Tag Archives: boston

SlimeWatch, Part 3: What Local Stations Can Learn from NPR’s New Website

6a00d83451b26169e201053659b16a970c-800wiNPR.org doesn’t exactly grab you by the shoulders and scream “cutting edge!” At least, not yet. But give it time.

One thing that is clear is this:  the thinking behind the radio giant’s redesign is advanced, and should be studied by every local television station manager and web team–at least the ones that intend to survive as employees of viable, profitable businesses.

For NPR, the new thinking goes like this:  kinda, sorta, start not really focusing so much on the “R” in NPR: “This is an organization that’s in transformation into becoming a fully functional news content organization, not just a radio company,” said NPR’s Vivian Schiller in an interview with Newsweek.  Schiller’s the force behind one of the most powerful news sites on Earth–nytimes.com–but she left the Times six months ago to join NPR and get the old school org all multiplatformy and stuff.

As Newsweek’s Johnnie Roberts wrote, “For Schiller, that means building on NPR’s reputation as a broadcaster of national and international news, by extending its reach into local news. She plans on relying more on local member stations to fill what she sees as a “scary” void in local coverage as hometown daily newspapers fold.”

Supporting local coverage is obviously something most localnewsers can get behind.  Unless, of course, that means a network, like NPR, or NBC for that matter, coming in an bypassing its local station to do the local work itself. And NPR’s new model, as Schiller’s old shop The New York Times noted, “would make it easier than ever to find programming from local stations, (it) will also make it much more convenient for listeners to bypass local stations, if they choose.”

NBCChicago:  No Worries for NBC-Owned WMAQ.  But Boston, Tampa, Vegas?

NBCChicago: No Worries for NBC-Owned WMAQ. But Boston, Tampa, Vegas?

This is exactly the threat, as I’ve argued, that NBC’s “Locals Only” effort poses to NBC affiliates who don’t choose to accept NBC’s terms to do business on a local level.  GE’s already laid the groundwork by buying up domains from coast to coast that would allow the network to instantly be in the local online news business (as “NBC Boston,” for example) and bypass entirely another “NBC” entity in the same city. Welcome to the Wild West, folks, where allegiances may shift depending on who’s got better firepower, stronger horses, and cash.

Speaking specifically of NPR’s aggressive move into multi-platform news growth online, Jake Shapiro, the executive director of Public Radio Exchange, a group that supports local radio stations, told the Times, “That’s the risk. It increases the pressure for stations to offer compelling and distinct programming.”

As Schiller told the Times, NPR’s revamped website isn’t about offering National Public Radio a presence online, and certainly it’s not an effort to drive ears to NPR stations.  The new model reverses all of that, taking NPR’s website “from being a companion to radio to being a news destination in its own right,” Ms. Schiller said.

The Web's News Giants Smell Money in Your Backyard.  You Ready to Compete?

The Web's News Giants Smell Money in Your Backyard. You Ready to Compete?

With TV networks contributing their content to Hulu and ending the once ironclad arrangement that you see NBC shows on NBC stations, the “bypass local stations but own local advertising” model is no hypothetical threat.  It’s time for smart station managers and news directors to look at their own websites and ask if they can compete against their own network–if it ever came to that.

Can you?  Is your site that good?  Is it tied to your TV product or growing in creative ways away from the TV newscast and terrestrial station?  Is your local online reporting going to be better than NBC’s or CBS’s or Huffington Post’s?

You may not be thinking this way.  But trust me.  They are.

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The Inescapable Truth: NBC’s Secret Evil Plan to Destroy Local News as We Know It

NBC:  Out to Destroy the Local News

NBC: Out to Destroy the Local News


Who knows?  We may look back on this era and think, “Man, NBC was so far ahead of the curve!” They knew the model of local news many of us grew up with:  the big, well-paid anchors, the choppers, the liveshots, the stable of seasoned reporters–those were all, you know, expendable. In the future, the local news would come from content centers:  awkward, low-ceilinged newsrooms where recent college graduates would produce quick and dirty stories that air in endless repetition on digital cable channels somewhere between monster truck shows and classic movies. Oh!  And you can also get the stuff (sorry–the “content”) on your phone.

Well anyway, this Secret Evil Plan to dominate the next evolution of local news is well underway at NBC.  That conclusion is now inescapable.  A few cases in point from the past few days:  the departure of Paul Moyer in Los Angeles, and NBC’s enraged response to WHDH/Boston’s decision to ditch Jay Leno in favor of an hour of local news at 10 p.m.

