LocalNewser standupkid's dispatches from the frontlines of local news


TBD, Victim Of “Crib Death,” Leaves Lessons For Journalists

Writing on the Poynter website, Rick Edmonds digs in the ashes of the once-grand experiment that was TBD. Among the excellent observations Edmonds makes is this: branding matters. One of the huge advantages that legacy local news operations (like newspapers and television stations) have is the fact that they've been around for years, and people know their name. "Why trade the brand equity of a successful television station for a vaguely clever but meaningless acronym?" Indeed. We've made that argument before as television stations have surrendered decades of investment in those call letters for something new, hip, and clever.

Edmonds also raises the even trickier question that remains largely unanswered when large local newsrooms attempt to corner the market on hyperlocal: is there a market for hyperlocal?

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Larry Mendte: “I Wish I Never Met Alycia Lane”

Larry Mendte, the former Philadelphia main anchor turned subject of a federal investigation, has written his story for Philadelphia magazine, describing the "self-inflicted" torpedo that sank his Philly news career, "a tragic event that destroys the life you once knew and forces you to build a new one." Mendte describes the life of a flashy anchor married to another flashy anchor who were doing very, very well:

Our combined salaries were well over a million dollars a year. We lived with our beautiful children in a beautiful house and enjoyed a worry-free, beautiful life. Until “it” knocked on our front door — along with the FBI.

The FBI, of course, had come calling over the email scandal that ultimately cost Mendte his job. Of that, Mendte writes:

Alycia Lane was (and still is) suing me. (There is no money to be had, so the suit seems purely vindictive.) Her attorney was quoted in the paper saying, “We don’t want to leave him with a penny.” The lawsuit is ongoing, but it is only my children who can be hurt now. I wish she would see that. I, like many other people, wish I never met Alycia Lane.

Mendte goes into great detail about the life of an anchor cut off from anchoring, and how he hit the jackpot thanks to the lottery. He also explains his decision to return to local news as a commentator at the revamped and heavily criticized WPIX in New York. "These commentaries give me a new way to fight for what’s right."

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How Local Can Hyperlocal Get?

Have a look at any of the more popular journalism jobs listings, and odds are, on any given day, you'll see a lot of listings for jobs at AOL's hyperlocal machine, Patch, spreading across the country like a stubborn weed.

Now comes news from the Washington Post that they're going to get all up in Patch's grill when it comes to putting the hyper in hyperlocal.  Subdivisions, baby! According to Erik Wemple, writing on DC hyperlocal TBD:


Worst Open Ever? Or Just Your Basic Midday Show Meltdown?

The headline on the Huffington Post did what most HuffPo headlines are designed to do:  it got me to click.  The header read: Is This the Worst Newscast Opening Ever? What follows, and you can see it for yourself below, is a truly horrific right-out-of-the-gate disaster from San Diego. Cringeworthy, but very, very funny.

And then it hit me:  most of the major meltdowns I've been involved with have happened on midday shows. You can make a good argument that it's only logical, given less experienced producers, overtired morning crews just seconds away from packing up and going home, and dayside crews who'd rather be having lunch.  Oh, and the most important factor of them all: management usually isn't watching.

I'll never forget a legendary story from a producer buddy of mine at my old station in Birmingham, Alabama.  He'd been producing his first show at the station, and disastrously mistimed the noon show.  He was on IFB urging the anchors to chat. Chat about anything. Check back in with the weather guy. Got weekend plans?  How about that Crimson Tide?

They ultimately talked themselves out, and there was a lot of time left.  Cue the cart with the news theme, do a slow pull from the anchor desk, cut to the tower cam, yadda yadda.  It went on so long, the music cart ran out.  And started over.

My friend was convinced the walk into the newsroom would lead directly to his firing.  He walked in, ready to take the drubbing, and realized nobody in the newsroom had even noticed. Monitors on, nobody watching.

