LocalNewser standupkid's dispatches from the frontlines of local news


Lost in the Layoffs: The Non-Reporters, Non-Anchors Who Don't Make the Paper

Sony_MVS-8000a_lgI can't operate a switcher to save my life.  In fact, in all the years I've been in and around control rooms, they've never failed to give me the creeps (the low light and monitors, glowing buttons and standys and takes and, of course, all that shouting) I've always been far more comfortable out in the middle of a hurricane or elbowing my way into the pack to get my mic in front of some indicted public official.

But the honest truth is this:  if I lose my job, odds are it'll get mentioned in the newspaper (I treasure my New York Daily News headline:  No More Joyella in Mudville upon my departure from WNYW).

But lay off the entire control room, and not only will the newscasts look darn bumpy that night (you can just forget that quad box and custom wipe you were hoping for), but the people who lose their jobs will almost certainly not be mentioned in the next day's paper.

Unless, of course, it's "15 laid off at Channel 6--but fear not, it's nobody you know...the wacky weatherman's safe, the salty and avuncular anchor's hanging on for another day, and that cute morning traffic girl will be back in the morning in that news-director-ordered tight sweater. The layoffs?  Just some, you know, behind the scenes people."

Very rarely does the firing of a longtime but unseen employee merit mention in a newspaper by name.  It happened recently when Alan Henney, a weekend assignment manager at WUSA/DC put himself on "permanent furlough" and left the station with a blistering memo that suggested that the station's longstanding tradition as a home of serious journalism was in danger, if not dead already.

It happened again when KARE/Minneapolis parted ways with a behind-the-scenes player considered the "heart and soul" of the KARE newsroom, Senior Executive Producer Lonnie Hartley.  His layoff was made newsworthy when the entire newsroom, led by talent with connections to print writers, voiced their outrage.

For most, though, it's pink slip, then silence.  You walk out the door you've been reporting to for decades, and as far as viewers know, nothing's even happened.  I know it's part of the downward spiral stations across the country are in.  Only the lean have a shot at surviving.  Got it.  And yet, there's something about all the pity pouring out for the poor dethroned anchors and reporters, who, after all, have their name to fall back on.

On this blog, the most popular comments continue--even months after the fact--to involve a laid off weatherman in Denver, and fired reporter/anchors in Washington, DC and Tampa.

DeDapper Media CEO (and ex WNBC reporter) Jay DeDapper

DeDapper Media CEO (and ex WNBC reporter) Jay DeDapper

This week the New York Daily News reported that former WNBC reporter Jay DeDapper's started his own production company, DeDapper Media.  I applaud Jay and wish him well.  I've done the same thing myself, and I'd be the first to admit that having any kind of "name" is one card to play when you're up against it.  "The jobs, they're not just disappearing and they'll be coming back; they're disappearing permanently," DeDapper told the Daily News' Richard Huff. "There will be very few places in journalism on television for good people."

The advantage to having a name, is being able to use it to find the next thing.  "The idea is, basically for 20-some-odd years, what I've done more than anything else is tell stories for a living," he told the News. DeDapper has contacts and he's a known entity.  And when a guy like Jay DeDapper decides on a new path, that itself becomes worthy of a news article, which never hurts when you hang out a shingle and start looking for business.

The laid off TD isn't so lucky.  Brilliant in those dimly-lit control rooms, working magic on a Sony MVS 8000 ("I can give you eight boxes, but we don't have eight live sources") but separated from the control room, then what?  No newspaper mention, and no clear next step.  No, they're not storytellers like reporters, who can find other ways of assembling information and telling stories, whether its for a production company, a PR firm, or as a TV pitchman.  Had there not been an injustice of Epic Proportions, I'd be playing the role of a TV type on the new season of HBO's True Blood (I'm not bitter, mind you, just disappointed.  I don't carry a grudge).

So how does the live truck op, the satellite engineer, the camera operator or the TD sit down, stare at their resume (which shows a clear flow from college to today that screams "I'm damn good at what I do!") and think, this only gets me the job I just lost?


Rebecca Zucker

Rebecca Zucker

Rebecca Zucker is a San Francisco based executive coach and partner at Next Step Partners, a firm that specializes in guiding clients through career transitions.  She says in the current business climate, about a third of the firm's business involves helping clients answer that question, "now what?"

"Formulate a hypothesis," she says.  "Even a crazy daydream."  What was it you wanted to do before you ended up in local news?  Actor?  Pastry chef?  Try and remember.  Zucker asks her clients to think back to the peak experiences--outside of work--in their lives.  "A time when you felt like you were thriving, alive, confident, competent and at the top of your game," she said.  The exercise involves looking at those times and figuring out what made them so special.  Was it intellectual or artistic challenge?  Was it cooperation or collaboration?  Whatever it was, these are the keys to your own personal satisfaction, and knowing what they are will help you figure out what kind of work will make you happy.  "The reasons (those experiences) felt so great were because you were completely expressing your own values," said Zucker.

