Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Unpaid at LIN

Take Some Time Off

Unpaid, voluntary “furloughs” for LIN TV (KXAN and KNVA TV) Austin/Central Texas employees were announced Wednesday (May 27, 2009) in email from the LIN Corporate office in Providence, Rhode Island. Locally, Eric Lassberg broke the bad news in the routine quarterly staff meeting today before the emails hit the inboxes.

Earlier this month in a post entitled “Cuts at KXAN” NewsMcNabb quoted ominous predictions included in the LIN TV annual report. ““Given the state of the economy and the level of uncertainty in predicting advertising revenue, the Company has defined a series of further cost reduction actions that the Company could potentially enact and largely realize during the remainder of 2009,” according to Vincent L. Sadusky, LIN TV chief operating officer.

The first evidence of these cost reductions is apparently the voluntary furloughs. “It’s typical stuff in tough times,” said Eric Lassberg, KXAN president and general manager. The voluntary unpaid furloughs will be subject to specific criteria and applicable to all departments, according to Lassberg. “They are open to any employee,” Lassberg said.

The announcement of the furloughs was sent via email to all LIN TV employees nationwide. LIN TV owns and operates or programs 27 full power television stations in 17 mid-sized markets. Austin is the nation’s 49th market.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Austin May Sweeps Results


Still Rules

The competition is tight but KVUE TV (ABC) once again is walking away from May sweeps with an overall win. Taken as a whole, KVUE won all but one of the weekday newscasts. In most time slots KXAN TV (NBC) was right on their tails with KEYE TV (CBS) falling to third and sometimes fourth behind KTBC (Fox).

It is worth noting that this is the last rating period before all stations turn off their analog transmitters and broadcast only in digital TV. The DTV transition is June 12, 2009. This time, there will be no further delays. KEYE TV (CBS) was the only station broadcasting only in digital during these sweeps weeks. The competition was using both their transmitters. Also, the digital footprint may be different from that of the analog signal. So, it can be argued that KEYE was at somewhat of a disadvantage.

A win is a win, however, and Frank Volpicella, KVUE TV news director, is happy heading into the Memorial Day weekend. “I’m honored that once again the viewers in Central Texas chose KVUE News as their primary source of news and information in the Austin market,” Volpicella said. “I have a talented staff of dedicated journalists who work hard each day to serve our viewers. It’s because of their hard work … KVUE News the news to watch in the Austin market.”

Weekday morning ratings were all over the place. KVUE edged out Fox in the 5 a.m. hour when Austin’s eyes are barely open, followed closely by KXAN. The 6 a.m. hour has KXAN surging ahead, followed closely by KVUE and KTBC (Fox). You recall that Olga Campos joined Melissa Gale on KVUE’s Daybreak. KEYE with Michelle Valles and Fred Cantu was a distant fourth both hours.

KVUE won all evening weekday newscasts—5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m. KXAN was in the #2 spot for all weekday evenings. KTBC was #3 at 10 p.m. with The Simpsons, pushing KEYE from #2 to #4. KEYE was also #4, behind KTBC News at 5 p.m. and TMZ on KTBC at 6 p.m.

The weekends were something of a hodge-podge. KVUE, KXAN, and KEYE were 1, 2, and 3 Saturday night at 10 p.m. Sunday, KXAN was #1, followed by KVUE and KEYE. It should be said that KTBC’s 9 p.m. newscast scored good numbers when compared to other station’s 10 p.m. ratings. It is impossible to say whether they would be that strong if they ran head to head in the same time slot.

Because KTBC TV is the only VHF (Very High Frequency) station in town on Channel 7, their footprint is bigger and their reach is farther than much of the competition. Only KXAN can compete because its news is rebroadcast on its full-power UHF (Ultra High Frequency) station, KXAM TV from a tower near Llano. That power advantage that KTBC has held since the 1950s also ends with the DTV transition.

The next sweeps month is July. I’ve always called it a “stupid book” because of Daylight Saving Time and fewer students at The University of Texas. The first chance to see Austin stations truly on a level playing field are the all-important November sweeps. Assuming no major changes between now and then, November, 2009 will be the new measure for which station rules the ratings in Central Texas.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The TV Return of Troy Kimmel


Central Texas winds are blowing meteorologist Troy Kimmel back to an Austin television station once again, at least for a little while. Kimmel is taking over the weekend weather at KEYE-TV (CBS) starting immediately, Saturday (May 23, 2009). Megan Campbell, KEYE’S weekend meteorologist and environmental reporter for the past couple of years, is returning home to Tennessee to pursue a job there, according to Suzanne Black, KEYE news director.

