Thursday, July 23, 2009

Another One Bites The Digi Dust & The State of Media

The Ann Arbor News is the latest daily to take the plunge. After 174 years of doing business, the AAN will become, publishing web stories while still cranking out two print editions per week.

This really isn't news in Ann Arbor as the paper announced the decision in March. However, today's edition will be their last daily. Imagine being Geoff Larcom and having to write about it.

Revenues/profits are down and costs are up. And, after taking wallops to their wallets for several years now, dailies are essentially surrendering to the digital age.

We as media consumers have had it so good for so long that our expectations for 'free' online news have all but destroyed the metro daily. And folks like those at are watching intently.

The Rocky Mountain News. The Seattle Post Intelligencer. The Cincinnati Post...the list keeps growing. And, the guys/gals at The Onion (who I've been reading for over a decade now) have been having their laughs as well. And, as the folks at pointed out, The Onion's new video packages are dead-on. They have mastered the art of crafting media cliches and the ridiculously over-the-top way media tend to attack stories. This clip is classic. My favorite is 'Expert In a Suit.'

Video nearly killed the radio star, but the Internet is massacring print.

We can't underestimate television news' troubling role in this problem. As the late great Walter Cronkite was always so quick to note, the evening news and cable news programs currently dominating the industry have succumbed to the popularity of commentary. Unbiased reporting is slowly dying in the broadcast medium as most of the highest-rated news programs are based on 'infotainment.' I first heard that term on The Simpsons and one is laughing anymore.

We as consumers have fallen for it. Watching the news can be 'boring' and 'hard,' but watching Bill O'Reilly bash Democrats and pausing to watch a TIVO'd Keith Olbermann rip Republicans is much more fun. While the shows are entertaining, their rhetoric is biased and at times hateful. The new stories are second-class citizens, afterthoughts to the personalities driving the ratings. I'm at the point where I can't watch any of it.

More and more media consumers are going to the web because we don't have to sit through commercials or listen to people vapidly insult each other. The place to deviate from that coverage used to be a good paper...when we were sick of watching poorly constructed or loosely written TV news, we could sift through our fishwraps and make our own decisions.

But, print is dying a very slow and agonizing death. It won't last in its current state. More dailies are going to focus on web content while publishing limited print editions just to survive. In our 'must have it now' age of news, journalists have to turn to Twitter and other web marketing/media tools to get there first. And the quality of coverage is suffering.

Yesterday's battle over video of Jordan Crawford's dunk over Lebron James was another example of how newspapers can't compete in today's media industry. TMZ originally planned to launch a video of their own at 6:45p.m. ET, but ESPN got a hold of video from and ran it before TMZ's self-created deadline. Ebaumnation posted it at 3:28p.m. ET and killed TMZ's exclusive. The story itself was weak and the video widely seen as a joke. It wasn't even a real story but nationwide competition forced a frenzied pace. How can any newspaper keep up with that?

They can't. That is why the future of media will continue to evolve/devolve towards the Net. If a media outlet doesn't meet our demands of immediacy, we give up on them. Even magazines are suffering...

Why wait a few weeks to get Sports Illustrated or Vanity Fair when I can poach websites until I feel satiated? The best articles regarding the life and times of Michael Jackson were written by Vanity Fair's Maureen Orth between 1994 to 2005. Orth is the widow of the late Tim Russert and a respected writer.

Her incredibly detailed and damning reports were hardly discussed as the media scrambled to track Michael Jackson's corpse around Los Angeles. The remains of his body became more important than the body of his life. MSNBC spoke with Orth in late June, but has since pulled the video...I have yet to find anything except a brief from The Huffington Post about her appearance. MSNBC and NBC have nothing available. It's sad, but it's indicative of the current media climate.

That's what it has come to. We have to settle for inferior news coverage as the media attempts to figure out how best to cash in on our demands for knowledge.

But, it's important to note that we are also to blame. The Ann Arbor News is effectively dying today because it wasn't enough for its readers anymore. They wanted more and advertisers followed the masses. It's our fault. Our demands are being met quicker, but our understanding of the news is eroding.

