Tuesday, March 31, 2009

News 8 News





GM Gone

The vice-president and general manager of Time-Warner’s local 24-hour news channel, News 8, was let go yesterday (Monday). News 8 Channel staff received a memo from Steve Paulus, president of the Time-Warner news division, today saying that Brian Benschoter “…is no longer the general manager.” Benschoter had been at the helm of the operation since its inception in September of 1999.

Paulus designated News Director Kevin Benz as the “point person” at News 8 while the position is posted. “Brian’s departure is not due to any issue at News 8,” Benz said. “This is not a reflection on News 8 at all. This does not signal downsizing or layoffs. It is purely a personnel issue.” Benz was assistant news director when News 8 started nearly ten years ago.

News 8 is a cable-only news operation, available only through Time-Warner, but it is run much like a broadcast television station. The general manager would oversee all departments including news, engineering, promotions and marketing, IT, and production. All advertising sales, however, are handled by Time-Warner.

Ironically, News 8 next week picks up a prestigious award, USC Annenberg Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism in the “Local Cable Station” division. It is the third time News 8 has won the award in out of the last four years, Benz said. The Cronkite Award specifically recognized News 8 Austin’s 2008 election year coverage including the original “Voters’ Voices” series, which included perspectives from four diverse families in the Central Texas area, in-studio interviews with Candidates, online and Video On Demand (VOD) voters’ guides and extensive election night coverage. “Judges praised the "Voters' Voices" series as "a refreshing approach to political coverage," which challenged conventional wisdom and cultural stereotypes by inviting real people in four families to discuss key issues,” the contest web site said.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stormy Weather

TV Weather Staffs Rejoice

For months and months, the local TV weather staffs have scanned the skies, hoping to see a cumulo-nimbus cloud coming our way. They longed to play with their toys. Wednesday afternoon, a line of storms formed in the Hill Country and started its march east. It blew into the viewing area just in time for afternoon and early evening viewing, pelting people and their property with hail stones up to the size of a tennis balls. Soon, the weather reporters were joined by the news reporters and anchors to tell the story as it developed.

The weather put on a destructive show. The television stations had time to put their people in place to provide reports. Honestly, all did a good job.

If viewers wondered why there were few traditional live shots, it is because of concerns for the safety of the crews. Live truck operators should not raise their towers and establish a signal if there is still lightning in the area.

KVUE TV (ABC)’s Mark Murray did his usual professional job working his way through graphics with a calm demeanor. His graphics package has one feature that seems better than others, the software that predicts arrival of the storm in various neighborhoods in the storm’s path. All stations have this, but his looked better. However, the rest of his graphics don’t measure up to those of KEYE TV (CBS) and KXAN (NBC). KVUE producers also chose to use a split screen during much of their coverage. Unfortunately, many viewers do not have giant screen HDTVs. So, the split screens, particularly the weather maps were rather hard to read. KVUE did have reporters in the field using live trucks. At least live shot was during a driving rain storm.

Susan Vessell, chief meteorologist at KEYE used her graphics well. She is very competent. The other available meteorologist Megan Campbell was reporting outside the station using a hand-held instrument to measure the wind velocity. Jason Wheeler was at the station in north Austin. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much action there. Gregg Watson was out in the Hill Country where there was a lot going on. Unfortunately, he had to be on the telephone. Judy Maggio did have an excellent telephone interview with a storm victim who lost all of the windows in her house.

News 8 was adequate, but Maureen McCann appeared to be all by herself, once saying that there were email photos she had not had time to check them. I will also admit that I didn’t spend a great deal of time on News 8 tonight. Ms. McCann always does a good job.

Scott Fisher, KTBC TV (Fox) chief meteorologist, was also adequate. Mr. Fisher has something of a speech pattern which, after watching a while, tends to wear some viewers down.

I’ve been accused of favoring KXAN TV. I’ll probably get the criticism again. Fine.

Some of my praise for KXAN coverage is because of the kind of weather reporter Jim Spencer is. Some of it was making lemonade out of lemons in the middle of storm. Some of it was a full-court press, using everyone, including anchor Robert Hadlock who found live pictures from the TexDOT traffic cameras. Former Hill Country reporter Erin Cargile was in the Hill Country on the phone. Also on the phone describing cars with windshields “busted out” (again and again) was reporter Carla Castano.

All of that was pretty normal until lightning struck, literally. The station took a power hit. Spencer kept talking and finding something to talk about while rebooting a weather center full of the computers that produce the radar images and projections. It could have been an awful and awkward moment, but Spencer has been there before. Spencer also seemed to have the most help. Both Mary Lee and Natalie Stoll were on hand to keep the crawl going across the bottom of the screen and find photos in the email. So, they were there when the lights went out.

Then came the “money shot”: KXAN Reporter Jenny Hoff and photojournalist Thomas Costley, armed with a camera-equipped laptop computer connected through Skype, found the huge hail. Spencer conversed with Hoff and even called Costley to gather hail stones and show them to the audience. Hoff had an earlier shot while it was raining. It was interesting, because of the technology, but contributed little. The Skype call with the hail stones was “money”. Later, they interviewed a homeowner who lost windows to the hail stones. Reporter Matt Flener also used the broadband technology.

