Monthly Archives: April 2009

The New Financial Model for Local News? How Does Disco Party Sound?

So let’s just envision a day in the not-too-distant future.  

Maybe you’re a hard-working, committed local tv newser with a passion to tell important stories about your community.  Maybe you’ve got the makings of a big story on toxic “hotspots,” for instance.  Now back in the day (remember, when we all had jobs?) you’d go to your boss at the tv station and say, “Boss, I’ve got a great story.  I need some time out of the mix, I need a photog for a few days,” etc.

Times have changed.  Now, you’ve got to find a way to tell your story without the Buick dealer picking up production costs.  So what’s the answer?  We’ve tossed around a lot of ideas, from “iTunes for News” to nonprofit models with endowments.  But ladies and gentlemen, we have the answer.  The “financial model” question has at last been answered.  So how do you pay for your toxic hotspot story in this not-too-distant future?

Disco party.


Breaking News One Kick-Ass Party at a Time

Well, at least, that’s how is paying for its toxic hotspot story.  The San Francisco new model nonprofit news site has turned to the community with a pitch:  we’ve got a story to tell that affects you, and if you’d be willing to pay a few bucks to help us get the story out there, we’ll spin some serious tunes (house, funk and space disco) and send you home with a belly full of Indian food.  Sound fair?

They call it a “news bash” and if you’re in the Bay Area tonight, you can check it out first hand.  Fifteen bucks in advance, twenty at the door.  Complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar (naturally…these toxic hotspots stories don’t pay for themselves, folks) so drink up!

So why didn’t we think of this before?


Filed under Local News 2.0, Uncategorized

Is David Brent Your Local News Boss?

David Brent:  Why are You Getting Focused on the Layoffs Instead of the GOOD NEWS?

David Brent: Forget the Layoffs, Focus on the GOOD NEWS People!

Revisiting one of my favorite comedies last night, the original British version of “The Office,” with Ricky Gervais playing the Steve Carrell role of paper company regional manager David Brent, I got to thinking of this clueless, self-absorbed and desperate man as a good window into the lives of local news bosses today.

In the final episode of the show’s first season, David Brent is offered a promotion to UK manager–in exchange for allowing his office to be downsized and absorbed by another office, leaving employees laid off.

He announces this as a “good news, bad news” situation, and seems lost to explain the employees lack of excitement over his fantastic new promotion (focused instead on their own loss of work).  No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to sell his good news as an “every dark cloud has a silver lining” situation.

Stale Innovation to Sweep Layoffs Under the Rug in Waco

Stale "Innovation" to Sweep Layoffs Under the Rug in Waco

And so it is with local news bosses in 2009.  In Waco yesterday, KWKT GM Ron Crowder announced a good news, bad news situation to his office:  “Our March sweeps were actually pretty good,” reported the  “To us, we were doing better than we had expected.”  So the good news?  A new format at 9 p.m. that shortens the newscast, adds more content to the web, and introduces (whiz!  bam!) “news blasts” throughout the day.

Dang!  Who can’t feel good about “news blasts” for Heaven’s sake?

Well, maybe it was the dark cloud part.  Five assignment editors and reporters, including Laura Neal and her husband, sports anchor John Moss were laid off.  “We thought we were being called into a conference call with corporate, then we saw five envelopes on the desk,” Neal told the wacotrib.  

But… why aren’t people more excited about the Waco debut–maybe even the local television industry debut of NEWS BLASTS?  I mean sure, they sound suspiciously like those things we’ve always had in local news that are usually thrown together, pretty lame, and known as “cut-ins,” but maybe I’m missing something:  “Crowder said the shift to shorter news briefs delivered during the day online and in (seven 30 second) on-air “news blasts” will provide viewers with a different spin on the news,” reported the wacotrib’s Carl Hoover.

Stop.  My analog brain can’t grasp all this cutting edge thinking:  are you saying–seriously suggesting–doing BOTH “blasting” and “spinning” at once?  Is Waco ready?

Man, with words like that, it sure makes it hard to see this as a lame layoff dressed up with a reduction in overall news coverage and some tired cut-ins used as filler.

But hey, I’m a cynic, right?

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Filed under Cutbacks, layoffs

If Your Website’s All About Your TV Station, You’re Dead.

