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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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