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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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Why I’m Questioning My Career, Questioning Myself, and Perhaps Unfairly Angry at Alan Ball

Alan Ball:  Unfair, Yes, but Its All Your Fault

Alan Ball: Unfair, Yes, but It's All Your Fault

Alan Ball probably doesn’t even know I’m angry. I mean, why would he? But I can’t shake it. See, I loved “Six Feet Under,” and have always considered Ball to be one of those unpredictable, bold, and truly brilliant storytellers that are just so rare in film and TV today. When Ball’s new show, “True Blood,” hit HBO, I watched, and thought it was amazing. Weird, funny, unforgettable.

So why am I mad? Oh yeah, sorry. Well, since I left my nice warm reporter’s job in Miami at WPLG, I’ve been blogging away and engaging with new media gurus and pondering a digital future–all from my perch here in Brooklyn. Exciting, rewarding, but financially draining. I’ve put in hours freelancing at the New York Post, and started work on a new online channel devoted to wine and travel that will launch this summer, but as for the bottom line, well, it’s been tight.

How is any of this Alan Ball’s fault? Sorry. I’m getting to that. You see, I’ve been swimming in the ice cold water of New York’s media world, where there are lots of journalists on the verge of hypothermia, but not many rescue boats with warm blankets. Nobody’s hiring. And the gigs that come up–the interesting ones–well, they don’t pay. (You know that “next financial model” stuff we’ve all been talking about? Yeah, well, the folks out there experimenting and trying new things…they’ll let you in on the proverbial ground floor, and you’ll feel connected to creativity and the thrill of maybe discovering a new way of telling stories, but the cell phone bill still won’t get paid.) And that brings me to Alan Ball.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve met with marketing and ad agencies, figuring a good storyteller is a good storyteller, and reporters know how to boil things down and explain them, and the good ones really know how to write, right? Well, try telling that to someone even at a funky SoHo marketing shop. You get this odd stare and head tilt, as if they were a puppy that’s just heard a strange sound. “But… you haven’t worked at an agency…” And they can’t get past that.

Oh. Rats. Alan Ball. Sorry. I’m getting there.

A friend who was unceremoniously dispatched from his reporting job at WNBC recently shared his experiences finding work as a talented reporter and writer in this environment. He thought to himself, “if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s look into a camera and talk.” He’s found work doing commercials and acting.

HBO's True Blood: I Coulda Been a Star

So there I was a week ago in the oh-so-strange world of waiting my turn to audition for Alan Ball’s “True Blood.” The new season’s in production, and one of the characters is a news anchor who does a weekly segment on vampires. Now, like my WNBC friend, if there’s anything I know how to do, it’s be a news reporter or anchor. I wouldn’t really be “anchoring” so much as “playing one on TV.” (And I wasn’t the only out-of-work local newser who had that idea. Scanning down the sign-in sheet for the HBO audition session, I noticed five well-known names who were also giving the fake news a try)

While I have no real acting training, I thought I sounded just like an anchor during my audition. The casting agent sent me off with a cheery “have a great weekend” and a reminder to leave my phone number so they could reach me over the weekend if I got a callback.

And you now see where this is going. No callback. And I’m left to wonder: am I not even qualified to pretend to be a journalist now? I can’t pass for one in fiction? I must admit it had me questioning everything, from whether I’d ever hold a mic in my hand again as a reporter, to whether I could hold out long enough for my inroads into new media to finally produce a paycheck.

Or, I could just blame Alan Ball.

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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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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

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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Obama Bus Blog Creates Viewer Interest, But Does It Miss the Story? (Literally–I Mean, Are We Missing It?)

One Obama Bus Breaks Down, Forcing a Passenger Relocation--and Delay

One Obama Bus Breaks Down, Forcing a Passenger Relocation--and Delay

The details of our epic bus ride from South Florida to–well, Washington supposedly–have been detailed on WPLG’s website, justnews.  In nearly 30 hours on the road, WPLG/Miami’s intrepid bare-bones crew of reporter Mark Joyella and photographer Mario Alonso have riden in a cramped bus attempting to file packages via DV cam and aircard-equipped laptop, with limited results, followed by a string of road trip rough spots, including an ill-planned search for a restaurant “just off the highway” near Savannah, GA, followed by a blown compressor aboard the crew’s bus (result:  no heat, just an ever-more-frigid interior temperature), a tire blowout overnight in South Georgia, and finally, a snowstorm in the Carolinas that ultimately coincided with the failure of the Obama Bus’ windshield wiper motor.  The last event forcing a third of the 130 Floridians bound for the inauguration–including Mark and Mario–to squeeze into the remaining two buses, now running against the clock.

The most recent mileage sign:  Washington:  161 Miles.  The time:  around 10 a.m.  The math:  Not.  In.  Our.  Favor.  Even if you were just trying to cross the city line by noon, when Barack Obama will put his hand on the Lincoln Bible and be sworn in, it’d be tight.  But the city is locked down.  Entire sections of the Capitol area are now off limits due to extremely large crowds, and friends have reported to us waits of up to two hours to board sardine-packed Metro trains, which remain the only way into town, since vehicular traffic–including Obama Busses–can’t drive in.

What makes all of this interesting from a local newser point of view is whether WPLG’s low budget effort will actually have a bigger return with the misadventure… the humor of the blog effort (and we’re getting some amusing “we’re pulling for you” emails and Tweets, along with many snarky comments about bus rides, slow drivers, and incompetent local news crews) has taken on a life of its own that may be more powerful, ultimately, than seeing yet another package amid the crowds in Washington.

If we miss the Inauguration altogether, can we go directly on to the expense account lunch at Hawk and Dove?

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