Saturday, December 18, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
No, Not Really
In the “golden days” of traditional media the holidays were special. One KXAN TV (NBC) holiday party was very special for me. It was the first date for me and the lady who exactly one year later became my wife.
That holiday party was at the elite Green Pastures restaurant in South Austin. It was icy cold that winter night. It was the sort of “norther” that would burn your face with the chill, but it was warm and special inside the fine old mansion. There was food, beverages, music, and dancing. There was a special room for those who wished to indulge in what were said to be excellent cigars. They all smell the same to me. And, there was murmuring.
That night, there was a certain buzz. I wasn’t aware that everyone was talking about my date for the evening. I was managing editor at KXAN then. For several years past, I had attended the holiday parties alone, but that year was different. I had a date.
Media holiday parties in past years were formal in many ways. We dressed up, and there were speeches and awards. In what might have been the glory days of the golden days of TV in Austin when I was at KVUE TV (ABC), KVET/KASE radio, and KTBC TV, AM and FM going back to the 1970s, holiday celebrations were grand. At KTBC when Lyndon Johnson was still among us we were invited out to the LBJ Ranch for the party.
Some eschewed the parties, but I always considered them a fringe benefit for working at that particular Austin medium.
That was then. This is now. Gone are the formal, glittering events with ice sculptures and dancing. Although media stocks advanced somewhat recently, the formal parties disappeared several years ago.
The Austin Post (www.austinpost.org) media party this past week at a South Austin bar was somewhat of a throwback. No, it wasn’t formal. There was laughter, food, snacks, drink, a photographer, and, well, joy, at this party. Editor Karie Meltzer explained that Austin Post could do this for its unpaid writers because of the site’s low budget. Austin Post is a not-for-profit, citizen contribution “news” site.
There may have been fun and even joy at other media in town too, but it wasn’t the same as it was in the past.
“We have not had Christmas parties for several years,” says Fred Zipp of the Austin American Statesman. “We continue to offer year-end bonuses, though.” Bonuses could be an entirely viable source of joy. Money or party? You choose.
“Instead of having a Christmas party this year, we instead had a summer party,” Says Frank Volpicella, KVUE TV (ABC) news director. “We asked the staff if they would rather have a picnic with their children, or a Christmas party. They choose a picnic, so we had one in mid-September.”
In the 1980s and 1990s we used to have BOTH summer and holiday parties at KVUE and KXAN.
KVUE did have a “diversity lunch” in the newsroom this week. The TV station provided the main course, and the staff brought side dishes. Staff members were recognized for their years of service. Many received “swag”, stuff that builds up during the year—caps, T-shirts, and other things held back for distribution to the staff. This kind of thing is typical of all media.
KEYE-TV used to have formal parties too, says Suzanne Black, news director, but that changed with the times. “Even with the change, we have some pretty phenomenal employee gifts and door prizes for this year, as well as years past,” Black says. “We do still have our [station-wide, catered] holiday lunch – and I’m looking forward to it! The news managers are also holding a holiday lunch for the news staff. We’re cooking for them!”
Nowadays, however, most members of the media celebrate the holidays in their work places with no formal attire, no ice sculptures, and no bands. Then, they go back to work, banging out the news of the day. Some of the staff is stuck at the court house or elsewhere unable to make it, but that’s the way it is. If they have seniority or if they’re lucky, they may have the holiday off to celebrate with family and friends.
Me? I’m glad for the “glory days”. Our anniversary is coming up!
© Jim McNabb, 2010
Monday, December 6, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
Did not Keith Olbermann at some time while earning his Communications Arts degree from Cornell ever take an ethics course? Did not some hoary professor rail against the mere appearance of partiality, political or otherwise? Did not some mentor along the way pull Olbermann aside telling him the dos and don’ts of journalism? Did not Mr. Olbermann have a policy manual placed in his hands at some broadcast outlet detailing unacceptable behavior unbecoming a journalist? Did he forget or did he think that none of this applied to him anymore?