WEAR/Pensacola Has Anchor Heads Up Top, Clutter Everywhere

WEAR/Pensacola's Website Has Anchor Heads Up Top, Clutter Just About Everywhere Else

Considering the basic business of local television has always been, you know, television… and the people who do the news get hired in part for their energy, personality, and knowledge (don’t bother emailing, I know I should’ve said “youth, inexperience and willingness to work for pizza”), it must mean something that the most boring blogs and video-dead websites on the internet all seem to belong to local televisions stations.  

Here’s what it means:  Local newsers?  You still don’t get the internet.

So local news director?  GM?  Give me a moment of your time and let me spell it out for you. Ready?  You’ve got it precisely backward.  The station website isn’t a tool to drive people to your newscasts.  Your newscasts are tools–until they become obsolete and cease to exist in their current form–to gather up an audience for your website.  The future is online, and the sooner you start planning for that, the better chance you’ll have of surviving.

"Buzz Maven" Scott Clark

"Buzz Maven" Scott Clark

Scott Clark, a business strategist and search marketing guy knows his websites.  And back in January, he took a close look at how stations were performing with their sites, especially at times of maximum potential traffic: right after a huge regional ice storm.  His conclusion?  “You’re doing it wrong.”

Clark takes the sites apart for assuming everyone who shows up online watches their news (and knows the anchor heads plastered all over the screen), for failing to understand search engine optimization, for failing to keep video posts current and updated, and for just having some damn ugly and annoying sites to look at: “Basic human interface design is a mature industry. You don’t even need to hire someone, but at least do some reading or buy a book and learn a bit about web design.”

It pains me to say it, but the most advanced local news website thinking seems to be emerging from the corridors of NBC, which instituted its “Locals Only” sites on O&Os this year.  The sites have little or nothing to do with the local station, though stories appear and if you dig deep enough on the site, you can find a programming schedule.  But trust me, check out NBC New York and you’ll conclude quickly the powers that be at NBC don’t see the future in building up Channel 4.  Rather, WNBC is a vehicle to build the NBC New York brand, which will likely, at some point, outlast Chuck, Sue, and the 6:00 news.


Theres Not Much WCAU on the NBC Philadelphia Site

There's Not Much WCAU on the NBC Philadelphia Site

So local news managers?  Think about it.  You’ve still got power in your broadcast brand.  But think very carefully every time you send a viewer over to your website for “more information.”  On the sites I’ve seen, those lame anchor tags and web bugs may get you a click, but they also may convince a person to never bother with your website again.  Go have a look for yourself.  And think about it this way:  if you didn’t have a tv station on the side, could this website be your entire business?  Is it good enough to BE the franchise?

No?  Then you’re already behind.  And your competitors probably won’t slow down to let you catch up.


Filed under Local News 2.0, Social Media

Mike Sheehan Fired After 16 Years: Fox’s WNYW Cuts a Classic New York Character

NYPD Detective-Turned-Reporter Mike Sheehan

NYPD Detective-Turned-WNYW/New York Reporter Mike Sheehan


Way back when then-WNEW introduced the 10 o’clock news to New York City, the shop was known as a real New York newsroom: filled with quirky, gritty, honest-to-God New Yorkers, warts and all. They weren’t spit-shined, manicured and pretty, but damn did they know the City. And Channel 5’s newscast was worth watching.

A lot has changed, and most of those characters–and the solid, serious, in your face news that made Channel 5 different and so legitimately New York–have been replaced with fresh faces from El Paso and Orlando and beyond. Even the name–the original 10 O’Clock News (and, to my ear, the best damn news open this side of WABC’s Cool Hand Luke)–has been reduced to “Fox 5 News at Ten,” which could be the name of any newscast in any town.

And tonight comes word Mike Sheehan is out. As the set got glitzy and the wrinkled faces got shown the door…as the New York accents faded and the station’s news turned more and more to American Idol and Lindsay Lohan…Sheehan remained. The NYPD detective who earned his bones breaking cases like Preppy Murderer Robert Chambers was a throwback to the gold old days at 5: an honest to God trenchcoat and pinky ring wearing New York original.

Full disclosure: I worked at WNYW, and my desk faced Mike’s. This is a man who can tell a story over a beer like few I’ve ever known. And I know deep under his gruff Irish exterior, he was proud to do the job he did. Losing his job, as he told the Daily News’s Richard Huff tonight, was “a kick in the chest. Sixteen years I’ve been there. I can’t believe it.”
But anyone who watches local news in New York–or anywhere–shouldn’t be surprised in the least. Longevity is no longer an asset. Years on the job and contacts at One Police Plaza? That got you a big salary and influence back when television stations were powerhouses that could afford such things.