KNBC's Paul Moyer: An Unexpected "Retirement"


First, LA.  Earlier this week, I wrote about the splashy yet debatable Defamer report that NBC had plans to kill off two of its golden geese:  Moyer at KNBC and Chuck Scarborough at WNBC/NY. Showing my bias as a kid who grew up watching local news in New York, I largely dismissed the idea as almost-too-stupid-even-for-NBC. The next day, Moyer announced his “retirement.”  As the LA Times reported, “Moyer, whose last day has yet to be determined, would not comment on the reasons behind his unexpected announcement.”

The reason is this:  NBC is over big money anchors and believes young and nameless (and by definition easily replaceable) is the way of the future.  And now, more than ever, I wonder how long Chuck and Sue will sit at the desk in New York.  Sources this week confirmed what I had only jokingly suggested:  that yes, NBC has had “brainstorming sessions” that have focused on a WNBC without its longtime anchor.  If your goal is translating local news to an ever younger demographic, the thinking goes, why stay tied to a guy who, you know, is only getting older?

Jay Leno, Key Component of NBCs Secret Evil Plan

Jay Leno, Key Component of NBC's Secret Evil Plan


And then there’s Boston.  A key component of NBC’s Secret Evil Plan is the move of Jay Leno to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, bringing his sleep-inducing show from its position AFTER the local news, and putting it on as a LEAD-IN to local news.  Once upon a time, NBC produced excellence in the 10 o’clock hour:  dramas that were so good, the network and its local stations worked together to seamlessly move from the last frame of the drama right into the first tease of the local newscast, so as not to lose a single eyeball.  It was designed to deliver a profitable payoff for stations, especially NBC’s O&Os.

Now comes Leno.  An hour.  Every weeknight.  Imagine how tired you’ll be by the time 10:58 rolls around.  Ed Ansin, no stranger to maximizing an audience at ten o’clock, decided he’d be better off in Boston doing an hour of news.  As Ansin told the Boston Globe, “We feel we have a real opportunity with running the news at 10 p.m. We don’t think the Leno show is going to be effective in prime time,” Ansin said yesterday. “It will be detrimental to our 11 o’clock [newscast]. It will be very adverse to our finances.”

Even more interesting than Ed Ansin’s pushback against NBC (and do you think he’ll be the only one?) is the enraged response from the network:  “WHDH’s move is a flagrant violation of the terms of their contract with NBC,” John Eck, president of NBC Television Network, told the Globe. “If they persist, we will strip WHDH of its NBC affiliation. We have a number of other strong options in the Boston market, including using our existing broadcast license to launch an NBC-owned and operated station.”

So much to dissect in that statement.  But let’s go with the craziest first.  NBC would invest in starting its own station in Boston?  Over Leno?  The network’s been trying for months to offload some of the best local stations in the country, with no luck.  Clearly, NBC thinks owning stations is a losing proposition.  A year ago, LostRemote reported on a revealing NBC memo:  “We’re in the process of re-engineering the way we think, shifting our focus from a traditional stations business to becoming full-service local-media-production centers,” NBC Local Media president John Wallace said in an internal memo obtained by Broadcasting & Cable.

WHDH/Boston:  Ed Ansin Wants 7 News, Not Leno

WHDH/Boston: Ed Ansin Wants 7 News, Not Leno


So it’s really not about having a station in Boston.  It’s about destroying local news as we know it. And damn Ed Ansin if he still believes in local news as a profit center!  Not only that, but how rude of WHDH!  Leno grew up in Andover, Mass!  You’re basically stabbing a local boy in the back in the name of a few bucks!

Oh wait.  That’s what NBC does every day.  Never mind.

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Sam Malone’s Advice to Laid Off Local Newsers: “Network”

Eddie Doyle, Legendary Bartender, Now Unemployed

Eddie Doyle, Legendary Bartender, Now Unemployed

Eddie Doyle’s the real-life bartender who worked 35 years at the Bull & Finch in Boston–the basement bar that became a senstation in the 1980’s when it was used as inspiration for NBC’s hit sitcom, “Cheers.” 

Eddie Doyle was the guy who literally knew everybody’s name–and their drink–and enjoyed nothing less than serving pints to his friends from the neighborhood and talking, often for hours.  Doyle was the guy Ted Danson’s “Sam Malone” was based on, and after the show became a smash, Doyle became a star in his home town, in turn using his fame to raise over a million dollars for charity.

