Monthly Archives: June 2009

A Jolt of Digital Inspiration: LocalNewser’s On the Links

OntheLinksYep, we love us our links.

Too much going on right now in this scary, thrilling time to write about all of it myself. So I’ll hit the links that I find worthy of recommending to you. Unlike other link lineups, you won’t be finding a list of stories about a mid-market anchor signing off or a weatherman who got a DUI.

I’d like to bring you a collection of stories that can spur some ideas–get your pulse pumping at the thought of the next big thing and how you can be right in the thick of it.

We can sit here and bitch about the old media companies and their cost-cutting and soul-crushing ways, or we can start turning our attention to what will be replacing those companies.  It’s an innovation revolution out there, don’t miss it!

Times are tough for newspaper and broadcast companies.  But times are intensely exciting for journalists.

On the Links, you’ll find some inspiration, and food for thought.

Brian Stelter at the Times has a great read today on how journalism rules are challenged by Twitter-reporting and iReport vide0 posts:  Journalism Rules Are Bent in News Coverage From Iran.

BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis is working a CUNY project aimed at supporting, studying, and helping spread hyperlocal news projects across the country.  They’re looking for your input on what works, and what doesn’t:  Help Us Help Hyperlocal News.

Julie Posetti at MediaShift also takes up the important questions about Twitter that have grown out of the Iran story, and she’s interviewed journalists worldwide to determine how journos and news operations are using the Tweet: Rules of Engagement for Journalists on Twitter.

The AP’s Michael Liedtke reports a web news startup, Journalism Online, predicts it will hit a target of one in ten users paying for content: News Startup Expects 10 Percent of Web Readers to Pay.

See a good story?  Send a link:  mark@standupkid.com

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WTVJ/Miami Local Newser: “I Hate Today, Hate It, Hate It, Hate It”

Seems Like a Lifetime Ago Since WTVJ Was the Might Channel 4
South Florida media blogger SFLTV has had plenty to write about in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale over the last year or so, from a potential Post-Newsweek eat-and-destroy operation involving NBC O&O WTVJ, to the standard SoFla anchors acting strangely.  (See SFLTV for ongoing coverage)

Today, SFLTV put the latest this way in an emotional tweet:  “WTVJ is dead.”

As the site quoted an unnamed WTVJ staffer about the day’s developments: “I hate today. Hate it, hate it, hate it.”

WTVJ, rich with a storied history of journalism dating to the earliest days of broadcast news, is not, technically dead.  The onetime mighty Channel 4 became the not-quite-as-mighty Channel 6 in a misguided signal swap years ago, but the real destruction was more recent. The looming–and ultimately failed–effort by Post-Newsweek to buy WTVJ and create a major market ABC/NBC duopoly led to a mass exodus of talent.  Many saw Ocean Drive-style neon writing on the wall, and decided to get out before they were fired when the new guys took over.

In the end, the deal collapsed.  But WTVJ remained understaffed, fueled with a sense of uncertainty, and a melancholy for the end of a long run of big names doing big, real news.  Suddenly, WTVJ seemed like any other station, or worse, like a really bad one.

Today, SFLTV reports, an anchor layoff involving longtime morning anchor Kelly Craig, news reporter-turned-sports anchor Andrea Brody, and reporter Joe Carter.  The blog reports the station’s weekend morning news may be eliminated as well.

WTVJ:  Selling Its Experience (Ah, How Times Have Changed)

WTVJ: Selling Its Experience (Ah, How Times Have Changed)

I’m not ready to throw an epitaph on the mighty TVJ calls.  But it’s obvious to anyone who follows local news what happens to a strong station that is let to decay through lousy management, underfunding, and, in NBC’s case, a seeming lack of interest in being in the O&O business anymore.

The Miami market (where I’ve worked two tours at Post-Newsweek’s WPLG) had long been a destination market:  a place where young reporters could land and learn to be fast, talented, and worthy of a trip up the market ladder:  a market that made careers.  It was also, and maybe more importantly, a market where those Miami-bred network newsers could come home to, sink some roots and do solid, serious reporting on issues ordinarily ignored by flashy, cotton-candy local news.  A faded newspaper ad puts it best:  once upon a time, WTVJ bragged about the longevity of its people:  “Our 11 o’clock news team has lived here for years.  So it’s only natural that they have a better idea of what’s going on.”

When did that idea get stale?  Is Miami now nothing more than a stepping stone market?