Sheehan told the Richard Huff the station ended its relationship with a letter delivered to his home. This is, sadly, the new normal in our business: nobody tells you to your face. It’s a way of doing business that reduces us all, and it’s shameful.

Yes, Mike has had his problems, including a recent accident involving a police horse and an arrest for reckless endangerment and operating a vehicle while intoxicated and impaired. Whether that’s really why Sheehan got the axe is valid fodder for debate. But believe me, in this environment, people like Mike Sheehan walk tall–too tall–and the networks are moving on.

For years, Mike ended his crime stories with an appeal for folks to “do the right thing” and pick up the phone if they knew anything that could help police. Too bad managers at Fox couldn’t do so little as to pick up the phone and give it to him straight.


Filed under layoffs

A Living Legend Leaves WNBC: and They Send Off Len Berman with a Generic Sheet Cake. Seriously.

What Do You Give a Man Like Len Berman?  A Lousy Supermarket Cake, Perhaps?

What Do You Give a Man Like Len Berman? A Lousy Supermarket Cake, Perhaps?

The bosses at NBC didn’t really care, and they didn’t really care if it showed.  Len Berman’s sendoff proved that.

WNBC/NY’s longtime sports anchor Len Berman signed off tonight, ending a run in New York that will, given the nature of the local news business, never be matched.  Can’t be. Nobody will ever get the chance to be Len Berman again.  The big man’s gone, but he got to take that honor with him as he walked off the set at Channel 4.

Simply put, we won’t be growing them that big anymore.

Why?  The massive local news farm that had hillsides and fields as far as the eye could see–growing huge stalks of cash that rose to the big, blue sky–well, a dust storm rolled in and killed the damn thing.  Now the farm’s a lot smaller, run a lot cheaper, and the product, well it doesn’t quite taste the same.

Shelly Palmer, the host of MediaBytes, had a dead-on but dead depressing take on the end of Berman’s run at WNBC.  In a sense, he compared it to the closing night of Vaudeville’s biggest show–after the Cineplex was up and running across the street:  “He’s a very big budget item that could easily be cut to make room for a bunch of high quality, low cost, good looking young people who can read, write and speak on camera.”  And cut they did.  

Not Len's Cake.  (This One's Nicer)

Not Len's Cake. (This One's Nicer)

On the set tonight, Len shared some memories with Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons, the monster anchor duo still reigning at Channel 4.  And you just had to wonder.  How long until their big salaries are slashed as well?  The natural, and dated, argument is this:  but they are Chuck and Sue.  They are the franchise that everything’s built around.  (I made that very same argument myself just a few weeks ago)  And yet, the factory farmers that run NBC have crunched the numbers and they don’t really care about the prizewinning corn that’s been growing on this land for 35 years.  To them, it all boils down to one question:  does it sell?  It is worth the hassle to keep growing this damn corn?  Or should we just pull it up by the roots and plant something cheaper?
Titans:  Warner Wolf and Len Berman

Titans: Warner Wolf and Len Berman

NBC’s done with its prizewinning corn.  Those days are over.  And they don’t really care who knows it.  Len Berman?  He got a sheetcake.  Seriously.  A New York legend sent off the lousy new set with a fresh-from-the-supermarket sheet cake that didn’t even have his damn name on it. “Best Wishes,” it said in off-center icing, as if an intern had been dispatched to the nearest Gristede’s at the last minute to grab whatever cake was on the shelf. 

Best Wishes indeed.


Filed under layoffs

Journalism Will Survive. Your TV Station? Not so Much.

David Cohn:  Defining the Digital Generations Concept of Local News?

David Cohn: Defining the Digital Generation's Concept of Local News?

“Journalism will survive the death of its institutions,” argues David Cohn in a post on the site

Speaking at a forum in Toronto on the “Future of News,” Cohn, the founder of a citizen media startup called clearly threw his chips in with the “something other than what we’ve got” crowd.  Cohn argues that institutions like television stations don’t make someone a journalist.  He says anyone’s got that right, and more and more, people will play that role. “Reporters today can make their own credentials.”

Cohn believes that the top-down institutions we grew up with are going away, and bottom-up journalism will replace it.  Where the money figures in–that’s the unanswered question, and Cohn suggests a LOT of trial and error before it’s fully figured out.  “There are some things the public does better than journalists, and vice versa. It’s important for citizen journalism sites to figure out what can be done exceptionally with participatory journalism.”

