Tag Archives: rocky mountain news

Do We Save Local TV News… Or Save Ourselves?

But... We Ruled the World... How Can It Ever End?

But... We Ruled the World... How Can It Ever End?

Clay Shirky’s recent column, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” has earned deserved attention among those of us pondering the question of what happens next, and whether the financial models of newspapering and making local TV news can survive the current economy.  Increasingly, it seems the answer to both questions is “no.”

It no longer seems like madness to suggest that what we’re living through isn’t the toughest times for local TV news as we know it, but rather, a revolution that will wash away the medium we grew up with, and usher in something different.  That’s scary stuff.

Shirky describes the insistence that newspapers must be saved this way:  “When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie. ”

Digital Guru Clay Shirky

Digital Guru Clay Shirky

That is meaty, heavy stuff, and it is as applicable, I believe to local TV news as it is to newspapers.  Anybody who refuses to believe that what we’ve spent our careers doing must continue to exist is at high risk of being rendered irrelevant.  And in TV, as in any business, irrelevant is noplace to be.

The save-the-papers debate, as Shirky points out, boils down to a journalistic truism:  newspapers put asses in seats at city council meetings, and get deeper into stories than local tv newsers have the luxury of doing.  They have more bodies to sift through overnight police reports and court filings.  They are essential to the survival of a healthy society.  If newspapers die, who will do that work?  Certainly not the “you’re live in the noon on the house fire” TV guy.  He’s lucky if he can grab a five-dollar footlong before he starts crashing for his 5 o’clock package.

“The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model,” Shirky writes.  “So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?  I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it.”

Same again for TV.  It’s gut-check time.  Are you thinking about surviving the downturn?  Or figuring out what’s the new thing–and how to thrive doing it?

The Rocky Said Goodbye After 150 Years

The Rocky Said Goodbye After 150 Years

Shirky writes:  “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead. ”

Society doesn’t need the six o’clock local news either.  But it does need to know what’s happening.  We still have a job to do, it’s just a question of where, and who’s going to pay us.  That’s what I’m anxious to figure out, rather than answer the question of when the dry pipe in the sales department will start gushing cash again and all will be better.  That sounds more than ever like denial.

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And Now, It’s My Story to Tell As Well

joyella_twitter

My Last Liveshot for WPLG

Last night, toward the end of WPLG/Miami’s 6:00 newscast, I did a live package on Twitter, the hot social media platform, and how the station intends to use it to engage viewers.  

I’d been pushing to make Twitter a bigger part of the newsroom’s daily life for a few months, after seeing the power of the site to connect with people in Miami and around the world;  many with excellent connections, ideas, and stories. I also believe that getting up to speed with Twitter makes local tv newsers more competitive in an increasingly difficult economic environment that’s putting so many talented people out of work.

Fittingly, my story on Twitter was my last as a reporter at WPLG.  I wasn’t laid off, and I wasn’t fired.  Last fall, I approached my news director, Bill Pohovey to ask out of the remaining two years of my contract.  I had no new job, and no issues with the station.  I’ve been proud to be associated with WPLG and Post-Newsweek, and have benefitted from working alongside some of the most amazing journalists in the business, both in front of, and behind the camera.  My decision was personal:  I’m getting married.

My fiancee, Tiffanie Wong, also has a TV job she loves, as a technical director at CNN in New York. That’s home for both of us, and despite months of trying to sell a Brooklyn girl on the South Florida lifestyle, it became clear I would be moving.  And so, on Friday, I will.  I’m packing up and heading North, two dogs and a cat in tow, and becoming one of the many reporters, anchors, writers, producers and managers who never imagined a climate like this–more stations firing than hiring–but facing the cold reality of it.  I don’t know if yesterday’s story will be my last, not just at WPLG, but period.

Getting a Taste of Multiplatform Reporting on a Bus to DC, with WPLG Photographer Mario Alonso

Getting a Taste of Multiplatform Reporting on a Bus to the Obama Inauguration in DC, with WPLG Photographer Mario Alonso

New York’s going through a horrific period of layoffs and cutbacks, and as my fantastic agent has put it to me bluntly, there isn’t any work, and there is a phenomenal amount of talent sitting on the sidelines ready to jump at anything that opens up.  

My friend and former WNYW colleague Jodi Applegate jumped at a job anchoring the news at News 12 on Long Island. Asa Aarons, forever a consumer reporter at WNBC, has hired on at NY1. Jobs that once would have been “beneath” us are now seen as life rafts in seas that threaten to swallow us up.  

It’s scary.  My agent calls to “check on me” and tell me that no, nothing much is happening.  (Other than clients being laid off and let go)  I troll the job listings and send resumes, and find lots of not much.  I send resumes anyway, sometimes sending applications to listings that sound digital and interesting, even if I don’t fully understand what it is that the job entails.