Zucker urges clients to read Herminia Ibarra's book, Working Identity, which offers tips for mid-career professionals on reinventing themselves--and enjoying the result.  Key piece of beginner's advice?  "Don't try to analyze or plan your way into a new career," write Ibarra.  (Take that you over-analytical technical directors and producers!)

Zucker suggests trying out new ideas, even a bunch of new ideas.  If you think it could be pastry chef, figure out who you can invite to lunch for an informational interview.  Does it feel natural?  Could you see yourself doing that kind of work?  Attend a conference or a class.  Small steps.  "They'll find out which doors they want to shut, and where they want to dive deeper," says Zucker.

Oh.  And here's a big one:  don't obsess about what others are telling you.  What would you do for a living if your friends, former co-workers, spouse, and family didn't get a vote?


KARE/Minneapolis Gives Newsroom's "Heart and Soul" His Pink Slip

091622219_kare blog 5 600x400You know the guy.  He's the guy who's not talent, and not news director, but he somehow makes the trains run on time.  The guy who's as good in the morning meeting as he is in the convention center for the massive multi-camera remote.  He's the guy who gets good phoners when a breaker happens in the second half-hour of the noon show.  He's the guy who takes the news director's new idea and somehow makes it happen--and look good.

At KARE, he was Lonnie Hartley, Senior Executive Producer, workaholic, and as David Brauer writes in his BrauBlog, KARE's "heart and soul."  Hartley's 70-hour workweeks earned respect from staff, but apparently meant little when corporate cost-cutters ordered another head to roll Wednesday.

As David Brauer put it:  "Insiders say the newsroom had never seemed so shell-shocked as it was today, when a tearful Hartley told his troops goodbye."

It makes you wonder what we're doing to our newsrooms.  For years, KARE had the reputation of a real hard news shop, the kind of place young reporters and producers and anchors kept in the backs of their minds:  KARE would be a great place to end up.

Those Live Events with Station Signage, Stage, Field Switching and Tarps for Rain Don't Just Happen by Themselves, You Know

Those Live Events with Station Signage, Stage, Field Switching and Tarps for Rain Don't Just Happen by Themselves, You Know

But more and more, the gutting behind the scenes (and on the air, of course, with familiar faces vanishing) means stations are losing layer after significant layer; the people who get it done but don't usually get their names in the paper when they get laid off.  The truck ops, the veteran photogs, the MacGyvers of local news who mean so much to news staff, but don't register in corporate boardrooms.

Sure, things won't run as well now.  More work to spread around, and some of it won't get done. When the chips are down, and it's hitting the fan, maybe magic won't be made like it used to.  But with the weekend show a one-anchor, one-backpack-journalist effort, and photogs during the week running on a strict no-overtime policy; with engineering cut back and the assignment desk understaffed and inexperienced...does it really matter?

Hartley told David Brauer "I have a huge passion for news — you know what it's like to break a great story, the fulfillment that comes from that."  The sad part is, at places like KARE, that's not the top priority anymore, if it's a priority at all.

But hey, the new corporate graphics package looks nice.


Local Newsers: You've Heard "Feed the Web." But Beware Throwing It Scraps.

KMSP/Minneapolis:  Great Story On TV, Not So Hot Online

KMSP/Minneapolis: Great Story On TV, Not So Hot Online

If you're working at a local news station worth anything, part of your job these days includes reporting for the 5:00, 6:00 and maybe the 11:00 and filing a version of your story for the station website.  Maybe you remember, as I do, the emphasis put on this part of the job by your news director in memo after memo after threatening memo:  "you must file a story with the web before your day is over," etc.

Some of us take this multiplatforming as a way to reach new audiences and flex new writing muscles (I, for one, love translating my broadcast voice into "print" format for the web, even if sometimes, it seems like rolling a boulder up a hill while riding in a livetruck back to the station at the end of a long day.  (Oh man...what was the name of the hotdog vendor we interviewed at noon?) What about leaving the job to an overworked web editor? Ah, my friend, beware.

For that part of today's life lesson, we turn the blog over to WCCO's Jason DeRusha, who not only worked for broadcast and filed for the web, but also responded to a Brooklyn blogger's last-minute request for a guest post. And he offers some damn solid insight into the risks and rewards of telling your story--and keeping control of your story--across all platforms.  If you're banging out the web version as an afterthought, or leaving it to someone else, you're playing with your own reputation.


