Archive for the ‘TV News’ Category

A Dick’s World Reader Comments on the State of Television News

August 30, 2011

By Susan Stephenson

This post was sent as a comment on the previous Dick’s World post about television reporting of Hurricane Irene.  Since it is longer than most comments, makes interesting points, and is well-written, I decided to run it as a featured post. That doesn’t mean I endorse everything she says, or that I don’t.  It means she gets her say.

Unfortunately, people in the TV news biz these days know how to set up a shot visually, but all too frequently they are woefully uninformed on virtually ANYTHING else. They have no background knowledge in anything, therefore can present nothing in context or in depth.  And it shows.

Given the resources available on the internet, why do our local reporters mispronounce so many words, and the names of places and people? Especially, names that have been in the news on a national or international level? It’s a ridiculous lack of professionalism.

It would be an interesting experiment to sit down with a stop watch to time how much actual news is in our telecasts. After you take out the teasers on what they plan to tell us after the next commercial, the promos for other network shows, the recaps of what took place on previous network shows, and the “happy talk” between presenters, I bet ten minutes of real news would be a stretch.

An informed citizenry is critical to our nation. What passes for journalism in the 21st century is a travesty.

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Formula TV News Reporting

February 4, 2010

Borden Back, a former broadcast journalist with whom I worked at both WRBL and WTVM (she works freelance for print media now),  sent an email about a satirical TV news package on formula news packaging that is funny, but, also, all too true. You can see it by clicking this link.

Penny Leigh Short Leaves Us

December 14, 2009

We have lost another Columbus TV icon. Penny Leigh Short died Sunday of a heart attack. She was 66 years old. She came to Columbus in 1962 after growing up in West Frankfort, Illinois, and going to high school and college in Naples, Florida

While Penny and I were on competing newscasts for a number of years, we ended up together at WRBL for a few years. She was in sales at WRBL. Though competitors for a while, we were always friends. The sunny personality we saw on the air when she did the weather was the same sunny personality we experienced off the air.

She worked for WTVM, WLTZ and WRBL, and for about 12 years at Jay Auto Mall. She is survived by her husband, Ted Short, three children and two grandchildren. Ted tells me there will be a celebration of life event to honor her memory. He will announce the time and place later.

We’ll miss Penny and her sunny personality.

Al, Don and I Dine at 79

October 4, 2009

My old broadcasting days co-worker and friend Don Nahley called me recently to asked me to lunch.  The occasion was his birthday. 

 “It’s your birthday.  Well, in that case, I’m paying for it.”

“No.  I’m going to call Al and see if he wants to come, too.”

He did, and the three of us had lunch at a Chinese restaurant.  Don wouldn’t accept my nor Al’s offer to pick up the check.  “I’m not going you invite you to lunch and then let you pay for it.”

“Well, all right,” I said, “but we’ll do the same thing on my birthday. You and Al can come and I’ll pick up the check.”

Al Fleming, Dick McMichael, Don Nahley celebrating Dick's birthday at Fudruckers.

Al Fleming, Dick McMichael, and Don Nahley celebrating Dick's birthday at Fuddruckers. (Photo taken by busboy at Fuddruckers using Don's camera)

And that’s exactly what we did Friday.  Al said he was going to do the same for his next birthday, if he’s still alive next March.  All three of us are 79 years old.  Wonder if Don and Al wanted me to tell you that. Oh, well, too late now.

“I think we ought to put it in our wills that we will pick up the check for our next birthday in case one of us doesn’t live that long,”  he said.

Nobody ever said the three of us are normal and conventional, probably because we’re not.  That’s no fun.

One time when the three of us gathered for lunch at the Mediterranean Cafe (no longer in business), a lady, who was with a group of other ladies leaving the restaurant, stopped at our table and grabbed the check.  I tried to grab it back because it was my turn to pay. She wouldn’t hear of it.  She said, “It’s for all that you guys did for us over the years.” Now, that was special.  I have to confess that I was moved. 