The next time you read a truly well-written, researched and unbiased article, email the writer and that person's editor to say thanks. It may not save their jobs or change the media industry, but it will remind those journalists why they got into the business in the first place. To make a difference while telling accurate and great stories.

Make sure they know you care. Because, if they don't think you do, they'll go where the money tells them to go. They will end up ignoring their duties and we will all be worse off for it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Dateline: Farmville, Virginia

I am not dead. Friends, I realize how long it has been since I last posted my musings/thoughts on the media industry. I have no excuse. I pledge the following.

By next Friday, July 24, I will return with a detailed observation worthy of your time. Perhaps I'll focus on the continued fascination with citizen journalism, cable news' continued dominance...I'm not certain yet. If you've got a topic you want me to hit, comment or throw it my way via Facebook or Twitter.

Yeah, I'm on Twitter.

All the best. Next Friday. Hold me to it!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Local TV Stations Must Invest in Sports

First and foremost, I need to apologize for not blogging more often. It's been over two months. I've got both reasons and excuses, but it's unnecessary to list them. I owe devoted readers an, I apologize.

Careful observation of the 'local television news' landscape shows an alarming trend. Across the country, respected and market-leading stations are dumping their sports departments. If they aren't dumping them, they're gutting them.

Many stations have stopped investing money, show time and (most importantly) concern in these reporters and anchors. Ever since Richard Huff in the New York Daily News started beating the drum about whether or not local sportscasts are needed, a national discussion about the topic has heated up.

In his article, Huff discusses how small market audiences could generally do without sportscasts. But, in his opinion, the larger markets such as New York could not. In fact, the opposite is true.

As often is the case, Huff was probably foreshadowing a future column. Three days later, two sports anchors at WCBS got axed and Huff had the story. WCBS had made cuts to their sports staff and programming in the previous year and perhaps Huff got wind that more cutbacks were on the way.

But, as far as the necessity of local television sports coverage is concerned, Huff is dead wrong.

It's not his fault, he's looking at it from the 'big media' market perspective. Large market fans have it general. In New York, Boston, L.A., Detroit, Philly, etc., there are multiple options to get content. If you're a Celtics or Red Sox fan, as I am, you don't have to go any further than SportsCenter if you want scores, quick highlights and brief analysis. Large market sports coverage is generally slightly more in-depth and gets a few more minutes of time on game nights. Lots of large market network affiliates have created additional sports programming like call-in shows or weekly 'coach talks' to give fans more content.

Most of those major cities also have their own city or regional cable outlets. MSG, NESN, Comcast, etc. Those cable groups carry the sports content the rest of the day. There is no need or want for more coverage. So, it's easy to say that 'local' sports coverage from the network affiliates isn't necessary or at times irrelevant.

However, if you're a 'medium media' market sports fan, cheering on teams in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Memphis, Oakland, etc., you can't get that kind of access via the national cable media. You can only turn to regional cable (FoxSports Pittsburgh) or your local stations. After that, it's up to the fan to surf the Web.

It's important to note these regional cable guys get a lot of respect from the community. The best in the business is Dan Potash at FoxSports Pittsburgh. He's so big, people post video of him walking past them on YouTube. That's pretty big.

And, unfortunately for the 'small media' market sports fans, you've got very little media content to rely on. Sure there's always the Web; but after that, it's up to local radio and local television coverage. And, if station managers buy into this mantra that sports coverage isn't necessary, these fans will suffer tremendously. And suffer for no reason.

It's important to clearly identify my bias. I was a sports reporter and anchor at WDTV in Clarksburg/Bridgeport, West Virginia. I may NEVER live THIS picture down, but I loved my time there. And occasionally miss it a great deal.

Our market was media market #166. There are only 210, so our station fit the 'small market' group. In our little neck of the woods, we served North Central West Virginia and essentially rode the coattails of the West Virginia University Mountaineer athletic teams.

We fared as they fared. When they played well or made postseason bowl games or tournaments, we produced special half-hour shows and brought in thousands of additional advertising monies to the station. If the teams did poorly, our shows reflected it.

