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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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How Far Would You Go to Live Your TV Dream? Dispatch from the Frontlines: Brian Andrews

mjackontrial

Brian Andrews: Deciding to Walk Away. Walking Far, Far Away.

As the longtime lead reporter at WSVN in Miami, and later as a correspondent at CBS News and WFOR in Miami, Brian Andrews always seemed to out-hustle the competition and break stories that the other guys missed. He was the guy you knew was going places, as they say.  I remember seeing Brian one day in my newsroom in New York and thinking, “this is the guy we need–he’ll be big in New York.”  But Brian had other plans.

As you’re about to read, Brian took a bold leap that left many in Miami scratching their heads: why walk away from something you’re so good at?  And to leave the country?  Well Brian’s now forging a new path in a new place, and serving as an example for those of us who are thinking: what next?  If you’ve had a crazy dream, this, kids, might be the time to give it a shot.  (And the way to take a dream and make it reality?  Use those reporter’s talents that allowed you to talk your way in for the exclusive interview–and use them to talk your way into a job that, like Brian, maybe nobody’d even planned for.)

 

DISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINESBrian Andrews, News Director, RCN in English, Columbia

In December of 2007, I quit my job in Miami TV, sold my house, gave away everything I owned, and moved to Colombia to follow my dream of doing news in English in Latin America.  I got out before the collapse of local news.  I was lucky.  I feel like I was able to leave at the top, on my own terms.  I left a month into a new 3 year contract for big money.  CBS didn’t understand my reasons.  They thought I was crazy.  But, they knew my heart was in Colombia, not Miami, and were kind enough to let me go pursue my passions.

Once I got here, it took me about 6 months to get established, but I made it happen.   I pitched RCN, the largest TV network in the country on my idea.   They loved it.   A few months later, Colombia’s News in English was born.  At first, it was just me and a producer. We did everything. We translated, wrote, edited, stacked, sent, processed, converted, uploaded, and posted.  A few months later, after realizing working 7 days a week wasn’t healthy, I got more help.  We expanded to 7 days a week. I hired a weekend anchor and another producer.   And then, it just kept growing.

Brian's Team at RCN

Brian Andrews, left, and his Team at RCN

At the start, we were just one webcast a day.   Then, we grew to two.  Then, we added a third. Next, TV Colombia, our international channel, starting running our shows.  Then, we expanded to Avianca Airlines.   Last month, we revamped the whole operation, built a new website, and started posting single stories, in addition to the webcasts.  We also added weather and sports. We encourage user interaction.  We have people email us their photos for our constantly changing header.  We solicit contributions of stories from people who have the time to produce them and FTP them to us.   We’re doing it all with a staff of 5 and a budget that works out to less than $12,000 a month.   This is the future of news: digitally delivered and made inexpensively.   My staff is very young, hungry, and full of ideas and energy.  We use existing resources to make our product.  We offer the opportunity to anyone in the newsroom who is comfortable speaking English to make pieces for our programs.   We also shoot our own stuff with handheld cameras.

colombianewsFor my team, its not work, it’s our passion.   Plus, we know our project has meaning and impact.  We are showing the world there’s more going on down here than bombs and kidnappings. We are teaching others how to make Miami style TV for the internet.  We are teaching others a new language, a new way of doing things, and a new way of telling stories.   Plus, we are still cutting edge.  Right now, we are the only product of its kind being produced in Latin America.    So, when you want to know what’s happening in Colombia, please check us out at www.colombianews.tv!   In a time when dream jobs in TV news don’t exist anymore… I found mine in Colombia!

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LATEST LAYOFFS: Univision Cuts 300 Employees, Including Veteran Miami Local Newsers

Univisions South Florida Flagship, WLTV

Univision's South Florida Flagship, WLTV

Univision, struggling and nearly eleven billion dollars in debt, pink-slipped six percent of its workforce Friday, including several top faces at the network’s flagship station in Miami, WLTV, where veteran political reporter Bernadette Pardo and morning anchor Ivan Donoso were among the layoffs.  The station also cut sports reporter Veronica Paysse.

At the network level, Univision will stop production on the weekend edition of “Primer Impacto” and the network’s national morning show, “Despierta America” will lose news anchor Fernando Arau.

