Tag Archives: post-newsweek

SlimeWatch: Innovation and the End of Local Television Stations

Not Me, But I've Got a 1976 Version of This Pic Somewhere

Not Me, But I've Got a 1976 Version of This Pic Somewhere

We all know business is bad. The question local newsers need to ask themselves is this: will it ever get better?

Is local television down thanks to market forces, which would leave hope of a rebound and a return to better days? Or is this more than market-driven, but a generational change–a shift in media habits that casts once dominant local TV stations as latter day vaudeville acts, doomed to ever-diminishing returns and ultimate irrelevance?

I grew up around and inside television stations and have loved the buildings, the logos and the lore as long as I can remember. I have treasured pictures of myself as a kid at WCAU, wearing a 70s era headset and posing for a picture at the studio camera. Years later, as a high school kid, I posed for a picture with a friend on the news set at WCBS. Stations are in my blood, and that’s not going to change.

But I’m sure generations of kids grew up in families dominated by Detroit, developing a love for cars, hood ornaments and engines, and sadly, nostalgia alone won’t save GM. I think stations are in just as much trouble, if not more.

TV Newsday wrote up the sagging situation last week, reporting on revenues for the top 50 broadcast companies. “Gainers Rare” read the headline. In fact, “decliners led advancers” as the market types say, in a blowout: 44 of the top 50 companies lost money in 2008, and some lost a LOT.

Sunbelt, owner of nine stations including KVBC in Las Vegas, fell 20 percent from 2007. Sunbeam (best to avoid using any derivation of “sun” in your name) dropped 15 percent. There were bright lights, though, with six companies posting modest gains.

McGraw-Hill was up 6.26 percent in 2008 (but nosedived 23 percent in 1Q 2009); Post-Newsweek was up 3.59 percent in 2008 (but down 21 percent in 1Q 2009); and Capitol was up over eight percent last year, leading CEO Jim Goodman to tell reporters at NAB in April that “the best is yet to come” for broadcasters, reported Broadcast Engineering. The DTV transition, Goodman argued, meant good things for the future of over-the-air TV.

I’m not convinced.

Anybody Else Remember WCBS and These Wild Desks?  I Do.

Anybody Else Remember WCBS and These Wild Desks? I Do.

In an excellent article on MediaPost, Diane Mermigas reports station revenues will likely fall to 1995 levels this year, and no, the money-printing machine will not be working normally when the recession ends. “TV stations’ ability to excel in the nascent but promising world of hyperlocal information and services is hindered by a slew of uncontrollable forces. There is the collapse of core ad categories, such as automotives, which has contributed about one-fourth of all TV station revenues and will never fully recover. Internet-connected streaming video for PCs and mobile devices will continue to minimize and fragment television. Despite massive reductions in workforce and legacy operations, the pooling of local news-gathering and ad sales resources, and a growing Web presence, TV stations’ economic quandary increasingly mirrors that of declining newspapers,” Mermigas reports.

“Despite the most optimistic forecasts — more than 12 legacy broadcast companies generate between $10 million and $311 million in annual revenues from the sale of online advertising, per Borrell Associates — there is no way to effectively offset lost ad dollars, some of which are not coming back.”

Can stations–facing permanent declines–innovate their way back to profit? I say no. I’ll be laying out my argument in a series of “SlimeWatch” reports here. The reference to slime is not intended to suggest any malfeasance or filth, but rather, a reference to Rishad Tobaccowala, who has argued persuasively that the innovation that will save local journalism will almost certainly NOT come from existing broadcast companies.

I encourage you to watch this video and listen to what he has to say. Then let me know what you think: can stations find a way into the future? Or are they wearing cinder block shoes?

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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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Ex-KPRC/Houston Anchor Wendy Corona: “Blindsided,” Now Suing (Says Houston’s “Hair Balls” Blog)

Ex-KPRC Anchor Wendy Corona

Ex-KPRC Anchor Wendy Corona

The economic savings of offloading big-name talent may now carry an unexpected pricetag:  the lawsuits. Former KPRC/Houston anchor Wendy Corona’s filed suit, according to the entertainingly-titled Houston Press blog “Hair Balls: “Former KPRC Channel 2 anchorwoman Wendy Corona is suing her former news station, alleging breach of contract and defamation.”

Corona, who arrived at the Post-Newsweek station from sister station WPLG in Miami, claims she was “blindsided,” Corona’s attorney, Jan Fox, tells Hair Balls. “One day she was on the air and the next day she wasn’t, without notice. It’s terrific damage to your public reputation to suddenly be jerked off the air due to circumstances beyond your control.”
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Corona’s asking for lost wages, benefits and undetermined payment for damage to her reputation.

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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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Filed under Cutbacks, Local News 2.0