Category Archives: Cutbacks

Local Newsers: Miserable on the Job, Desperate on the Beach, and The Return of Ramen Noodles

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John P. Wise

This week’s deeply honest and revealing post by John P. Wise has gotten a lot of local newsers thinking about the atmosphere in newsrooms across the country–about how the pressures from the top to make that damned money machine work again has trickled down to the producers and overnight editors and reporters and photographers and control room crew, making everyone flat out miserable.

And when I saw a tweet online from a Pacific Northwest winery about their upcoming employee summer Barbeque, complete with ribs and Pinot Noir, I was reminded of what it was like to work in local news just a few years ago:  at times, it was a hell of a fun place to be.  Then travel budgets evaporated, photogs lost their overtime, and along with that came a make-sure-the-crew-gets-lunch-even-if-you-miss-the-interview mandate and, as John so brilliantly described it, a complete lack of interest in the people doing the work.

Welcome to San Diego!  Clothing Allowance?  Ha!  No.  But Hey, Here's Your Camera and Tripod.

Welcome to San Diego! Clothing Allowance? Ha! No. But Hey, Here's Your Camera and Tripod.

Today, a post about one-man-bands in San Diego is good reading, as is the photo that goes along with it.  A reporter who’s just landed that San Diego job at a top station, only why is this woman not smiling? Not long ago, snagging a gig at KGTV would be a pretty sweet move.  Now, it’s almost a one step forward two steps back maneuver, with reporters arriving from smaller markets only to find the first part of life in the big city:  learning to shoot your own stuff.

And then there’s life after the job, after the layoff, after the cliche-ridden conversation with a manager who’s gotten too bored letting people go to even bother coming up with a new, personal way to talk to someone.  And in a flash, you’re on the beach, as they used to say in better times.

But as Gina Callaghan tells us today, it’s a scary place to be, where talent, skills, and smarts don’t automatically translate into paying work.  I think all of us can help each other out, and I urge you to visit LocalNewser’s companion site, CoachReporter, where we’ve just posted an article from a business coach on a key topic:  how do you take a resume that tells employers you’re absolutely qualified to work in a dying industry, and translate that to the emerging digital industry that’s replacing it?  We know we can do the work, but how do we show that?

Other coaches will be offering advice and suggestions on rebooting careers and, as Ann Nyberg says, navigating the change that’s surrounding us.

946pw8001DISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINES:  Gina Callaghan

I hope that package of ramen noodles in the kitchen remains sealed.

In a strange way, keeping those noodles together means the strands of hope on which I base my future employment will also remain intact.

In June, I was laid off from my job as a Web producer at a local TV station. Between the festering stench that is the American economy and a contracting media industry, I didn’t harbor any great sentimental thoughts about the business. That chapter is finished, so move on.

But where does one move?

Many employers in the “real world” value writing skills, the ability to work in a deadline-driven environment, flexibility, multitasking, good time-managers – all attributes found in your run-of-the-mill newsroom staffer.

However, many of those same people will balk at hiring a newsie for several reasons.  A common red flag is when interviewers ask, “You are used to a fast-paced newsroom. Do you think you can adjust to a different way of working?”

Oy! The unofficial motto of the media business is “adapt or die.”

Of course, the above only applies if you are lucky enough to get an interview.

Then, there is age. One recruiter, impressed by my resume, looked off to the side and said, “I don’t want to get sued but I think my client might say someone with your, uh, background might find it challenging to work with people just starting out. And the site is all about music and pop culture.”

Huh?  Never mind the fact that I worked at Fox, home of “American Idol” and did a stint on the National Enquirer’s copy desk.

“How old do you think I am,” was all I could blurt out. Didn’t get the job. (By the way, I am over 30 and nowhere near death).

Sure there are some relevant job postings out there. I sit home, chain-smoking in an old bathrobe, zipping resumes to that black hole called: resumes@thiscompany.com.

And then there is the rest of the day. I recently started a blog about cats, did some gratis social media consulting and enrolled in a class. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that generic orange juice is $1.99 as opposed to the $3.99 and up for brand names.

Whether my next job is in media or a real-estate office, I realize this period is a good time to take stock of personal passions and chart a new course. However, like many laid-off news types, the more pressing issue is navigating the choppy waters of daily survival – and keeping those ramen noodles in the pantry.

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Will Report for Food

jshop logo temp2 08.02.09We may not be exactly beloved by the community at large, but damn are we journalists resourceful, especially when the mortgage has got to be paid.