Conveniently, the heavy weather exited to the east right at 7 p.m., and all stations returned to regular programming.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

KEYE TV Enters Into Management Agreement



Four Points Sister Stations

Consolidate Management


Nexstar Broadcasting Group

KEYE TV (CBS) in Austin and its sister TV stations in the Four Points Media Group will now be managed by Nexstar Broadcasting Group from its headquarters in Irving, Texas. Amy Villarreal, KEYE TV president and general manager announced the new arrangement to station staff in an afternoon meeting Monday, March 23.

Villarreal will remain in her present polition. "There will not be a change to KEYE viewers as this is a change in the overseeing of station operations," Villarreal said. "We are still focused on producing local, highly relevant content for our viewers, optimizing our delivery of that content and creating value for our advertising customers."

News Director Suzanne Black says that she is hopeful that the arrangement will lead to more coverage. "I’m excited about working with a broadcasting group with so many Texas connections."

The Nexstar news release is copied below:



Irving, Texas (March 23, 2009) - Nexstar Broadcasting Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: NXST) announced
today that it entered into an agreement with Four Points Media Group LLC (“Four Points”),
owned by an affiliate of Cerberus Capital Management, L.P., whereby Nexstar will provide
management services for Four Points’ seven television stations located in four markets. Under
the terms of the agreement, Nexstar will receive a fixed annual management fee of $2 million
per year, as well as annual incentive compensation based on increases of the broadcast cash
flow of Four Points’ stations. Nexstar will also be entitled to a share of the equity profits if the
stations are sold while the agreement is in effect. The agreement provides for minimum
compensation to Nexstar of $10 million if the Four Points stations are sold during the initial three
year term of the agreement.

Commenting on the agreement, Nexstar Broadcasting Group Chairman, President and Chief
Executive Officer, Perry A. Sook said, “We are delighted to be working with Four Points as this
is a tremendous opportunity to leverage Nexstar’s operating and management capabilities to
serve the needs of other broadcast groups and to build value for Four Points.

“The management contract is a rewarding endorsement of Nexstar’s proven operating
disciplines and industry leadership and we are confident that the incentive compensation to be
derived from this agreement will be significantly additive to the annual management fees based
on our strategies to improve the market position and operating efficiencies of these stations.

“Notably, the agreement also underscores Nexstar’s commitment to -- and long-term track
record of success -- developing new high-margin revenue streams to support our goal of
creating long-term value for our shareholders. Managing the Four Points stations is an
excellent complement to our existing station and e-Media operations as the four markets in
which Four Points operates do not geographically overlap with stations and network affiliations
in which Nexstar owns, operates, programs or provides sales and other services to.”

Under the terms of the management agreement, Nexstar will oversee Four Points’ station
operations and act as a resource on sales, promotion, programming alternatives, production,
operations (including e-MEDIA functions), finance, contract administration and human
resources. The agreement is effective March 20, 2009 and extends through March 31, 2012,
with one-year renewal options.

The Four Points station group includes seven television stations that are affiliated with various
television networks, including two CBS (KEYE-TV Austin, Texas and KUTV-TV Salt Lake City,
Utah), two CW (WLWC-TV Providence, Rhode Island and WTVX-TV West Palm Beach,
Florida), one MyNetworkTV (WTCN-CA West Palm Beach, Florida), one Azteca Amèrica
(WWHB-CA West Palm Beach, Florida) and one RTN (KUSG-TV Salt Lake City, Utah).
Broadcast cash flow is calculated as income from operations, plus corporate expenses,
depreciation, amortization of intangible assets and broadcast rights (excluding barter), non-cash
contract termination fees, non-cash impairment charges, loss (gain) on asset exchange and loss
(gain) on asset disposal, net, minus broadcast rights payments.

About Nexstar Broadcasting Group, Inc.

In addition to the seven stations in four markets owned by Four Points Media Group LLC, now
managed by Nexstar, upon completing all announced transactions, Nexstar Broadcasting Group
will own, operate, program or provide sales and other services to 52 television stations in 30
markets in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Texas, Pennsylvania,
Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, New York and Florida. Nexstar’s television station group
includes affiliates of NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, MyNetworkTV and The CW and pro-forma for the
completion of all announced transactions, reaches approximately 10 million U.S. television
households or approximately 8.8% of all U.S. television households.

(c) Jim McNabb, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mornings Will Be Different


If your morning usually starts with Melissa Gale and Jason Hill on KVUE TV (ABC), it will be different Monday, March 23 and even more different later in the week.

Morning anchor Jason Hill was laid-off Friday as a part of another round of cost-cutting measures announced by Patti Smith, KVUE TV general manager. Also laid-off were a producer and two engineers, according to sources. (This is a rare time that I am not using direct attribution, and being a spring break weekend, on-the-record sources are not available.)