The Who’s Who list of heavyweight reporters and anchors who rose to the top, then returned to Miami is long and filled with bold-faced names.  Sadly, the trend seems to be coming to an end, and the sending of three more TVJ-ers to the loading dock to pick up their Emmys and plaques says it all.

Can anyone build a real career in any market anymore?

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Ex-KPRC/Houston Anchor Wendy Corona: “Blindsided,” Now Suing (Says Houston’s “Hair Balls” Blog)

Ex-KPRC Anchor Wendy Corona

Ex-KPRC Anchor Wendy Corona

The economic savings of offloading big-name talent may now carry an unexpected pricetag:  the lawsuits. Former KPRC/Houston anchor Wendy Corona’s filed suit, according to the entertainingly-titled Houston Press blog “Hair Balls: “Former KPRC Channel 2 anchorwoman Wendy Corona is suing her former news station, alleging breach of contract and defamation.”

Corona, who arrived at the Post-Newsweek station from sister station WPLG in Miami, claims she was “blindsided,” Corona’s attorney, Jan Fox, tells Hair Balls. “One day she was on the air and the next day she wasn’t, without notice. It’s terrific damage to your public reputation to suddenly be jerked off the air due to circumstances beyond your control.”
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Corona’s asking for lost wages, benefits and undetermined payment for damage to her reputation.

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Local Newsers: What’s It Going to Be? Innovate or Die? (Huh? You Sure You Don’t Want to Pick “Innovate?”)

3125936268_d71b8a90a1_oIf you haven’t yet read Jeff Jarvis’ excellent book, What Would Google Do?, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

Jarvis is a new media guru who produces content across multiple platforms (his BuzzMachine blog is required reading, and his new Guardian podcast is fantastic) and teaches digital media at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism.  His book “reverse-engineers” Google to see what secrets we can uncover, and then implement, perhaps fueling a new style of journalism that will keep all of us working into the next decade.

In a discussion of financial models, and how Google transcended them, Jarvis writes:  the “winner is likely to be a new player, not one trying to protect old revenue streams and assets.”  Think about that for a moment.  Look at your own company.  Is it innovating into the future?  Or desperately, blindly, obsessively trying to make what’s always worked still work?

In New York last week, News Corp announced its latest round of firings and buyouts, cutting twenty staffers at WNYW and WWOR, cuts that affected traditional news operations and the stations’ web team.  That jumped out at me.  The web, without question, is the future.  What does it say about a company making cuts and deciding to pull back on the one area of the business with a clear, huge and critical role in the years ahead?

My answer:  they’re doing whatever they can do to cut costs and stay alive until the economy improves.  Then they’ll go back to that internet stuff.

Jeff Jarvis

Jeff Jarvis

Jarvis calls this the “Cash Cow in the Coal Mine:”  “Cash flow can blind you to the strategic necessity of change, tough decisions, and innovation…How many companies and industries fail to heed the warnings they know are there but refuse to see?”

Local news refuses to see.  As Jarvis writes, station owners are losing their “destinies” because they want to “preserve their pasts.”  And you know it’s true.  As I’ve written here, there is incredible innovation happening in the world of video storytelling and news.  It’s just not being done by television stations.  Newspapers are trying new ways of including multimedia content to make their reporting more impactful, interesting and different. In cities across the country, folks are creating web-based newscasts that look nothing like the stuff stations continue to produce–just the way they always have.

Watch this promo for a new Australian newscast that debuts this month.  Aside from the cliche-ridden nature of the promo itself, is there anything here that couldn’t have been done 25 years ago?

Think about it.  What’s so different about the six o’clock news?  Sure, it starts in some cities at 4.  It’s shot in HD.  And… well, beyond that, it’s the same product we’ve been selling for decades. That reminds me of senior citizens who will buy a new version of the same old car time after time because that’s what they like.  And looking at the demographics of a lot of news, these are the same reliable viewers keeping some local newscasts alive.

Where’s the innovation?  What’s one new thing that would’ve been unimaginable to the Action News teams of the 1970’s?  Doppler radar?  That’s an improvement of the same old thing.  New ways of doing liveshots?  What am I missing?

Take the computers out of the newsroom and put typewriters back, replace the cell phones with hard lines, put the AP wire back into a noisy printer in the corner, and go retro with the set, the over-the-shoulder graphics (FIRE!) and men’s lapels, and this is the same old cereal in a new box.

