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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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Filed under Cutbacks, Furloughs, Local News 2.0, Social Media

Time Has Told… The Era of the One Person Crew Is Upon Us

Mitch Roberts/WKRN VJ and Anchor

Mitch Roberts/WKRN VJ and Anchor

It’s always educational to take a step back, turn around, and look at where we’ve been.  It helps to see where we’ve come from, and how we’ve gotten to this place.  In thinking about the spread of–call ’em what you will, one man bands, all-platform journalists, multimedia journalists, backpack journalists–single person crews, I looked back at the debut of the form, if you will.  The early reactions to the off-Broadway version of the show that’s now getting decidedly mixed reviews, but somehow selling lots and lots of tickets to news managers and corporate suits looking to find a way–any way–to cut costs and keep the profit in local news.

The first station group to go “VJ,” as they called it, was Young Broadcasting, which put cameras on reporters’ shoulders at WKRN/Nashville and KRON/San Francisco, copying a news-on-the-cheap model that had seen success elsewhere, notably at outfits like New York’s local cable newser, NY1.  Variety wrote about the “Crew Cut in News Biz” in 2005, quoting a WKRN anchor: “It’s like they took the rules here and hucked them out the window.”

Steve Schwaid/CBS Atlanta

Steve Schwaid/CBS Atlanta

A lot of rules have gone out that window, especially lately.  In addition to the expansion of one man banding to stations like WUSA/DC and WNBC/NYC, WGNX/Atlanta news director Steve Schwaid recently updated his Facebook profile to read:  “Steve is looking for one person bands – send dvds to me at CBS Atlanta.”  The whole stations, he says, won’t be going OPB;  he says “there will always need to be some working in teams and some can work by themselves…back to the future – we worked like this when I worked at whio in the late 70s.”

The mere suggestion of one person field crews drew fire on Facebook, with one person commenting on Schwaid’s profile page, “Nice BS-ing around the reality. One person does 2 times the work for less pay. That is the reality.”  Schwaid responded:  “hey, the reality is the business model as we know it is dramatically changing…so you can be working for the last company that made the buggy whips or looking ahead…I prefer looking ahead.”

Is KPIX Next?

Is KPIX Next?

And he’s clearly not the only one looking ahead and seeing lots more reporters with cameras on their shoulders (or photographers reporting, however you want to look at it).  Word is KPIX/San Francisco is bringing the one person crew into the mix, and some say it will soon show at NBC O&O’s like WRC/DC, and WMAQ/Chicago as they undergo the “Content Center” transformation.  (So, in DC, you’d have a Content Center competing against an Information Center?)

Is there any way to argue now that this isn’t happening and won’t keep spreading?  Did naysayers suggest the three-person crew would never end?  (before my time)  And what, pray tell, is the union strategy in all of this?

As the Nashville anchor said waaaaaaay back in ’05 (remember the good old days, when we didn’t fear for our jobs every minute of every day?), the rules, they’re getting “hucked” out the window.

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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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Local News 2.0: Job Titles of the Future! (And the Future, Like it or Not, Is Now)

Think of the evolution of job titles in local news over the last few years: out goes “studio camera operator,” in comes “robotics camera operator.” I guess there was a specific title for the guys who developed the film (“footage,” as the interns still call it), a job long gone before I showed up on the local newser scene, and now we have “ingest coordinators.” And at WUSA/DC, they have a “Digital Development Director,” in the form of tech savvy Patrick O’Brien. And please, stay on his good side by not suggesting that he’s the guy who runs Channel 9’s website. How 1990s of you. No. He’s the Main Man of Multimedia at Gannett’s flagship, which made major local newser news by becoming the first big-city station in the country to go all video journalist, ending the era of two-person field crews.


Newslab‘s Deborah Potter, ever at the cutting edge of local news evolution, has a timely profile and, naturally, an embedded video interview with O’Brien, on her spinoff site, advancingthestory. It’s worth a look if you’re interested to see how the future is playing out now in DC, and believe me, whether your newsroom Twitters yet or not, your managers and corporate types are watching O’Brien and recently hired WUSA News Director (oh, silly me.. what a 2003 job title… he’s the VP/Information Center) Lane Michaelsen to see how the new vision works.

Oh, and if you’re already in the Twitterverse, add O’Brien. He’s a good one to follow.

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