All of us worked in at least two Columbus TV stations, and, at one time, all three of us worked for the same station, WRBL, at the same time.  Al worked at WTVM, WRBL, and WLTZ. (He still does commentaries on WLTZ’s Rise n’ Shine Show with Calvin Floyd.)  Don worked at WRBL for about 29 years, then worked for WXTX for a short period. I worked at WRBL, off and on, from 1953 to 1986, when I switched to WTVM, where I worked until retirement in 2000.

The three of us have personally experienced the evolution of television broadcasting in Columbus.  What’s the difference between then and now?  Stay tuned.

Walter Cronkite and Me

July 18, 2009

I learned of the death of Walter Cronkite when Phil Scoggins called me to ask if I would give him an interview to run on the 11p.m. news on WRBL.  I immediately said, “Yes.”  I was honored to do the interview.

As I told Phil in the interview, my television news career and Walter Cronkite’s started about the same time. He took Douglas Edwards’ place on CBS-TV and I took Glenn Broughman’s place on WRBL-TV, the station that carried the CBS Evening News. 

At that time,  television news reporting was not entertainment oriented.  Dignity and style prevailed.  News was, and still should be, a serious business.  He built a tremendous amount of trust over the years nationally, and I did my best to do the same thing locally. 

I only saw him in person once.  All of the network big guns converged on the Radio and Television News Director’s Association Convention at Miami in the early 1970’s.   I was WRBL Radio and Television news director, as well as anchor of the evening news, at the time.   The network news anchors came to rally America’s news directors in the fight to show President Nixon and Vice President Agnew that they could not harness and intimidate the media.  Their attacks failed as both of them were forced to resign for other reasons.

I was actually on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite only once. A Fort Benning soldier refused to wear his uniform as a protest against the Vietnam War.  I interviewed him and CBS ran that interview.  The CBS News Southern Bureau chief told me Cronkite said he liked the interview.  Coming from Walter Cronkite, that meant a lot.  

People are saying that he was the “gold standard of broadcast journalism,” and that he was “the most trusted man in America.”  They are also saying that no one today can match the credibility he achieved.  I agree. He was not flashy. He was not Hollywood handsome. He was avuncular, and apparently that’s what America wanted because many millions of them watched him for 19 years on CBS.  When he said, “And that’s the way it is, ” they believed him

Wayne Bennett’s First Retirement Party

May 10, 2009
(Left to right) Dave Platta, Jason Dennis, Paul Therrien,  Cheryl Morgan Myers, Wayne Bennett, Borden Black,  Kurt Schmitz, Bob Jeswald,  Columbus, GA TV personalities

(Left to right) Dave Platta, Jason Dennis, Paul Therrien, Cheryl Morgan Myers, Wayne Bennett, Borden Black, Kurt Schmitz, Bob Jeswald, Columbus, GA TV personalities

It was like a family reunion at the Borden Black and Cheryl Morgan Myers “oldtimers” retirement party for WTVM anchorman Wayne Bennett . Wayne’s last night on WTVM will be Friday,  May 15, 2009.  Just as it did for me when I retired in 2000,  the station will give Wayne a few minutes at the end of the 6 p.m. newscast to say goodbye. 
Wayne Bennett, retiring WTVM anchor,  Jason Dennis, Fox 54 anchor and Fox 54/WTVM reporter

Wayne Bennett, retiring WTVM anchor, Jason Dennis, WXTX Fox 54 anchor and WXTX/WTVM reporter

Jason Dennis,  who anchors the 10 p.m. news on WXTX, Fox 54 and also does some reporting that airs on both WTVM and WXTX,  has been preparing reports on Wayne’s broadcasting career.  Wayne is happy with that.  “I requested that he be the one to do it,” he said.  “I asked him to keep it light,  not make it into an obituary.  I’m not dead.”  That could be a clue that Wayne will keep his goodbye light Friday evening. 

“How would you sum up your 20 years at WTVM?” I asked him.

“That’s a loaded question, Dick.  I have to be careful because you’ll put it on your website,” he quipped.

I smiled and suggested, “Just tell the truth.”

“Well,  the truth is that television has been good to me.  I have enjoyed it,  but,  I don’t like the direction television [news] is taking so I am glad to be getting out at this time.  That’s the truth”

The sentiment that TV news has been and continues to go downhill was prevelent among the oldtimers who are no longer in the business. 

