Sunday, April 30, 2006

Back and forth in the Wilkes-Barre newspaper war

The Times Leader, hoping to avoid assimilation by Times-Shamrock, boasts that a two-paper market is best for the public. And yet, the TL reports today that it also hurts its appeal to possible investors. This comes after another company picked up four newspapers from McClatchy, the TL not being one of them.

Here's more bad news from the Wilkes-Barre newspaper war as well. A tipster reports that some TL employees have already shipped their resumes across the street to the Citizens' Voice, anticipating that Times-Shamrock will swoop down, pick the best reporters from both newspapers, and combine it into the Citizens' Leader (or whatever name you want to pick). "We're hanging on, gallows humor, all looking," the tipster said.

Representatives from the Newspaper Guild will be heading to Wilkes-Barre soon to talk with TL employees and survey the matter. For those who don't know, the Guild has expressed interest in the TL, and is backing a California company's bid for it. That has made some unionized CV employees upset that the Guild would even consider helping someone buy the TL.

The TL/CV saga could prove to be more interesting than Nexstar's retransmission fee brouhaha a few months ago.

In unrelated news, people who want to visit former WYOU news director Frank Andrews' state representative campaign website will find a strong message: "The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her bandwidth limit. Please try again later." Oops.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Where are they now?

Today, we feature former WNEP anchorman John Kosich.

Kosich got his start in Missouri, likely in one of those backwater TV markets. In 1990, he headed to the glitz of Atlantic City, where he replaced Susan Houseman at WMGM-TV, who was leaving for WNEP at that time. Kosich joined his former WMGM co-worker four years later, when he joined WNEP as a morning anchorman.

After his time in Moosic, Kosich headed to WKBW-TV in Buffalo, N.Y., where he likely got sick of the lake-effect snow. From there, it was off to Ohio, where Kosich reported for WKYC-TV in Cleveland, where he stayed for two years.

Where is he now? Kosich is a reporter for WEWS-TV in Cleveland.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

School to reporters: get lost

Danville High School has a unique way to handle reporters. Administrators just shoo them away (subscription required) and refuse to answer any questions. That's what happened to reporters from the Press Enterprise and WNEP when they tried to cover a gay rights protest at the central Pennsylvania school.

The newspaper got into a huff about it. But WNEP was silent. I didn't catch anything about the administration's actions yesterday, and I don't see any stories on their website. It's surprising, because usually reporters love it when a public servant tries to keep them from doing their jobs. It gives them the chance to stick a mic in the person's face and grill them.

Perhaps that tactic is mean, but frankly, I don't get paid enough to care.

By the way, happy sweeps!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Branding the news

Do you watch a station because of the reporter or the station? As local news operations nationwide try to keep younger viewers from running off, it's interesting to see if good journalism (or, to be pessimistic, ratings) come from the reporter or the station backing that person. Which is the more-important brand?

People like Tom Powell, who started at WGBI in the 1950s and stayed on through the WDAU era, were the kind who gave the station its brand. He was a no-nonsense reporter - and later news director - who was probably the closest thing Scranton had to Walter Cronkite. And like Cronkite, the viewers trusted him. Powell had the personal brand strong enough to make WGBI/WDAU the dominant station up to the 1970s.

Today, it's less about the reporter, and more about the station. Some blog posters here have noted that this market has a short attention span. Today's star reporter becomes yesterday's news after they pack up and leave. Would Paola Giangacomo have the same effect if she wasn't on WNEP? I'd say no. Her personal brand was created by the station. It's not to say she isn't a decent anchor, but if she left tomorrow, things would not change at WNEP.

And history backs up the argument. Remember when Frank Andrews returned to local TV? WYOU picked him up, because he was a former WNEP anchorman who spent his life in the market. The station was hoping that having Andrews would steal viewers from 16 Montage Mountain Road. But that didn't happen.