WLTV/Miamis Bernadette Pardo

WLTV/Miami's Bernadette Pardo

The extent of the cuts–and the top names involved, particularly that of Pardo–surprised even layoff-weary local newsers in South Florida.  “I’m surprised that a woman who has twice nearly lost her life working for that station–in a car bombing in Columbia, and an incident in Geneva–would be discarded so coldly,” said a longtime Miami newser who’s worked alongside Pardo.

The network had little to say about the sudden end to such storied careers, telling the Miami Herald the cuts would make Univision “more efficient in the short-term and better positioned for growth in the long term.”

At least they skipped the “going in a different direction” cliche.  You can say that much.

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If They Can Kill the Rocky, What Makes You Think Your TV Station’s Going to Survive?

The Rocky's Newsroom Gets the News:  It's Over

The Rocky's Newsroom Gets the News: It's Over


We have these “truths” we seem to hold so damn self-evident in local news, the whole “they can’t live without us” stuff that the smartest tv newsers still cling to like baby blankets.  The problem is, these fundamental truths don’t really hold up under close examination, and with every passing day, there’s more and more evidence that what we do is not the “given” we have so long believed it to be.  Remember once, it was a “given” that a lower channel number was better than a higher one, and UHF?  Oh my God.  UHF.  The other day I mentioned the concept of UHF and got a blank stare from an intern at a top university.  They don’t teach it, because it’s irrelevant.  Not only is channel number irrelevant, as local stations go digital, the channel number we may be clinging to won’t even be the right number anymore.
The Rockys New Years Edition, 1900

The Rocky's New Year's Edition, 1900


It’s a new ballgame.  And it’s a game we can lose.  I crack up reading these determined posts on tv sites, where newsers debate the future ownership of certain stations.  Inevitably, someone will chime in that one of the networks is “dying” to buy this or that station.  Really?  Are networks buying stations, or looking for a way to get out of the local affiliate model altogether?  What are the odds your market will continue to support three, four, five or more local tv newsrooms over the next five years?  I hate to bring up the comparison, but without a new model and some innovation away from the news at 6, and 11 and “innovations” like weekend morning news and “webcasts,” we may be looking a lot more like newspapers than any of us would care to admit.

Print had a multi-paper heyday.  Now many cities are one-paper towns, and some have no paper at all.  Tomorrow, the Rocky Mountain News will hit the streets of Denver for the last time, shutting down after 150 years.  Don’t even start to say that can’t happen to your might fifty years of history at Channel 6.

WTVJ/Miami: Florida History Dating to 1949


In Miami, NBC’s WTVJ was as good as gone, offloaded by NBC to Post-Newsweek to be rolled into an ABC-NBC duopoly that many (especially in the TVJ newsroom) feared would mean, essentially, eliminating their newsroom and running WPLG’s product on two channels, with one staff, under one roof.  (The TVJ call letters, channel assignment and peacock making the move;  the majority of the news talent and support staff becoming the cost savings) The deal died, not for the concept, but for the banks.  The loans that underpinned the purchase faded with the rest of the economy, and, for the time being, WTVJ, with its decades of South Florida history, lives on.  But it was a close call that should open eyes.  If a set of call letters like WTVJ can very nearly die off as a true, living, breathing, competitive newsroom in a big city, it can happen anywhere.

In Denver, Rich Boehne, CEO of Rocky owner E. W. Scripps Company, put it bluntly to the paper’s people: “Denver can’t support two newspapers any longer,” according to an account of the meeting published on the Rocky’s website, which noted that some staffers cried at the news of the paper’s death.  “People are in grief,” said Editor John Temple.

On Saturday, Denver will become a one newspaper town, with the Denver Post the last man standing in an old west print duel that has waged since the 1920s.

Why not TV?  Over at LostRemote, Cory Bergman blames that old “wall” for a “fatal disconnect” between us local tv newsers and the folks upstairs who get the Pontiac guy to buy spots.  You know, when “they” get us some ads, we’ll be fine: “The problem,” Bergman blogs, “journalists wash their hands of the business side of the equation. That’s the business guys’ problem, said one newspaper journalist. But it’s not. It’s everyone’s problem.”  His solution? Work together to create a product that people might want to buy–or watch.  “By splitting journalism and business into two buckets separated by a longstanding cultural divide, the two groups fail to collaborate on ideas that tap the strengths of both. And neither have a track record of understanding how technology enables community, the greatest opportunity of all.”