“Troy is widely recognized in the Austin area as an excellent meteorologist,” says Black. “He has agreed to come back and help us out while we conduct our search. And we’re excited to work with him again.”

The last time you actually saw Kimmel was on KEYE from 2000 to 2003 on KEYE TV. You may have been hearing Kimmel for several years since he is the chief meteorologist for Clear Channel radio stations in Austin, KASE-FM, KVET AM & FM, and KFMK. Kimmel announced he is returning to KEYE this morning on KVET FM’s “Bucky and Bob Show” (98.1) where Kimmel presents the weather forecast and joins in the ongoing conversations. “It’s going to be fun,” Kimmel says. He is also a senior lecturer for Studies in Weather and Climate at The University of Texas, which is ironic since he is an Aggie.

Kimmel, a San Marcos native, grew up on Central Texas weather. He claims to have watched me as a kid when I doing weather at KTBC TV (Then CBS and ABC since KVUE TV was not on the air yet) in the early 1970s. (Now, I really feel ancient!) Kimmel’s first broadcasting gig was at San Marcos radio station KCNY. He did weather at KBTX TV in Bryan-College Station while getting his BS in Geography at Texas A&M. After graduation he landed the weekend weatherman job at KVUE in 1983. He also worked weather at KTBC TV and KSAT TV (ABC) in San Antonio in the 1990s, before returning to Austin to work for KEYE.

“I’m excited about being back on the air with Judy and Ron,” Kimmel says. He was part of a ratings-rocking team with Judy Maggio and Ron Oliveira at KVUE in the 1980s. Kimmel will fill in week nights for KEYE chief meteorologist Susan Vessell while she is on vacation in June.

Now, all that is needed for a total reunion is to bring back Hugh Lewis to do sports!

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shield Law for Whom?

Bloggers in Legal Limbo?

The 81st session of the Texas Legislature accomplished something amazing. (Unlike North Carolina, it has not passed a measure banning smoking in public places. Geez.) It did, however pass HB 670 and Governor Rick Perry signed it effective immediately. What is HB 670? It is a “shield law” partially protecting a journalist from prosecution for refusing to reveal a source in a published story.

An Austin American-Statesman editorial Friday hailed its passage. “The governor has taken his lumps from the media and no doubt will take more. But in signing the shield bill into law he placed the public interest above his own.” The bill will protect journalists from lazy prosecutors who might wish to go on a fishing expedition for information known to journalists rather than exhausting all possible sources of information through their own first-hand investigation. Only then, after coming up empty handed, might a court force a journalist to reveal a source. The bill provides partial protection for whistle-blowers too. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have such a law. The stated purpose of the law is to “increase the free flow in information and preserve a free and active press and, at the same time, protect the right of the public to effective law enforcement and the fair administration of justice.”

Sounds good, right? Hmmm. I’m not so sure. With this post you see the Clan Macnab coat of arms which might appear on a shield. The Clan Macnab motto? “Let Fear Be Far From All.” Some of us may have reason for fear.

The newspaper has news, their reporters have blogs (the content of which sometimes turns into news in the next day's paper), and they offer blog space for anybody with a comment. Television anchors and reporters have blogs. Some use them, often for promotion. The shield law, however, as passed does not contain the words blog or bloggers. The law seems inclusive referring to an “interactive computer service” or “Internet company” that “disseminates news or information to the public by any means … known or unknown, that are accessible to the public.” While the law does not mention blogs, the bill analysis does. The bill, it says, “would provide certain legal protections to some journalists and not to others, setting up a kind of licensing system that would protect journalists who practice the craft for significant financial gain, while leaving out many amateur bloggers.”

In other words, the shield law "protection" could draw a distinction between people who write blogs or web logs and “journalists.” I have always been ambivalent about a shield law because it can bring journalists under specific rules of law and at the same time it protects sources. Further, if the shield law only recognizes mainstream media, a legal line is drawn.

First Amendment scholars both rejoice and ruminate about blogs and their place in the free flow of information. There are literal millions of blogs with more posting every day. You have the topical blogs. You are looking at one of them. Blogs like NewsMcNabb attempt to contribute to the “body knowledge”. I do fire off a screed every now and then, but I also try to break news about what's going on in the media. Others do simply sound-off on whatever is bothering them that particular day. This form of communication will only increase. In fact, some scholars put the sum and agency of blogs in the front row of the future of journalism. In fact, some say this form of “news” is rooted in the past.

For several years Congress has considered a federal shield law for reporters. “In October 2005, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a second hearing on such proposed legislation. At the hearing [former Texas Attorney General] Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, said that there needed to be a “serious discussion of what constitutes the term ‘reporter.’”