People watch a station because of the station itself. That's what the promotions department is there for. Reporters are just the interchangable pieces who come and go every two years. It's pessimistic, but it's the nature of what television news has become.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Transcripts do not equal viewers

I've talked about Nexstar's reluctance (or general apathy) towards putting together more-informative websites for WBRE and WYOU. Why don't we put some real numbers to things? Alexa, which ranks websites based on its popularity, ranked WNEP, WBRE, and WYOU as such:

1. - 34,803
2. - 464,495
3. - 1,003,323

(Smaller numbers equal more popularity)

The numbers confirm what everyone knows. WNEP puts a lot into its website, and it pays off. Their stories are always updated, and sometimes accompany video. WNEP even has a higher Alexa ranking than KYW-TV, a network O&O.

WBRE and WYOU? "Here's a verbatim transcript of the story!" Sorry guys, but if I want transcripts, I'll buy 'em from Burrelle's.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Not quite live

Did WNEP learn anything from the VNR fiasco? Probably not, according to this Talkback 16 poster, who says WNEP passed off a look-live as a live report. Even anchorman Mike Lewis played along as if it was live.

For those who don't know, a look-live is a reporter standup or package that appears to be live, but is not. If you don't see a "LIVE" graphic anywhere, then you know the whole thing has been pre-recorded and edited. Though I think look-lives are stupid, there's nothing unethical about it, provided it's not passed off as being live.

And if that poster is right, did WNEP pull another one over on its viewers? I didn't see the story in question, so hopefully someone can shed light on things. But after the whole "fake news" brouhaha, one would think WNEP would be keeping a sharper eye on its product.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Where are they now?

Today, we feature former WYOU reporter Melissa Becker-Sgroi.

Becker-Sgroi, like many reporters in this market, was born and raised in the area. She started out as a reporter/anchor for WILK radio, before hopping over to WYOU as an assignment editor/morning reporter. Becker-Sgroi took a break from WYOU in 1992, but later returned as the weekend anchor. Six years later, she and her unusually-long-last-name-for-television packed it up and left WYOU.

Where is she now? Becker-Sgroi is a professor at King's College in Wilkes-Barre.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Crews control

You heard it here first. There is no such thing as a firefighter, paramedic, or EMT anymore. Well, that's if you watch local news. We've packed those individual jobs into one word: crews.

WNEP: Crews spread were thin as brush fires flared up...
WBRE: ...while waiting for emergency crews.
WYOU: It took emergency crews nearly an hour...

Call me a stickler for good writing, but "crews" is a word that says "We didn't bother to see if they were firefighters, paramedics, or police officers." It's much like the word "officials," which also gives no clue as to who said it.

However, since this is brush fire season, I fully expect to hear "crews" come out of every anchor's mouth at least three times in a newscast. It's no surprise. All three station in this market have trouble writing clearly. WNEP is the worst, and WBRE and WYOU seem to be catching up.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

So much for pink

Maybe I don't pay attention much, but I recently noticed an odd inconsistency on WBRE's website. Compare this bio picture of Lyndall Stout...

...with her picture in the anchor lineup at the top of the page.

Do you see it? It's the exact same picture, except in the headline banner, Stout's pink coat turns black. Almost like someone photoshopped one on her. Perhaps someone thought the pink would contrast with the black sportscoats worn by the anchors?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

What is the price of good publicity?

Have you ever read Happenings magazine? It's something that NEPA Media describes as a "glossy shopper," of the many that no doubt dot this area. The magazine is full of the usual fluff and features that you'd expect. And last month, Happenings featured a cover piece about former WYOU anchorman Frank Andrews and his love of the Red Cross.

Sounds like an on-par story for this caliber of publication. But here's where things get a bit strange. First, the piece on the Red Cross only mentions Andrews once or twice, even though he's on the front cover. Second, you have to buy a full-page ad if you want a front-page story.

Wait, did I just hear myself correctly? You have to pay to be considered for a front-page story? That's straight from the publishers themselves. And if you look inside the front cover, there's an ad for the Red Cross.