I bring up Eddie Doyle, because like a lot of local newsers, Doyle got laid off this week.  And like a TV reporter or anchor, his celebrity–and his longevity–didn’t save him when the time to cut the budget hit the bar.  “I’m going to miss it,” Doyle told me when I talked to him on the phone this week.  He described packing up 35 years of memories and preparing to walk away.  So many of us know exactly what that feels like.

Doyle’s 66, and he told me he’s not worried for himself, but for the young “kids” who also got laid off at the bar.  When I asked him his advice to the newly unemployed, he said it in one word:  “network.”  He told me, talk to people, volunteer, do charity work.  “It’s a way to stay active, and you might meet someone who can open a door.”

In TV, we learn how many people we know when the layoff hits.  We hear from old friends and former co-workers at stations from years past, and often, they have ideas.  They know people.  They say, “call this guy.”

It’s good advice to remember when the lack of TV jobs out there gets scary.  Keep talking.  Stay involved, even if it’s at a homeless shelter or a charity you care about.  Don’t stay at home in front of the computer hitting “refresh” every three minutes on journalismjobs.com

Nobody knows how long this will last… and the folks who find jobs may be the ones who know somebody, even if it’s not somebody they knew beforehand.  Since I wrote about my own departure from WPLG, I’ve heard from all kinds of old friends.  Many with excellent ideas (and some bad ones), and lots and lots of leads.  It’s a reminder that in this very small business, we do touch a lot of people, and there’s no shame in asking for help, or simply, in taking it when offered.

So go ahead and hum the theme from Cheers.  (You know you want to) And take Eddie Doyle’s advice.

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Say It Ain’t So! A Little Less Alliteration from Ansin’s Anxious Anchors?

It was one of the most memorable lines in the 1987 film “Broadcast News,” when the alliteratively-named network newser Aaron Altman mocked his new nightly news nemesis and his penchant for peppy prose:  “A lot of alliteration from anxious anchors placed in powerful posts!”

Well, anybody who’s watched either of Ed Ansin’s “7 News” stations, WSVN/Miami or the layoff-laden WHDH/Boston, knows alliteration’s just the way they roll, with every routine rainstorm loudly labeled “wicked weather!”

It’s just the formula.  Or is it?  In Boston, a remarkable reduction in ratings recently, resulting in the removal of Randy Price as main anchor, has those in powerful posts pondering pulling the plug on all the alliteration in the station’s snappy scripts:  “Alliteration was used no less than seven times during Monday’s 11 p.m. news., and fewer times the following night – although the ‘cash and crash’ graphic used to describe the Medford bank robbery was cringe-worthy,” wrote the Herald’s Jessica Heslam.

The focus on fewer flashy lines in the station’s newscasts may have something to do with the sharp criticism coming from recently-released main anchor Randy Price, who called the incessant alliteration “mind-numbing” in a recent radio interview.  Price said sometimes producers would stretch so far to find a clever graphic, it would no longer serve the story, such as “Plane Plunge.”  As Price told WRKO radio, “I would have to turn around and say, ‘What does that graphic mean?'”

WSVN/Miami:  Flashy Graphics, A Lot of Alliteration

WSVN/Miami: Flashy Graphics, A Lot of Alliteration

Boston’s always been a bit more highbrow than Miami, where “Triple Trouble in the Tropics” and hurricanes “Packing a Powerful Punch” is still standard fare.  Would station owner Ed Ansin really respond to ridicule by issuing an alliteration reduction order, ditching the distinctive 7 style just like he cut ties to Randy Price?  Well, that would be a Major Milestone.

Sorry.  I’m done now.

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And Now, Back to WHDH, Where Another Anchor Gets the Boot

WHDH's Rudat

WHDH's Rudat

It’s been a rough month at WHDH/Boston.  First, longtime and much-loved main anchor Randy Price was unceremoniously shown the door a week ago;  this morning we learn (again, from the Boston Globe, not from the station itself) that weekend anchor Brandon Rudat is gone.  He got the news yesterday, according to the Globe’s boston.com:  “I was told . . . that I am very skilled and that I am very talented but I am not right for the station,” said Rudat, 29, who started at Channel 7 in early 2007. His contract with the station expires April 22, which will be his last day. Rudat also anchors weekends on sister station CW-56. “Good things will come out of this,” he predicted, wrote the Globe’s Mark Shanahan.

