Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweeps, November 2009

Trick or Treat

Yeah. TV sweeps started today (Thursday, October 29, 2009). I can’t get excited. I think that may be a pervasive feeling.

I remember not that many years ago when new shows would premier in September with much ballyhoo. We were all drawn to the warm glow of the TV screen. It was kind of exciting, like the start of football season, the first blustering norther, or the first fire in the fireplace. There were few distractions then. Yes, we could listen to our favorite DJ, or play guitar.

I remember tuning into KLIF AM (1190) in Dallas as a kid this time of the year. Russ Knight, “The Weird Beard”, could draw me away from the TV. Hmmm. Thinking of Dallas, KBOX AM, was a wannabe rock-and-roll competitor. Two stations. Things were simple then.

Looking at these sweeps, Fox might have an early edge with the World Series, if anybody here really cares about the Yankees and the Phillies. I’m always for the National League team, because I think that pitchers should bat. Pitchers are athletes too. (I have pitched.)

For the sweeps months in recent history, KVUE TV (ABC) was #1, KXAN TV (NBC) was #2, KTBC (Fox) was # 3 when competing against news, and KEYE TV (CBS) was #4. KEYE, perhaps, has been thinking-out-of- the-box more than other stations. It is also true that KEYE has fewer resources than other stations. They have a good product, and they have the most experienced anchor team in town.

Since a huge number of Austinites weren’t here in the 1980’s when that anchor team of Judy Maggio, Ron Oliveira, and Troy Kimmel ruled, anchor experience really doesn’t matter. Content is king. If a station has fewer resources creating content, it isn’t going to result in a larger audience most of the time.

Consistency counts in news, however. That’s probably why KVUE continues to be #1. Even with changes in anchors, their product is consistent. Mark Murray is still there. If weather is the driver, Murray’s presence matters. Further, KVUE’s reporters deliver. Management has done an excellent job of filling holes in the staff with quality people. Many longtime reporters like Quita Culpepper and Jim Bergamo remain.

KXAN’s anchor team of Robert Hadlock, Leslie Cook Rhode, Jim Spencer, and Roger Wallace could easily claim the consistency mantle. All are pros. To me, they are the most watchable anchors in town. Yes, they are also friends, as are KEYE’s anchors.

Two things drag KXAN down. First and foremost are technical issues that may be beyond the control of the news department. Wrong video airs. Worse, they go to black because the automation melts down. KXAN’s on-air issues are related to the automation of the studio and production facilities. When I see these things, I’m screaming at the TV. The other problem is a less-than-solid reporting staff. Jim Swift is as good as ever. Jenny Hoff does a good job with politics and the capitol, but she also anchors the weekend morning news. David Scott is a pro, but he anchors the weekend evening news. It’s a shame that Sally Hernandez and Chris Willis, the morning anchors, aren’t reporting more. Both are excellent. Shannon Wolfson is another fine reporter. She’s stretched thin because she also anchors the new 9 p.m. news on KNVA TV (CW), KXAN’s LMA (Local Management Agreement) sister station.

All the above stations are doing more with less. (Sigh.)

It should be noted that KTBC TV (Fox) does a good job with its hour-long 9 p.m. newscast, but I don’t know if their demographic is watching.

So, I don’t really expect the November sweeps to turn out much different if at all.

The only new thing about the November sweeps is that this will be the first rating period when Nielsen will be taking a look at the audience for the new digital sub channels. They will not show up at the end of the rating period, but if these new channels garner a 2 share, they will be included in the next sweeps in February, according to Amy Villarreal, President and GM at KEYE. Since most of the new digital station programming is Spanish language, those numbers could be interesting.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

P.S. Nobody wrote me saying that they could see the new KBVO TV off the air on digital 14. Either nobody can see them, or nobody is reading the post.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

You Know a Journalists' Chaplain

There is a Need

“Maybe journalists need a chaplain.” I posited in a post a little over a month ago. The response was all over the place, which is to be expected when you ask the question directly to journalists. “No,” they say. “I’m fine.”

The journalists working the Paul DeVoe murder trial at the time may be fine, all the graphic photos and testimony notwithstanding. They may be fine because they have found ways to compartmentalize and remove themselves from the moment as they report the trial. Having covered capital murder trials and crime scenes, I get it. Also, however, having covered horrific events, I still can conjure up pictures, even “movies” in my mind from those moments.

I can recall many times standing with cops in the dead of night, talking, laughing, and joking while a dead body was just yards away. It’s part of the job. While you’re talking, laughing, and joking, you are also gathering information that may be part of the story.

