Posts Tagged ‘TV News’

No Need to Sensationalize Sensational Stories

September 16, 2013

Because it’s “bringing  back the news in news,”  I have switched from the Today show to  CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and  from the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams to the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.  Charlie Rose has a warm tone of voice and is easy to follow and understand.  He has the avuncular quality that served  Walter Cronkite so well. Scott Pelly is also easy to follow and sounds less of a news announcer like Brian Williams, and more like a good neighbor doing what legendary Atlanta WSB Radio Manager Elmo Ellis taught me when worked for him.  He said, “Tell a story the same way you would when talking to a neighbor over the backyard fence.”  Pelly also has great credentials as a news reporter. 

ABC’s Dianne Sawyer also has a warm, conversational delivery, but I stopped watching the  ABC’s World news Tonight  when I felt  that it became “news light,” with the emphasis more on soft than hard news.  When I watch  the evening news, I want news.

Both Sayer and Pelley are gaining on ratings leader Williams He’s still ahead but not as much as he was.  I like him and have no problem watching him, especially when he ad-libs.  He sounds conversational when he ad-libs, but not when he reads.  

I suppose what I like about them most is that they don’t sound rushed.  I sampled ABC’s Good Morning America when the big flooding stories hit and could not believe the sensationalized reporting.  The reporters were talking as fast as they could  and were almost yelling as they wildly gesticulated doing their standups in front of raging creeks and rivers. The video editing of the flooding was done in rapid-fire takes.  That’s really not necessary.  There is certainly no need to sensationalize a story that is already sensational.

As I watched the sensationalized reporting, it occurred to me that the on-air personalities were probably following the directions of some broadcast consultant firm’s coaches.  I remember when some out-of-town consultant  coaches would tell me I needed to pick up the pacing of my delivery, and should  gesticulate  more to emphasize what I was saying.  They really wanted rapid-fire delivery. I would politely listen to them, but I knew they would be leaving the next day, and I continued to deliver the news at my own conversational pace and style.  What did they know about what people wanted in the market  that I had lived and worked in for a lot of years?  One size doesn’t fit all.   

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The Case Against Audience Research for TV News Departments

November 26, 2012

It is good to know that at least one important news executive believes that broadcast news is still a public service.  That’s what  Jeff Fager, CBS News Chairman and 60 Minutes Executive Producer, told Arizona State Walter Cronkite Journalism School students recently, and I was fortunate enough  to hear the lecture on C-span.

“We are approaching a story in a smart way, a focused way that helps people better understand what is happening in the world,” he told  them.  “It’s about telling a story and it’s about reporting, how good a reporter are you? How well can you dig things up? How well do you  find things out?”

He explained how retired 60 Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt influenced him, saying  that what Hewitt believed goes against all the conventional wisdom you hear about in news today.  “We never did audience research. We still don’t believe in it. I don’t believe in it.” However, it drives many news decision-makers now.  It may tell you not to do a story because it’s not visual and the audience doesn’t care about it.  He said he knew serious journalists who  run news organizations who would not cover the war in Afghanistan because research told them it was a turn off.  He says they are wrong.  A hundred thousand Americans are risking their lives in a war zone.  What  he didn’t say, but what I do say is that such behavior is irresponsible for anyone who calls himself a member of the Fourth Estate.  News media have a civic responsibility in a democracy such as ours. 

The truly important point he made, in my view, because it is one I tried to make repeatedly when I was still in the business, is that you cover a story because you think it is important  and you make it interesting.  It is up to you, the reporter, to do that, to make it interesting. 

For those who don’t buy the no-audience-research news philosophy, you need to take a look at the most successful news program in the  history of television.  60 Minutes has been on the air for 45 years  and has been and still is phenomenally successful. It is a ratings champion, still  often in the top ten. It is a combination of hard-noised investigative reporting and some stories about celebrities.   Fager says he plans to cut back on the celebrity stories and make the program even more relevant. The stories are not selected because of audience  research, but because the people who manage 60 Minutes believe they are important, important enough to do well.

Fager says CBS News will continue to follow the tradition established by people like Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly, and Walter Cronkite. It will continue to challenge authority. It will take risks.  It will report from war zones. These are  things many news decision-makers don’t do because they are dangerous, expensive, and risky, but CBS News will.

Now, if we can just get the rest of the broadcast news world to follow their lead.  When is the last time you saw a truly important local investigative report on a controversial subject?  For many  years, even though we did not have the resources of CBS News, we use to do some digging, some investigative reporting, a lot more reporting on what legislators in Atlanta and Montgomery were up to. We didn’t rule them out because they might not be good TV picture stories. We made them interesting, and used creativity to come up with illustrative pictures, and, yes, we got good ratings.    

Also, corporate management stayed out of the newsroom. Stories were not killed because they might offend some powerful person or organization.  At  least, that was my experience. Management tried to hire capable broadcast journalists and let them do their jobs. More than once I had to be defended by station management, and I have to say that when I was a news director, they always backed me solidly.  Once, when a powerful businessman called my then boss the late Jim Woodruff, Jr. , he said to Woodruff, “You can tell them not to run that story, Jim.” Woodruff told him, “Yes, you are right. I could do that. I could tell them not to run it, and it would not run. And then I would not be able to hire a decent reporter.” Ah, the good old days.     

