Saturday, February 28, 2009

And The Winner Is ...

KVUE TV Will Pick Up

the Most Plaques

The Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Association announced the award winners for the 2008-2009 this week. KVUE-TV (ABC) will be making multiple trips to the podium when the hardware is handed out in April.

KVUE won nine first place awards and five more second place. KEYE TV and News 8 (Time Warner Cable) tied with five, although one of KEYE’s awards was a second place honor for Nanci Wilson who is now at KXAN. KTBC TV is next with four. KXAN wins three.

Worth noting: KEYE TV won first place for its web site for the second straight year under the guidance of Sousa Williams.

Here’s the breakdown:

AP Broadcast Award Winners


Best Newscast
1. WOAI, San Antonio. Lauren Blevins. Aired 6 p.m. 3-20-2008
2. KVUE, Austin. Frank Volpicella. Aired 6 p.m. 12-17-2008

Best Sportscast
1. WOAI, San Antonio. David Chancellor, Mike Klein & Keith VanProoyen. Aired 9-26-2008
2. KXAN, Austin. Roger Wallace, Brian Sanders & Leila Rahimi. Aired 10 p.m. 9-26-2008
Hon Men: KEYE, Austin. Bob Ballou, Chris Pelikan & Anthony Geronimo. Aired 10 p.m. 9-26-2008

Best Weathercast
1. KENS, San Antonio. Bill Taylor. Aired 6 p.m. 12-17-2008
2. News 8 Austin. Maureen McCann. Aired 12-17-2008
Hon Men: KTBC, Austin. Scott Fisher. Aired 9 p.m. 6-24-2008

Best News Anchor/Team
1. KVUE, Austin. Tyler Sieswerda
2. WOAI, San Antonio. Delaine Mathieu
Hon Men: KVUE, Austin. Terri Gruca

Best Spot Coverage/Station
1. KVUE, Austin. May Storms
2. KXAN, Austin. Amber Alert for Adrian Jaimes
Hon Men: KXAN, Austin. Governor's Mansion Fire

Best Spot Story/Individual
1. WOAI, San Antonio. Ryan O'Donnell & Michael Botsford. Steve's Tornado Hit
2. KABB, San Antonio. Jonathan Martinez & Hondo Garcia. Waycross Fire
Hon Men: News 8 Austin. Heidi Zhou & Eddie Garcia. Highway Rescue

Best Feature/Serious
1. KVUE, Austin. Christine Haas & Todd Rogenthien. Jessica's Story
2. KENS, San Antonio. Joe Conger & Michael Humphries. Something in the Air
Hon Men: KVUE, Austin. Tyler Sieswerda & Jarrod Wise. Race for Cancer

Best Feature/Light
1. KTBC, Austin. Foti Kallergis. Personal Paparazzi
2. KENS, San Antonio. Chris Marrou & Michael Humphries. Green Burials
Hon Men: KVUE, Austin. Clara Tuma & Scott McKenney. Haunted Theaters

Best Investigative
1. KVUE, Austin. Christine Haas & Todd Rogenthien. Sex Offender Loophole
2. KEYE, Austin. Nanci Wilson & Joe Moreno. Austin Building Inspectors
Hon Men: KENS, San Antonio. Joe Conger & Larry Burns. Grave Secrets

Best Photojournalism/Station
1. KVUE, Austin2. KENS, San AntonioNo HM.
Best Photojournalism/Individual1. KENS, San Antonio. Michael Humphries
2. KVUE, Austin. Doug Naugle
Hon Men: KVUE, Austin. Nathan Cardenas

Best Documentary/TV Magazine or Special
1. KVUE, Austin. Olga Campos & Kathy Hadlock. Home for the Holidays
2. News 8 Austin. Rachel Elsberry, Drew Moses & Chris Rodriguez. ACL Music Festival
Hon Men: KVUE, Austin. Quita Culpepper & Kathy Hadlock. Does It Work?

Best Series
1. KEYE, Austin. Jason Wheeler. Hurricane Ike
2. KVUE, Austin. Clara Tuma, Jarrod Wise & Doug Naugle. Survivor's Story
Hon Men: KTBC, Austin. Foti Kallergis. Hair Today

Best Specialty/Beat Reporting
1. KVUE, Austin. Elise Hu. Political Beat
2. KENS, San Antonio. Barry Davis. Eyewitness Wants to Know
Hon Men: News 8 Austin. Victor Diaz. Film Industry

Best Reporter
1. KVUE, Steve Alberts
2. KENS, San Antonio. Barry Davis
Hon Men: KABB, San Antonio. James Keith

Best General Assignment
1. KVUE, Austin. Christine Haas & Todd Rogenthien. Jessica's Story
2. KVUE, Austin. Shelton Green & Robert McMurrey. Last House Standing
Hon Men: KTBC, Austin. Rudy Koski & Sonny Carillo. Caldwell Shootout

Best Continuing Coverage
1. KENS, San Antonio. Recycling Center Fire
2. KEYE, Austin. Jason Wheeler, Joe Moreno & John Salazar. Hurricane Ike
Hon Men: KVUE, Austin. May Storms

Best Website
1. KEYE, Austin
2. KVUE, Austin
Hon Men: News 8 Austin

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Blow-Back

Austin TV Stations to Share Video - The Reaction

Austin television stations’ plans to share video from routine news conferences and photo ops generated the most interest of any News McNabb posts, not to mention national exposure in TV Spy. There were only two posted to the blog site, but I got a ton of email and even comments and a link on Facebook.

