocus, pray, and try my damndest to find the next step. There are possibilities, but that’s all they are at this early stage.

    I re-read your article this morning for inspiration, ideas and most of all to try to find silver linings. I know they’re there, just very hard to see right now.

    And btw, I still think what Jacksonville needs right now is a Mark Joyella. And since I won’t be there to see him or her on TV, I’m glad the original one and only is here, online, and in the greatest city in the world. Thanks for lighting the beacon, friend.

  7. Don,

    Thanks for the note…and I’m really sorry to hear about the job. But I truly believe it will ultimately become an opportunity for you. You’ve got such a varied background, with all kinds of experience, you’re the kind of guy who can survive in the world we’re moving rapidly into. And I know you’ll dive right into it, when the right opportunity presents itself (which it will).

    It’s scary as Hell out there right now, but the upside for those of us who do our best to be fearless and creative–it’s limitless.

    Get in touch when you get back this way.

    Mark

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