Tuesday, January 31, 2006

When words are overused and abused

The Times Leader has labeled today's story about Rep. Don Sherwood's fundraising as an EXCLUSIVE. What a lofty designation for a story based on public documents that are available from the Federal Election Commission.

Remember when "exclusive" meant something?

Beauty and the beast news

As ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff continues to recover from his injuries, there's word among insiders that the weekend bomb blast may keep him off-air. Why? His facial injuries are reportedly extensive, and if there's bad scarring or other disfigurement, that means Woodruff's on-air career is over.

Whether that's true or not, it does bring up one of those bitter truths of this industry. You've got to be good looking if you plan on going anywhere. In television, that's somewhat understandable, because nobody wants to look at someone who looks like shit. But some news directors place more emphasis on looks than abilities.

Take a look at this interesting read on Kacey Montoya, a reporter out in Palm Springs, California. Was she hired for her newsgathering skills, or was it because of (don't click this if you're at work!) pictures like this?

WNEP's Marisa Burke is well-aware of the "look good or don't work" situation. Three years ago, she admitted to having plastic surgery done on her eyelids. Her reasons for doing so were all too valid: "I want to prolong my career in television." Granted, Burke's two decades at WNEP have earned her job security, but what if she was a newly-hired anchor at another market? Different situation, different outcome.

When longtime WDAU news director Tom Powell died in 2004, Debbie Dunleavy had this to say about him. "You could have a wonderful personality or look like you just stepped out of GQ magazine, but if you could not write, he'd tell you to hit the bricks." Judging by what I see on television now, not many people adhere to Powell's philosophy.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Dot bomb

For many people, their first source of information on breaking news is the Internet. Information is more likely to be updated faster online than it is in broadcast. And many television stations now use their websites to compliment their existing coverage, or to skirt a non-compete clause.

Of the TV news websites in this market, WNEP is the hands-down winner. They've invested a lot of money into their site, with streaming video and a producer whose sole job is to update online stories. You can even see what's on Andy Palumbo's mind.

But from looking at WBRE and WYOU's online presence, you can tell they don't think highly of investing money in a better website. Hey, it's Nexstar, 'nuff said. The stories are unreadable, old, and in some cases, all you get is a verbatim script for a package.

A reader recently pointed out that this market, as a whole, sucks when it comes to an online presence. In Binghamton (Market 156), each station has video for each story on its website, and so does tiny little WETM in equally tiny little Elmira (Market 173). WNEP only lets you see the first block of their newscasts, and not individual stories. As soon as video is posted, it's removed to make way for the next newscast.

If stations in bottom-rung markets can be bothered to have decent looking, informative websites, then why not here in Market 54? With broadband becoming so cheap and new technologies being developed, more people are using the Internet for their news. TV stations are crazy if they think a good online presence doesn't matter.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Where are they now?

Today, we feature former WBRE education reporter Sherrie Johnson.

Johnson gradually worked her way north to WBRE, with stops at WITN-TV and WLOS-TV in North Carolina. She came to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2001 as WBRE's education reporter. Her "Making the Grade" stories focused on local school teachers and the things they did in their classroom. Johnson left WBRE in 2003, and as with other dedicated beats at this time, hers was not replaced. She spent the next two years as a freelance reporter for WTTG-TV in Washington, D.C., and Fox News.

Where is she now? Johnson is now a morning and noon reporter for WMAR-TV in Baltimore.

And if you know the whereabouts of anyone who's left this market, let me know, and I'll include them in a future "Where are they now?" post.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Love stinks

WBRE is attempting to answer a question that has left even our brighest scholars befuddled: what do women want? Say hello to the station's Valentine's Day promotion, where women can tell the station what they'd really like from their men, and the worst Valentine's Day gifts they've received. WBRE will even send a "Secret Cupid" e-mail to let the man in your life know what you want for Valentine's Day.

Anyone see the problem here? Any guy who gets one of these "Secret Cupid" e-mails will automatically know it's from his wife or girlfriend. But if your man can't figure out the sender's identity, who knows? He might be dumb, or cheating on you with a lot of women. In that case, I'm sure Maury Povich would like you on his show.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mini Bites

Attention angry Christians: you can stop bugging Paul Stueber. NBC has essentially cancelled "The Book of Daniel," a show about a pill-popping priest with a dysfunctional family, after right-wing Christian groups (predictably) got upset. Nexstar stations WTWO and KARK were among the seven that initially refused to air it. Now the only thing Stueber needs to worry about are the resume tapes from WBNG.