Generally, among my readers the consensus is negative, although there were some that “get it” from a management point of view. These are difficult times for media.

The audience for this blog is rather diverse. Most have some media background. Others are media savvy. And, there are some who represent “the audience”, the users/consumers/viewers of traditional television news.

I think that is important to make the distinction of “traditional” television news. It may be a generational thing—Baby-boomers who were the first TV generation. The next generation could the “Cable/Satellite” viewers. Now comes the post-modern viewers who are sampling all media, traditional, digital, and otherwise. Some get their “news” from “The Daily Show” and YouTube. My concern with this rising generation is that they may be leaving local news behind.

Newspapers are failing or, in the case of the Austin American-Statesman and others nationwide, selling. Will they be selling out? Who cares? This rising generation isn’t getting the daily local newspaper in the driveway. They may not be getting it online from newspapers, TV, or other local media. If they are not, how in the world can they make informed decisions at the polls this spring when Austin votes for new city council members? Yes, this generation was mesmerized in the recent Presidential Election, but will local candidates also inherit the online magic? If so, will be news by news release on email, or will it be through a thorough vetting of the candidates through local media?

Back to the blow-back. What follows are reactions to the news that local TV stations plan to cover “routine” news events with one camera, a “pool” camera, and share the video. Where people posted in public on “News McNabb”, I will identify them by name. Otherwise, I will say who they are by description, even those who posted on Facebook, since it is a password-access site. By and large, the reaction was negative:

> “Actually, aside from the financial savings, it makes editorial sense. I don't think viewers will notice the similarities between the various newscasts’ airing of the same dog-and-pony news conference. As you noted in your column, stations will pull different bites and write different voice-overs. -- John“However, more problematic is the likelihood TV stations will eliminate crews rather than pursue more enterprise stories. Then it is really homogenized news.” -- John

> One thing I keep telling myself is that, well... things change. They just do. There may be a re-definition or new definition of what constitutes news and how it's done. It will be some synthesis of the twittering going on with the Morrow school. It's always sad to see what truly was "good" end... but if we're going to have an influence on the future, we have to be a part of the change. –Viewer

> The NBC and CBS stations up here in Portland [Maine] are doing the sharing thing too. The same idea, for ribbon cuttings and things like that. Signe Wilkinson nailed it with her cartoon yesterday with newspaper stands full of press releases instead of newspapers. “Who cares about facts just use the press release for all your information." --Kevin Duckworth, former KXAN TV photojournalist

> “Something good that may come of this is that it will allow reporters and photographers more time to pursue the other angles of the story, rather than be tied up in a news conference that we really only need for background information.” -- Laura Skirde, former KXAN TV Meteorologist and Reporter.

> I think this is a crazy idea and all it's going to do is eliminate jobs. Do football teams share players???? Hell no!!!! – Kenny Kaplan, Former KVUE Chief Photographer now working in New York City.

> Intra-station collusion and pooling is at best creepy. I never once picked up the phone and called a competing Assignment Editor in the market. How is the market/public served if the pool op pops a fuse, has 2 mic cords go in a row, loses a light, has back focus problems, or is summarily re-directed to "more important" spot news? Does the responsible Desk say "My bad" to 4 other stations? –Former Austin Assignments Editor and Photojournalist.

> Another step toward the demise of "TV News" as we know it. I assume this is brought forward as a cost cutting measure, but it forces me to other sources. – Former Austin TV and Radio News Director.

> Hmmmm. I could argue this both ways. It makes sense if newsrooms don't abuse it and use it as an excuse not to do their own legwork. – Former Austin Executive Producer, Producer, and Reporter.

> When you hint at this having thorny issues, I have a bucket load. – Currently in Austin news media.

> Wow!! -- Former Austin Chief Photographer

> Yuk!! -- Former Austin Reporter

So, is this the state of the art now? I have said several times to people today, desperate times call for desperate actions. Am I an anachronism? Am I too much of an idealist for this age? If I am either of these, I take comfort in company.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Same News Stories Everywhere?

Most If Not All Austin, Texas Stations Will Share Video

Austin, Texas stations KVUE TV (ABC), KTBC (Fox 7), KEYE (CBS), and KXAN (NBC) are now planning to share news video. Most, if not all of the stations in the nation’s 49th market, would send only one photographer to what might be considered “routine” stories—news conferences, photo ops and the like—and then, they will share the video.

“Yes it is true. This will enable our stations to achieve broader coverage while not wasting time and energy duplicating efforts when covering news conferences and similar events,” says Eric Lassberg, president and general manager of LIN Television, Austin. Lassberg was responding to whether KXAN TV’s news department and KTBC News were planning to share news video.

Representatives from five Austin Television stations met Wednesday, February 25, 2009. The details of the arrangement are yet to be worked out. Not all of the stations’ personnel have been informed, but apparently it is a done deal. Amy Villareal, KEYE TV general manager confirmed, “KEYE is participating.”