When I asserted a month ago that journalists may need a chaplain, the response on Facebook and to this medium was mostly positive, although there is some confusion. One journalist wrote, “Definitely, and a counselor too.” A chaplain is not necessarily a counselor. Most of the time, they are two different people. A trained and licensed counselor is a professional who may sort through difficult circumstances to a healing conclusion. A chaplain is a person who is a presence—someone who is there for someone else who is hurting. The chaplain may offer suggestions or advice if it is appropriate. Further, a chaplain is there for people of faith, of little faith, or no faith at all.

Journalists’ comments to this concept found after the “newsmcnabb” post were profound. You can see them in full after the September 28, 2009 post “A Moment on Murder’s Row”:

I'm sure the news affected everyone. I'll never forget how my Chief Photog, a tough as nails West Texan, looked coming back from old 620, when a car full of teens shot off the curve on the dam, and rolled 700 feet.

“Jim is absolutely right that reporting on violence and death week after week takes a toll. It does sometimes lead to despair. .. Of course that has an effect. There are some images you can never shake.

“Yes, the carnage that covering the events from day to day does leave scars on all of us in ways seen and unseen... and I do believe that there needs to be some kind of support system... religious, or secular, for the unbelievers... for all of us.

“I think there is a place both for professional counseling services to be provided to reporters by their employers, but also a need for associations where people of like-minded faiths, and even across faiths, can gather to encourage each other.

There are some people who disagree. Their comments are also included after the September 28th newsmcnabb post.

I believe that all people are “called” in life. Some people don’t buy into that, and they don’t hear or answer the “call”. They may be happy anyway. Others may hear multiple “calls”. I think, arising out of an individual’s talents, training, beliefs, and opportunities, there is a call to specific work. Journalism must be a calling. Why would people do this work if they were not called? Also, calls may also change over time.

Before writing the post a month ago, I’d set in motion the process of becoming a chaplain, a chaplain to journalists. I am now an ordained and licensed chaplain.

I have a web site. (Of course, every initiative must have a web site, It speaks to the need for a journalist chaplain. This is not uncommon. There are chaplains for the military, the emergency services, and in corporations. All of these are stressful. There is stress in a newsroom too, right? And it bleeds over into journalists’ personal lives. I’m going to let the site explain.

Am I going to stop writing this journalism/media criticism and news blog? No. Am I going to cease communications consulting and publicity? No. Am I someone other than the person you have known for years? No. Am I now going to take a vow of silence or something? No. Am I suddenly pious and judgmental? No, of course not. Years ago, when my pastor approached me about being a deacon, I responded saying, “You know I’m not very pious.” He knew that.

So, before making hasty judgments, I ask you to check out the web site above.

Further, yes, I’m a chaplain to journalists, but I’m a chaplain, period. No, I’m not a counselor, but I know some good ones.

For those who know me personally, this does not a big change. This is pretty much who I have been throughout my career. People who know me know that I care. Yeah, I can be grouchy in the mornings, but I care. Where is this going, if anywhere? I don't know. It's a little frightening.

Yes, there should be a chaplain to journalists, and you know one.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

TV You May Not See


LIN TV launched new programming on an existing station with familiar call letters, but it may not be free TV in Austin, even though they have dubbed themselves “My Austin TV”.

October 21, 2009 LIN TV, owner of KXAN TV (NBC) and operator of KNVA (CW) began airing programming from MyNetworkTV on its full-power station in the Hill Country, now called KBVO TV. MyNetworkTV had aired on KNVA at 10 p.m. after CW programming.

Owned by Fox, MyNetworkTV had been trying to make it as a network airing reruns, but on September 28th, it ceased to be a network. It is now a programming service with shows like “The Unit”, “Law and Order-Criminal Intent”, “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, and movies.

LIN also intends to augment and enhance the new KBVO with sports. “MyAustinTV will air San Antonio Spurs NBA basketball games, Houston Texans NFL pre-season games, and Big 12 college basketball games, including The University of Texas Longhorn basketball games. The station will also air other UT sports programming, including Longhorn Sports Center Weekly, with the potential to air live UT sports such as baseball, women’s basketball, softball and more.,” according to the news release. It will also rebroadcast KXAN TV’s 10 p.m. newscast at midnight.

“MyAustinTV is dedicated to providing local and regional sports and entertainment programming to Central Texas,” said Eric Lassberg, President and General Manager, KXAN-TV (NBC), KNVA-TV (CW) and KBVO-TV (MNT). “We especially want to thank the University of Texas, the San Antonio Spurs and our other partners in the community for helping us provide viewers with their favorite local content.”