“At our last hearing, one of our witnesses described
bloggers as the modern-day equivalent of the revolutionary pamphleteer who
passed out news bulletins on the street corner,” Cornyn

“However, the relative anonymity afforded to
bloggers, coupled with a certain lack of accountability, as they are not your
traditional brick-and-mortar reporters who answer to an editor or publisher,
also has the risk of creating a certain irresponsibility when it comes to
accurately reporting information.” (David L. Hudson, Jr.,

Cornyn has been an advocate of open government at both the state and national level.

So, it comes down to this question: Who is a journalist? The Texas law and others attempt to define a journalist based on income, “a person, including a parent, subsidiary, division, or affiliate of a person who for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or substantial gain, gathers, compiles, prepares, collects …” etc. Well, I have Google Ads on my site. The legal definition also includes someone who “was a journalist”, so I guess I’m golden. Once a journalist, always a journalist? Certainly, I am not making a lot of money from this endeavor. So, am I in the eyes of the law a journalist? I believe that I am still a journalist. I think I have almost always been a journalist since I started keeping a journal as a goofy kid of eleven or 12.

I also will assert that there are those working for brick-and-mortar, mainstream media who may have the job, but lack the credentials to be called a journalist. That could be said of any profession.

Nowadays, public information officers also struggle with the definition of a journalist. Are bloggers serious fact-finders and truth-tellers or are they hacks with an agenda. If reporters are the eyes and ears of the public, are all writers welcomed in the news conference or in the privileged places afforded the mainstream media?

Beyond defining who are journalists, the biggest problem remaining is the anonymity and resultant lack of accountability for some bloggers, issues ignored by HB 670, the new Texas Shield Law. Trust me. A court will decide these issues if a future legislature does not. The resulting case law may be worse than the new Texas shield law.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Look Who Is Live!





A producer with whom I worked at both KVUE TV and KXAN TV had a saying taped to his typewriter (Yes, typewriter.) and later his computer. It read: “Think weird. Think live. Good luck!!!” I never asked him. I didn’t need to ask him. It spoke for itself.

In those days at the first sniff of what might be a huge spot news story, I had the philosophy of the Austin Fire Department: Throw everything at it and then back off if need be. I would send multiple crews and a live truck. The goal, of course, was to get the first and best pictures on the air. (Then our slogan was "First. Best. Live." With the advent of the web, the philosophy should be much the same, even if the live pictures do not make it on the air, they will be on the web. Just ask Sousa Williams who oversees the AP award-winning web team at KEYE TV (CBS).

Nowadays, however, the picture is being blurred. Watch out for the aggressive live web presence of that video giant, the Austin American-Statesman. Yes, the newspaper. Since veteran photographer Zach Ryall became the managing editor of a year and a half ago, that aggressive approach has become more and more apparent. Ryall was a photographer for his first ten years he was at the newspaper. For the next 20 years, he was director of the photography department. He’s seen change. Now, his philosophy is might be “Think weird. Think Live. Good luck!” “We rolled. I said, ‘Let’s get out there and stream live.’ We do it whenever the event presents itself,” Ryall says. “We’ve probably done it a dozen times.”

“Yes, and we're proud of that,” agrees American-Statesman managing editor Fred Zipp. The latest occasion for live coverage was the attempted arrest of three sleeping men in a car which left one of the men dead when it is said that he appeared to be going for a gun and another man shot when he allegedly ran toward police. It happened in the early morning hours, so certainly TV morning shows covered what they could from a dark distance. As the sun rose, so did the tempers of the gathering crowd.

The Austin American-Statesman had several reporters on the scene including their live operator. When things started to get ugly, they went live via broadband without narration. It was dramatic. They sent out an alert:

Breaking NewsMonday, May 11, 2009.

Watch a live video stream from the scene of the officer-involved shooting One man was killed and another was injured early this morning in an officer-involved shooting in the parking lot of the Walnut Creek Apartments at 6409 Springdale Road near Manor Road, police said.

The newspaper was not through, however.

Breaking News
Monday, May 11, 2009.

Live video streaming of officer-involved shooting press conference at 2 p.m. One man was killed and another was injured early this morning in an officer-involved shooting in the parking lot of the Walnut Creek Apartments at 6409 Springdale Road near Manor Road, police said.