KVUE TV’s morning ratings had slipped in the past year after being a dominate #1. It is unknown whether the ratings erosion is what led to Hill’s departure. By Friday night, his picture and all references to him had been scrubbed from the KVUE web site.

Perhaps a more startling change will be coming later in the week when Gale is joined by her new co-anchor Olga Campos. Campos has been the 5 p.m. co-anchor for more than a decade, most recently teamed with 6 and 10 anchor Tyler Sieswerda. Now, new evening anchor Terri Gruca will co-anchor the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts with Sieswerda. Campos, reportedly, will not start her new morning gig until Wednesday.

Belo Corporation, KVUE TV’s parent company announced coming cuts in a March 10th news release:

The cost-saving measures include the suspension of Belo Corp.'s 401(k) matching contribution for all employees, a 5 percent salary reduction for employees who are part of the Company's management compensation programs, and a Company-wide staff reduction of approximately 150 positions. These additional cost-saving measures will become effective mid-April.

KVUE had already seen an earlier round of cost-saving measures.

Another change is coming to the morning line-up at a cross-town rival. Morning Traffic reporter Ellen McNamara is moving to Tampa, Florida to co-anchor a new weekend morning newscast on WFTS TV (ABC).

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009


What Is

Really Happening



SXSW traffic takes down AT&T’s 3G network downtown. SXSW shuts down streets downtown and next to downtown. I-35 is actually slowed to a crawl during non-rush hours. SXSW makes parking impossible downtown. On the upside, SXSW results in a stack of cash for the City of Austin. (I am told that bartenders and others in the service industry do not fare that well, because out-of-towners don’t have much money for tips. They work harder than ever for less.)

But, what would Austin be without SXSW? Quieter. Poorer. Less Weird. I’d never want to see it go away. I would just like to see some things done better.

The media is in a SXSW digital orgy. Who can get the cool interview with whom? Who can get the best stuff online? Who can do the most entertaining live shot? “Info-tainment” rules.

It seems that everyone in the media has a little camera in their hand, and the results look like home movies, quite honestly. Actually, they’re worse. There are sweeping pans that would give some viewers motion sickness on the spot. There are shaky close-ups that are hard to watch. They worst thing—the thing that is almost always the worst thing online—is the sound. In these hectic, loony, and horribly noisy locations where people are shouting to be heard, no one is using a real, honest-to-goodness professional microphone. They are relying on those sorry little omni-directional mics on top of those sorry little cameras. If you really care, you have to turn the sound on your computer with the sub-woofer really loud. You still might not be able to understand what is being said, but you would, at least, have something of the feeling of being there.

The only SWSW stories that have some depth are those in the early on-air newscasts. These are the stories where the reporters actually took some time working with a photojournalist. Matt Flener’s story on KXAN TV (NBC-36) was useful. He talked about illegal towing in the downtown area. If you’ve been downtown toward dusk, it was useful information. Another useful story talked about the illegal “parking guards”—the guys who stand in parking places promising to watch your car for a fee, if you park there and pay. Of course, what these cons are doing is illegal. If there is a parking place, you can have it. But, it begins to feel like extortion when the guy is standing there. Advice: Pull out your cell phone and call the cops.

While it is hard—very hard—to avoid all of the glitz of SXSW, really the only people who really care are the ones who are there, and they are not watching TV or looking at the web, at least at the time they are downtown. True, thousands of people are in the Downtown Austin area. There are, however, tens of thousands more who are not and would not be there.

So, for the mass audience, perhaps the story hook should be this: Stay Away!!! Further, the audience should be warned constantly of the street closures and attendant traffic. Here is the most interesting thing from any Austin newscast: El Niño may be weakening, bringing our drought to an end. It was almost an off-hand remark from KXAN’s Jim Spencer who was at a live concert on Auditorium Shores. I’d like to know more about that. The University of Texas men did win their game in the first round of the NCAA Basketball brackets. Up next, (gulp) Duke, I think

The Austin City Council meeting for today (March 19, 2009) was cancelled. Good thinking. But several legislative committees did meet. I wonder what happened. Probably nothing, but I wonder.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

The 2009 Pew Report for Excellence in Journalism

The News

of the

News Is Not Good News.

The 2009 report from Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism is out, and the findings are sobering to those in the traditional media. Users/consumers/readers/viewers of the media should see it too.

This weekend, Fred Zipp, Austin American-Statesman editor, commented on the recent lay-offs and buy-outs at the newspaper. Zipp listed familiar names, by-lines, now gone or leaving. Among them is Bob Banta, a reporter who patiently showed me where to find things as a baby reporter in Austin in the early 1970s. Banta has been with the American-Statesman for 44 years. Forty-four years!!! How much history and how many contacts will leave the room when Banta joins the other eleven who have taken buy-outs at the local paper.

Zipp is clearly pained by this process of attrition in his newsroom. “We’re struggling with our emotions,” he says noting that “the recession has inflicted wounds on newspapers just as it has on other businesses.” The newspaper business was already in trouble. The recession dealt a death blow to some like the Rocky Mountain News. “Imagine someone about to begin physical therapy following a stroke, suddenly contracting a debilitating secondary illness,” the Pew report says.