The problem is this: Unless you live in the KBVO Channel 14 digital footprint, you cannot see it on free TV. I live in Southwest Austin, and none of my TVs equipped with a DTV convert boxes can detect the channel. The digital transmitter is located near Llano. It is available on the Time Warner HD tier and Direct TV (Satellite). Grande plans to programming KBVO on two tiers. Plans are in the works for AT&T U-Verse and Suddenlink.

A little background: In 1983 KBVO were the original call letters of what is now KEYE TV (CBS). KBVO was independent then. When the station became the CBS affiliate in 1995, the KBVO call letters became available. LIN TV signed-on the full-power Hill Country station KXAM TV licensed to Llano in 1991. It simulcast KXAN programming. September 1, 2009 KXAM became KBVO TV. Got all of that?

So far, KXAN and LIN are mum about any plans for KXAN’s digital subchannels. Part of the problem has always been the limitations of the KXAN physical plant on West MLK Jr.

This KXAM/KBVO shift might seem a little baffling. KXAM TV was the brainchild of LIN TV CEO Gary Chapman to increase the reach of KXAN into the Hill Country. For years, the Hill Country belonged to KTBC TV (Fox) because its VHF frequency boomed into basic antennas in western counties of the market. Adding KXAM with a news bureau equipped with a live truck and a live link in Round Mountain in Blanco County gave KXAN a presence. Nielsen called it KXAN +. Sure enough, it helped KXAN become #1 in the late 1990s.

So why change?

“Years ago, when Gary Chapman launched KXAM, 60% of households in that area, “Hill Country”, received our signal over-the-air. Today, less than 15% are now getting KXAN over the air, since as you know most people have moved to cable or satellite,” says a LIN TV spokesperson. “Our viewers are better served by offering a new and more vibrant product with the MyNetworkTV programming.”

Assuming those audience view trends are correct, comparing 1991 to 2009, the switch makes total sense. LIN TV is smart to make its existing full-power TV station in something else, unique from KXAN and KNVA. It then becomes a station that must be carried on cable systems in the community. It should not subtract from KXAN or KNVA’s audience, and it should create what I keep calling an additional revenue stream.

I just wish I could see it without paying more for it. I’m curious. Can you pick up KBVO where you live?

Click “comments” and let me know, yes or no, and tell me what part of town you’re in.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

New KEYE TV Sports Anchor/Reporter

Longhorn Comes Home

This week Courtney Timmons returned to Austin. Timmons is the new KEYE TV (CBS) sports anchor/reporter working with Bob Ballou, sports director. Timmons is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. So, this homecoming is particularly sweet since she has been reporting on the fortunes of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks for the Fayetteville, Arkansas NBC station.

Certainly, no criticism of the Hogs intended as they gave #1 Florida a run for their money last weekend. Further, Suzanne Black, KEYE news director is a proud Arkansas graduate as is KXAN TV (NBC) anchor Leslie Rhode.

Timmons’ arrival means that Gregg Watson can return to his first love, reporting news, although he has plenty of sports reporting in his background. Watson has been filling-in since the early September sudden departure of Chris Pelikan. Watson’s return to the newsroom will bring welcomed content for KEYE’s newscasts.

Timmons has made huge leaps in market size since her graduation from UT. She started at the Abilene CBS affiliate, market 165. Her next stop was KMID TV in Midland, the ABC affiliate. Then, she leaped to the 100th market in Fayetteville at the NBC station. Now, as of this week she is back in Austin, the 48th market. All are Nexstar-managed TV stations.

Her bio, still on the web site of her former station, says Timmons grew up in Dallas. She has always enjoyed watching, playing, and talking about sports. So, she is making a career of doing what she likes.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The State of the Local Media

The Enemy is Us

“The State of Local Media” was addressed by John Bridges, a senior editor with the Austin American-Statesman and I during Texas State University’s Mass Communications week Tuesday, October 20, 2009. Speaking to a packed lecture hall, we agreed, local media is in a state of flux.

I recorded the session moderated by Dr. Susan Weill. So, this will read something like an edited transcript of the first part of the 1 ¼ - hour give and take.

What is the state of the local Austin media? Bridges spoke first:

Because of the Internet and 24/7 cable, the local newspaper is publishing different stories now contrasted with just a few years ago, Bridges said.

“We know we can’t bring you the world like we used to. We don’t need to. Today, on most days you’ll set three or four locally-produced stories on the front page. Not very long ago, there would have been maybe two stories. You can’t go to ESPN to get the same kind of local news that we have. The San Marcos paper can do San Marcos better than we can.”

“You own all but two of the surrounding local community papers. So, you’re also ‘hyper local’,” I interjected.