Again, the American-Statesman was the only live medium.*

True, it was a busy news day with Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken deciding to withdraw from the race instead of facing Lee Leffingwell in an expensive, uphill runoff. did stream that coverage live. KXAN TV is live via broadband often during its newscasts. It is inexpensive and relatively easy. Viewers, however, must put up with the often grainy, pixel pictures. Somehow, that video is easier to accept online than it is on television, where viewers are used to seeing clean video.

The newspaper is learning as it goes with the goal of being more polished. Photographers/reporters are now using tripods—no more shaky pictures that look like home video. “When we stream, we have lights and tripods on most stories,” Ryall says. Further, he holds routine “brown bag” sessions on shooting and editing for the photographers and reporters.

Reporters are becoming the photographers more and more at the local TV stations too. “We have made unprecedented restructuring decisions in station operations, including the use of multitasking news professionals (sic) that will report, photograph, and edit local content for our television stations and web sites,” said Vincent Sadusky, LIN Television CEO in the LIN annual report. KXAN TV is owned by LIN. “This new approach to newsgathering requires talented individuals to embrace the job diversity and fast pace of new media—truly a new way of thinking.”

It is a new way of applying “Think weird. Think live. Good Luck!!!” Also, don’t look over your shoulder. “It's no accident. We're that far ahead,” says Zipp of the American-Statesman.

* I am able to watch several TV channels at the same time. Watching several web sites is problematic. I tried to check around. I could have missed all. It has been suggested that I subscribe to certain station's alerts. I shall subscribe to all stations' alerts.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Negative Energy 2.0

Positively KXAN TV

KXAN President and GM Eric Lassburg has a lot on his platter right now. He’s juggling three TV stations, all of which are about to go all digital, not to mention numerous low-power TV stations feeding cable systems. (The deadline for DTV is June 12, 2009 when all full-power stations turn off their analog transmitters. Low-power stations are much later.) On top of all of that, Lassburg has a personal life.

He did take a moment today for a quick response to the post on taking woman said to be a Feng Shui expert on a tour of the station looking for “negative energy”. I had also asked some additional questions about his interest in the response of water crystals to negative and positive stimuli. It might have been this YouTube video entitled “Positive & Negative Energy Effects on Water Crystals”: Some KXAN staffers, it is said, had been asked to view the video.

"I will relentlessly explore all options and work towards making LIN Austin the happiest, most rewarding, productive and positive work environment possible," Lassburg said.

Also, there is an urban legend that KXAN at 901 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. is built on an Indian burial ground. I heard the story many times over the time when I worked there. I think it is just what I called it, an urban legend. Actually, the station is three buildings joined together. For his part, Lassburg said that story isn't one of the things on his list of things for worrying. "I am not familiar with the Indian burial ground issue," Lassburg said.

Initially, I posted his remarks as a comment to yesterday’s (Tuesday, May 12, 2009) blog. Since they were buried under two other comments, and I had sort of called him out at the end of the blog, I thought it would be the “right thing to do” to make them a separate post, albeit short. More later.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Negative Energy


You cannot make this stuff up. Separate sources tell NewsMcNabb that Eric Lassburg, president and general manager of KXAN TV (NBC), KXAM TV (NBC), and KNVA TV (CW), the weekend before last, escorted a woman through the TV station in downtown Austin. She was said to be looking for sources of positive and negative energy.

KXAN TV, solidly in a ratings war with Belo’s KVUE TV (ABC), must be looking for answers. The important May sweeps period is well underway. TV stations can throw out certain nights, asking Neilson not to consider them. KXAN may well choose last night, Monday, May 11th at 6 p.m. There was “negative energy”. Once again, the station’s automated system, called “Ignite”, failed them. They were unable to begin the newscast. Instead, producers frantically called on weatherman Jim Spencer to bail them out once again. Much of Spencer’s weathercasts are based on computers separate from those in the control room.

I do not have the rating numbers from last night. For all I know, the audience may have hung around, transfixed on a train wreck. How long, however, will people watch a train wreck? Anchor Robert Hadlock apologized Tuesday (May 12, 2009) on Facebook, “Hoping our technical problems [are] solved for our 10PM news tonight. Last night was ‘rock and roll’!”

Looking for “evil”? Find it in LIN (TVL) Television’s annual report. LIN TV owns KXAN, KXAM, and KNVA TVs. “We will continue to automate our master control operations. In addition, many of our studios are fully-equipped with robotic cameras that are programmed with hundreds of shots,” said Vincent L. Sadusky, LIN TV chief operating officer based in Providence, Rhode Island in the recently received annual report. “We have reduced LIN TV’s headcount (people) by 11% in the last four years, while building our digital teams and improving the quality of our local news product,” Sadusky continues. “Our goal is to produce more news on a 24/7 real-time basis for our web, mobile, and TV outlets, using fewer resources.” (I have written before about “Doing More With Less”.)