So buck up San Diego, other than everyone on the internet, nobody saw it.  Damn that YouTube.

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Mine Rescue: There’s Power in Simply Saying Nothing

No Narration Needed. Photo: Reuters

As a reporter, I've written and re-written scripts in livetrucks, on planes, in coffee shops and police stations.  I've agonized over ways to tell the story without overtelling it--and I'm not going to lie:  I've done a lot of pre-liveshot pacing, rehearsing what I'd say in my precious ten second intro, and just where I'd hit the stress, just where I'd lean in and give you that telling nod.

But here's the thing about getting it right with words:  sometimes you just don't need any. None.

One of my biggest pet peeves in all of broadcast journalism is the reporter who feels compelled to tell me what anyone can see perfectly well with their own eyes, thanks:  a woman crying?  You don't need to tell me "outside the emergency room tonight, a woman cries, overwhelmed with emotion."  For God's sake, instead of letting the honest emotion simply be there--and letting me feel it as any human being would, you talk over it, reduce it, and take me out of the moment.  Oh, she's upset!  Thanks, reporter, now I get it!

And that's what happened in Chile.  After hours of pre-game set up, most people around the world were pretty clear on what was about to happen.  We knew the families were waiting, and that the miners had been underground for a very long time.  We all were able to do this basic math all by ourselves:  there may be an emotional moment when family and miner are reunited.

I don't know about you, but the most powerful examples of the emotion present in this perfectly human event--a reunion--was from live, raw feeds.  Nothing but natural sound of generators, claps, cries, and big strong men trying not to bawl.  In the last day or so, I've re-watched a lot of those moments with the addition of a reporter's live narration.  Didn't help, and in fact, I think it hurt.  Oh, that's his daughter?  I sorta figured.  Oh, she's probably really anxious to see her Dad? I can see that.  Makes sense.  Now I'm thinking how much I really wish you weren't the reporter on this story, instead of just being amazingly, completely, riveted to the story itself.

For me, the worst of it was talking over the obvious emotion, telling me that I'm seeing emotion, and giving me a little play by play.  "Wow, what an emotional scene here for this miner, back on the ground, back in his family's arms..."

It took the punch out of a story that told itself, and quite brilliantly, without any help.  And it's a good reminder that in the stories we cover in small towns and far away lands, when you're blessed with a story that's just overflowing with intense emotion:  have the guts to stand back, shut up, and let it be.

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Worst Live Truck Operator…Ever?

We've all been to the safety lectures and we've read the bright red and black warning signs on the sides of the trucks.  We've committed "look up and live" to memory, whether we wanted to or not.  We've adjusted to screaming alarms designed to warn us of the chance of our mast connecting to something scary and potentially deadly.  And we've gone through the irritation of flashing dashboard lights and deafening horns that go off when you don't stow the mast properly and replace the pin before heading home after a liveshot.

It is, after all, common sense.  You work in a place like Florida as I've done, with its sudden lightning, and you know there's a time when news takes a backseat and "we're bringing the mast down" is about all you can tell a suddenly suicidal producer as their 6 o'clock lead vaporizes.  Sorry...didn't have a chance to feed the package either.  Maybe it'll clear up!

But this story out of Wisconsin?  That's no judgment call.  That's just dumb.  There's nothing I can add but to give you the takeaway quote from the WTMJ account of the CBS 58 livetruck that woke neighbors as it snapped power lines while driving down the street the other day:  "truck operator Blake Arnold with CBS 58 failed to notice his mast was still extended following a live report. He drove North on 35th Street and hit multiple high voltage transmission lines."

Failed to notice?

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Local News Unplugged

If you've ever worked in the field with me, you know I've long had a dream about a kind of unplugged, unrestrained local newscast where reporters and anchors talk like real people. And by that, I don't mean they simply start liveshots by saying "hey guys" to the anchors. I mean, really, truly, telling stories the way we tell each other.