Color me confused. Why would Frank Andrews, a 30-year news veteran, agree to appear in a pay-to-play publication? More importantly, why would he do so while he was still news director at WYOU? So, I decided to ask him. Here's what he told me:

1. He was unaware, until now, that Happenings was a pay-to-play publication.
2. The Red Cross asked him to pose for the front cover, and he obliged because he likes to help charities.
3. He was told Happenings always gave front-page coverage to the Red Cross' events.
4. He saw no conflict of interest with WYOU because he was only agreeing to be honorary chairman, nothing else.
5. He did not pay anything to Happenings, nor did WYOU. And he believes it didn't cost the Red Cross anything either.
6. He agreed to be on the cover, long before Gaynor Cawley (who he's hoping to replace) decided to retire from the state legislature.

I tried contacting someone from Happenings, but got nowhere. Color me surprised.

Given that the Red Cross seemed to have total control of the story in Happenings (and because the inside ad is for the Red Cross, and not Andrews), I'm more inclined to believe the organization wanted Andrews on the cover simply for the "wow" factor ("Hey, look who's on the cover! I should read this!"), as opposed to Andrews wanting election publicity.

I guess the lesson here is to know what you're getting yourself into.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Where are they now?

Today, we feature former WBRE weather forecaster Kim Martucci.

Describing her favorite hobby is chasing tornadoes, Martucci got her start at WRCB in Tennessee. After a few stops guessing the weather in the south and northeast - including one at FOX O&O WFXT in Boston - she headed to WSI, a company that supplies weather-forecasting software to TV stations.

Television seemed to lure her back, and in 2002, she came to WBRE. You might remember one particular newscast, where she had one hell of a coughing fit during her weather segment. But the big leagues came calling, and in 2004, Martucci exercised a 20-and-out clause in her contract, and packed her bags...and presumably a few cough drops!

Where is she now? Martucci is the morning weather forecaster at WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Not a Good Friday for baseball

I don't mean to be on a WNEP kick here, but you probably know that the station declined to air the Red Barons home opener because it fell on Good Friday. Station GM Lou Kirchen previously said she didn't feel it was an "appropriate day" to show the game. Instead, WNEP filled the time slots with news, "Inside Edition," "Extreme Makeover," and a Tom Cruise interview on "Primetime."

While I can appreciate that today is a solemn day for Christians, would it really be that bad to show a baseball game? Frankly, I would rather see a baseball game on Good Friday than I would a tabloid news program or another reality TV show. One would think that if WNEP really wanted to treat today with respect, it could have aired a mass from, say, St. Ann's in Scranton, instead of the Red Barons game or the tabloid/reality replacement.

Since this market is pretty Catholic, especially in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, I can't say I'm surprised that WNEP pulled the baseball game. I can even understand the reason behind it. But how does replacing a Red Barons game with a skateboard-riding bulldog make things any more respectful of Good Friday?

All in the family

Comment submissions to Beale's Bites run the gamut, from hilarious, to inflammatory, and to those that never make it out of the queue. One comment I approved this week (and I don't know which post it was to) really struck me. The comment was from someone who identified themself as a WNEP employee, referring to the producer who was fired for misconduct.

(Original formatting preserved.)

Perhaps I'm just cold, but any talk of an employer referring to its employees as a "family" is plain bull. There is no such thing as "family" in television news. No "family" I know of would try to low-ball a fellow "family member" (i.e. employee), or boot them out of the "family" (i.e. fire them) for superficial reasons. I've worked at stations that did those things, all while promoting some wholesome "family" story.

I view my job as just that, a job. I come in, I do my best, I go home. All my GM expects from me is that I do my job well. Fine with me. In return, all I expect from my GM is a paycheck that doesn't bounce. What about the rest of you?

Because Lou Kirchen seems upset that there's tipsters in her outfit, at least according to that poster, I would like to remind everyone that any tips e-mailed to me are completely confidential (don't send anything through your station's mail server!), and any posts made here can be done so anonymously. The last thing I want to see is someone losing their job because of this blog.

Also, if you know where the quoted post ended up, let me know. I can't find it!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The changing face of consumer reporting

Specialty beat reporting in this market is largely non-existant. There used to be reporters dedicately solely to specific beats, like crime, education, or health. They've all since been switched to general assignment or VNR patrol. But one beat has stuck around in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market, and it's growing in popularity: the consumer beat.