Sick of those PBS pledge drives getting in the way of your favorite British comedy? A PBS affiliate in upstate New York has put an end to on-air pitches. Their CEO decided that interrupting someone's favorite programming was a bad idea. In lieu of pitching, the station bought a television production company to help make some money. I wouldn't expect WVIA to follow suit, if only because no other station has done this, and only time will tell how successful it is.

The struggling WB and UPN network are merging into something called The CW. Already, some individual WB and UPN affiliates have been told they'll lose their affiliations, including flagship UPN station WWOR in New York. It'll be interesting to see how NEPA's WB affiliate, WSWB, will fare.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Moving on

Veteran WNEP photographer Steve Firmstone is leaving his job to "pursue other interests," a tipster says. He is one of those true "local guys," having been at WNEP since graduating from Bloomsburg University in the mid 1980s. It's interesting how reporters will come and go in this market, and yet the photogs stick around.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Where are they now?

Today, we feature former WNEP reporter Dr. Steve Greenberg.

A dentist by training, Greenberg decided TV was his calling, and headed to WNEP in 1987. After two years, he headed south to Miami for a six-year stay at WCIX-TV (now WFOR-TV). He also added a few other jobs during his time in Florida. In 1993, Greenberg started working as a media training coach, and in 1994, appeared as an uncredited television reporter in the movie Drop Zone.

The rest of the 90s saw Greenberg working as a freelance producer for PBS, Fox, and the Discovery Channel, among others. He also continued working as a media coach for UPS and the American Academy of Ophthalmology (What, no American Dental Association?) and landed a role as "Fearful Man" in 1997's forgettable Plato's Run.

Where is he now? Greenberg runs his own production company, and continues to work as a media training coach. And since he does commercial voice overs, chances are you've heard him on TV or radio.

His Hollywood career, however, doesn't appear to be going places.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

At least they have their police blotter

I thought this was a funny note from Times Leader editor Matt Golas today regarding the Crestwood contract negotiations...

I am amazed at the lack of information out there despite a tentative settlement that was reached over the weekend following court-mandated negotiations between the union representing the Crestwood teachers and the administration.

Hmmm...say, you don't think it's because of the GAG ORDER, do you? Since the TL apparently can't get anything off the record as well, Golas is openly soliciting leaks from the public.

Both sides are expected to approve the contract today, which means every newspaper and TV reporter will be privy to the details. So if Golas is expecting to snag some sort of exclusive, I think he's going about it the wrong way.

UPDATE: And Crestwood has a new contract. So much for soliciting leaks, Matt.

Tragedy as news

You may have seen coverage of Mia Diaz's funeral on all three stations recently. WNEP seemed to lead the way in coverage, probably because they had video of Diaz from a previous story. WBRE and WYOU popped up as well, although their coverage wasn't quite as extensive.

Was it newsworthy?

Mia died because she was hit by a minivan while crossing the street on her way to school. Whether this was preventable or not is for the cops to decide. But people die every day. Some die of old age, some die of disease, and some die at the hands of themselves or, in Mia's case, other people. And you rarely see this kind of coverage for the man who died when his car flipped over on the interstate or the woman who died because she had a terminal illness.

I can't say what it was that made Mia Diaz's accident and funeral a rundown-topping event. Maybe it was the show of overwhelming support from her friends and classmates. Maybe it was because she was a young girl who was full of promise, but died before her time. Maybe it was the silver lining in the sadness, that others would live thanks to Mia's donated organs. Or maybe it was because it was a slow news day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Slash-and-burn in Binghamton?

Binghamton, N.Y., is a traditional starting point for many new reporters, who tend to head down Interstate 81 and land in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton until they find a better job. Now that WBNG has been bought out by Granite Broadcasting for $45 million, I expect that news directors in this market will find a few extra resume tapes postmarked from our friends in Market 156.

Why is that?

For those of you who don't know about Granite, the company's stock is in the crapper, and they have nearly a half-billion dollars in debt. It makes Nexstar Broadcasting look admirable in comparison. Call me cynical, but I'm going to bet that the bean counters will head into WBNG's newsroom on a slash-and-burn mission real soon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The bottom line

The Times Leader has cut the Service section from its newspaper as of today. TL bigwigs say this "will improve the newspaper," but with all of the brouhaha over parent company Knight Ridder's finances, one can't help but think if this "will improve the bottom line" instead.

It could be worse. In a more-drastic cost-cutting move, Sinclair Broadcast is closing news departments at television stations in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee. Possibly more. They're not reducing their news content, they're eliminating it.