But, the serious stuff didn’t dominate the party.  There were plenty of laughs, and folks had a good time remembering stories they had covered over the years.  Though there is concern about the future direction of TV news,  it was clear that the oldtimers love the business.  Like I have always said,  one thing is for sure,  you won’t be bored if you work in television news.  It does, indeed, get very exciting.

Wayne and Betty Bennett, Wayne Bennett's  "oldtimers" retirement party

Wayne and Betty Bennett, Wayne Bennett's "oldtimers" retirement party

Now, like me,  and Dee,  Wayne gets to kiss the crushing deadlines goodbye  and to relax a little.  And that’s what he plans to do.  He and wife Betty, after a brief stay in Florida, are heading for Panama, where they plan to live. The cost of living there is a third less than in the United States, Wayne told me.  How long?  “Well, that depends on how well we like it.  If we don’t like it, we’ll go somewhere else,”  Betty  said. 

“Sounds like you are going on an adventure.”

“That’s right,” she said. “We are going on adventure and we look forward to it.”

Sounds like a fine plan to me.  After all, life is for living, as the cliche’ goes.  Bon voyage to both of you.    

For years, Wayne sported a mustache, but shaved it off a few years ago.    I asked him, “Are you going to grow a mustache now?”

“I’m probably going to grow a full beard,” he said.

He gets one more retirement party.  WTVM is having one for him Saturday.

The Big Snow of ’73

March 1, 2009

 

A bush outside my window, Columbus, GA, 3/1/2009

A bush outside my window, Columbus, GA, 3/1/2009

As I looked out my window this morning and enjoyed the novelty of snow in Columbus, Georgia,  I had to reflect on the biggest snowfall in Columbus in my lifetime.  It happened on February 9th and 10th, 1973.  Columbus got 14 inches of snow. 

It just about paralyzed the city with mainly only police and emergency vehicles traveling the streets.  I was the news director of WRBL Radio and TV at the time,  and the legendary chalk tosser Doug Wallace was the station’s weatherman.  Doug called me and said, “I can’t come in, Dick.  Snow has covered the streets around my house,  and you can’t even see the curbs.”

“Doug,  of all days, you have do the weather today.  We’ll come get you.”

And we did.  A friendly soul at Fort Benning called and offered us the use of his tire chains for one of our news cars.  We took him up on it and sent that car out to pick up Doug.  He gave his usual entertaining and informative weather-cast on the evening and 11 p.m. news, and the car with tire chains took him and other employees who couldn’t see their streets home that night.

On Saturday, I called our affiliated network CBS and offered some film of the snow in Columbus, explaining what a big event 14 inches of snow was for the area.   The person I talked with said he would think about it.  After I told him I knew that the NBC affiliate in Columbus was sending film of the event to that network,  he quickly made his mind up.  Later, when the check came in for the film we sent,  I used it to hold a luncheon at a fancy restaurant  for the news department.

On TV Station Suspensions

January 14, 2009

  If you are looking for drama, look no further than WTVM.  No, not dramatic shows on the air,  but the drama that is going on with established on-air personalities and management.  

 WTVM, as you may know, suspended two of its most popular personalities.   I learned about the suspensions on  Richard Hyatt’s Columbus .   Chuck Leonard, who after almost two months suspension for making what some considered an insensitive racial remark on radio, is now back on the air, and meteorologist Kurt Schmitz,  who just got a five day suspension without pay.  Kurt told me he was suspended  over an interpretation of a contract dispute about his duties.  He didn’t want to say anything else about it, and I can understand that.

All of this reminded me that I had been suspended once in my career, and that I suspended someone myself.  Back in the early 1970’s, I was suspended for a week when working at WIS-TV in Columbia, SC, but because the general manager was not certain I was in the wrong,  it was with pay.  “Why don’t you take a week off and we’ll both think this over?” he said.  “You’ll continue to be paid.”

A lot of people came to my defense, including just about everyone in the newsroom where I was assignment editor.  Though not unionized,  a group of them threatened to strike.  The general manager decided that I could stay, but it was too late. I had used the week off to get another job, and there was no way I would have stayed there after that incident.