But, in our viewing area in the great state of WV, we were IT for local sports. While our competitors averaged three minute nightly sportscasts, we averaged five minutes. On weekends, we would receive unprecedented chunks of the evening news. Our sportscasts would average anywhere from eight to ten minutes or more every Saturday and Sunday night. In our newsroom, it was established that sports would 'earn their time' and we certainly did. We were all local, all the time.

And we were good at it. When the state-wide awards roll around every year, WDTV is well represented in sports despite only having two full-time staff members in the department. I've got a few plaques to prove it.

During my time at WDTV, I coveraged dozens (and I mean dozens) of Little League All-Star tournament games. I'm talking about first round tournament elimination games for 8 & 9 year-olds. I've never heard/seen of another station doing that. But, the local people loved us for it. No matter where I went, people recognized us as the leader in TV sports in our area.

Our competitors had more resources, but we had the will, work ethic and attitude to dominate our market. And, as far as sports coverage is concerned, we DOMINATED. People respected us and watched the news for our stuff. I knew more than one person who set their alarm clocks to wake up in time for our morning sports report. That meant a lot to us.

Much of that success was due to the tenacity of sports director Joe Brocato. When I took the job, I had no idea what I was getting into. But, I knew right out of the gate that I had never met a guy like Joe. He outworked everyone. His passion for his job is incredible. He made me care about every story and about every person. He was my mentor and greatly influenced my approach to my job and broadcasting. Joe cared more about the daily effort than any person I have ever met. And Joe wanted to win every sportscast, every night. He is a competitor.

And his passion and intensity affected everyone in the newsroom and even in management. Joe had to fight for our time, but he won a lot of battles and earned their respect. Sports coverage was appreciated and cherished at WDTV. Maybe not all of the time or to the extent we wanted it, but we were respected.

But, that respect came from our hard work and willingness to cover any story. We never lost sight of the role we were playing for local sports fans.

Unfortunately, lots of televisions sportscasters have lost their ways. Too many are comfortable in running national stories, slapping video over it, sending out a photographer to shoot a game for them and wrapping it up in two minutes every night at 10 or 11. They got lazy and unwilling to do the work. If they don't shape up or get out of the way, sports on local television may perish.

When you apply for sports reporting/anchoring jobs, every news director puts the words "I don't want any SportsCenter want-to-be's applying" in the job description. But, lots of news directors didn't practice what they preached. They didn't demand local coverage and medium market sports reporters started focusing on national stories.

I don't want to sound too harsh here. I know all of the work that goes into's quite a lot. But honestly, watching local TV sports where I live now makes me sick. I've got DirecTV in a market-less place in Virginia. Because of that, we get Richmond, VA news pumped in via satellite and I've watched them all.

And, while I hate to say it to guys/gals I respect, Richmond TV sports coverage is garbage.

-They don't run enough local content.
-They don't get off their rear ends to shoot enough local content.
-They don't get much time to show it in anyways.
-They don't seem to care much either.

The top locally-rated news station is WWBT, NBC 12. NBC 12 has been kicking tail in the ratings for years. Last December, a week before Christmas, they canned their sports director along with several other staff members. Then sports director Ben Hamlin had been with the station for 28 years. As a viewer and former reporter, I felt his reports and content were getting stale. Lots of national stuff without much of a local focus. But, he was a great on-air persona and clearly respected by the community. He deserved better and so did NBC 12's viewers.

NBC 12 also runs the content for FOX 35 News and the station lists only two sports anchor/reporters. That's two guys to cover all of the stories, night in and night out, for two stations. It's ridiculous and insulting.

I don't blame Jamie or Joe, NBC 12's sports guys. I don't know them personally. But, I watch them when I can. And when I watch, I see two guys that are knowledgeable about sports in the area yet seem detached from it as well. I believe the blame lies on their newsroom management. They aren't provided with the time or resources to show us much else.

As a viewer, I demand more.

As a former 'sports guy,' I am downright angry.

Whenever we worked our tails off to create a half-hour show or fly across the country to continue to provide coverage for our viewers, we never saw an additional dime. But, our managers and sales staff did. They sold our reports in special sponsorship ad packages to local businesses. Almost everything we did for high school football or 'bonus' coverage was stamped by a car dealership or law firm. All of that was extra dough to cover our trip expenses and pad the commissions for whatever salesperson could work a telephone.