A group of laid off Los Angeles Times journalists has banded together to create The Journalism Shop, a collection of stellar reporters left on the beach by cutbacks and buyouts who want just one thing:  to work.  “The Los Angeles Times’ loss can be your gain,” the site’s ‘About Us’ reads. “Our interests range from freelance magazine journalism to book writing, deep project research to report design and writing. We encourage you to tap into our vast reservoir of experience and skill to bring to your own projects the caliber of journalism that helped make the Los Angeles Times one of the nation’s top newspapers.”

Award-winning journalists hanging out a shingle and saying, simply, “hire us.”  It says a lot about where we are as an industry.  A similar site, ProPhotographyNetwork, offers the same services, or as Matt Randall says there, “We will shoot anything, anywhere, for anyone.”

Do local television types want or need to do the same?  Are we on camera types satisfied with the work our agents are doing?  Would a “TelevisionProducersCollective” help?  These are the kinds of ideas we can talk about at LocalNewser’s companion site, where I hope to offer peer coaching and mentoring to journalists who could benefit from a little guidance given the crazy world we’re working–or, like the ex-Timesers, not working–in.

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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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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 wacotrib.com.  “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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WUSA/DC Local Newser Puts Himself on “Permanent Furlough” via Blistering Resignation Letter

Alan Henney said what others clearly felt:  something’s changed–and not for the better–at WUSA/DC.  “We are doing less news gathering these days and more information posting,” Henney writes in a memo to the WUSA news staff posted on DCRTV.  “Somebody needs to be driving the news machine at all times, actively pursuing news leads. We’ve lost our focus.”

WUSA, as most who follow the evolution of local TV news already know, recently replaced traditional news crews with one-man-bands, and converted its newsroom into an “information center” devoted to fast-paced, multiplatform news production:  getting the story told fast, in a variety of ways, from Twitter, to blogging, and sometimes even on a regular old newscast.

Henney, a weekend assignment editor at Channel 9, says the “shock and awe” digital campaign has come at a cost in the most basic of places:  doing the news.  “WUSA frequently lacks the discussion that is vital to the success of a vibrant news operation and falls into this model. Many of us are reluctant to say anything, and the suggestion box on the first floor is not enough. The consultants and out-of-touch corporate management have ruined the newscasts with repetitive Web clutter, endless sidebar packages, and their preoccupation with the Internet. You won’t find a blog anywhere that will generate enough revenue to support a news operation of this size, there are simply too many. We’ve heard regular speak of “Web Winners,” but what ever happened to the “News Winners?” A dying breed?”

Web Alert:  Is Anybody Doing the News?

Web Alert: Is Anybody Doing the News?

Henney’s letter has sparked a massive debate on the dcrtv site, and among DC local newsers.  It’s an important discussion, and sadly sparked by a man who felt his only option was to walk out, leaving the weekend desk after nearly a decade.  “Any corporation that allows employees to blog as an excuse for not reporting to work on time is not an organization with which I want to be associated. Effective immediately, I am placing myself on permanent furlough from the Gannett Corp,” he wrote.

DC newsers:  if you’ve watched the content coming from the Info Center, do you agree?  Has WUSA traded reporting for Twittering?  Can stations successfully do both?

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Sharing is Caring…Then, Firing. Fewer Local News Choppers for Gotham?

2 Stations Cover Madoff Live, Just 1 Chopper Overhead

2 Stations Cover Madoff Live, Just 1 Chopper Overhead

Sure, in the beginning it sounds like common sense.  It seems like good business.  Why hover two choppers over Bernie Madoff when one will do?  The suits at FOX and NBC were surely satisfied Thursday as the despicable Mr. Madoff made his one-way trip into court in Manhattan, a bevy of birds overhead to capture any fleeting movement that the army of stills and shooters on the ground might somehow miss.

Could the Baddest Bird in Gotham Be Grounded?

Could the Baddest Bird in Gotham Be Grounded?

When WNBC’s Chopper 4 needed to refuel, Channel 4 never lost a second of live overhead pictures–in HD–thanks to new BFF WNYW, with its sleek SkyFOX HD sharing live images with both stations.  “It’s a great plan to share assets and save money,” a FOX spokesperson told the New York Daily News’ Richard Huff.  Well, yes.  But talk to the local newsers who fly those birds, they’ll tell you what’s good for business almost certainly means somebody will lose their job.

“If the plan works out, one of the stations’ helicopters would be grounded completely and the two stations would share the remaining copter’s costs,” Huff reports.  It’s exactly what’s already happened in markets like Phoenix and Chicago, where “sharing” quickly morphed into “eliminating.”

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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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