It’s depressing, when you look at the environment we’re in:  a once-in-a-career time of change, with a life-or-death incentive to innovate, and yet stations still believe in the tried and true rules of innovation in local news:

1)  New Set

2)  New Graphics

3)  New Anchors

4)  New News Director

Seriously, people.  News isn’t dying.  Someone’s going to be making money giving our viewers the information they want.  But there’s no reason to believe it’s going to be us.

I guess times are just too tight to risk taking chances.  And we’ll staff the web team back up when the car dealers start spending again.  Sound good?  Yeah, that’ll work.

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KARE/Minneapolis Gives Newsroom’s “Heart and Soul” His Pink Slip

091622219_kare blog 5 600x400You know the guy.  He’s the guy who’s not talent, and not news director, but he somehow makes the trains run on time.  The guy who’s as good in the morning meeting as he is in the convention center for the massive multi-camera remote.  He’s the guy who gets good phoners when a breaker happens in the second half-hour of the noon show.  He’s the guy who takes the news director’s new idea and somehow makes it happen–and look good.

At KARE, he was Lonnie Hartley, Senior Executive Producer, workaholic, and as David Brauer writes in his BrauBlog, KARE’s “heart and soul.”  Hartley’s 70-hour workweeks earned respect from staff, but apparently meant little when corporate cost-cutters ordered another head to roll Wednesday.

As David Brauer put it:  “Insiders say the newsroom had never seemed so shell-shocked as it was today, when a tearful Hartley told his troops goodbye.”

It makes you wonder what we’re doing to our newsrooms.  For years, KARE had the reputation of a real hard news shop, the kind of place young reporters and producers and anchors kept in the backs of their minds:  KARE would be a great place to end up.

Those Live Events with Station Signage, Stage, Field Switching and Tarps for Rain Don't Just Happen by Themselves, You Know

Those Live Events with Station Signage, Stage, Field Switching and Tarps for Rain Don't Just Happen by Themselves, You Know

But more and more, the gutting behind the scenes (and on the air, of course, with familiar faces vanishing) means stations are losing layer after significant layer; the people who get it done but don’t usually get their names in the paper when they get laid off.  The truck ops, the veteran photogs, the MacGyvers of local news who mean so much to news staff, but don’t register in corporate boardrooms.

Sure, things won’t run as well now.  More work to spread around, and some of it won’t get done. When the chips are down, and it’s hitting the fan, maybe magic won’t be made like it used to.  But with the weekend show a one-anchor, one-backpack-journalist effort, and photogs during the week running on a strict no-overtime policy; with engineering cut back and the assignment desk understaffed and inexperienced…does it really matter?

Hartley told David Brauer “I have a huge passion for news — you know what it’s like to break a great story, the fulfillment that comes from that.”  The sad part is, at places like KARE, that’s not the top priority anymore, if it’s a priority at all.

But hey, the new corporate graphics package looks nice.

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Local TV Newsers: Meet Denise. She May Be the Future. She May Eat Your Lunch.

702.tv's Denise Spidle

702.tv's Denise Spidle

Reading the story in the Las Vegas Sun, you could forgive a veteran local television reporter for an instinctive chuckle.  Oh, aren’t they precious!  The newspaper people are trying to do TV! They’ve even gone and bought themselves a red couch and a curtain for a backdrop!

Yeah, you definitely want to laugh it off. But here’s the weird thing about 702.tv:  it’s interesting, it’s different, and it’s the supposedly-dead medium of print, encroaching–yet again–on TV’s turf.  It’s almost like (am I crazy here?) the print people think they can win the battle for local video online.  Nah.  That’s crazy. We own that!

From the Washington Post, and it’s excellent series of video documentaries posted online, to The New York Times’ creative and compelling commitment to multi-media storytelling, it’s becoming clear the print folk don’t want to stay on their side of the fence in what’s obviously a deathmatch.  There will be local news, of course, and it’ll probably be predominantly online at some point, but thinking that we’re the experts on video and so obviously it’s the papers that have to give up and go home… well, that’s a huge mistake.

Think about your TV newsroom.  What print tricks have you adopted?  Certainly you haven’t got bodies in police precincts running through the overnight arrests, and nobody’s hanging out in the courthouse checking on interesting lawsuits.  That’s what newspapers are for, right?

Ah, but you’ve learned to write in print form for the web!  Right?  You doctor up your 6 o’clock script into a mock-print style and file it–sorry, feed it–to the website.  And what a brilliant website it is, if I know anything about local TV, I’m sure yours is creative, ground-breaking, and chock full of unique uses of video. Right?