As a guy who started in Davenport, Iowa in 1997, my job was clear. I was a television news reporter. My job was to go find out stuff and put it on TV. Maybe I'd write a VOSOT for 10, or the morning news. But that was it.

Today, my job is to do work across multiple platforms. I blog, I have webcam a at my desk, I Tweet and I turn my nightly TV news report "Good Question" into a story that can live on the web.

Writing my story for online publication may be the most important and least appreciated part of my job. I learned this a couple years ago, when a Google search of my name turned up a Pacific Business News article ripping me for a story I did where I supposedly referred to Hawaii as the "big island." I did no such thing, on the air. But the online version of my story, published under my byline (and written by a web producer), got it wrong.

Fox 9s Story on Twitter: Great on TV. Online: FAIL.

I bring this up, because a local Minneapolis Fox station took a great deal of heat online for the text version of a perfectly fine TV story. They should have expected that a story on Twitter would get a lot of attention on Twitter. The story I watched on the air was a perfectly nice introduction to Twitter. It was well-written and well produced. The story online was not. No links to the people in the story. No quotes from anyone in the story. With no disrespect intended toward the person who probably had to post two dozen stories that night, it appeared to be written by a child. The story was annihilated online: with Tweets like this: "That Fox Twitter story reads like a piece on the CB Radio craze submitted to me in 1976 when I edited the 6th grade paper." Not good.

At WCCO-TV in Minneapolis, several years ago management decided that reporters and field producers would write their own stories for the web. We had seminars, reminding us that writing for the web is different. Online readers expect you to get to the point right away. On-air, you might build your story to a climactic point. Online readers expect you to cite your sources, specifically. Online readers expect you to link to source material.

WCCO's DeRusha: Live on the Street, Live at his Desk


Some of us are pretty good at this, others need quite a bit of editing. But the web producers can work on editing, rather than trying to figure out what we were talking about when the TV script reads, "SOT: In: bob went.... OUT: pizza parlor." At first, I hated writing my web scripts. It jams more work into the end of my work day. Now, I love it. I love adding the extra information that I had to leave out because of time. I love the challenge of coming up with a provocative headline to attract viewers. And I'm proud of the fact that when people link to my stories, they get a well-written story, under my name, and under my station's brand.

If you wonder about the value of a well-written web story, go to your web team and ask to see some web traffic statistics. I'll bet you the text versions of stories get at least ten times more views than the corresponding videos. And unlink the television story that went out into the ether and disappeared, your online version will live nearly forever. So make it count.


Mysteries of Local TV News: What's With the Bum's Rush?

I must admit this is one I've always been puzzled by:  why, when managers decide they're getting rid of someone, does the axe drop so swiftly--without warning in many cases--and the body, still warm, get carted off the premises so damn quickly?

It happened today in Minneapolis.  WCCO anchor Jeanette Trompeter thought she'd be doing her regular gig on the anchor desk at 5 p.m.  Instead, she got the axe--and ten minutes later, she was shown the door.  She was talking to Star-Tribune reporter C.J. a few minutes after that, apologizing for crying about the sudden loss of her job.  "I feel like a wimp," she told C.J.  "In this economy you're stupid if you're on TV and you don't know it's a possibility.  All I've ever asked for was give me a head start to go look for something else.  I didn't think I'd have to leave ten minutes after.  I thought I'd be doing the five o'clock news tonight."

WCCOs Trompeter

WCCO's Trompeter

She didn't.  Why?  "They said, 'you're no longer an employee.'"

Welcome to the Kinder and Gentler Street, where we all know the business is in trouble, and obviously, some cuts will be made.  But surely we can do this like professionals and with some degree of tact and grace.  Or, maybe it's just easier to jump somebody with their IFB in and their scripts in hand and divert them away from the studio, up to HR, and then out through the loading dock.  Maybe that averts a "scene" or an on-air farewell (Heavens no!  That would let people know we're a company like other industries where people are being laid off, right?) or maybe just a few days or weeks of having to, you know, work with them.

What's the rush?  There are anchors in New York who've been pulled off the air in a flash, only to be sent home to ride out month after month of a contract--cashing the checks, but doing no work.  Anybody see the logic of cash-strapped companies paying employees to stay home?

Maybe they just are such lousy local newsers it makes better financial sense to get them out of the building at any cost?  Well, not at WCCO.  Trompeter says she got this Kafkaesque sendoff:  "They said, You're a great employee and this has nothing to do with that. It's a purely financial decision. I just got a great [job] review about three weeks ago." 

Ponder that when you're called into the news director's office for that review.  You did great!  Might want to take your personal photos home just to be safe, though.  Never know if they'll let you back to your desk after they fire you.