At the local level I’m on record as a watchdog of sorts for journalists that approach the line of impartiality, even if they don’t cross the line. It’s unacceptable.
As you may have heard or read, Mr. Olbermann is suspended without pay from his job as host/anchor of “Countdown” on MSNBC indefinitely for making three $2,500 contributions to Democratic Party Congressional candidates during the last election cycle. What was he thinking and when did he stop thinking?
Regrettably, his colleague and friend Rachel Maddow defended him on the air Friday, November 05, 2010, comparing what happened to him to a long list of Fox News Channel “journalists” who have made contributions and even raised money for their favorite politicians. Ms. Maddow has a PhD, but it isn’t in journalism. I enjoy her show most of the time, and it has journalistic value. She’s wrong on this one. Her analysis does not approach Journalism with a big “J”.
My dad early on cautioned me to never compare myself to anyone else. Ms. Maddow and Mr. Olbermann would do well to not offer a defense of saying, Fox does it. Doesn’t that prove a double standard?
I don’t care what Fox News Channel does. That’s Rupert Murdoch’s business. His rags (with the possible exception of the Wall Street Journal) that some call newspapers and Fox do not set a high standard. I doubt that Mr. Murdoch’s form of media was taught at Cornell either.
Did not Mr. Olbermann know that campaign contributions are a public record? Did he not think that his rather distinctive name might be noticed?
A former Austin news director and friend of mine and I used to have heady discussions about his decision not to vote in primary elections. His contention was that “someone” would see that he’d voted in a particular party primary. Therefore, he must be a member of that party.
My feeling was that being a journalist should not deprive me of the right to vote. I could and should vote in a primary. Just because I voted in a certain party’s primary shouldn’t label me as a member of that party.
We went round and round about it, and I don’t think that it was ever decided one way or another.
Making a political contributions to a candidate or candidates, on the other hand, is different. It’s commitment. It’s taking cold, hard cash out of your pocket and giving it to a campaign. That tarnishes your credibility. Well, it puts you on the same plain as Fox. Does Olbermann really want to be there?
Recently, Olbermann made a good decision. He decided to abandon one of the features in Countdown—“The Worst Persons in the World”. His intentions were noble. He felt that that portion of the program was less than civil, and he wanted to reset the standard.
Well, Mr. Olbermann has reset the standard alright. He, himself, might now qualify as one of his “Worst Persons in the World”.
I really like his intellect (when he uses it) and wit, but I’ll be very interested to hear what he has to say when he returns.
In the mean time, this should be a lesson to all young people who want to call themselves professional journalists.
Nowadays, the line seems to be blurred between commentator/entertainer/host and journalist. There IS a difference, and I am happy that NBC/MSNBC was quick to recognize that Olbermann had crossed that line and took definitive action even at the outset of a sweeps month. Ms. Maddow might take note too.
© Jim McNabb, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
So, Who Won on TV?
Now that the votes are in, it’s time to consider who did the best job of reporting the election. It must be said that since I only have four TVs, and I can’t watch all stations and some networks all at the same time. So, since KTBC TV (Fox) coverage is at 9 p.m. when things are just heating up in other parts of the nation, KTBC was left out. I’m sure they did a fine job.
Locally, I’m going to give my nod to KXAN TV (NBC) despite some hiccups and one ill-advised decision. (Yeah, I know that some will sneer saying he’s just picking them because he worked there. Remember, I worked, er, everywhere, and I have friends at all stations.) Part of the reason that I picked KXAN is NBC. NBC provided the local station with ample windows for reporting results. KXAN promised to be everywhere in their promos, and they seemed to be everywhere, using several forms of technology throughout the evening reporting local and state election results. KEYE TV (CBS) stuck to programming until its 10 O’clock.
