LocalNewser standupkid's dispatches from the frontlines of local news


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


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 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 www.kuperberg.com)


QUICK SHOW OF HANDS: Hold On Until It Gets Better, or Adjust to the New Normal?

Time to Vote: the standupkid QUICK SHOW OF HANDS

What do you think, local newsers?  Is all this firing and cost-cutting just a way to keep companies afloat until the car dealers start spending again, and then we can travel, have our two-person crews and maybe even pay the photogs overtime once in a while?  Or, is it something bigger?  Is the economy merely accelerating a change that was already happening:  that the financial model that fueled local TV has changed, and local TV news will need to do what it's doing now, and maybe a lot more, to find a new way to make profit, and stay relevant?[polldaddy poll=1379329]


WSJ: Local Stations' Cutbacks May Be Tip of Iceberg: "Major Cuts" Ahead to Stay Alive

Disturbing Interactive WSJ Interactive Graphic

Disturbing Interactive WSJ Interactive Graphic

The financial model that made local television a money-printing machine and made local GMs the toast of affiliate gatherings with network execs eager to impress appears to be dead or dying, with a "fuzzy future" on the horizon, according to a bleak report in this morning's Wall Street Journal:  "Now, with their viewership in decline and ad revenue on a downward spiral, many local TV stations face the prospect of being cut out of the picture. Executives at some major networks are beginning to talk about an option that once would have been unthinkable: eventually taking shows straight to cable, where networks can take in a steady stream of subscriber fees even in an advertising slump."
According to WSJ, local station ad revenue is projected to fall 20%-30% in 2009, and last week Walt Disney Co. "reported a 60% slide in operating income in its broadcast segment, including ABC and 10 ABC-owned stations, for the quarter ended December 31st, in part because of a 15% drop in revenue at its TV stations."  FOX owner News Corp reported staggering losses last week, and indicated its 17 stations would undergo "major cost-cutting in the coming 12 months" after a 30% decline in ad revenue.
WSJ Chart

WSJ Chart

The once booze and party fueled relationship between local station and network seems to be chilly at best, and local news isn't exactly flooding stations with dollars to make up the difference.  The WSJ predicts fewer stations will be doing news at all in the next few years, driven out of the marketplace because there's just too much product out there:  "Stations have pulled the plug entirely on some news shows in Lexington, Ky., and Yakima, Wash. In November, some stations owned by News Corp. and NBC Universal said they would begin pooling their newsgathering resources.


Station owners say even with these cuts, there are more local newscasts than the market can bear. "Over time, there will be fewer players," says Dunia Shive, chief executive of Belo Corp., which owns 20 local stations covering 14% of the U.S. market."

The article is not easy reading, but mandatory nonetheless.  The entire piece can be found here.


Now It's Getting Serious: Boston Stations Cut Back on Red Sox Coverage to Save Bucks

Say it ain't so. Boston stations, beset as the rest of the local news biz has been by plummeting ad sales, have weighed the ROIs on the Sox and decided Spring training's not in the cards. Jessica Heslam broke the news to Beantown in the Herald this morning: "WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) isn’t sending a sports reporter or anchor to spring training for the first time in the station’s history. WFXT-TV (Ch. 25) may not send anyone to cover spring training either. Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers next week."

It's a unique yet unsurprising indicator of how far budgets have fallen in local tv news departments big and small. What once would have been unthinkable (get rid of the chopper? Are you nuts?) is now--nearly--a given. “Obviously in this climate we’re watching every dime and how it’s spent but we don’t want to sacrifice coverage, so it’s a delicate dance,” said NECN spokeswoman Doreen Vigue, who says the cable news op will have a "presence" at Spring training, but hasn't decided yet whether it will be a staffer, a freelancer, or something else entirely. (Anyone predicting a Skype liveshot?)

Spring training--for baseball obsessed markets like Boston--has traditionally been one of those area where local sports departments show their stuff. Richard Huff in the NY Daily News recently argued that sports is DOA in local news. This may be another proverbial nail in that coffin.

Thoughts, Beantowners? Snarky comments, Yankees fans? (Though it should be noted that NYC stations have been cutting the life out of their sports staffs in recent weeks)


WJLA's "Massive" Talent Layoffs: "It's Like Losing Everything at Once"

Some were called at home with the news, like 26 year veteran journalist Andrea McCarren.  "They said I didn't need to come in today, McCarren told the Washington Post.

Andrea McCarren/WJLA Photo
Andrea McCarren/WJLA Photo

"I'm not bitter, but I am sad."  

Reporter Sarah Lee was in the field, working the early morning shift.  She got a call telling her to come directly back to the newsroom.  "I don't take it personally," she told the Post.  "My contract was up, and I was legally eligible to be let go."  Lee is pregnant, and will be out of a job when her contract expires at the end of February.

WJLA/DC's 26-employee layoff was described by some as a "bloodbath," and spread to other Allbritton-owned newsrooms across the country.  WJLA reporter Alisa Parenti told the Post's Neely Tucker, "it's just amazing to think how things were 20 years ago in this business and how they are now.  I loved my job, the people I worked with.  It's like losing everything at once."


Vegas Station Benches Weeknight Sports

The longtime local news formula of news, weather and sports has been sliced by a third at KVVU/Las Vegas, where the weeknight sportscast has been sent to the showers. "The sportscast is not what the viewers come to us for, research has been telling us that for years," KVVU news director Adam Bradshaw told reviewjournal.com's Steve Bornfeld. "The economics of broadcasting dictate we put our resources in places where we're going to get ratings."

Bornfeld reports today KVVU will continue to cover sports, including weekend sportscasts.

The full cut comes after years of cutbacks in sports coverage, with some local news stations dialing back the daily sportscast to something in the "sports and scores in a minute" range, and putting sports photographers into the daily news shooting mix, and cutting sports reporters at many stations.