LocalNewser standupkid's dispatches from the frontlines of local 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

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.


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]


Thanks for Stopping By

There's a lot to talk about in the local tv biz these days, and most of it's rather depressing.  In a sense, that's what prompted by lovely fiancee to suggest, just two weeks ago, that I put up a blog to talk about what's happening:  the scary stuff, but also the inspiring things that are right around the corner for those of us who are willing to experiment, be flexible, and believe.


5,000 Page Views Makes My Dad So Proud of Me!

Apparently, I'm not the only one.  In two weeks, this blog has had over 5,000 page views, and today, on a lowly Saturday, more people visited than on any other day:  nearly 500.  I am humbled--and excited.  I've heard from a lot of smart, insightful people and gotten to make connections in this business I didn't have before.  I've been mentioned on sites I respect, gotten notes from well-known names who stunned me with word they'd been reading my stuff, and my baby blog even got a mention in the mighty New York Post.

I believe that if we share ideas, and stick together, we'll not only get through this, but thrive.

So thanks for stopping by.  And please, pass the word to anyone who might want to join our conversation.


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.


Gannett to Newsers: You Will Not Work, You Will Not Be Paid

The emails poured in from local newsers at Gannett stations Wednesday as they reeled from the company's latest effort to cut costs:  everyone's getting a week off, without pay:   "Today Gannett is implementing a furlough program across all U.S. divisions and at corporate headquarters. This means that most of our U.S. employees - including myself and all other top executives - will be furloughed for the equivalent of one week in the first quarter. This furlough will be unpaid. Unions also will be asked to participate," wrote Gannett CEO Craig Dubow in a memo to employees.

The upshot?  Everybody will take a week off, and they will not be paid.  The company calls it a "difficult decision."  The cold facts came as tough reading for employees who will be asked to kick in a week's pay to help Gannett:  "To be clear, a furlough means you will not work and will not be paid for furlough days.  Exempt, salaried employees must take one full payroll week within the payroll period.  Non-exempt, hourly employees may take five days at any pre-approved time before the last weekend in March."

Wow.  A tough financial punch, and everyone's taking it NOW. 

Gannett folk:  what's the reaction inside your newsrooms?


Chicago's Choppers on the Chopping Block

Chicago's air wars have gotten a lot less hardcore--with fewer birds in the air.  Phil Rosenthal's Tower Ticker

Still Flying Solo

WLS/Chicago's Chopper 7HD: Still Flying Solo


blog in the Chicago Tribune reports two Windy City stations have quietly teamed up--and grounded one of their pricey eyes in the sky.  "Since New Year’s Day, NBC-owned WMAQ-Ch. 5 and Fox-owned WFLD-Ch. 32 have been sharing a single news helicopter and whatever video is shot from it," Rosenthal reports.

The smaller air fleet flying over breaking news stories in Chicago comes on the heels of a growing relationship between NBC and FOX, with stations in Philadelphia experimenting with a video-sharing agreement to cut costs and avoid "duplication," as the news suits like to call it.

But the one chopper, two station deal has its awkward side:  "Weekday mornings from 5 to 7, Channel 5 can have a traffic reporter on board. That person can be replaced by a Channel 32 traffic reporter from 7 to 9 a.m. If news breaks during that time, the other station can run the video but not the reporting," FOX's Senior VP of News Operations at the FOX Television Stations Sharri Berg tells the Ticker.

Local news air warriors look at the deal as yet another scary sign of the times.  "It just gets worse and worse," says a veteran major market chopper vet.


Is This the Inevitable Answer: A Steve Jobs for Local Newsers, and iTunes for News?

One of the first comments to come my way after the debut of localtvnews was the idea that the "here's your news, we picked the stories for you, and we're feeding it to you at 6" mentality just had to die.  Cable news proved that, largely spelling the end of the once mighty nightly network newscast.  Local news continues with the formula of morning, noon, evening and night as it fumbles around on the web searching for a winning formula.

David Carr may have the ultimate "a la carte" solution:  iTunes for news.  In a Monday morning post on nytimes.com, Carr devotes his The Media Equation column to the idea that beyond picking and choosing one's own news stories, according to what you are truly interested in (perhaps it's city hall, yes;  convenience store shootings, no--or, maybe, the other way around), the even more important solution to struggling local news operations is the business model:  you're going to have to pay for it.  "Free is not a business model," Carr quotes Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research.

As Steve Jobs revolutionized the world of music, perhaps someone will do the same for information--providing a platform for consumers to pick and choose exactly those stories they want to see, and are willing to pay for.  As local advertising giants like car dealers and department stores drastically scale back their spot TV spending, stations are suffering, cutting costs, and sending journalists packing.

Where's our Steve Jobs?



We're All in This Together


Whether traditional television stations recover from the advertising setbacks that have forced layoffs for tv newsers from coast to coast, or some of those stations instead decide to eliminate their newsrooms, and send even more good people out of work, I know this much: we're in this together.

Since I started this blog all of a week ago tonight, I've been jokingly called a "harbinger of doom" for noting the names of the reporters, anchors and other tv newsers who've been directly affected by the cost-cutting that's having such a dramatic impact on the work we do and love. Many of my friends are among those who've lost jobs through no fault of their own. When it came right down to it, talent wasn't the deciding factor. It was money.

At the same time, I remain exceptionally hopeful about our business. I believe that there will always be a market for a person who can tell a story, either with a microphone and a pad, a camera, or, yes, both. I'm curious to know what local tv news will look like in just five years. I want to talk to the smart people and share their insights right here on this blog.

And I guess I'm not the only one. In 7 days, this out-of-nowhere blog got nearly 2,000 page views, and I heard from a lot of folks, some good friends, others just people with an interest in television news, and the news in their town most of all. I hope to make this site a resource, not just to talk about "doom," but to brainstorm about what might be, for all of us, an exciting future, telling stories in ways we never imagined.

Thanks for reading the blog, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I can't tell you how happy it made me to read a Facebook message from Brendan Keefe, who wrote, "I had no idea this website was new! It's great. Suddenly I'm the most informed guy in the newsroom when it comes to what's happening in the business."

Doesn't get much better than that. Thanks, everybody. (Now I've really gotta bolt... "24" is on and I gotta watch me some Jack.