“Yes, KVUE will be a part of this video sharing agreement,” said Frank Volpicella, news director at KVUE TV. “All five stations have agreed in principal. We are hashing out the details.” Certainly, the deal will not deter stations from sending full crews if they deem the story of greater importance. Frankly, I hope that happens more often than not.

KTBC TV News Director Pam Vaught deferred comment to Mark Rodman, KTBC general manager. He has not responded yet.

It is said that Univision will also be invited to join in the loose consortium.

If any of the stations in the Austin market were to share video, it makes the most sense for KXAN and KTBC to be partners. Austin TV viewers/news consumers/news users are very fickle; they sample other stations a lot. But, research indicates that KTBC and KXAN share relatively few viewers. So, it is less likely that a viewer of KTBC’s 9 p.m. news will say, “I’ve seen that before” if they were to watch KXAN at 10 p.m. KXAN and KVUE share many viewers, however. Depending on the details, this arrangement, while economically doable, could be damaging to viewers.

It is unclear whether different reporters will also attend the news conferences and, therefore, present a different angle on a story. Also, the stations may choose totally different sound bites.

Critics might call it a homogenizing of news content. That’s a danger. Conspiracy theorists always maintain that the news is all the same dictated by some sinister force—the TV stations, the network, and even the government are all in cahoots. This could be fodder that fuels those flames. But on the day with The Rocky Mountain News announced that tomorrow (Friday, February, 2009) will be the final edition, it says a lot about the economy.

This is the first such partnership with competing stations in the Austin market, but it is not uncommon elsewhere. For instance in the Phoenix market, three stations are sharing one helicopter. "This was done as a response to this economy and for financial reasons," John Misner, president and general manager of 12 News told the Arizona Republic.

This Austin pool coverage agreement is happening at the same time that the only mass-production local newspaper is up for sale. Experienced reporters at the Austin American-Statesman are being offered buy-outs. As a journalist, it’s a scary, sullen time.

In kindergarten they taught us to share. It was a good thing. It was something we were supposed to do all of our lives, in fact. Nowadays, in TV news, it’s becoming a way of doing business. One could put it into the same pigeon-hole called “Doing More with Less”. Or, one might more rightly say, given these economic times as media stocks become penny stocks, it is a smart way of doing business.

Still, there is a danger to local democracy. If all the local media are reporting from the same stuff (“Stuff” is used intentionally.), I believe that the consumer/user/viewer of broadcast journalism may be losing something of great value. Personally, I’d seldom use content from a news conference, considering it “canned”. Instead, I’d pull the sources aside and ask questions others weren’t asking.

As noted above, the details of this apparent agreement are still being worked out. I do have faith in some of the “Big J” journalists in this market who will ensure that the important work of information to the audience is being done. Some, however, may be lazy. Some stations may simply take the rote sound bites of the day to fill the news hole. Geez, I hope not.

There are many philosophical, thorny issues inside of this issue. This could be a field day for politicians and publicists. I hope to explore these with the local news directors and news editors soon.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Whose Fault Is It?

It’s the Media, of Course.

Finally, someone has pointed the finger of blame for the economic issues facing the nation. It’s a wonder President Obama didn’t mention it last night. Who do you blame? Blame the media, of course.

A Rasmussen poll released today says, “Fifty-five percent (55%) of U.S. voters believe the media tries to make the economy seem worse that it is. That’s an increase from 46% in
November. “The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 23% believe the nation’s professional reporters and commentators try to present an accurate picture of the economy. Thirteen (13%) believe the media tries to make the economy seem better than it really is.”

This crisis has been going on for months now. Various analysts blamed banks for writing bad loads. Ivy League PhDs never once said the news media is to blame. No one ever barked “bias” until now.

According to “Rasmussen Reports” people professing to be Republican are more likely to think this way, but not by much of a margin. “Sixty-five percent (65%) of Republicans say the media paints a bleaker picture of the economy than the facts merit. That view is shared by 44% of Democrats and 59% of those not affiliated with either major party.”

What has this to do with us here in “The People’s Republic of Austin”? I recently became aware that there is a watchdog “Media Bias Alert” organization operating on Facebook. It has 102 members who would blow the whistle on suspected media bias. “This is a group that allows you to raise your voice without having to raise your hand regarding the ridiculous Media Bias we have in our Country,” the site says.

The local moderator is a Round Rock man. I accidentally found myself in an unintended discussion with him regarding media. “Well. Pursue truth wherever you find it,” I told him meaning to end the conversation, but he had the last word. “And the truth will set this Country free soon enough... when it wakes up from the love fest.” I left it there.

When I was answering all of the email at KXAN a few years ago, I would have sworn there were more than 102 people in the audience who made the media, TV news in particular, the scourge of all that is democratic in this nation. I was shredded regularly by anonymous writers for having run a “biased” story, when there was every effort to make it balanced instead. The problem, of course, was that the story at issue didn’t say what the viewer thought it should say.

All of this goes back to my assertion that journalism should be considered a profession. Seeking the truth, balancing the story, observing the applicable laws, and making the final product worth reading is something that must be practiced, not much different from practicing law.