It was that automated system Sadusky lauded that failed. One of my axioms is that information is not news until it is published. KXAN’s systems had a hard time publishing last night. (I have a lot of friends at KXAN where I worked for 16 years before leaving as managing editor in 2005. If I were still there, I would have been throwing things.)

LIN TV does not expect the financial sun to shine soon. According to the annual report, “We expect decreased demand in advertising categories…in 2009. These developments are likely to result in decreased revenues and weaker results of operations for us, and, if they persist, and if we are unable to offset the decreased revenues by additional cost savings, could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and cash flows.”

The above statement mentioned “additional cost savings”. Interpret that as cuts. Elsewhere, in a recent LIN TV news release, the company said, “Given the state of the economy and the level of uncertainty in predicting advertising revenue, the Company has defined a series of further cost reduction actions that the Company could potentially enact and largely realize during the remainder of 2009.”

How could those cost savings be manifest? The answer may be in a recent Security and Exchange Commission filing: “Our further cost reduction actions may include, among other things, decreases in headcount, salaries, and related benefits, reductions of business travel and advertising expenditures, and the sale of certain non-strategic assets.”

Further LIN has considerable debt, although it has been successful in reducing that debt over the past few years. The recession, however, may be a game-changer. LIN is now saying that it may need to restructure its still heavy debt. Earlier this year, the LIN stock came close to being “de-listed”. The stock has been improving lately.

In the middle of the May Sweeps, however, this is “bad energy”.

LIN TV owns and operates or programs 27 full power television stations in 17 mid-sized markets. Austin is the nation’s 49th market.

(Note: Eric Lassburg, president and general manager of KXAN TV was contacted in two emails concerning separate aspects of this report. Mr. Lassburg did not respond.)

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Losing My Religion


No Longer Reporting

for the


“Feeling sad that my days as a beat reporter have come to an end but so happy to be able to stay home with my little cub reporter, said Eileen Flynn, the Austin American-Statesman religion reporter. She posted the news Tuesday (May 5th) afternoon on her Facebook page. The good news for readers and the newspaper is that she will still have a presence. She also said that she would “continue my faith column. Life is good.”

Flynn had been on maternity leave for the past several months after giving birth to little Clara June. She says leaving the American-Statesman was her choice.

“Yes, leaving the Statesman staff is my choice, which may be one of the last times a reporter gets to choose her own future in newspapers! And who knows, whenever the paper gets sold, this little arrangement I've made may fall through. But for now, yes, I'm going to continue writing my faith column (on the Saturday faith page) twice a month,” Flynn said. She is also exploring the possibility of starting her own religion blog. If that comes together, I’ll pass along that news and where to find it. “I'm really happy that I am able to stay home with my daughter and still be able to write. Not a bad gig.”

Colleagues, one after another, commented on Flynn’s new direction. One writer put a finger on just what is being lost at the newspaper. “I’ll miss your beautiful stories in the paper,” she wrote.

I concur. “I, like someone who commented, will really miss your stories,” I told Flynn. “You have ‘it’ and ‘it’ comes through in your writing. Not everyone has ‘it’.” What is this “it”? I cannot define “it”. I saw “it” when I was teaching at Texas State (then Southwest Texas State University). I would have a class of 30 people. Maybe one or two, or perhaps three, students would have “it”. I could see it in their eyes. Most of all, I could see it in their writing. That does not mean that the rest of the class was bad. It means that these precious few had something extra.

Eileen Flynn writes about religion, one of the three things that one is not suppose to discuss in civil conversation, sex and politics being the other two. Of course, however, those three subjects are precisely what we all think about and talk about. If a newspaper or any medium is going to have political writers, it makes total sense to have a religion reporter too. Flynn approaches this potentially inflammatory territory with an even hand.

It was an Eileen Flynn story about another topic that blew me away, however.

After Katrina devastated New Orleans, the American-Statesman rotated her into that scary city for continued coverage of the disaster. She took her audience there too. Reading her account, I shivered as I sensed that I was standing with her on the curb of an eerie, silent street in total stark dark. I searched for the short, probably 12-column-inch story today on the newspaper’s site, but it was buried too deeply in the archives. I don’t need to read it again, however, because the uneasy feeling I got from her story of what had happened in the “Big Easy” is still with me. No, not every writer has “it”.

So, Eileen Flynn was feeling sad knowing that she is no longer a “beat reporter”, but she is still a reporter, and I anticipate future her stories from a new platform.

© Jim McNabb, 2009