"Jeff, it's a clusterf--- out here. The storm knocked the sh-- out of this neighborhood. Just look at the size of this fu--ing tree! It came crashing through this joker's roof, woke him right the hell up and I'm sure he probably sh-- himself, but he'll be okay."

Or the anchor: "Mark, what the fu-- is going on out there?" "Well Bob, police tell us some poor fu-- was using the ATM when a couple of fu--ing assh---s drive up and start shooting."

Well, that's what I was thinking about when I saw this sweet little clip from Portland:

I'm telling you. This sh-- could work.

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New York’s Fox 5 Sends TWO MORE to Hospital with Suspected CO Poisoning

You'd think after just one employee went to a New York hospital with confirmed carbon monoxide poisoning after working in one WNYW's live trucks, there'd be a high-priority effort (even if motivated by nothing else than the desire not to be sued) to make sure it never happens again. And you'd think that after a series of employees went to the hospital all suffering from the same problem--a life threatening problem, to boot--that you'd see the urgency.

And to top it all off, you'd think having the issue reported in the New York Daily News would put the proverbial icing on the cake. That truck problem's going to be resolved, or nobody's going out in the field until it is. That kind of talk. That kind of.. oh, what's the word here? Oh yes, leadership.

And of course, because it's Fox, and it's local news, where priorities tend to run in the other directions, you get a follow-up in today's News saying two more Fox 5 employees have now added the illustrious ranks (or, a cynical person might describe them as a potential class action pool) of sickened workers.

But rest assured--here comes the corporate sugar: "We're very concerned," WNYW GM Lew Leone tells the News. "Our engineers and the consultants we brought in are doing everything as quickly as possible."

You're concerned now? What about the last time?

And obviously, the engineers and consultants haven't done everything possible if people are still falling ill on the job and ending up in emergency rooms. Has anybody priced new livetrucks? Just curious...

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Atlanta News Boss Resigns: “It’s Been a Great Ride”

There are those stations in local news where a news director seems attached to the foundation of the place, and in Atlanta, "longtime WAGA news director Budd McEntee" is one of those people.  He's been the news boss at the station since 1991, which is a helluva long run for anybody in this biz.  But by the end of the week, he'll be "former WAGA news director Budd McEntee."

"It's been a fascinating opportunity and a great ride," McEntee told the AJC's Rodney Ho, hinting the departure--coming weeks after WAGA GM Gene McHugh's--may signal behind the scenes shifts at a station that's been "remarkably stable."

Ho talks to WAGA vet Angeline Hartmann, who describes a conversation she had with McEntee about Channel 5, and how it's more than just another TV station:

“He was passionate about being first, getting it right and getting it on the air,” said Angeline Hartmann, who worked at WAGA-TV from 1996 to 2005 and is now a correspondent at “America’s Most Wanted” in Washington D.C.

She said for people he knew were loyal to WAGA, he treated well. And even when she left, he would joke to her, “You’ll always work for me.” Years later, he would still call her for tips and would ask her when she was returning. (”When you leave WAGA, you have a little 5 carved in your heart,” McEntee added. “It’s a special place where people take care of each other and turn out some of the best storytelling and reporting I’ve ever seen.”)

“The longer you’re there, the more you can appreciate him,” Hartmann said. “I’ve had my share of him calling me into his office letting me know he wasn’t happy about this or that. But he made me a better reporter and helped me develop a thick skin.”

She said she was shocked he was stepping down: “We always thought he’d die there!”

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Death and Destruction! Awesome!

Here's the thing about Twitter--you've got to get the tone just right.  And if you aren't sure how to do that, I'll give you a quick example:  exclamation points do not always convey URGENCY.  Sometimes they can signal FUN!


Or, take this tweet tonight from LA's KCAL:  "Fire burning in Thousand Oaks!  Live on KCAL 9 right now!"  I know what they were going for there, but to me, it sounds like YAY!  FIRE in THOUSAND OAKS, everybody!

Just saying.

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