After answering hundreds, if not thousands, of these emails, I also came to know this truth again: You can make some of the people happy some of the time, but you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time. Further, some people aren’t happy people. Even more news viewers/users/consumers choose to have a closed mind.

What can the media do to counteract this assault? Keep standards high, check facts, and continue telling the truth. If ever we need professionalism, it is now.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Didn't Happen in Central Texas

The Dark Side of Digital

Early Wednesday morning after the original February 17th deadline to transition to digital TV, more than 420 TV stations across the nation, including one in Austin, turned off their analogue signal and continued broadcasting their digital signal. All is well for the most part in Central Texas.

Elsewhere, things did not go as well.

TV Shot






(From NBC Universal)

Folks, DTV isn't that important.

Running around on the Internet I did find this marginally useful piece of information on "How Stuff Works". The question was, "What would happen if I shot my TV?" What would happen other than a knock on the door from the police? Find your scientific answer here:

(Editor's note: An earlier post of the above story included another story, but a reader pointed out quite rightly that the story was not DTV related because it happened a year ago. I deleted it. Thank you to "Anonymous" for keeping me straight.)

© Jim McNabb, 2009

In the Aftermath ...

The Night TV Was Dark

The DTV dust hasn’t quite settled yet, but KEYE TV (CBS) seems to have weathered a subdued storm after becoming Austin’s first TV station to turn off its analogue transmitter and go 100-percent digital. “We are proud to make history in Austin again. We were the first to go HD and now we’re the first to bring the digital signal to viewers, offering superior pictures and sound,” says Suzanne Black, KEYE news director. KEYE TV joined some 420 other stations across the nation in deciding to stick with the original February 17th date for the digital transition.

As soon has analogue went dark, the calls started coming into KEYE’s 24-hour phone bank. “We fielded about 700 calls in 36 hours, and our phone bank remains open.” Black said. “The most common questions were, ‘How do I hook up my box’ and ‘My box is hooked up, but I can’t see the picture.’” Many viewers had not set their TVs on Channel Three. As soon as they did, BINGO, they’d entered the digital age.

Across the nation, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) says the transition is about what they expected. “By and large TV households affected in those markets were ready," said Jonathan Collegio, NAB vice president for the digital television transition. “Of the estimated 12.4 million exclusively over-the-air TV households that were impacted … when 421 stations switched to digital, the FCC reported only 28,000 viewer calls – an incredibly small percentage of those affected. While call volume has generally been low, there were some hotspots that received more calls due to unique market situations,” the NAB news release says.

The Austin market may have been one of the “hotspots” with greater call volume, despite being one of the more cabled markets in the country. “Everyone has been gracious and understanding in why we made the choice to turn off our analog transmitter now, rather than waiting until June,” Black says. Public TV’s KLRU will go all digital next month. KTBC TV plans analogue broadcasts all the way to the new transition date, June 12. KVUE TV AND KXAN TV are assessing readiness on a month-by-month basis. Costs run into the tens of thousands of dollars to continue operating multiple transmitters all of them broadcasting on both bands. LIN TV operates three Central Texas stations, KXAN, KXAM (in the Hill Country), and KNVA (CW).

The remaining Austin TV stations will undoubtedly consider the bottom line as they consider whether to join KEYE in the totally digital world. Another factor affecting the bottom line is ratings. There is no clear picture yet on how the digital transition will be reflected in ratings. The ratings relate directly to revenue, and revenue, like the rest of the economy, is down. Ratings may well be why other stations didn’t go totally digital.

Sweeps months are four times a year, usually starting with February. Because of the planned digital transition, Nielsen pushed winter sweeps to March. Then, the government pushed the DTV deadline to June. Other stations continuing to broadcast in both digital and analogue may hope for a ratings boost. That remains to be seen. At any rate KEYE seems to be treating February is a sweeps month anyway, running an “Investigates” piece about City of Austin employees going bowling among other things during business hours.

The sweeps switch also disrupts station staff personal lives. “It’s unfortunate for families used to taking the week off for Spring break (or for SXSW for that matter),” says Michael Fabac, KXAN news director. “In our newsroom, we are planning special promotable content [for March]. True, the turnaround to May is tight, but we’ve had plenty of time to prepare!” May is the second sweeps month of the year. The other two are July and November.

Taking the long view, it will be interesting to see how this latest change in the Austin/Central Texas market will sort out. KEYE TV indeed is a station of firsts. It is also a station of change, having gone from independent KBVO TV in the 1980s to a Fox affiliate in the late ‘80s to CBS in the mid-1990s when the call letters became KEYE. KEYE is an aggressive competitor luring top talent from other stations. Going all digital with the current economy is a leap of faith.

All the Austin TV stations, once they are all digital [and I wish that were now] will have a different coverage area, a different footprint. With digital signals, either you have reception or you don’t. In one way, the playing field will be level. No longer will KTBC TV, Austin’s only VHF station, have the built-in power advantage. It takes more power to push a UHF signal than a VHF signal. That’s one reason why KTBC dominated the market for decades in the last millennium when the TV station was owned by the Johnson family. Ironically, it was the Johnson family’s creation of Capital Cable, now Time Warner Cable, that allowed other stations greater reach resulting in a shift in ratings. Any future shifts because of DTV, if any, may be minimal given cable penetration in the market at above 70-percent, not to mention subscriptions to satellite and AT&T U-verse. It will be fun watching the stations shuffle over the next few months.