And at the same time, I’m excited.  The business is changing.  I can stay in my comfortable, well-compensated job, wait for the wave to hit in Miami, and lose the woman I want to marry, or–I can take the leap.  And the net, as they say, will appear.

 

WTNH's Ann Nyberg:  One of the Smart People

WTNH's Ann Nyberg: One of the Smart People

I am so damn curious where I will land.  I don’t think it will be at a television station.  I don’t know that I’ll even be on camera. Fortunately, I’ve never been one of those get-a-reversal-and-a-two-shot-walking-down-the-hallway-and-make-sure-I-get-my-facetime reporters.  I’m a storyteller. I just love telling good stories.  And more than ever before, I believe storytelling’s not in danger. Local tv news the way I’ve always known it is.  For years I’ve had the job of my dreams, meeting people, crafting packages, and getting to air them on TV.  Every day a different challenge.  Now, I think my dream is evolving, as much as my life is.

Will I end up in PR?  If I can’t find a paycheck, I’ll definitely look into it. Will I try to shoot my own stories and find an audience for them? You bet I will.  Will I keep a close watch on the smart people I’m meeting on Twitter and elsewhere–people like Ann Nyberg in Connecticut and Matthew Roberts in Denver–to see which way they think the wind is blowing? Oh you can bet your life on it.

And I’ll still be right here.  I’m loving writing about this career I’ve had–and one way or another, will continue to have–and how it’s changing, at times so painfully.  The blog (oh Lord, if only I could get paid to write all day!) will grow and be a place to share not just how others are responding to being out of work, but now, how I am, too.

I hope you’ll be here with me.  I know this is going to be interesting.  And hey, no matter what happens:  I got the girl!

Life Calls--Even at the Worst Time to Leave a Job in Local TV History (Photo of Tiffanie and I in San Francisco by Anna Kuperberg)

Life Calls--Even at the Worst Time to Leave a Job in Local TV History (Photo of Tiffanie and Me by Anna Kuperberg/See more of Anna's amazing work at http://www.kuperberg.com)

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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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Months in the Making and Now We Know: WNBC’s Vision of the Hyperlocal News of the Future: Swishpans and Look-lives.

WNBC/NYC Prepares to Go Nonstop

WNBC/NYC Prepares to Go "Nonstop"

I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am. The New York Observer has obtained an internal memo on the “imminent” launch of WNBC/NY’s long-awaited (or should I say long-delayed…) 24-hour hyperlocal channel, which we now know will be dubbed (ready for it?)…

“New York Nonstop.”  (Ooooooh! Shivers.)

Sure, the name’s a showstopper. (..sigh..) But the content oozing “nonstop” out of the “Content Center” at 30 Rock may seem a bit more tired, especially given the buildup and buzz:  “NBC executives first announced their plans to launch the digital, cable channel back in May of 2008. Initially, the plan was to roll out the channel (which, at the time, various news reports described as a potential challenger to Time Warner’s NY1) by the fall of 2008. But the channel’s debut has since been delayed a number of times.  What exactly the channel will look like has been a hot topic of speculation in recent months among local TV newshounds in New York. Now the wait is almost over,” writes the NYO.

observer_man

And what have the hyperlocal visionaries been cooking up all this time?  Well, to me, it sounds a lot like a local news consulting reporting circa 1994:  “Think ‘look live,’  (“I’m standing on line with some people buying lottery tix,” and then walk down the line talking to people all in one take. Simple. Easy.) Think swish pans, dutch angles- but try to make it look different,” according to an internal email written by WNBC’s Michael Horowicz and printed in the Observer.  And yes, “look live” was in quotation marks, as if it was some kind of emerging News 2.0 concept reporters might not be familiar with.  Oh my.  

To add to the stale smell of “been there, done that,” the memo leads off with an 80’s reference.  I kid you not: “The debut of New York Nonstop is imminent. It is, as Magic Johnson called it in the late 1980’s, “Showtime.” [excessively snarky comment redacted]  

Having just watched “Final Edition,” the video produced by multimedia journalists at the late Rocky Mountain News, the in-house description of “New York Nonstop” sounds so jarringly lame.  “Sometimes, your contribution will just be a series of soundbites butted together,” the memo reads.  It urges reporters (or are they content producers over there now?) to make sure their pieces don’t look like traditional newscasts, for fear people will “click away.”  Well, I could be wrong, but I think the objective might be trying to be MORE creative and unexpected than traditional local newscasts–to take ADVANTAGE of new media to do something DIFFERENT, like “Final Edition.”  Instead, it sounds like New York Nonstop will be nonstop filler, walk and talk look-lives and butted sound bites and “oh, crap, did you remember to feed something to “Nonstop?”

What Kind of Nonstop Content from the Content Center?

What Kind of Nonstop Content from the Content Center?