Though I could complain more, I'll move on. Long story short, whenever we worked hard and did our job, the station made more money. We also got more viewers. It was always at our expense...our time, our sweat, our work. But, the station and our viewers were better for it.

That's why opinions like that of Huff's are incorrect. Local television sports coverage is good for the local fan. But station managers across the country are forgetting that.

Consider this case in Scranton, PA. Three different stations with three different approaches. WNEP is the area's #1 station and, interestingly enough, is the one station in the bunch that prides itself on airing nightly sportscasts. They trimmed their time, but are the only station committed to nightly sportscasts in their market. They have three reporters/anchors to work for their station, while NBC 12 in Richmond has two. Scranton is media market #54, Richmond is #58.

Many news directors claim they are investing in airing more local news stories, but how can we actually know if that is the case? A few more seconds for weather or another commercial, and that time is gone. And, stations are literally turning away viewers.

I urge station managers and news directors to take a chance on local sports coverage. Don't limit their coverage or time, force the anchor/reporters to go and seek more stories. Television journalists aren't working for their stories much anymore, they show up to events and piece-meal soundbites together. Not a lot of time for investigative pieces nowadays. But, to win over the viewers and keep them tuned in, news directors need to train and then to trust their staff.

People say local TV sports is dying. It will only die if the sports reporters sit idly by and allow it to. They need to aggressively attack their audience by getting back out into the communities. Talking at high school events, visiting classes, actually GOING to local games, covering the 'fringe' sports, etc.

By covering Little League baseball, we hooked viewers for life. If a parent was truly appreciative of us showing their eight year-old punch a double to score a run in an all-star game one Tuesday night, they would keep tuning in to see what else we were showing. Those viewers stuck around.

That is what makes Joe the most recognizable sports guy in the northern part of the state. Even now, years removed from working in the area, when I meet someone from North Central always comes up.

"I know you from somewhere. You worked at WDTV, right? You worked with Joe Brocato?!? Cool. I watch him all the time."

I'm always proud of that. Proud to be associated with a fine product and with a fine man.

News directors need to invest time in local sports or more viewers will stop investing time with those stations.

Don't push sports viewers to cable, because news viewers will follow them. If that happens, local TV news will die.

And no one will be watching to mourn it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Stay The Course: Journalism Students Shouldn't Fear For Media's Future

As our campus sprung back to life earlier this week, with many folks slowly re-entering our academic world, I prepared to meet my news writing and broadcast production students anew. But, I felt that in our first classes together I needed to address the 'elephant' in the newsroom. The future of mass media.

Many students are quite concerned about the job climate upon their graduation either this year or the next. Who wouldn't be? There are certainly reasons to be concerned. Lots of reasons. Journalists, scholars, media watchdogs and consumers are all collectively watching in horror as our nation's newspaper industry is being eviscerated.

Gannett employees have been required to take an unpaid week off. An unprecedented move.

The Star Tribune could be filing for the big 'B' in Minnesota.

Want to buy the 22nd largest paper in the country? The print version is up for bid.

And for 75K (a cool 100K on Sundays) you can advertise on the front page of the NY Times.

From small to monstrous, no newspaper is going unscathed. But, the broadcast media has felt the pinch as well. Major layoffs in Miami, Sacramento and Denver shocked the industry last year. No station/market is safe. Check out the list my friends at have compiled. Stations all over the country are swinging axes. In radio and in TV, hours are being reduced...shows cut and responsibilities broadened.

All of that could make a journalism/media student think about a life in sales, retail or cubicle country. But we all know what happens when people work in cubicles too long...they put a gangster beat-down on the copier/printer/fax machine Office Space-style. (Not for virgin ears)

If you're 'called' to be a journalist, don't run for another major/occupation just yet. This may be the storm before the calm. Many in the media are losing their jobs but there are positions to fill in their wake.

The one-man-band era has been on the verge of taking over the media world for several years. Now, it has officially arrived.

It started in journalism schools whose graduates then entered the media world at the small market level. Their responsibilities were then reduced as they went higher up the market ladder. They no longer had to shoot for themselves or cut their own tapes. The station had that covered. Dig up stories, hit the streets, report, write, front it and go home. Your friends in the back of the newsroom (the part not always on the tour) will do the rest.