You may wonder why so many journalists decide to jump to public relations, a la Kathy Bozinski or Megan Dardanell. Yes, there's the fact that PR tends to have better salaries, but there's also job security. You don't need to worry about whether your parent company will conduct a search-and-destroy mission in your workplace. I had a colleague who accepted a job at a TV station, only to be laid off within two months, because the bean counters wanted to save money.

How I long for the days when journalism was more about the news and less about making money.

Promotions abound

  • As is the case with many salespeople, WNEP sales manager Lou Abitabilo has been promoted to station manager/exec. vice president. Before coming to Moosic in 2001, he plied his trade at respective NBC and Fox O&Os WNBC and WNYW.

  • All-news radio station WKOK has promoted asst. news director Matt Paul to news director. The position had been vacant ever since former news director Peggy Chamberlain left a year ago.
  • Saturday, January 14, 2006

    Where are they now?

    Today, we feature former WYOU sports director John Nugent.

    Before coming to WYOU, Nugent spent time in New York and Florida as a sports anchor and reporter. A big hockey fan (he's a certified instructor...whatever that means), Nugent even covered the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. (Insert "MIRACLE!" reference here.) In his nearly 15 years at WYOU, he was dubbed the "dean of local sports television broadcasters" by the Times Leader. Not a bad designation, given that this market is mad about sports.

    But Nugent also had some marks on his record. In 1996, he was arrested for drunk driving, and later served community service. It was his third conviction; Nugent was nailed for DUI in 1980 and 1982 while in New York.

    In 2001, Nugent decided he wouldn't renew his contract, and left WYOU.

    Where is he now? John is the sports director for WTSP-TV in Tampa, Florida. Former WBRE reporter Alexandra Hackett is also a reporter down there.

    Thursday, January 12, 2006

    Banished words

    When I started out in broadcast journalism, I had a boss whose script review process would've made Bob Absher cry. This guy was a stickler for a conversational tone in every story we aired. If we used a word he didn't understand, he'd throw the script back and demand a rewrite. He was a real hardass, but he was right. People can't re-read a confusing statement on television, as opposed to a newspaper, so we had to get it right the first time.

    I almost wish I could hit rewind whenever I hear a confusing sentence or lame cliche on this market's newscasts. WBRE and WYOU tends to sound like a police blotter, and WNEP uses every cliche in the book to sound conversational. Ugh.

    You may know about Lake Superior State University's annual list of "banished words," consisting of overused, annoying words and phrases. I think it's time someone does a "banished words" list for local newscasts.

    It's a pointless substitute for "fire." Can you imagine if we started saying "wildblaze" or "campblaze?" A fire is a fire.

    Broke out
    Nothing "breaks out" unless it physically escapes a confined area. Prisoners "break out" of jail. Fires, however, cannot "break out." They start, they happen.

    This isn't as bad as "blaze," but again, a fire is a fire.

    This is coptalk for "ran away."

    The only things that can be impacted are your bowels and teeth. However: The rain affected Johnny's plans to go outside and play football. The man's donation had a positive effect on the school's budget.

    Picture this: you're at a party, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie show up. You've got to tell your friends! What do you say?

    A. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are at the scene of the party!
    B. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are here at the party!

    "Two counts of endangering a person, one count of unlawful use of a weapon..."
    The only people who understand phrases like this are cops and lawyers. Most people are not cops and lawyers, but news anchors and reporters continue to rattle off these long lists of charges like it's an everyday thing. You know, if someone is charged with killing someone, does it really matter they got "one count of unlawful use of a weapon" tacked on there?

    Did I leave any out? Feel free to suggest your own!

    Wednesday, January 11, 2006

    Funerals and graphics

    Funeral services will be held tomorrow for John Foster, the former WNEP anchor who died this past weekend. Some of you may remember him from the mid-1970s, when he was an anchor and feature reporter. Here's the details on the funeral.

    In unrelated news, it looks like WYOU is trying some new on-screen graphics. During Eric Deabill's report tonight, there was a blue bar on the right hand side with the story slug, as opposed to the usual bottom-of-the-screen deal. I think it looks decent.

    By the way, Deabill wins extra points for being the only on-air personality in this market to wear suspenders. Classy!

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Sizing up the news

    I haven't done one of these in a while, so let's compare today's noon newscasts. Here's how the first block shaped up...

