LocalNewser standupkid's dispatches from the frontlines of local news


The Ticket to Web Heaven? Use Your Call Letters

WTOC11_LOGOA lot of the fun started seeping out of local television when call letters were foolishly replaced with cookie-cutter network/channel number IDs like ABC7 and NBC5.  For a person who plays a pretty mean game of call letter trivia (wanna know what WIS, WGN, WSB, WTOC and WFTS stand for?  I'm your guy), the perfectly idiotic march away from decades of history that all those call letters represented was depressing indeed.

Now I've confessed to my own local television nostalgia, and just the other night over drinks, I bemoaned the loss of the Sears Tower name for that tall building in Chicago.  I hated it when South Florida's proud Joe Robbie Stadium became the decidedly lame Pro Player Stadium, and, well, you get the idea.

So here's my message to local television stations trying to dig a deep trench around their turf on the web:  don't get clever and for Heaven's sake forget about your network affiliation.

Go old school.  Use your call letters.

As I've reported here, lots of companies think there's money to be made by owning the dominant online news site in any given market.  NBC--being NBC--bought up "NBC(YourTownNameHere)" domains from Presque Isle to San Diego.  But guess what sites do the best in terms of grabbing people's attention and, more importantly, holding on to it?

WRAL:  Calls as Old as Jesse Helms

WRAL: Calls as Old as Jesse Helms

Sites with call letters and obvious connections to years of covering news in any given town.  Sites like WRAL.com in Raleigh. What affiliate is WRAL? Who cares. Here's what's important:  the station's website dominates all others in Raleigh in terms of minutes spent reading news and, perhaps, checking out those web ads:  the average total minutes spent on wral.com, according to research by Internet Broadcasting was 156 minutes.

By comparison, the minutes spent figure for ABC O&O WPVI in Philadelphia, which uses the domain 6abc.com, was a mere 5.5 minutes.

The numbers don't hold true for every market--in some places, like Sacramento, kcra.com has a low total minutes figure of 3.4--but by and large, the call letters that have juice seem to translate from television to the internet.

As Arul Sandaram at Internet Broadcasting told me, "While this is clearly just one data point, and much work still needs to be done in getting stations to fully embrace their future as cross platform content/distribution companies, I am hoping you see this data as we do: as a spot of promise for the local TV industry."

CBS Has Been Nice, But KSL Knows Those Calls Are Their Brand and They OWN THEM.

CBS Has Been Nice, But KSL Knows Those Calls Are Their Brand and They OWN THEM.

It tells me one thing.  Embrace what got you this far, and don't throw it away.  If you have nearly half a century of equity in an identity, why not use it? WFAA in Dallas does, and they have one of the highest "time spent" figures in the study at 30.7 minutes.

Salt Lake's KSL has a similarly strong number at 61.8. Both stations, in case you weren't sure, use their calls as their web ID.  It's not the magic bullet, but I think it's a logical step, especially if you're in a market where the online competition is a newspaper with 100 years of equity in its name.

WFMY:  Bring Back the Dancing Elf Guy!

WFMY: Bring Back the Dancing Elf Guy!

So WFMY in Greensboro, North Carolina?  Here's my free advice to you.

You went on the air in 1949 as WFMY (trivia challenge: what do the calls mean?). The guys over at WBTV went on the air the same year.  There's a lot of history there.  And the paper in town, the News and Record (www.news-record.com), has roots to 1890.  So if somebody who lives in Greensboro wants to know what's up in town, what makes you think they'll sit down at the computer keyboard and have the impulse to type in www.digtriad.com?

C'mon, people.  If we intend to survive as local news operations, we've got to think.


Media General Goes With Employee Furloughs: 10 Unpaid Days in '09

Media Generals WVTM/Birmingham

Media General's WVTM/Birmingham

Media General confirmed the rumors today, with word that “despite aggressive sales initiatives and significant cost reductions already implemented, we need to build in additional expense savings to offset the revenue shortfalls we anticipate,” in the decidedly corporate words of Marshall Morton, Media General's CEO.  To put in words more commonly floated around television newsrooms, you just got two weeks off, whether you want 'em--or can afford 'em.  No pay.

Media General owns 19 local television stations, including WFLA/Tampa, WVTM/Birmingham, WSAV/Savannah, and WJAR/Providence.  Employees will be forced to take ten unpaid days, including four days off before the end of March, according to the Associated Press.  The AP reports the company has already cut costs by $19 million dollars by suspending matching payments to employees' 401(k) retirement plans.

Media General's WSAV/Savanahh

The furloughs follow a round of corporate layoffs across several Media General stations over the last few months, including 80 positions cut in Florida last November, and on-air cuts in Birmingham and Charleston just weeks ago.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the furloughs are mandatory for all non-union, non-contract employees, though union and contract employees will be asked to "voluntarily" participate in the ten no work, no pay days.


The Below-the-Radar Impact on Local Newsers: Still Employed, But Making Less

250px-wfla2007The report on TVSpy today is eye-opening. Sources telling TVSpy that producers at WFLA/Tampa (all producers... everyone) were called in and given an offer they couldn't refuse: resign. Was the Media General station unveiling some kind of new automated producing software? No. Producers were told they could apply for their jobs. Hmmm... Okay, quick show of hands: how many of you local newsers think the new jobs pay MORE than the old jobs?

According to the ShopTalk post, WFLA news director Don North "promised the producers new deals. But, as you might imagine, the suspicion factor is running high, and whether they'll ever see those new contracts. So folks at this Media General station are sitting out the next 90 days in shock, wondering what happens next.
This was a tough spot for those producers."

Don North's Letter/From TVSpy

Don North's Letter/From TVSpy

And it's not just in Tampa. Reporters in markets like Miami and NYC are reporting offer-you-can't-refuse moments in meetings with bosses: take less pay, or we'll get rid of you. What choice to you have in this climate? But the paycuts are obviously under-reported, as few people call the newspaper to announce they've just taken a salary cut.

It makes you wonder just how widespread this really is.