I hope I’m wrong.  I hope it looks fresh and I hope it’s inventive and interesting.  But aside from the musty scent of decades-old newsroom “do walking standups” memos, there’s also a sharp smell of panic in that memo.  The stakes are high, and local tv news isn’t fighting from a strong position these days, especially at WNBC, where most of the strength in their deep bench is now laid off and looking for work.  “If you can’t feed your piece in early, I need to know why. You can feed on your laptop while your shooter is covering the news conference. If everyone were to feed in their contribution at the end of the day, then our mission wil have failed. They’ll turn it into a lifestyle channel and we’ll have one less platform in which to showcase our work, and you know what will happen next. I cannot overemphasize this point,” Horowicz writes.  “If it looks like a newscast, we’re dead. It will also look out of place compared to all the other content on the channel. It is within our power to make this channel the talk of the town… in a good way.”

It certainly is within their power to do it different and to showcase creative talent and become an example of how local tv news will stay relevant by embracing new media, new ways to tell stories, and new audiences.  Or, it could be the talk of the town… in a bad way.

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The Rocky’s “Final Edition” and What it Means to the Future of Local News

Telling Their Own Sad Story with Style: "Final Edition"

Maybe you won’t ever take my advice and try Twitter, and that’s cool. I can keep making great connections and digging up unique stories there without you. I won’t force you to cross that social media bridge if you’re not ready. But I will insist that you watch the short film, “Final Edition,” a moving account of the final days of the proud and storied Rocky Mountain News.

The Rocky's Matthew Roberts

The Rocky's Matthew Roberts

The film is the work of Matthew Roberts and a gifted team of video storytellers who were, until Friday, working at the very cutting edge of local news. The irony that this short film now serves as an epitaph for a once-mighty newspaper is sad to the point of nausea. But it captures perfectly where we are right now: some historically print-based local newsrooms are moving fast and furious into imaginative, different video storytelling, and threaten to beat local tv newsers at their own game. Watch the film and decide for yourself if you’ve seen anything like that on your nearest “Action News” lately. It’s a lot closer to documentary than to 1:15 local news packages. And it’s a lot more powerful.

Sure, it wasn’t banged out in an afternoon. But then again, local tv newsers don’t produce that kind of stuff when given the time either. It’s usually something more along the lines of dirty motel room sheet investigations. “Final Edition” has no flashy graphics (just some damn creative ones, like softly floating photographs of the many Rocky headquarters buildings over the years, and the memorable history captured on the tab’s front pages), and no short bites. It combines on the street interviews that breathe… with true documentary camera work that makes every second of the film visually arresting as its content rips your heart out.

There are currently newspapers shooting video in cities all over the country. Some are trying to copy the local tv model, others are taking the Rocky’s route, including the Washington Post, which calls its stories “documentary videos.” And they’re good, too. Scary good, in this tv newser’s opinion. I watched a Post story on iTunes and tried to track down the filmmaker without luck. Today, after watching “Final Edition,” I looked up Matthew on Twitter, sent him a note and heard right back. He’s a talented guy, and somebody’s going to snatch him up. (Oh, sorry, did I mention Twitter again?)

The Rockys Video Team at Work on Election Night

The Rocky's Video Team at Work on Election Night

Here’s my point: I feel like I could learn a lot about visual storytelling from this “newspaper” guy. And that gives me a hint as to where we could take the concept of local news past the old models into something new, different, creative, and sucessful. As you watch the film, you feel Denver. You feel the paper. You feel the people. It takes you there. And just as someone says in the film, it takes a local journalist to do that kind of work. Local news is essential and people will always crave it. It’s up to us to take a page out of the book of a print guy who just lost his job to find our way.

Maybe Matthew Roberts will show us, because let me tell you, wherever he ends up, whether it’s a print newsroom, a television newsroom, or something else entirely, that’s where I want to be, too, doing something fresh, creative, and important.

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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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LATEST LAYOFFS: KUSA/Denver Cuts Nick Carter: “It Was My Turn”

Gannett’s top-rated KUSA/Denver continues its cost-cutting ways, laying off 24-year veteran meteorologist Nick Carter, effective Friday. Penny Parker at the Rocky Mountain News reports Carter got the news back in October and has had time to look for work, but the job market is, to put it mildly, terrible. “On one hand, it’s kind of scary, but on the other hand there’s always new opportunity,” Carter told the Rocky. “Obviously, the (TV) industry is going through tough times and has had to reduce staff in many cases, it just made sense that it was my turn.”

Carter’s departure follows the release of top anchor Bob Kendrick, who was main anchor at 9News, but whose contract was not renewed after the November book. KUSA News Director Patti Dennis told the Rocky’s Parker, “The difficult changes in the media industry are hard on everyone, and these contract discussion are never easy.”

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