And, oh, get ready for glitz of the March sweeps weeks. They begin February 28th.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Who Dropped the Ball?

The DTV Debacle

It is going to happen in Elgin. It is going to happen in Tow. It is going to happen in Taylor. It is going to happen in Smithville. It is even going to happen in many parts of Austin.
People are going to wake up Wednesday morning, February 18th, turn on their TVs, and find some their favorite shows and news broadcasts gone. The Washington Post said it succinctly Saturday, “On Tuesday, more than 400 stations [nationwide] are expected to drop their analog television broadcasts. It is not known how many people will lose programming.” [Underlining for emphasis] KEYE TV is one of them.

Locally, KEYE TV (CBS) will drop its analogue signal becoming Austin’s only purely digital station according to a longstanding plan. Public TV station KLRU TV will also axe analogue next month. KXAN/KXAM/KNVA says it will continue broadcasting in both spectrums, but they do not say how long: “We will continue to assist viewers while determining the most appropriate time for our station and viewers to transition to Digital TV.” KTBC TV says it will continue its analogue signal to the new federal cut-off date, June 12. KVUE TV’s web site is counting down to June 12 in milli-seconds—It’s kind of fun watching the clock tick down.

In an earlier post, I posited that all local stations should drop analogue February 17th as planned. It’s been in the works for a decade. TV stations have been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for new digital transmitters while doing their darnedest to educate consumers. To continue in analogue will cost stations $10,000+ per month in electricity during a time of depressed revenues. If all who could flipped the switch, it would put pressure on Congress. It might even be a “stimulus”, pushing people to purchase one of those cool HDTVs if they can afford it.

Why is this happening? Basically, the Bush administration and Congress bungled the job. That’s not a political statement on my part. That is fact. There is a good breakdown of why this is happening in The Washington Post. Here’s a link:

I’ll leave the ugly details to you the reader and the Post or other reports out there. Just “Google” “digital TV conversion.” Some of them say that the delay is a good thing. I disagree.
Congress passed a bill pushing back the conversion date, but the bill did not include funds for more of those $40 coupons help underwrite the cost of conversion boxes. Therefore, even though the official date is pushed back, unless people want to and can afford full price of the conversion boxes, the boxes will still be on the shelf. There is a possibility, however, that the boxes may become hard to find, if the government starts sending coupons again.

Further, folks with limited means or abilities may not be able to hook-up the boxes if they have them. It’s just nuts. There should be a cadre of wire heads working with social-service agencies helping to hook up these people in Elgin, Tow, Taylor, Smithville, and Austin. But, of course, that would take time and money too.

KVUE TV has an excellent site answering lots of DTV questions at and you can watch the cool countdown clock too. KEYE TV’s site, including the “Dr. DTV” blog is pretty good too. Here’s that URL:

Just as a reminder: If you have an HDTV, if you’re on cable, or if you have satellite service, you’re golden; you’re OK.

My main frustration lies not with the local TV stations. The TV stations held up part of their bargain. Your government, especially the previous administration, did not. If you are displeased with the way this digital debacle has been handled, say so. Be heard. Write your representatives in Congress. Tell them, if you can’t see them, you won’t vote for them. It might get their attention.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A NewsMcNabb Investigation

Nanci Wilson Switches Stations

One of Austin’s top investigative broadcast reporters is moving to a new TV station. Nanci Wilson, perhaps the backbone of the investigative unit at KEYE TV (CBS) is moving to KXAN TV (NBC) as soon as her contract’s six-month “non-compete” clause is satisfied. “It was a hard decision to leave KEYE because I truly like everyone who works there,” Wilson says. [I get that: I also enjoyed my opportunity to work with Judy Maggio and Ron Oliveira again while getting to know Suzanne Black, news director, and Sousa Williams, web executive producer, along with many, many others. Great people.]

But, Wilson is looking to the future. She’ll be heading up KXAN’s investigation team, “pretty much what I did for KEYE, but with more resources. I'm really excited about it,” She said.

I truly believe that broadcast journalism is in Nanci Wilson’s DNA. That wasn’t always my opinion, I admit. At KVUE in the mid-1980s we in the newsroom were skeptical. Nanci was an older-than-average “intern” for an ill-fated mid-day show. She was always dressed better than any of us. We would see Nanci’s red Mercedes convertible in the parking lot and wonder. But, Nanci paid her dues by going to a small market, Sherman, Texas, I think, and did what came naturally. Further, she seized the Internet as an investigative resource, and she learned the learned the vagaries of government and the criminal justice system. When she arrived back here in Austin, she had become a force.