The job I got was news director and evening TV news anchor at WRBL Radio and TV.  One of my news personalities,  a man well established in the community,  didn’t show up for a radio newscast he was supposed to do because, as he told me,  he was having a beer at a bar with some buddies.  I wanted to tell him goodbye,  but he had a long association with Jim Woodruff, Jr. , part owner, president and general manager of WRBL Radio and TV.  Woodruff suggested I suspend him for a week without pay.  I said, “He won’t take it. He’ll leave.”  He replied, “Well.”

I was wrong. He didn’t leave, but he was very bitter and tried to undermine my authority, which he did not do, but his actions were a distraction.  So, you can see that I can identify with both sides of the suspension drama.

Why Crime, Crime, Crime All the Time?

January 4, 2009

  It seems like 90 percent of television drama is about crime, and, the movies concentrate intensely on the subject; local television news is totally dedicated to reporting it, and the newspaper is loaded with it also. Though, I must admit, the paper does the best job of filling us in on other truly important local non-crime news, too.

Frankly, I find a steady diet of crime entertainment depressing. Maybe I’m not alone and that’s why American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, Million-Dollar Password and such programs are attracting large audiences. They are a break from crime, crime, crime, crime.

Sure, crime is important and has to be dealt with, and our law enforcement agencies need our full support, but do we have to be inundated with it all the time? Thank goodness for the great live football coverage on the networks, also, because that, too, is a break from crime, crime, crime all the time.

Passionate Blogging

December 4, 2008

  Maybe I’ve been doing this blogging thing the wrong way. Instead of trying to post a well-written think piece, I should simply give vent to my passions and not worry about details like literary excellence. That’s what I took from Arianna Huffington when she was interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. She was on the show to plug her book on how to blog. It’s titled The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging.

  She said the key to successful blogging is to write about your passions, and to not worry about a blog post being a finished product.  In other words, don’t spend a lot of time trying polish your posts.

  I don’t spend a lot of time doing that, but I do try to make the post readable and get the grammar as correct as possible. I take a few liberties and sometimes use sentence fragments because that’s the way I speak and just about everyone else speaks. I remember one of my English Literature professors saying that before you can get away with breaking the rules, you have know them. She said, “When you are writing for me, you have to convince me that you know the rules. Don’t break them.” I don’t claim to know the rules flawlessly, but I’m not being graded by her any more so I’ll break the ones I do know when I feel like it.

 Arianna said that when you blog you should write about your passions. Once I figure what they are now, maybe I’ll concentrate on them. They have changed over time. Once I was very passionate about being an actor.  I acted in a few plays for Theater Atlanta when I was working at WSB Radio, and I appeared in a number of Columbus Little Theater productions before CLT morphed into the Springer Opera House, and then a few more productions there. I decided that the pay for all that work wasn’t adequate.  All the local actors did it for “the love of it,” but the Springer started bringing in outsiders who did it for the money. Once a dollar value was put on playing a lead in a play, I decided, no pay, no play.

I definately had a passion for being a radio announcer, which I satisfied by doing it, and when television came to Georgia, I decided I had a passion for that and did it for more than forty years. I got paid for that so I knew I was valuable. But, that passion has been satisfied and I don’t have it any more. I could still do it because…well, I know how.  If I came up with a specific topic I wanted to do a documentary on, I could become passionate about it.

I am passionate about my family, my children and grandchildren, and I have occasionally written about them, but I don’t want to invade their privacy so I keep that to a minimum.

I still love music, good theater, music, literature, art, and my interest in football has been rekindled. I am enjoying the Falcons this year. Maybe it’s because they are winning a few games. Also, I have been watching Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama and Auburn games.  Alabama is awesome. “Awesome” is a much over-used word, but, in this case, it really is an accurate adjective. I was glad they beat Auburn because losing six in a row in that classic rivalry made me feel sorry for them. The same with Georgia Tech and Georgia. Tech had lost seven in a row. That’s too much so I was glad they pulled off that three-point win.   

And, yes, I am passionate about politics, and I do occasionally write about that.

Maybe I’ll make Arianna happy and buy her book, or maybe I’ll check it out at the library and save the money, or maybe I’ll ignore it. It will just depend on my passion about it.