“Yes, it’s sort of a business strategy. It’s turned out to be fairly profitable as a news organization. There is not a huge overlap. There is not a lot of sharing of stories. They do their thing and we do our thing,” Bridges said.

“What you see now is that a little, bitty paper is doing well because it is really giving you the meat and potatoes news for its area. At the Statesman, we are writing stories of regional issue while the Westlake Picayune is doing stories about construction at an intersection that we would never touch.”

“The media business used to be a gold mine, because you were the only game in town,” said. “It was wonderful. What these small newspapers do—he said that they’re very successful in terms of revenue—is they create separate revenue streams.

“All of the media are trying to find ways of increasing revenue. The American Statesman has an incredible printing business. You’re probably the biggest print house in this part of the state, and they distribute stuff all the way to Colorado,” I continued. “They have a brand new packaging plant—They’re packaging up all of these little inserts and stuff that go into local papers. It’s all automated. People don’t do that anymore; machines do it.” [Only about 20-percent of the employees at the Austin American-Statesman are journalists working in the newsroom.]

“And, what’s happening in television? The same thing,” I continued. “This revenue problem that television stations and media in general has had has been going on—it has actually been building—for decades because of the technological advances, if nothing else. Cable television came along. It started small. Then, it just grew, grew, grew. Then came the Internet came along and became more pervasive all in your lifetime, IN YOUR LIFE TIME! [I was speaking of the current TSU students life times.]

“Let me stress that, IN YOUR LIFE TIME!!! This change is happening at a mercurial rate and some of its results are just as toxic as mercury,” I said.

The available audience is pie being cut into smaller and smaller pieces with digital channels, cable, and the Internet. “Each one of these TV stations is trying to make each one of these pieces as profitable as possible.” Local stations are using their sub channels in an attempt to tap into the growing Hispanic/Spanish speaking audience in Central Texas. They are hoping to bring in revenue streams from all of these.

“We are living in a time of flux right now. We’re in the middle, and there is no telling where this will go,” I concluded. Turning to Bridges I asked, “Can you answer where it’s going to go? I don’t know.”

“I think right now, we’re in fluxed,” Bridges said.

We were asked what are the biggest challenges facing news now.”

“It’s the business side of it. Our staff is getting smaller,” Bridges said.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“It’s because we don’t have as much money coming in,” Bridges replied. “For us, the big part of the revenue problem is classified advertising.” [It] used to be if you were having a garage sale or if you were looking for a certain type of job, that’s where you went [the newspaper]. Now, probably not, because the business has gone elsewhere to Craig’s List and online job sites and all that kind of stuff. “That’s down to a page or two a day. That was the equivalent of printing money for us. The Statesman remains profitable, so they tell us. [The Austin American Statesman is owned by Cox, a privately held company.] It’s making money. It’s just not making as much money as it used to.

There have been staff reductions at the Austin American-Statesman through attrition and buy-outs to save money. “Over all we’ve gone from a newsroom staff of 195 to 152, something like that,” Bridges said. “In the past two years as people go out the door. We say, “So long.”, and then we try to figure out how to do without them, and figure out what we don’t do anymore. To me, that is the biggest threat that if newspapers continue to slide in terms of a business model, then how long can they afford to keep all of around who are out chasing news and doing the news business. That’s the number one threat.”

“One of the threats is that every medium is being asked to do more with less,” I said. “You still have to put out the newspaper. You have a beast that has to be fed. It’s hungry every day, starting at 5 a.m., 6 a.m. You have to feed it at noon maybe and maybe at 4 O’clock, 5 O’clock, 6 O’clock, and 10 O’clock. The beast is hungry, and you have to feed it something, and if there is no news, you must think of something that looks and tastes, and feels like news, because the beast must be fed.

“Media has gotten away from enterprise. Media is doing the easy stuff. There is too much crime reporting. Why is it? Because it’s so easy. Is this really what we need to put out every day? Does it really affect your life? Probably not. There is too much crime, because it is easy. They’re doing more with less.” Stations are adding newscasts without increasing the size of the staff significantly because they want to create a new revenue streams. Without adequate staff, it is questionable whether the medium will have a product that the audience wants,” I said.

“This is an axiom: People (reporters and staff) = Content (Content is what you’re looking for, isn’t it?)=Audience=Money or revenue.”

If you cut your staff, you have fewer people to gather content, you are going to have less content. The audience is going to figure it out, and there is going to be fewer people in the audience; and therefore, you can’t charge as much for your commercials. What is your revenue going to do?” It goes down.

It thrust of the first third of the TSU session on “The State of the Media” was basically “I have seen the enemy, and it is us!”

© Jim McNabb, 2009