Other media allude to stories about so-called “ghost voting” in the Texas House of Representatives. Let’s set the record straight. Other stories had been done in the past, but it was KEYE-TV’s Nanci Wilson and photojournalist John Salazar who pressed the issue. It wasn’t a one-shot “sweeps story”. Like a dog shaking a rag, she never let up. It’s still not resolved. There is work to be done, and I have no doubt that Nanci Wilson will follow “ghost voting” to its conclusion. That’s just one example, one instance where she has held government’s feet to the fire when the feet weren’t in their mouths.

Nanci and Keith Elkins, arguably the most experienced and best broadcast news Capitol reporter in town, spearheaded KEYE’s investigative unit along with John Salazar. Elkins is still in Austin freelancing and blogging, but he should be on the air. It is only because of the economy and KEYE’s owner, Cerberus, that he is gone. Cerberus, as you know, is the private equity firm that also owns the controlling interest in the Chrysler Corporation.

Now, Wilson and Elkins are gone from KEYE. Nanci’s loss is not lost on Suzanne Black, news director. “We valued Nanci as a person and as an investigator,” Black said. “But things change and people move on. We are not any less committed to holding governmental agencies and lawmakers accountable. We have several reporters on staff who are capable and interested in taking on some investigative responsibilities.” Indeed, Gregg Watson and Jason Wheeler have contributed investigative reports in the past. Further, it is my contention that every reporter is an “investigative reporter”. The only caveat is whether they are given the time and resources. Investigative reporting is an emphasis at KEYE, and Black says they are now searching for a reporter with investigative experience.

It is hard to replace reporters who have roots, contacts, and reputations built over time. That is why TV stations write “non-compete” clauses into the contracts. If a valued reporter goes across town, that reporter could take audience with them. Certainly, the reporter takes their experience and contacts with them.

I’ve often said that Austin is a “destination”, even though it’s the 49th market. Wilson will be working for her third station here. Ron Oliveira has worked for three (four, if you count the one in which he owned an interest, KNVA TV.) Judy Maggio has worked for two. Robert Hadlock has worked for two. Michelle Valles has worked for two. Bettie Cross has worked for two. Jim Bergamo has worked for two. Troy Kimmel worked for three. And, I worked for four. I may have left out somebody. This list doesn’t even count those who are behind the scenes.

It would seem that we have moved seamlessly from one station to another. Not so. Often these non-compete contracts stood in the way. I do not like “non-compete” contracts. I think that reporters and anchors should have the freedom to work where they please when they please. I think that these strictures are, well, wrong. In this age of free agency in sports, why is it still acceptable in journalism? If somebody is so good, a station should try to keep them. If they can’t, then that journalist should be able to put their talents to work immediately elsewhere. “Non-compete” has been challenged successful elsewhere. Exceptions are made from time to time, even in this market which would, to me, create a precedent for their deletion. The clause, however, is still part of the boilerplate contract for all, and almost without hesitation, reporters, anchors, and others sign them.

As a post-script, two things: KXAN News Director Michael Fabac also confirms that he has hired a new “multi-platform”, AKA “One-man-band” bureau reporter for the Hill Country. Current Hill Country reporter Erin Cargile will be moving into town. Fabac also says KXAN is “not following any O&O (Owned and Operated) model (such as what is happening at NBC stations that are moving to “one-man-band” staffs), however [KXAN is] “simply maximizing all resources and making sure our staff is trained to use all newsgathering tools.” So much for that rumor. One other observation: Local TV stations are actually hiring! Whoa.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More Than News

Subject: There is nothing like a line of thunderstorms. Nothing.

So, I’m watching, anticipating.
The garage where I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather while the Longhorns were winning faces west-northwest.
The trees start their silhouette dance with the sheet lightning around 9:15 p.m.
The pizza arrives at 9:20 p.m.
A downdraft from the racing storms slices through around 9:29 p.m. along with a few driven drops of rain. Rain. Precious rain.
By 9:35 p.m. the celebration begins with pouring rain, bracing wind, muffled thunder preceded by flashes of white light.
The air temperature drops ten degrees instantly.
By 9:39 p.m., it’s over. The trees are dripping, and the rumbling clouds race east.

The metrics? .28-inch.
The moment? Immeasurable.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Editor’s Note: A good friend said that I should post the above, even though it isn’t about news. But, if one measure of news is “What people are talking about”, maybe it’s appropriate to post about last night’s rain.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Shakespear Would Have Done it ...

Go Digital

“If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere will it were done quickly,” mused William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. That thinking could well be applied to ending all analogue local TV transmissions on the hitherto mandated date of February 17, 2009, despite what Congress and the President say. After all, Congress and the President aren’t paying the electric bill.

Will you see TV in the Austin area after February 17th? If you have a converter, cable, or satellite service, you will for sure. Of course, your Congress, while voting to push the official conversion date into June, after the all important May sweeps, your Congress has yet to fund the $40 coupons making purchase of the conversion boxes only about $10. Poor planning on somebody’s part—not having enough coupons to go around. That blame is borne by the previous administration bureaucrats and the previous Congress.

Presently, Austin-based TV stations are paying to power two transmitters, broadcasting both digital and analogue. The digital switch has been planned for years by broadcasters who have laid out thousands upon thousands of dollars to be up and running as of February 17th. One by one they did it, believing that one of those transmitters would be turned off when the conversion date arrived. And, for the past several months, the TV stations have been counting the days on the air and holding town hall meetings to explain what is about to happen. It’s not their fault there aren’t enough coupons, and there may not be enough conversion boxes. After all, the conversion box market is a one-shot invention. Once the world fully converts to digital, the boxes are useless.