“Newspapers face serious challenges from a host of smart competitors, but that’s nothing new,” Zipp says. “Radio and television rose from nothing to become formidable foes, just as Internet based businesses have done.”

“We figured out how to stay in business then, and we’ll do it again,” Zipp says.

The problem is this: Newspapers, television stations, and radio are all in the same boat now, according to the Pew report. All are cutting costs where they can. Some, radio in particular, no longer report news beyond the Associated Press and re-writing the local newspaper, thanks in part to deregulation in the early 1980s. Television is still the people’s trusted choice among the traditional media, but it is losing ground to cable and the Internet, the report says. The Pew report cites TV newsrooms with too few people to cover their communities.

Other research shows that audiences, particularly the Austin market, want solid content. If the audience cannot find the content in one medium, it will move on to the next. People (reporters) equal content. If there are fewer reporters, there is less content. So, now, the audience fragments as each member, like a hunter/gather, goes off in search of their desired content. Audiences of the traditional media decline. Their ratings or circulation figures fall. Their advertisements are worth less. The media makes less money. There is the problem in a nutshell.

What worries me the most is this: If the local users/consumers/readers/viewers of the media go to their favorite sites in the Internet, where are they getting good information about their community? How for instance, will they get the information they need to make informed decisions in the upcoming Austin City Council election? The Internet worked will for a national campaign. President Barrack Obama proved that. Will that model work on a local scale. Should that model work? Can you find comparable facts about the competing candidates?

Back to Mr. Zipp’s commentary. Zip said, “We figured out how to stay in business then, and we’ll do it again.” What is not said here is that no one, including Mr. Zip, has found that formula or model for financial success in this eclectic information age. I set out a model in a post a week or so ago. Readers resoundingly told me that they would not pay for news on the Internet. If we are going to pay the reporters to gather the content that the local users/consumers/readers/viewers want and/or need, we must pay. That is also the conclusion of the 2009 Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Find the full report from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism here:
http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2009. It is an important read for anyone. Also, Poynter.org breaks it down here: http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=123

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Who Says There Is No Good News?

Good News
for LIN TV

How about some good news for a change? LIN TV (NYSE-TVL) reported a gain in 2008 when compared to 2007. Net revenues were up 1-percent. Hey! A gain is good, even 1-percent. LIN TV is the parent company for KXAN TV (NBC), KNVA TV (CW), and KXAM TV (NBC in the Hill Country), plus their web sites.

Net revenues increased 1percent to $399.8 million, compared to $395.9 million in 2007. Political advertising last year made a big difference. Political revenues were $47 million, compared to $6.1 million in 2007. The Company achieved a 40 percent increase in political revenues over the 2004 presidential election cycle, according to a LIN news release.

Internet revenues greatly increased as well. Multi-platform communications a LIN emphasis. Digital revenues, including Internet advertising revenues and retransmission consent fees, increased 95 percent to $29.1 million, compared to $14.9 million in 2007, the release says.

Overall, political advertising made the difference. Local television advertising sales were down 11 percent. And performance fell further in the fourth quarter. LIN says, however, it kept its operating expenses under control.

“We are operating in a severe recessive economy and the financial distress on automakers, as well as the significant declines in consumer and business spending, are negatively impacting television advertising sales,” said Vincent L. Sadusky, Executive Officer. “In response, we have taken significant actions to improve our efficiency, as well as our balance sheet. Our plans to adjust our cost structure, re-engineer workflow throughout our TV stations, and execute an aggressive program to reduce our debt should positively impact our operating performance and financial condition.”

“Our leading news stations are focused on maximizing multi-platform advertising spending, new business development and digital revenue growth," Sadusky continues. “Digital revenues continue to differentiate our company and were a major factor in our ability to increase net revenues by 1percent in 2008. Compared to our peers, LIN TV delivered one of our industry’s strongest results.

“Despite the negative outlook on the economy, we remain positive. We are confident in the fundamentals of the TV broadcast business and our ability to expand digitally. We expect to operate a very healthy and cost efficient business now and well into the future," Sadusky says.

You may have wondered if LIN’s absence from Time-Warner cable during October, 2008 hurt their bottom line. No. Not really. “Following the expiration of the Company’s contract with Time Warner Cable, Inc., 15 of LIN TV’s stations were removed from Time Warner systems in 11 markets for nearly one month in the fourth quarter of 2008. Despite this disruption in carriage, 56 percent of LIN TV stations gained audience share with adults 18-49 and 25-54 in the Morning News day part time period, the fastest-growing time of the day in terms of viewers and advertising revenue, compared to the same time period in 2007. The Nielsen data also showed that the Company’s stations outperformed the national networks in the category of household share by an average of 30 percent. For the year ended December 31, 2008, LIN TV operated the #1 or #2 local news station in 81percent of its markets. On average LIN TV’s stations grew 25% across all local news day parts in
Household Ratings year-to-year,” LIN says.

