Dee Armstrong on the State of Local Television News

Speaking, at my invitation, to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus,  former Columbus TV news anchor Dee  Armstrong drew sharp contrast to the way news was reported in years past and the way it is reported now.

She doesn’t think experience counts for much any more,  decrying the way young reporters,  she believes,  have no respect for veterans who have decades of experience, veterans who could help them become  effective, mature  reporters.  

She said that when she was a young reporter she revered the veterans who had proven themselves in the business,  citing her formative years working for Ed Wilson and me.  Ed,  who was news director at WDAK at one time,  taught her how to be a radio reporter when she was still in Columbus High School.  She learned how to think in terms of telling stories with pictures when I hired her away from Ed – sorry Ed – to report for WRBL-TV.  I was news director at WRBL-TV at the time.

That background and her talent enabled her to become a very successful anchor at WTVM.  She and I co-anhored the news on WTVM from about 1987 to 2000 when I retired.  We had impressive ratings.  After I retired she continued at WTVM, co-anchoring with Wayne Bennett,  who will retire in May.  They also had good ratings. 

She pointed out that in years past news departments came up with enterprise reports,  digging into issues that affect people.  I can remember those days.  In Columbus, it appears that they are gone.

Dee’s leaving television news,  and Wayne’s leaving,  as well as mine,  represents, I beleive,  the end of an era.  The torch has been passed,  but it could be that it has been rejected.

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7 Responses to “Dee Armstrong on the State of Local Television News”

  1. Judy Thomas Says:

    Dick,

    I am vitally concerned about the coverage of local stories by our local television stations these days. For example, tonight at City Council, there will be a discussion of the proposed purchase of Legacy Terrace by the city for $1million. I am willing to wager that there will be no television coverage of this story because the reporters have to be paid overtime to attend night Council meetings, and the stations don’t want to pay overtime (or so I’m told). I know that often we joke that Council is dull but without the cameras rolling in the background, when there is some newsworthy tidbit coming from the meeting, noone is there to cover it. It seems there is less and less on the local stations except weather reporting, which seems to take up an inordinate amount of air time.

  2. dicksworld Says:

    We’ll have to watch the 11 p.m. news tonight to see if you are right. Guess I’ll have to set my DVR to record both WTVM and WRBL.

    You do have a good point, though. News staffs are getting leaner, but back in the old days they were even leaner and we still managed to cover the news. It’s a matter of priorities as to which stories get covered and which don’t.

    Stations now have incredible technical resources, but that means nothing if the news that really affects a lot people’s lives is not covered.

  3. Crystal Johnston Says:

    I have to agree that an end of era is coming in May for WTVM. It started with you and Dee and now ends with Wayne.

    As far as reporters, I have seen more star struck people than ever before in the business. I have seen a lot of people come and go in the 18 1/2 years I was at the station. There were only a few that I would say that actually cared about the stories they reported on and really dug deep to find out things that mattered. It is sad that big business controls what is goes on the air and doesn’t. Also, it is sad that local government can control what goes on the air as well.

    I have to agree with Judy Thomas that there is way too much in the way of weather coverage. Sometimes that seems to be an overkill. Sure, we need to know the weather, but when it is over with…do we really need to have weather coverage continue for the next two to three hours? Really, do we? I’m not saying that Kurt does a bad job, as I think he is an excellent meteorologist. I just don’t think that we need so much weather coverage after the fact. I would almost think that Kurt would agree with what I’m saying.

    I remember that we had reporters that worked at night and they covered city council. That was in the early 90s. Try to call the news desk with a breaking story after the news cast is over at 6:30 p.m. and see if you will get someone to answer. You might, if you are lucky. The next time someone is available is around 9:30 or 10 p.m. just before the 11 p.m. show. I can honestly say this, because I know.

    I will give you a prime example of an experience of mine. That is, when the two homeless guys fought under the bridge in Phenix City about a year and half ago. One of them was killed. I tried to call the station several times, but no one answered. All I got was a voice mail. Yes, voice mail. That is what is taking over these days. I remember that an assignment editor used to always be at the desk all the time. It wasn’t until after the fact that they did a blurb on the story. If someone had answered my phone call, the station would of been on top of it as it was going on. I placed that call around 7:45 p.m. that night.

  4. dicksworld Says:

    I monitored both WRBL and WTVM Tuesday night and they did cover Coumbus Council, and also covered a night council or commission meeting in Auburn. I forget which governmental unit they covered in Auburn. Maybe it’s not as bad as we think, but we’ll have to keep checking them out to see if they continue such important coverage over time. As the old saying goes, “One swallow does not a summer make.”

  5. Bob Brooks Says:

    Dee:
    You veterans certainly will be missed on air. You may be right that the torch has been rejected.
    I had to leave a TV station because I had, outside the station in private conversation, discussed some things about the Federal Reserve System. The party went upstairs and talked about what I said. I was called “on the carpet” and was told that such conversation is not allowed by station employees. Shortly after that I felt the need to exit.
    It is a fine line between freedom of speech and TV and radio broadcasting policy. But how are we to keep abreast of what is happening in our world if we can’t converse with others? And why should personal views be disallowed by executives in broadcasting? Personal views do come through broadcast news, but they are disguised in such a way that the viewer/listener is kept unaware of those hidden views, in my opinion.
    It is sad when a position just becomes a job, and the people who should know the real news are not considered important in the rush by those on camera or in the executive rooms to climb the ladder of fame and increased income.
    A new age of peace and happiness will see freedom of information in every walk of life, uncensored by those who want to control everyone’s thoughts and expressions.
    Best wishes to you all in your retirements years.

  6. Courtney Woody Says:

    Speaking as a member of the young media, the best way to preserve respect for the craft of journalism is to keep corporate interests in check, and take a cue from the fact that talent as well as crew were respected in the past. Yet another stark contrast as afore mentioned, in comparison the former are now merely “employees” to be underpaid, undervalued, cast aside and disregarded when seeking further vocational fulfillment, compensation, and consideration. Instead what USED to be seen as a meritorious system has been replaced by cronyism, corporate influence, and lastly poor management. Just a thought.

  7. Thompson Says:

    I would like for someone to possibly get in touch with Dee Armstrong for me an have her contact me asap. Dee was the person who did a story on my dad years ago an helped our family get the news out. My dad was a retired Fire Chief who passed away in 2002 ( John Thompson). My mother still resides at the same residence that Dee come out to our house an interviewed my dad.

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