The 6 O’clock dry run with Robert Hadlock and Leslie Cook had a highlight and a low light. The high light was taking advantage of a live report via broadband from Elise Hu of the non-for-profit web portal Texas Tribune. Hu was formerly the capitol reporter for KVUE TV (ABC). She’s a polished pro providing depth to the coverage. The Texas Tribune makes its content available to all at no charge, but this is the first time I’ve seen their content used in broadcast media. Hu identified herself with the Trib, but then did a custom KXAN tag or “sig out” at the end. I generally don’t like broadband coverage except during spot news coverage, but the report from the Trib worked well.
The 6 O’clock low light was an awkward loss of a live shot. Anchor Robert Hadlock read the intro to pitch to Shannon Wolfson at the Bill White election night party in Houston, and poor Mr. Hadlock was left with his face hanging out. Hadlock, also a pro, handled it well and moved on. They were successful in going to the Houston later in the broadcast. Here’s a producer’s rule: Have the talent talking on camera doing a microphone check well before you go to the shot. That way, if there is a problem, the producer can tell the anchor to skip that page, and no one is the wiser.
True, live shots go down unexpectedly, but KXAN has a long, long history of shooting itself in the technical foot. These technical problems are sometimes due to today’s TV production automation, but we’re talking about technical problems over the decades long before today’s automation.
Throughout the evening, KXAN seemed to have more cut-ins and more election reports that the competitors. I didn’t count them or time them. KXAN sometimes would scroll through the races so fast, it was close to impossible to read them. Maybe it was just me trying to watch four TVs at once.
One other thing KXAN did was a live report from their web producer telling what viewers were saying about the election. She handled it well.
It was really hard to decide whether KXAN was better than KVUE because of KXAN’s “issues”. It’s all rather subjective anyway. Yes, KXAN had flaws, but they took some chances. Some worked, some didn’t. I thought about calling it a tie, but I decided that was the “chicken” way out.
The 10 O’clock show—always hectic on election nights—was smooth on KXAN compared to the 6 O’clock, but the producers made one bad decision. They took the live victory speech from Rick Perry off the top instead of giving election results. KEYE-TV (CBS) did the same.
This is where KVUE and KEYE made the right choice. KVUE quickly ran through the “numbers”, giving the audience what it really wants first before going to the governor. "KEYE did the governor’s numbers first, followed by a liveshot from Jason Wheeler," says Suzanne Black, KEYE news director. "We then went back to Ron and Judy who pitched to the Governor’s speech." There is no reason to let the governor run the TV station. Stations can always record the speech from the beginning or join it in progress. The users/viewers/consumers/audience wants to know all of the election results. So, stations should show them off the top of the show with very rare exceptions.
As usual, KVUE’s production anchored by Terri Gruca and Tyler Seiswerda was clean and professional. There were no obvious distractions, although I’m sure that there was chaos behind the scenes. There always is chaos on election night.
KEYE’s Judy Maggio and Ron Oliviera, Austin’s most experienced anchors, did an admirable job with their available resources.
Nationally, as I said, NBC seemed to have the best coverage going “wall-to-wall” before anyone else. ABC started up its coverage a little later. NBC had superior sets and graphics. Those same graphics and reporter resources were utilized by MSNBC—a huge advantage to the cable channel. MSNBC was wall-to-wall all evening long, as was CNN and Fox. MSNBC was the most nimble, interrupting interviews at times to “call” another contest. They had constant results. CNN’s picture was so cluttered, one really needed a 60-inch HD flat screen to read it all. I don’t.
It was MSNBC that took the entire Rand Paul victory speech live. They do that kind of thing often.
Yeah, some people may not like the MSNBC anchors and analysts. Yeah, they can be considered “liberal”, but they also can be considered good journalists and reporters when they’re not giving commentary. So, MSNBC is my choice for best coverage at the national level.
The Washington Post is the hands-down winner for timely alerts calling winners in races nationwide. I thought my phone was going to melt down. It did need a re-charge.
We all do.
© Jim McNabb, 2010