These days, good news in the communications industry is hard to find. Even a 1 percent revenue improvement year to year is worth reporting.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Belo Cuts

In Desperate Times …

It is never a good thing when the general manager calls a station-wide meeting in the middle of TV sweeps, especially these days. Belo Corporation-owned KVUE TV had such a meeting Tuesday (March 10th) morning. KVUE staffers were apprehensive, and the news from corporate headquarters in Dallas was not good:

“DALLAS - Belo Corp. (NYSE: BLC), one of the nation's largest pure-play, publicly-traded television companies, announced today several cost-saving measures that will help reduce the Company's expense base amid the current economic slowdown.

“The cost-saving measures include the suspension of Belo Corp.'s 401(k) matching contribution for all employees, a 5 percent salary reduction for employees who are part of the Company's management compensation programs, and a Company-wide staff reduction of approximately 150 positions. These additional cost-saving measures will become effective mid-April.”

It is not unusual that employers do not match contributions to 401(k) plans. It is, however, an appreciated benefit and incentive, one that employees come to expect over time. Belo is saying that this benefit is being “suspended” not ended. That is good. It is unusual that managers are now facing a 5-percent pay cut. Also, there have already been some layoffs at KVUE. It is not known whether the further reduction of 150 positions will be here in Austin. Viewers would not have noticed the layoffs to this point as they were people behind the scenes, off-the-air.

These cost-cutting measures come on the heels of another Belo corporate announcement a week ago. In the same breath that Belo declared a second quarter dividend to its stock holders, it announced it is suspending future dividends indefinitely. “In light of current economic conditions, suspending the dividend will allow Belo's management team to continue to focus on paying down debt and preserving cash while enhancing the Company's financial flexibility," said Dunia A. Shive, Belo's president and Chief Executive Officer.

Belo owns and operates 20 television stations (nine in the top 25 markets) and their associated Web sites. KVUE TV (ABC) continues to be Austin’s #1 TV station. Its flagship station is WFAA TV in downtown Dallas next to the Dallas Morning News.

Meanwhile there is related turmoil among north Texas media. “Time” magazine is naming the Fort Worth Star-Telegram one of the “The Most Endangered Newspapers in America”:

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
is another big daily that competes with a larger paper in a neighboring market — in this case, Dallas. The parent of the Dallas Morning News, Belo, is probably a stronger company than the Star-Telegram's parent, McClatchy. The Morning News has a circulation of about 350,000, while the Star-Telegram has just over 200,000. The Star-Telegram will have to shut down or become an edition of its rival. Putting them together would save tens of millions of dollars a year.”

Back here in Austin, representatives of local TV newsrooms were to meet again today (March 11th) concerning a plan to pool video of what would be considered “routine” news conferences and events.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. You may take some comfort in the fact that the roots of that sentence may date back to the early 17th century.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Ben Sargent and Diane Holloway Leaving


This Friday when husband and wife, Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist and Ben Sargent and TV writer Diane Holloway, walk away from the Austin American-Statesman, they take a cumulative 65 years of goodwill, contacts, and experience with them. They are accepting a buy-out from the newspaper.

“Like every other newspaper in the country, the Statesman is facing challenges, and trying very hard to do the right thing by its people as expenses have to be cut,” said Holloway. “The fact that we were offered buy-outs and early retirement is pretty amazing in the current climate.” Holloway has been at the newspaper for 30 years. Sargent has been there for 35 years. “Ben and I feel relatively fortunate that we are leaving the way we are—although it's painful to leave at all. We really hadn't planned to retire for a few more years.”

Ben Sargent was in the Statesman’s capitol bureau when he first doodled drawings on a reporter’s pade that became editorial cartoons. “I grew up around a newspaper, got a journalism education, went into reporting and the occasional copy editing, and assumed I'd be a reporter (a political reporter, I hoped) for my whole career,” Sargent says. “I just sort of fell into cartooning, but in the long run, it probably suited my talents better than reporting.” What readers may not know is that he has contributed to written editorials over the years too.

His 1982 Pulitzer Prize, he says, was a surprise. “Never had any idea I'd get a Pulitzer, and my first reaction was stunned surprise,” Sargent says. “Maybe they were just looking for a new face beyond the usual big-name guys, maybe they were looking for somebody from the Sunbelt, but whatever....I'm not giving it back.” Sargent was a finalist in 2001 and 2002.

Diane Holloway’s last TV column appears in the Tuesday, March 10, 2009 edition of the paper. In it she reflects on TV over the past three important decades.

For TV news the three game-changers in my mind are these:

1. KTBC TV, the only VHF station in town, finds itself on a level playing field in the early 1970s when Capital Cable, also owned by the family of Lyndon Johnson, made Austin one of the most cabled cities.
2. KVUE-TV changed the game in the early 1980s with new technology—the ability to be live on location , plus the first helicopter. Channel 24 enjoyed audience shares that will never be seen again.
3. The 1995 affiliation switch between KTBC and, then, KBVO, now KEYE when KTBC became Fox and KEYE became CBS. That, coupled with KXAN’s new full-power TV station in the Hill Country, KXAM, enabled Channel 36 to ascend to #1.