According to the paper, HDH GM Chris Wayland wouldn’t comment on Rudat’s release, though Rudat, like Price before him, had been vocal inside the 7 Newsplex about the station’s flashy, sensational WSVN/Miami approach in more sober, less flashy New England.  Dissent, according to the Globe, did not do good things for job security:  “We should be able to debate what the story should be,” Rudat said. “If you debate, you suddenly become a target. . . . It’s really hard.” 

Tense Times in the 'Plex
Tense Times in the ‘Plex

The HDH departures have local Boston newsbloggers going into overdrive, with much speculation about what’s motivating the exodus:  money, or being unacceptably vocal.  The comments at bostontvnews make for interesting reading.

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Laid Off by WJLA/DC, Andrea McCarren Finds Her Faith “Renewed”

Andrea McCarren

Andrea McCarren

At this point, every one of us in this business knows someone–likely, a few people–who’ve lost their jobs since this time last year.  They are smart, they are dedicated, they are the people we liked working alongside, gossiping with, bitching about the business with, and now–they are gone.  From tape room operators in the smallest markets to anchors at the top of the game, there’s an all-star team sidelined by an economic situation that’s threatening to change local news forever.

Some get to say goodbye, but most, like WHDH’s Randy Price, get to write quick farewell emails to co-workersin the newsroom computer, but have to rely on the local newspaper to relay their gratitude to viewers. As local news stations, we cover the closing of every factory and mill, and never miss a chance to use the down-arrow gfx when job loss numbers are released, but folks who still get news, weather and (for now) sports from local stations rarely get any explanation of the latest layoff at the station itself.  

Longtime WJLA/DC reporter Andrea McCarren wrote in the Washington Post recently, “It’s hard to say whether getting pink-slipped in the public eye is better or worse. When you work in local television news, strangers treat you like family. We on-camera reporters are their friends, their confidants. After all, we’re in their living rooms and kitchens, in some cases every day.”

Andrea McCarren and Co-Workers at WJLA

Andrea McCarren and Co-Workers at WJLA

“In a sense, these people are my “family,” too. Over the years, they’ve shared my life’s high points — getting married, having kids, even being promoted — and they’ve been there for the low ones, sending condolence cards after my father’s sudden death and, now, the loss of my job.”

McCarren never got to say goodbye to her tv “family” on tv, but those viewers who felt they knew her have been letting her know they care–in the form of more than 400 emails and letters, some, she told me, “were heartbreaking; others were filled with optimism. Hundreds came from other experienced, hard-working people like me who loved their jobs and were also laid off.  Many came from people who had been through the ordeal of being abruptly terminated and bounced back, landing in a place where they were happier than ever!”

So while I’ve been accused of being a web-based harbinger of doom for relaying the layoffs day in and day out, I wanted to share Andrea McCarren’s words as well;  that while the loss is painful and huge, the support, the friendship and love is too.  “This whole experience has renewed my faith in humanity: the kindness of strangers, and the compassion of Americans to lend a hand in troubled times. It’s also revealed just how many talented and dedicated people are out of work right now. We’re all in this together,” McCarren told me.

McCarren says she’s still figuring out what her next step will be.  The economy’s down, but her spirits are certainly up, and she says she’ll immerse herself in volunteer work as a way to pay it forward, and to “keep everything in perspective.”

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Latest Layoffs: WCVB/Boston Cuts Jim Morelli

Reporter Jim Morelli, who’s been at WCVB/Boston for five years, was told Friday he’ll be out of work effective April 7, according to “The Scoop” on bostontvnews:  “Jim tells me, “For me, far greater than the loss of income, will be the lost opportunity to spend my working hours with the many friends I’ve made at Channel 5. That is what will stand out for me when I look back on these five years: the wonderful friendships.”

Morelli’s an experienced reporter and anchor, who’s pulled gigs in Atlanta and at CNN.  He’s also a published author, and before becoming a journalist worked as a pharmacist and poison control specialist.

Jim Morelli

Morelli’s departure comes as Boston local newsers are still reacting to the sudden departure of WHDH main anchor Randy Price, who apparently anchored his last newscast in 7’s Newsplex on Wednesday, had a meeting with station owner Ed Ansin on Thursday, and was out of the building Friday.

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