So, you ask, “What’s the big deal? Why can’t they keep broadcasting analogue and digital for a few more months?” Well, they can, but it will cost. The electric bill for running a transmitter can be $10,000 to $20,000 per month. KXAN TV has two of these analogue transmitters, broadcasting on full-power KXAM TV in the Hill Country. Further, TV stations, like most all traditional media are strapped for cash. In earlier posts I pointed out that KXAN TV’s owner LIN TV’s common stock is now around 70-cents per share. Not that long ago it sold for $26! LIN TV may be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. It’s not pretty. You can see why TV stations want to turn off the analogue transmitter.

So, again, will you see TV in the Austin area after February 17th? KTBC TV apparently will continue broadcasting on both transmitters until June. KXAN TV (NBC) and KVUE TV (ABC) reportedly haven’t decided whether to continue broadcasting two signals. But, KEYE TV (CBS) is borrowing more lines from “Macbeth”:

MACBETH: If we should fail?
LADY MACBETH: We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we'll not fail.

Of course, they were contemplating the pending death of Duncan at the time. Hmmmm. KEYE reportedly is sticking to the original timetable and flipping the switch February 17th. KLRU TV (PBS) will follow suite in March for the same financial reasons.

Once more, will you see TV in the Austin area after February 17th or whenever all go totally digital? It depends. As noted above (and over and over again on TV) if you have cable or satellite, you’ll be fine. If you’re receiving your signal on an antenna using a converter box, if you have it up and running now, you know that you are OK. But, you may find that you do not have your favorite station if you are in a fringe area. Before, if you had week reception, you would see “ghosts” and “snow”. That’s what led to the foil on the rabbit ears. With the digital signal broadcasters may not be sending their signal to the same place as before—it may have a different “footprint”. Further, there is no such thing as a week digital signal. You see it or you don’t. A better antenna may help. Hooking up both the UHF and VHF portions of the rabbit ears may help. Foil probably won’t help. That leads to the classic melodrama quote: “Curses! Foiled again!”

I say that all of the stations should flip the switches in February. It was the plan all along. Further, doing this may lead to two things: It may get Congress moving to help those who so far haven’t hooked up a conversion box because of a long list of reasons. And it may be, shoot, an economic stimulus! There is no coupon for a brand new, flat screen TV, but this might be what it takes push people into the market place and spend money! “Screw your courage to the sticking-place.” These times call for courage.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Blast From the Past ...

Edison Carter Lives Here

As print and broadcast news operations evolve, bean counters, not journalists, rule. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? But, it’s the bottom line that seems to be motivating news managers’ decision-making processes. More and more, it is leading to a new hybrid-sort of reporter. Lean profit margins lead to layoffs, but the news beast must still be fed. Who will feed it?

The answer seems to be a blast from the past: The “One-Man (or Woman) Band.

When I started in the business back in the stone age, KCEN TV’s news director handed me a black-and-white film camera (I got a cool Bolex with a three-lens turret because everyone else like the simple Bell and Howells.) and a black box with a “mag-stripe” sound camera in it. They sent me off to slay the dragon and feed the beast. Shooting my own film, I “wrote” as a shot and “edited” in the camera. It was very economical. For a “stand-up”, I’d stage it and ask someone passing by to look into the lens to determine if I was in the shot.

That’s the ticket now for NBC owned and operated TV stations and others big and small. The gear is now digital, but the concept is the same.

Did you ever see “Edison Carter” the reporter on the classic ‘80s TV show “Max Headroom”? We’re there. Edison Carter could have been what they’re calling a “backpack reporter” who shoots back stuff with a lap top computer live via broadband.
KXAN TV is using that technique now with varying degrees of quality. Tuesday (February 3, 2009) KXAN News aired the aftermath of a SWAT stand-off in Kyle. Viewers might have wondered about the jumpy, digitized quality of the video since no one indicated that they were using that technology. I suppose it’s common place now, so it doesn’t have to be explained. And they didn’t even have to send a live truck to Kyle to accomplish it.

Of course KXAN has used the one-man band concept for years. Jim Swift shot, edited, and wrote his own stories for years, not so much as a throw-back to the past but as a creative path. Also, the first Hill Country bureau reporter, David Harder (Now working for a Christian satellite network based in Cypress) did it all before finally getting a photographer. The station is going back to that philosophy now advertising for a “multi-platform bureau reporter”. “The position,” the ad says, “will originate from our Hill Country bureau and be responsible for field shooting/producing/publishing content for our TV and digital platforms.” In other words, a one-man-band. Only nowadays, that one man or one woman must play many instruments—some of them at the same time.

Further, News 8, the Time-Warner news channel, has utilized the one-man-band concept from the very beginning. It is noteworthy to add that News 8 over the years won many awards. They will use a reporter/photographer team on occasion.