Holloway agrees that the 1995 switch was huge. There has been an amazing constant, however. “A long-standing trademark of Austin TV news has been the relative stability of the market, with lots of major players changing stations from time to time but remaining in the market. Ron Oliveira and Judy Maggio (KEYE), Robert Hadlock and Jim Spencer (KXAN), and Dave Cody (KTBC) have been here almost as long as I've been covering the market. That's unusual ... and it's good to have people who really know the city,” she says.

Looking forward, Holloway and Sargent say traditional media must survive.

“These, in my mind, have got to survive,” Sargent says. Why? “Because they [traditional media] are the only "socializing" media—they gather all their readers, listeners and viewers around the same campfire, and that experience of sharing the same information is very different from the experience of ‘fragmenting’ media such as the Internet, where the consumers of the information have no way of knowing its reliability or who else might be listening.

"’Traditional media’," for that reason, are essential to a democratic society, and so they need to find a business model that can support the kind of journalism they are constitutionally obligated to practice. I don't have a big enough brain to know what that business model will be, or what the platform for delivering the information will be like, but the work of delivering commonly shared information that is reliable, accurate, nuanced and deep must go on.”

Holloway agrees. “There is still a large audience for the networks' evening newscasts, even though the ratings are nowhere near what they were before cable news. If the most recent election was any indication (and I think it was), political coverage is likely to find its largest audience on cable. The broadcast networks ceded much of the campaigns, conventions and election coverage to cable.

“I think the phrase ‘hyper-local’ will be the new mantra ... for TV and newspapers,” Holloway continues. “People can get their national news online and on cable, but local media can still draw a crowd with deep local coverage. I have a hard time believing good journalism—that exposes corruption and does what the Constitution prescribes that we do—will go away. Our profession is the only one protected by the Constitution. We should always be proud of that ... and do it justice,” Holloway says.

Change in the news business is constant with every new innovation or adaption of technology. Sargent and Holloway both understand that. It is part of the evolution of the media, “but there continues to be great need for serious journalism. Online skills are a must,” Holloway says. Part of that change is doing more with less. Holloway laments the loss experienced, seasoned reporters in the market such as former TV capitol reporter Keith Eilkins and Statesman reporter Laylan Copelin. “Institutional memory counts for something, and context counts for everything. The situations are somewhat similar.”

Not only is this “brain-drain” a loss to the media, it is major loss to the public the media serves.

What will Sargent and Holloway miss?

“Being there is still a great and thrilling experience, especially when important news is rolling in,” Sargent says. “I love the companionship and camaraderie of newspaper men and women, and I'll miss the daily dose of that. (But I'll never lose the habit of wondering where that fire engine is going.)”

And for Holloway it is “The people and the process. I'll miss the excitement and buzz when news breaks. I'll miss the wisecracks and dark humor, the smart people and thoughtful discussions. I'll miss everything about it,” she says.

Their comments remind me of some blank verse:

“The tired silence when at last the presses were running

Too loud for talk when the college paper was yours

And you knew every word in type in the forms by heart.

O God, you say, that was all good, and it was good.”

—John Holmes, “Map of My Country”


So, what are Holloway and Sargent going to do next?

“Right now, I have no idea. I'm going to take some time to mourn the end of a wonderful career in newspapers, one that I was privileged to have. And then I'm going to figure out what's next,” Holloway said.

“Lots of ideas, though no definite plans as of yet,” Sargent said.

Interviewed separately, but leave no doubt that they will continue the work they were called to do in some form or fashion. That philosophy is evident in Holloway’s advise to those who still toil in “the business”: “Keep the faith, stay positive ... but have a Plan B! You may think you know what's next, but you never really do.”

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

You Get What You Pay For

What is Journalism Worth?

“Holy crap,” I thought. “I have to get on the record with this.” I’ve long believed (No proof) that there are ideas floating around us. Those who are sensitive enough to detect them, motivated enough to use them, and have the means to pull it off, will win.

So, watching the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC tonight, here was a guy from “Editor and Publisher” (
http://www.editorandpublisher.com ), a staid magazine of the pencil press saying what I was saying over lunch with close friends at El Arroyo this very afternoon—the mass media must find and use a new model. I told my friends today that I had not heard or read anyone say what really must be done to save traditional journalism.

And, we must save journalism. It is, as I have written before, foundational to our democracy. Yet, locally and nationally, we see the withering of the traditional media. It shouldn’t be. We cannot rely on blogs (such as this one), “The Daily Show” and YouTube for our news. Generally, you’ll find no local news there. Renew your subscription to the local newspaper!

Further, with your renewed subscription, tell you newspaper that you expect quality. You expect value for your dollar. Research proves, particularly here in Austin with a high level of education, content is king. If a medium, newspaper, television, radio, or otherwise—is not delivering valuable content, why should people subscribe, watch, or listen?