I contacted Cohn and asked him specifically about local TV news, and whether it’s more or less likely to survive than the local paper, as both push forward websites and web-only content, and try to expand on a model that’s made money for decades…until it all fell apart.  Since many, if not most of us, still work for these companies, and grew up on the old financial models (car company buys ads, ads make station money and pay for newscast, sponsored newscast needs reporters, station hires reporters, producers, photographers, etc.) Cohn’s answer may come as a dash of ice cold water.

“Local TV stations are even more screwed than newspapers,” he told me.  “They just don’t know it yet.”  Cohn says with every passing moment, the relevance of the 6 o’clock newscast fades for more and more people. People still want to know what’s happening in their town, but they won’t wait for Chuck and Sue at 6 to tell ’em what happened.  And as stations push viewers to the web for “more,” Cohn’s just not impressed.  “Their websites are absolutely atrocious for the most part.”

vidSF:  Doing Local News, Just Not the Way You Do

vidSF: Doing Local News, Just Not the Way You Do

What might the future look like if Cohn’s right, and stations are “screwed”?  Well, forget the networks, they’re bound for cable and Hulu.  Your 2.0 local news might resemble vidSF, a local website in San Francisco whose very mission statement is that your Dad’s local news is dead:  “We were inspired to start VidSF when we noticed our peers were no longer watching local TV news. Its style continues to stagnate, and its content is no longer relevant to our daily lives.”

Hey, before you soil yourself, remember this:  your boss is probably way more clueless about this than you are, and hopefully he or she won’t check out vidSF before your contract comes up.


Filed under Local News 2.0, Uncategorized

Jeff Jarvis to “Old Media” Bosses: You Blew It. You Get No Sympathy Now. In Fact, Just Get Out of the Damn Way.

Jeff Jarvis, Director of Interactive Journalism, CUNY

Jeff Jarvis, Director of Interactive Journalism, CUNY

Jeff Jarvis is hardly crying over collapsing business models for newspapers and broadcasters.  In fact, he’s kneeling down beside the media moguls’ battered bodies and whispering in their blood-spattered ears:  “you idiots should’ve seen this beat-down coming years ago–and you could’ve prevented it!”

Jarvis’ message to the Newspaper Association of America is simple, and very, very tough love: 

“You blew it.

You’ve had 20 years since the start of the web, 15 years since the creation of the commercial browser and craigslist, a decade since the birth of blogs and Google to understand the changes in the media economy and the new behaviors of the next generation of – as you call them, Mr. Murdoch – net natives. You’ve had all that time to reinvent your products, services, and organizations for this new world, to take advantage of new opportunities and efficiencies, to retrain not only your staff but your readers and advertisers, to use the power of your megaphones while you still had it to build what would come next. But you didn’t.

You blew it. “

Jarvis, writing on his BuzzMachine blog, takes is a step further.  The people who should be angry aren’t the media bosses who sat on their rear ends in the face of an oncoming digital tidal wave and culture shift, but the news consumer, who got served the same stuff, year after year by companies who now argue that Google’s the bad guy, and journalists (and newspapers and television newsrooms) have to go to save journalism, if you can follow that logic.

Who You Calling an Angry Old White Man?  Murdoch:  What, Me Worry?

Who You Calling an Angry Old White Man? Murdoch: What, Me Worry?

“And now you’re angry. Well, gentlemen – and that’s pretty much all I see before me: angry, old, white men – you have no right to anger. Instead, you are the proper objects of anger. The public should be angry with you for the poor stewardship you have exercised over the press and its service to society. Your journalists are angry at you for losing their jobs. Your pressmen and drivers and classified-ad takers are angry at you for the same reason (and at the journalists for paying attention only to their own plight). Your advertisers were angry at you for using your monopolistic power to overcharge them and for providing inefficient platforms and bad service for so long. But they’re not angry anymore because they left you for better advertising vehicles and better prices in a competitive marketplace.

But you’re the ones who are acting angry. “

It’s hot stuff, and I imagine it’ll get a lot of attention among forward-thinking journalists this week, as more jobs teeter on the edge of extinction, and more journalists working for old media companies tell polsters they have fully lost confidence in the people running their companies.

So Mr. Murdoch, whatcha got to say to old Jarvis here?

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Filed under Uncategorized