Not anymore.

Those editors and videographer/photographer positions are slowly fading from newsrooms. Sure the more dominant companies and larger markets can afford to and will continue to carry some of those positions. But entry-level reporters are expected to be skilled in multiple platforms of story-telling. Video and audio editing, writing for the Web, basic videography skills, etc. Stations and papers hope to see college graduates 'prepackaged' with knowledge across all mass mediums.

And they've been getting it. Though the responsibilities are certainly greater for each cub reporter, they can handle it in a given workday and save the company thousands in additional salary monies. In rough economic times, why would any organization pay two or three people to do the job that one talented (though overworked) person could do alone? Though the transition happened quite slowly, those organizations are thinning out their newsrooms and streamlining their products. The result may not always be better news but it is nearly always better business.

This trend, while not favorable to those embedded in the media industries, works heavily in the favor of the untested but well-equipped college graduate.

My undergraduate journalism courses (way back in the '90s) focused on the inverted pyramid, the AP stylebook and an endless barrage of articles and interviews. My radio and broadcast production courses forced us to venture into an editing booth a grand total of three times. I wasn't ready at graduation. It took some time and thirty grand for graduate school to get the experience I needed. But that isn't the case anymore.

Now, the top academic programs in the country and those striving to match them immerse their students in all forms of media. Classes attack the Web with fervor. The average journalism graduate in this country is now familiar with print, broadcast and Web writing techniques while also being able to produce audio and video projects.

These students are tech-savvy and forward-thinking. They've grown up with Internet in their homes or even bedrooms. They haven't hand-written anything but class notes and most won't even do that anymore. Typewriters? Those are in museums and attics. Twitter, Gabcast and all of the social/professional tools on the Net have made instantaneous access to news an expectation, not a novelty.

And they are carrying that mindset into the workforce 'en masse' every December and May. And they will get jobs.

They are cheaper than the industry veteran who won't budge. They are more willing to adapt to newer technologies than the photog who sticks by their DVC-Pro or Beta tapes. The doors to the newsrooms will be reopened to veterans willing to take on more responsibility and/or a pay cut as well as to the next wave of so-called 'backpack' journalists.

Those currently in the business of telling the news are certainly already wary. Either you embrace it, or you lose your job. Joanne Ostrow's article in the Denver Post last month detailed KUSA and KMGH's efforts to morph their journalists. KUSA is one of the most respected television stations in the country and has been seen as an industry leader. If the leader of a top 20 market is going this way, expect many more to follow. This isn't to say KUSA is keeping all of its employees as they move forward. They let go of veteran news anchor Bob Kendrick just before Halloween. There will be attrition.

Reading Ostrow's article, one notes how KCNC's management feels a little differently about 'one-man-band' journalists. Of course they do; they cut over half a dozen staff members a few months earlier. One of which had just received a national press award for video editing. It will be interesting to see how they compete as KCNC and KUSA have been neck-in-neck in their market's ratings battle. Which approach will work?

It's likely that industry executives will be more willing to bet on the one-man-band reporters.

As Tim Robbins' character Andy Dufresne says in the movie "The Shawshank Redemption," you either "get busy living or get busy dying." Newsrooms that want to live are going to continue to open their arms to younger (and initially cheaper) journalists who can do more with less.

Future journalists of the world: Don't panic. Jobs are awaiting you. Even in the print industry...just more will be required of you. Across the board, all news providers are going to turn to 'backpackers,' 'VJs' (Video Journalists) or one-man-banders. While you may have to enter an unwelcoming newsroom at first, your skills across the mass mediums will pay off. Just be sure that you and your company are keeping up with technology.

You'll be ready.

As long as I see you in class.

*Writer's Note: My sincerest apologies for not sticking to my guns about more frequent posts. I have only excuses but no proper reasons. I'll do better.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Testing, Testing...1-2-3

Working on some new ideas for the Advanced Media Writing course and trying out a 'neat' (I know I'm the only one that still says that) new website where you can post audio to the Net straight through your cellphone. Just neat (there I go again) stuff...

Click to's not much...yet: My Gabcast Channel