For another, similar look at this issue, I suggest that you check out Elizabeth Christian’s blog on her site:

If a newspaper, or any other news medium, is producing valuable content, that medium should be compensated for it. Frank Volpicella is news director at KVUE TV, the #1 news TV station in the Austin, Texas market. It drives Volpicella crazy to watch what is happening to Journalism with a “Big J”.

“We are giving away our content for free on the Internet. No need for anyone to buy a newspaper, or watch the 6 p.m. news. We are eating ourselves. We are modern day business cannibals. We do more with less. Quality suffers. And we wonder why viewership is eroding,” Volpicella says. But, TV stations are not the only ones.

Newspaper publishers are vexed. They see the costs of publishing a paper rise—Paper, ink, and—most of all—people. They apparently throw up their hands. They cannot cope. So, to cut costs and meet profit expectations, they cut staff and buy out veteran reporters.

For all media this is a doomed model. If content is king, a newspaper, TV station, or radio station must have a staff of experienced, seasoned journalists and editors—people with perspective. These people are the most important assets to the media. Without them, traditional media loses contacts, history, goodwill, and knowledge. Yes, these experienced people probably (should) make more money than someone right out of J school. These people who know the market, however, are the very ones who can provide the content that people will buy.

Did I say “buy”? Yes. That is the new model.

OK. New media is here. Traditional media has been feeding the new media the content it needs to become a viable force in the marketplace of ideas. So, just like selling subscriptions to the newspaper that lands in your driveway every day, it is time to assign value to the new media.

It is time to again selling “subscriptions” for access to part of the content available on the web. I do believe that some basic content should remain free. But, just like the New York Times used to charge for access to some stories, all newspapers, television stations, and other traditional media should start charging for some of their content.

This is the new model. If the citizens see something they want, if it has value, they will pay for it. Others will bitch and moan. The only Internet ads that work, I am convinced, are those hated, full-screen advertisements, the ones that make you hunt for the place where you click to close them. The little ads don’t do much. Certainly, none of them will pay the bills for a newspaper through the 21st century.

The guy (I wish I’d caught his name) from “Editor and Publisher” on Rachel Maddow’s show said that he was a fan of new media. So am I. But, solid day-in-and-day-out reporting is not the forte of most journalists in the new media. That territory belongs to the traditional, beat reporters.

Traditional news media must and can survive, but they must make tough decisions, adapt, and take the heat for change. Concurrently, TV and radio stations should also start charging for access to parts of their web sites. Access can be counted in pennies, but pennies add up.

Certainly, this “model” will be criticized. Fine. But, the Forth Estate must live. Our democracy depends on it more than we realize.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Can't Keep a Good Man Down

Keith Elkins Hired

What is broadcast news loss is the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation's gain. Elkins, argueably the best TV legislative reporter will still be under the dome, but in a different capacity.

What follows is the draft news release from the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation to be distributed this afternoon:

Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas
Names Keith Elkins Executive Director

Long-time Austin Journalist to lead FOIFT into a More Active Role

Austin, Texas, March 4, 2009 — The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (FOIFT) is pleased to announce that Keith Elkins has been selected as the organization’s Executive Director. FOIFT recently relocated to Austin, after 30 years in Dallas, and is now embarking on a new mission to assume a more active and more visible role in advocating for, and preserving, open government.

“We are very pleased to have FOIFT’s office relocated to Texas’ Capital city where we believe we can make a more significant difference for the citizens of Texas. We are also very excited to announce the selection of a new Executive Director. After a lengthy search process our search committee unanimously recommended Keith Elkins as the best candidate to lead our organization in a new direction,” said President Laura Prather of Austin. “Keith has a deep understanding of and passion for the Public Information laws in Texas and draws from experience on both sides of the aisle on the issues of open government.”

Elkins is a veteran award winning TV news journalist and has worked as an anchor-reporter in Austin, San Antonio, Beaumont and Huntsville, Alabama, as well as providing communication freelance services to CNN, CBS, NBC and the FOX television networks. Keith has also provided media consulting services, served as communications director for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and Texas Lottery Commission, worked as public relations director for a national video syndication company and served as a legislative assistant in the United States Senate.

“I am deeply honored to be joining FOIFT,” Elkins said. “During these trying economic times I sincerely believe, perhaps now more than ever, the advocacy services FOIFT provides are invaluable as a growing number of newspaper and electronic journalistic organizations are facing cutbacks or are simply fading away altogether.”

The FOIFT is a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization supported through grants from private citizens, corporations, foundations and tax-deductible donations. For more information call 512.377.1575; visit the Web site, www.foift.org or write to FOIFT, 3001 S. Lamar, Suite 302, Austin, Texas, 78705.
Congratulations, Keith.
(C) Jim McNabb, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

Who Knew and Who Cares?

Woo-Whoo!!! TV Sweeps

Winter sweeps for 2009 get underway this Thursday. For the most part, however, nobody cares.