The what-was-old-is-now-new-again concept is popping nationwide. TV photojournalists are being hired by newspapers to bring video to their web pages. But, is this a good trend? At least one professional photographer who cut his teeth here in Austin doesn’t think so.

“Management says that with the great technology of computers, one-man-bands are the way to go, and there's no reason for a 'two-man crew' anymore,” says Kenny Kaplan. “Of course you can do more with the computers, but the workload and stress is tremendous and the quality is going downhill. And you know what, they don't care! Saving money is their main goal. While quality was important not so long ago, you can say that those days are gone!” Kaplan was chief photographer and sports photographer at KVUE . He now works in New York City.

It’s the quality that concerns Kaplan. In the not too distant past, local photographers competed regionally and nationally in National Press Photographer Association contests and attended workshops to improve their craft. Perhaps, they still do, but Kaplan claims stations no longer support photographic excellence. Feeding the beast is more important.

You say, “Oh, Kaplan’s concerned because he’s a photographer. Nobody else cares.” Actually, people do care. Lou Prato in the National Journalism Review wrote of these same concerns more than a decade ago in April, 1995:

“Charles Cravetz, who oversees the five-state New England Cable News channel based in Boston, respects New York 1 but says the one-man-band concept is not for him. ‘I think it's a wonderful product for what it does,’ says Cravetz, ‘but I think you compromise your reporting and you compromise your videography.”

And Prato, a former news director and then professor, quotes a news director at that time in Houston: ‘You don't get good storytelling with one-man bands, for the most part, but you get good B-level meat and potatoes that is very, very cost effective,’ says Mike Crew, news director at all-news KNWS in Houston.” These words were written fourteen years ago before our current technology existed. His contemporary’s conclusions? As younger J-school graduate, they will embrace the “one-band-man” concept more and more. Prophetic.

But, what about the audience, the users/consumers of the media? Will the audience care? If the audience doesn’t care, all is well. If they do care, where will they go?

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Meet Me On ...

The Dark Side

When a working journalist accepts that position as a public information officer, publicist, or public relations account executive, his colleagues usually wag their heads and say their friend has gone over to “The Dark Side”. As sure as Darth Vader is the front office, you swear you can hear the sucking sound of credibility slipping away. Actually, that’s not fair.

The best PIOs, publicists, and PR people were once journalists. Why? That’s easy: They know the details their journalist colleagues need for their stories, and they understand deadlines. When there is a big event, something sure to draw coverage from all local media and maybe more, it is comforting to reporters, producers, and editors that there is someone who knows what they’re doing, making the advance arrangements. There will be camera spaces or platforms. There may be “pool” cameras or even reporters. There will be a “mult box” with a direct audio feed from the sound system. There will be suitable, safe parking spaces for live trucks. Every question is answered. Every detail is anticipated.

Austin, being the state capital, has several strong groups capable of pulling off major events. The principals have been there and done that.

Earlier screeds railed against journalism-by-news-release in favor of enterprise. The facts are, however, public information officers, publicists, and public relations professionals play an important role in the smooth and factual dissemination of information in our free society. Sure, there are some hacks who are only spinmeisters. They’re easily identified. In today’s complex society with all of its layers of information and subgroups of consumers, it would be next to impossible to collate content without the assistance of these professionals. My previous post asked, where does news come from? A lot of it comes from a news release or a tip from a public relations pro, PIO, or publicist.

The really good PR people set the stage, lay out the facts, and get out of the way, allowing journalism to take place. Sure, they’re being paid to put their client in a good light. But, they also anticipate the problems. Further, the really good ones are transparent, honest, knowing that the truth will shine without excessive polishing.

As a former editor, I’ll admit that some news releases were dead on arrival. I’d read the first few phrases in Outlook and hit the delete button. Those releases really weren’t NEWS releases. They may have been written to satisfy a client and nothing more, while the writer knew all the while they would be DOA. That is a bad day for the PR professional—the release was written for the retainer, for the money.

A good news release should contain all of the elements of a well-written news story. Most of all, it needs a strong lead (To avoid the delete button in “Auto-Preview”). After that, the release must come close to a definition of news. There is a piece found at on the question of “What is news?” My definition is: “Events or developments that interest or affect the greatest number of people in your audience on that day.” So, a good news release must make the case that it fits that definition.

Then, if an editor or reporter agrees, the release may be used in some form or fashion. The good news release may even suggest story angles or interviews. The release can be accompanied by useful attachments—Pictures or maps, etc.—just as a one might find as part of an enterprise news story. Another site, www.mcnabbcommunications, has a detailed primer on news releases under the “For Non-Profits” tab.

Just because a story idea originates with a news release or even a news conference should not make it automatically ignored. Knowing that the release went to all newsrooms, the challenge for the journalist is to tell the story better than the competitors, taking the story a little deeper, pushing it further. If it is “news” to start out with, an enterprising reporter knows what to do with it.

It is not by accident that “public relations” is part of the journalism curriculum at most universities.

In all fairness I should mention a couple of things. After all of my years in journalism, I’m a publicity and public relations consultant now, officially planting me on “The Dark Side”. Further, I was honored with the 2002 Silver Spur Media Award from the Texas Public Relations Association when I was managing editor at KXAN TV.

© Jim McNabb, 2009