 

Stream of Consciousness

April 3, 2012

I have to hurry to get this in before  Monday is over since I pledged that I would try to have a new post by every Monday. I’m not thinking about any  single subject right now so I guess I’ll go with stream of consciousness.

I’m glad Dee Armstrong is doing the 6 p.m. news on TY again.  She’still good at it.

When I watch the candidates for  president rant on TV I am reminded of the old saw that “the outs view with alarm, and the ins point with pride.” That’s always true.

I wish Congress would spend more time concentrating on things needed to help our country and the rest of world and less on partisan warfare.

I wish state legislators would work more for the common good and less for lobbyists.

I wish there were an adult – no, I don’t mean pornographic – movie in one the theaters in Columbus. Well, there are a couple at the second-run Peachtree 8, but I’ve already seen them.

I wish Hollywood would make more adult movies, things like Midnight in Paris, The King’s Speech, and Hugo. Yes, I know that the star of Hugo is a child, but it’s still an intelligent, visually stunning  movie.

Chef Lee’s II is closed on Mondays I learned again tonight.

Doc Martin is quite entertaining.  It appears to be going on forever.

I’m getting sleepy so I’ll say good night.

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.

Hyping Disaster

August 29, 2011

It was hard for me to believe that  television news outlets were being so hysterical when reporting on Hurricane Irene.   When something is exciting all a reporter has to do is report what is happening, he or she doesn’t have to make it exciting.  As I watched one report I thought, well, that focuses the problem quite well. The reporter was almost apologizing because the wind was not howling when she was on camera.  She even said that it had been strong before the anchors cut to  her, but it seemed every time they did, there was a calm.  In other words, she knew that she wasn’t delivering on the hype that preceded her report and felt she needed to explain.

Yes, the hurricane took lives and caused a lot of damage and the flooding is still causing damage, but reporters shouting to the tops of their lungs and doing everything  they could to make their reports exciting was an embarrassment to broadcast journalism.  I have had people tell me over the years that they liked getting their  news from someone was calm in the face of disasters or pending disasters. Guess the news folks of today don’t view it that way.

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.

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.

Media in Transition: The Internet’s Impact on Local TV

September 23, 2009

 It seems clear.  The future of the newspaper is online – Time reports that media mogul Rupert Murdoch gleefully anticipates the end of newspaper presses and the unions that can accompany them – but, the Internet’s effect on television doesn’t seem that clear.

Surveys show that the local television newscasts still attract the largest news audiences in America.  However,  those audiences have been in steady decline for the past few years.  However, when the TV website audience is added, it helps make up for the TV audience loss. 

WLTZ VP and GM Drew Rhodes (COurtesy: Jim Cathorne, Camera 1)

WLTZ VP and GM Drew Rhodes (Courtesy: Jim Cawthorne, Camera 1)

TV stations are basically facing the same problems as newspapers in getting their websites to produce impressive revenues. WLTZ VP and GM Drew Rhodes puts it this way: ” The  Internet is still somewhat of an experiment for television stations.  Of course we stream video of news stories and you can see a lot of your favorite shows on the Internet.  However, nobody in the television world is making any substantial money purely via Internet.”

WTVM VP and GM Lee Brantley (Courtesy: Jim Cawthorne, Camera 1)

WTVM VP and GM Lee Brantley (Courtesy: Jim Cawthorne, Camera 1)

When I put the same questions about the Internet to WTVM’s VP and GM Lee Brantley, he said,  “A lot of what you ask is competitive and confidential. I will tell you in one month this year we topped a million page views on our website for that month. Revenues are increasing nicely for our website. At the same time our on-air news numbers are steady and have a larger share of news viewing in the market.” He also said, “The Internet has made us a better news organization, able to provide more news though multiple mediums.”

There are other factors involved with the change of television stations.  The switch from analogue to digital has added side bans, which, in effect are additional channels. Stations use them for specialized programming, such as all-weather channels. Still, the main source of revenue is from the established TV channels.  

What about the future?

Lee Brantley:  “The strong news stations will be better positioned for a brighter future. We can offer multiple channels and more local news than any other source. ”

Drew Rhodes:  ” I think the future for television stations is bright.  I think you will see more consolidation as the years go along.  Look at radio world and its consolidation over the last few years.  The re-transmission consent fees have changed the way television stations make money.  Most analysts project they will continue to grow for years.  I think the future lies with ‘local’ television.  Who can do ‘local’ better?  That station or group of stations will be the winner.  I’m not just talking about news either.  I think we are going to see a resurgence of locally produced shows like we did when television was in its infancy.”

Now that could be fun. It conjures up images of children’s shows like WTVM’s “Miss Pasty’s Playhouse, ” with Patsy Avery,  and WRBL’s “Bob Brandy Show,”  and “Colonel Chick,”  and home shows like “Rozell,” with the late Rozell Fabiani, and weatherman icon Doug Wallace,  and the not-late Don Nahley.  TV commentator, former newsman, and nightclub owner Al Fleming and I joined Don at lunch yesterday to celebrate his birthday.  How old is he?  And Al? And me? Stay tuned.

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.

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.