Why? The ratings period is taking place in March (March 5-April 1) instead of the traditional month of February. Nielsen moved to March because of the planned February switch to digital television that didn’t happen. The federal government moved the official DTV conversion to June 12th. Only one Austin station, KEYE TV (CBS), switched off analogy broadcasting in February. Further, Daylight Saving Time starts this coming weekend. That means fewer folks may be parked in front of their TV sets during an early winter evening.

All of these added together results in data for which there is no basis for comparison. You can’t compare this March to last February and make meaningful decisions about a station’s ratings.

KEYE –TV started February with a strong investigative report about government waste. “We’ve actually been pretty diligent about getting our franchise pieces on the air regularly. There was no pre-book launch with the Investigates piece your saw. It was a matter of timing and when the story was ready for air,” said Suzanne Black, KEYE news director. “March will not be a typical book for any market. March Madness knocks a lot of local CBS newscasts off the air or forces them into abnormal time periods.”

The March book also affects the personal lives of the news staff. “It’s unfortunate for families used to taking the week off for Spring break (or for SXSW for that matter), said Michael Fabac, KXAN TV news director. Even though it is March, Fabac says, “We are planning special promotable content” for sweeps.

At KVUE TV they’re taking it as it comes. “As far as sweeps are [concerned],every day is a sweeps day for us. We work to put on our best content each and every day,” says Frank Volpicella, news director. “Yes, there will be people inconvenienced because of spring break being in a sweep, (me included) but it’s all hands on deck during sweeps, and we’ll be business as usual.”

One other facet of sweeps in four weeks in March, it makes for a rather fast turn-around for the May book which may be more important than ever this year. The May sweeps actually start April 23, 2009. “We’re in the businesses of covering news every day, not just sweeps months,” says KEYE’s Black. “So, the March versus May turn-around is no big deal.” KXAN’s Fabac agrees. “True, the turnaround to May is tight, but we’ve had plenty of time to prepare!”

It’s like I used to say: No big deal. Every day is sweeps. Every day is “contest day”. Go crazy and have fun.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Once More With Feeling ...

The Video Sharing Controversy

Usually, I post to News McNabb and move on to another subject. The issue of most if not all of Austin’s Television news departments sending one station’s photographer to cover “routine” events and then sharing the video with the other stations has legs. The story will continue into the coming week.

This Wednesday, representatives of all of the participating news departments, including Time-Warner’s News 8, will meet and supposedly finalize the protocol for this dubious endeavor. (OK. So, I “outed” myself by using the adjective “dubious”, but it come as no surprise to folks who know me.)

Journalists, former journalists, and citizens are of one mind when they write to me. There are five comments on the News McNabb blog. They are largely unread, unless people take the time to click on the “comments” tab.

I was curious to see whether there were comments left on the Austin American-Statesman’s site after TV writer Diane Holloway’s story in the Saturday Business section. I was very surprised to see that there are none. So, unless you are into journalism, maybe this is not a big thing.

It IS a big thing. It is happening all around the country in various forms. Robust, free, media is foundational to our way of life, our democracy. Yes, we are constitutionally free to express ourselves through our various media. However, more and more, the media are economically limited. Bureaus are being closed. Reporters are being laid-off or bought out. Pool video, I believe, will inevitably lead to photographer layoffs. There will, therefore be less emphasis on photographic excellence. I posted Associated Press awards this weekend. They still give awards for photographic excellence. I have never seen an award for the “Most Frugal Station”.

Yes, pool video is necessary for certain events. I was part of a panel that laid down the rules for cameras-in-the-courtrooms in Travis County. Pools for large special events, such as funerals for dignitaries, are the least intrusive and most efficient ways of coverage. I have set up several of these. The best way to distribute the video is for other media to take a direct feed from the truck. Another good way is to feed the video via satellite on a “bird” all can see at a certain time.

Something always seems go wrong, however. What follows is the most recent online post to the original blog. This anonymous writer raises several of these same questions. These questions should be points of concern for those who meet this week to discuss the nuts and bolts of this, yes, dubious arrangement.

Anonymous said...

News McNabb!!

As a former Austin shooter, with 10 years in a top 25 market I'd have to question the real world logistics to this kind of agreement. In my last market, all court-room proceedings were handled by pool feeds with 3 different formats being used by the 4 local stations. There were a few basic rules: The first to call the clerk was the pool camera, and in order for the other stations to get a dub of the video you had to be present. In other words, there was no relying on another station to do your work. It kept folks honest and accountable, not to mention if a crew was "re-directed" for breaking news... another crew was there to take over. This arrangement seems to ignore all those issues. What if... a crew assigned to a "story" is late? Dubs are not done in time? Where will the dubs be done and in what format? Which station gets the first copy? What if the pool camera station gets an "exclusive" of some sort? On the surface, this agreement sounds good if you are the GM and you must squeeze blood from your turnips, but for the crews in the field it will be like working in a snake pit smack in the middle of quicksand. Good luck folks, the dumbing down of local news is about to get a lot dumber.

I am afraid that Anonymous is right.

© Jim McNabb, 2009