  • School reaction to Mia Diaz accident
  • Mia Diaz vigil
  • Atlas fire
  • Roadway job cuts
  • Dog attack
  • Alito hearings
  • Kidnapped journalist in Iraq
  • Ariel Sharon condition
  • North Korea meets with China
  • South Korea rejects U.S. beef

  • Church burglaries
  • Motel murder
  • Car arson
  • Drug treatment court
  • Crestwood talks
  • Mia Diaz vigil
  • Alito hearings

    WNEP's news broadcasts can be described like a clown car (hold the Snedeker jokes). They pack plenty of stories into a short amount of time. And today? No surprise there. I wonder why there was so much coverage to the Mia Diaz story? Perhaps it's a way to add a human touch to the accident. That, or an excuse to use the existing video of her from a previous story. It was nice to see WNEP not lead a newscast with "FIRE!" or "MURDER!" or "CRASHES!"

    "Pennsylvania Midday" lacked the traditional lead-off on a national story, which is good. I've previously questioned using national stories as a lead (unless it's major), because this is local news. WBRE/WYOU's stories are slightly longer than WNEP's, which can be a good thing. I hate watching an anchor throw a sentence at me and then move on to another story, as if my attention span is shorter than oh hey a chicken.


    I think both newscasts did something right today. WNEP held off on their so-called "crashwatch" content, and WBRE/WYOU kept NBC Newschannel's Brian Mooar at the end of the first block.
  • Monday, January 09, 2006

    Burning down the newsroom

    A screwy heating system set off fire alarms at WNEP this weekend. I was going to make a joke about station rivalry, but screw it, I'm tired.

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    Where are they now?

    (I meant to post this yesterday, but my flaky Internet connection decided otherwise.)

    Today, we feature former WBRE investigative reporter Aaron Diamant.

    Diamant has the distinction of being the last person at WBRE who primarily stuck to the investigative beat. Before showing up in Wilkes-Barre in 2001, he did stints in Philadelphia, Missouri, and Israel. And he's the only reporter I know with a degree in archaeology.

    What a perfect degree for someone whose job involves digging up dirt!

    *golf swing*

    Anyway, once his two years were up, Diamant headed down south. With that, WBRE ended its investigative beat.

    Where is he now? Diamant is an investigative reporter for WMC-TV in Memphis, Tennessee.

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Mini Bites

    Can't get enough of those retransmission fees!

    At least one cable company has lost WBRE and WYOU after balking at Nexstar's demand for retransmission fees. Subscribers of Shen-Heights Television now get NBC and CBS programming from Philadelphia. And here's the kicker. The company says nobody has complained about losing the Wilkes-Barre affiliates.

    Readers say WNEP fouls out on Orange Bowl coverage

    Some of you have found faults with WNEP's Orange Bowl coverage. Admittedly, I did not watch the post-game coverage, but some people feel WNEP dropped the ball by not doing enough.

    After all, Penn State did win. And with the army WNEP sent down south, one would think there would be more coverage done. Did the station even send a photog into the on-field mess following the game?

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    Shooting the messenger

    I was going to post about the hyped-up Orange Bowl coverage, but I'll save that for later. My mind is on West Virginia now. With what happened down there, some people are pointing their fingers to the press, blaming them for the miscommunication that 12 of the 13 miners survived. After all, didn't the reporters just take an unconfirmed rumor and run with it?

    It's hard to take something as unconfirmed when you see the miners' families and the governor telling you that most of the miners survived. But everyone was duped. The families, praying for a miracle, thought they had one. And when everyone saw the cheering, crying family members, it was hard to think that anything bad happened.

    Am I excusing the reporting of the rumor? Not fully. A while ago, a hardened newspaper correspondent told me that journalism is a discipline of verification. She was right. We report what people say, and we scrutinize our sources to make sure what we say is right. When the rumor started circulating, someone should've went to the mining company, or the rescue team, and asked if the rumor was true.

    But when you've got the families and the governor telling you the miners survived, it's hard to think otherwise.

    UPDATE: Reporters did ask the mine company to confirm the rumors, but the company sat on the information for too long.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    The Desk of Paul

    We kick off 2006 with angry letters and e-mails at WBRE. A national Christian group is a bit peeved about the upcoming NBC program "The Book of Daniel," claiming it demeans the Christian faith. Its response? A massive letter writing campaign to NBC stations.

    Quite a few people in northeast Pennsylvania are heeding the call. A tipster says WBRE news director Paul Stueber is getting "inundated" with lots of letters and e-mails from people who are upset at the NBC program, but don't realize that news directors typically have no control over non-news programming issues.

    Still, I think some fun can be had of this. When Stueber was news director at WNEP, he would sometimes have witty/sarcastic responses for Talkback 16 callers. Let's reprise that role! Just think of the amusing things he might say to the people flooding his inbox.

    UPDATE: WTWO (Terre Haute, Ind.) and KARK (Little Rock, Ark.), both owned by Nexstar, have announced they will not show "The Book of Daniel." We'll see if WBRE follows suit or stays with the show.