Right?

702_tilt_logo_newEverybody in town isn’t coming out of this alive, folks.  And assuming the print people will roll over and play dead just because, you know, the printing press is dead, well, that doesn’t seem to be working.  Sure, the paper won’t be hitting doorsteps like it used to, but those print folk seem so aggressive about getting into our game.  And far moreso than we seem to be about getting into theirs.  Or even, about getting more creative about what we do.  And that’s how companies go out of business.

Doing a “webcast” that’s a lousy and dated version of your noon newscast?  That’s not creative.  That’s not going to grab someone and say, hey, that’s different. But I wouldn’t put it past the kids in Vegas from getting that reaction.  Yeah, sure, their motto is “News Never Looked So Good.”  There’s that part of the equation. I get that.  But there’s something else.  There’s a creativity here that I haven’t seen coming from TV stations.

Take a look at the winners of the Knight Foundation’s 2009 News Challenge.  No call letters among the bunch.  But a LOT of creative, multi-platform, forward-thinking ideas about taking information and getting it in front of people, instead of sitting back on our broadcast bottoms and continuing to think the audience will just keep coming to us.

The Knight Foundation Voters Decide in Miami:  Local TV?  Not on the Table.

The Knight Foundation Voters Decide in Miami: Local TV? Not on the Table.

Eric Umansky and Scott Klein of ProPublica, and Aaron Pilhofer and Ben Koski of The New York Times won $719,500 to bankroll a project aimed at enriching investigative news reports by creating an easily searchable, free, public online database of public records.  (As Jeff Jarvis would say, that’s asking “What Would Google Do?)

Gail Robinson at the Gotham Gazette won $250,000 to create an online wiki devoted to local legislators’ voting records and campaign contributions, so voters in New York can go someplace–free–and find usable information.

And in Phoenix, Aleksandra Chojnacka and Adam Klawonn of the Daily Phoenix won $95,000 to fund their idea of using news, games and social networking to help commuters on the city’s light rail system informed about their city.

Where’s the proof broadcasters get it?  Where’s the creativity that shows we will endure, succeed and prosper five years from now?  Skype liveshots?  Anchor blogs?  Weather widgets?

Folks.  The Buick dealer isn’t coming back on a white horse to save you.  What are you doing to change?

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Small Crew, Big Danger

15guerrilla01-600It’s no leap to see that the arrests of Euna Lee and Laura Ling in North Korea have a lesson for the legions of backpack journalists covering local news stories across the country.  One-man (or woman) bands are cheaper, and for the journalist, clearly more dangerous when things go bad.

For Lee and Ling, reporting for Current TV, little is known about the exact structure of their support system.  We do know that Current does not have the around-the-world network of bureaus that can jump into action and get phones ringing in New York, London, and Washington when a crew fails to report in.

CBS' Kimberly Dozier in Iraq

CBS' Kimberly Dozier in Iraq

When CBS’ Kimbery Dozier and her crew came under attack in Iraq, it was their bureau chief who started sounding the alarms, and it was the intervention of powerful CBS brass in New York who were able to arrange evacuation and treatment for the critically injured Dozier. [Note: If you haven’t read Dozier’s book on the attack, the loss of her crew, and her struggle to survive, pick up a copy. It’s called “Breathing the Fire,” and it’s a courageous book]

The freelancer working for an internet news operation, even one with a high profile name attached like Al Gore, just doesn’t have that kind of backup available.

And neither does the local news reporter who goes it alone.  I can recall several times in my reporting when a photographer and I got into a sketchy situation, and we needed each other.  Once, in Birmingham, my photographer was targeted by an angry police officer after the shooting death of a cop.  The officer was upset, and vented on us.  He picked a fight with my photog over where he’d been standing, and then pulled out his handcuffs.  Knowing he’d done nothing wrong, the photog handed me the camera and told me to get it all on tape.  You can’t do that when you’re alone.

News directors love one-man-bands, and eager journalists are taking the jobs.  There may, at times, be managers who think, “we shouldn’t send a backpacker into that situation alone.”  But I’m sure it will happen anyway.  Maybe you saw the YouTube clip of the one-man-band reporter doing his own liveshot who got caught in a gas station’s sprinkler system.  That was amusing.  But that shot showed how often things go wrong in the field–and how hard it can be for a person doing it all him or herself to get out of harm’s way, even if this time it was just a soaking.

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