Can the TVJ Legacy Be Saved?

Can the TVJ Legacy Be Saved?


Bergman believes–as I do–that finding a model beyond 5, 6, and 11, beyond the exciting addition of weekend morning news and email alerts (sent right to your mobile phone when weather threatens!) means recrafting the whole damn thing, which is something newspapers didn’t do very well, and tv’s not so hot at, either. (Look at the raging success of the DTV transition.)  Bergman boils it down to putting the “business” back in the news business:  “local journalists are losing their jobs, often blaming the business guys. But along with upper management, they’re all to blame for failing to collaborate. For failing to understand their users and advertisers’ evolving needs. Not OUR needs. But our CUSTOMERS needs.”

What do you think?  Will your station be doing news in five years?  Who will you be working for ten years from now?  How long can we count on viewers showing up for appointment newscast viewing–and getting advertisers to pay for the privilege of buying time on those newscasts?

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve worked at for E.W. Scripps, and Post-Newsweek, and know many of the people who would’ve been directly affected in the Miami duopoly, both the managers at WPLG who without a doubt would have created something unique and very likely profitable–and the journalists at WTVJ, who I consider good people and would have hated to see any of them lose their jobs]

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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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The Below-the-Radar Impact on Local Newsers: Still Employed, But Making Less

250px-wfla2007The report on TVSpy today is eye-opening. Sources telling TVSpy that producers at WFLA/Tampa (all producers… everyone) were called in and given an offer they couldn’t refuse: resign. Was the Media General station unveiling some kind of new automated producing software? No. Producers were told they could apply for their jobs. Hmmm… Okay, quick show of hands: how many of you local newsers think the new jobs pay MORE than the old jobs?

According to the ShopTalk post, WFLA news director Don North “promised the producers new deals. But, as you might imagine, the suspicion factor is running high, and whether they’ll ever see those new contracts. So folks at this Media General station are sitting out the next 90 days in shock, wondering what happens next.
This was a tough spot for those producers.”

Don North's Letter/From TVSpy

Don North's Letter/From TVSpy

And it’s not just in Tampa. Reporters in markets like Miami and NYC are reporting offer-you-can’t-refuse moments in meetings with bosses: take less pay, or we’ll get rid of you. What choice to you have in this climate? But the paycuts are obviously under-reported, as few people call the newspaper to announce they’ve just taken a salary cut.

It makes you wonder just how widespread this really is.

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Slugfest for the Future of Local News: TV and Print, Battling Online

lost remote

Those pesky newspapers just won’t go and die, despite the overconfident predictions of tv newsers, who see newsprint as something akin to the cigarette-and-typewriter filled newsroom, essentially, a dinosaur.  But local tv types have seen the new breed:  print reporters who carry DV cams and stick their mics into those gangbang interviews.  Some may laugh at their gear and inexperience.  LostRemote argues you’d better watch out, or they’re going to eat your lunch.

“This is the time for bold, online-focused leadership.  Opportunities like these rarely present themselves,” writes LR’s Cory Bergman.  “Many newspaper folks don’t believe local TV can step up and become a real competitor, let alone fill their shoes. The next 18 months will define the new leaders in local news, which will pay dividends when the economy rebounds.  Will it be you?This is the time for bold, online-focused leadership.  Opportunities like these rarely present themselves.  Many newspaper folks don’t believe local TV can step up and become a real competitor, let alone fill their shoes. The next 18 months will define the new leaders in local news, which will pay dividends when the economy rebounds.  Will it be you?”

WPLG/Miami's No Call Letter, Multiplatform Website

WPLG/Miami's Site: No Call Letters, Just News (and Twitter)

LR lays out a plan to beat papers, from ditching the attachment to call letters and on-air promotional pics, and get down and dirty:  beating papers at the basic game:  getting local news in a customer-friendly form:  “Rise above the fray and provide your users with the most comprehensive local news experience in the market,” Bergman says, and that may mean spending money, re-educating die hard tv newsers to become multi-platformers, and yes, it may mean using one-man-bands to get unique video content on your site.

But it’s the future, whether you like it or not, and losing a battle now is no recipe for financial survival in the future.  Read the fantastic LR post (and the lively debate that follows in comments) here.

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