Both WBRE and WNEP have their own consumer reporters, who handle their beats differently. On WNEP's "Action 16" segments, you have Sherman Burdette. If you've ever wondered whether a certain product lives up to its claims, Burdette is the one you go to. He also gives out general consumer news, like recalls and scams. Over at WBRE, Elliot Weiler's "On Your Side" segments show him going after local crooked businesses. So, when Joe's Fly-by-Nite rips you off, Weiler might grab a photographer and knock on their door.

Which station has the better consumer segments? That's your call. Burdette's trademark is his "Does it work?" product tryouts, which can save you from plunking down money on a crappy product. Weiler, on the other hand, sticks to resolving consumer complaints and shoving cameras in a scammer's face, which can save you from plunking down money on a crappy company.

Whatever you watch, it's clear that consumer reporting will not be going anywhere in this market, even as Weiler prepares to jump to a higher market. If the GMs at WBRE and WNEP are smart, they'll do what they can to keep the segments alive, and keep the accompanying eyeballs from the Nielsen families.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Weiler heading to St. Louis

As you first heard here last week, WBRE consumer reporter Elliot Weiler is leaving after four years in Wilkes-Barre. A newsroom insider says he will be heading to KTVI-TV, a FOX owned-and-operated station in St. Louis. And how's this for timing? Weiler will be leaving during May sweeps.

WBRE is still hunting for his replacement.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Here we go again

First, the Times Leader claimed an "exclusive" on a story based on public federal records. Then, they slapped "exclusive" on a story that was first reported by a college newspaper. Now, the newspaper is proclaiming an "exclusive" on what was said at a public meeting.

This story, dealing with a Luzerne County prison guard accused of beating a prisoner, was pegged as an exclusive, presumably because the county warden says he wants the guard fired.

How can it be an exclusive, when the statements were made at a public meeting? More importantly, how can it be an exclusive if The Citizens' Voice ran the same story with the same information on the same day?

Where are they now?

Today, we feature former WNEP sports anchorman Tom Tidey.

Like so many WNEP anchors, Tidey was born and raised right in the market. After graduating from college, he started as a DJ at a Shamokin radio station. He then jumped to WNEP as a reporter, before flying south to Florida for three years. Then, it was back to Moosic for Tidey, who settled in as the station's primary sports anchor.

And then, Tidey came face-to-face with the "take it or leave it" philosophy. After turning down the contract he was offered, former WNEP GM Rene LaSpina skipped negotiations and went straight to the "leave it" option. Tidey left WNEP in 1999.

Where is he now? Tidey no longer works in television news.

Friday, April 07, 2006

VNR follow-up

Here's what WNEP news director Dennis Fisher had to say about the video news release scandal.

On February 22, 2006, Newswatch 16 mistakenly used text and video from a public relations firm without disclosing the source. The story concerned a New England Journal of Medicine study of the dietary supplements Glucosamine and Chondroitin. A related story appeared on

The material came from a Video News Release, or VNR, produced by MultiVu, a public relations firm hired by a company that makes and sells dietary supplements. Our reporter thought the material was from the New England Journal of Medicine. She made an honest mistake.

Our policy requires us to disclose the source of the materials we use in our news reports, and to properly attribute everything. In this case, we failed to do that.

We have a duty to our viewers to present the news accurately and fairly, and to properly attribute the sources of all the materials that go into our reports. We take that responsibility very seriously, and we recognize our error. We sincerely apologize to our viewers.

Dennis Fisher
WNEP-TV News Director

Take it as you will. It doesn't sound like WNEP will be discussing the matter further, so I'll leave it to you.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

WNEP: The News PR Station

Video news releases are a very touchy subject in broadcast journalism. These are like press releases, except it comes in a packaged video product provided by a PR agency or other interest group. Sometimes the VNR includes a suggested script for the anchor to read; other times the VNR comes with its own "reporter." Whichever way you go, the VNRs rarely disclose its source. After the Karen Ryan fiasco, television stations ran away from VNRs like the plague.

WNEP apparently didn't get the message. The Center for Media and Democracy, a PR watchdog group, identified WNEP as a station that ran a VNR which was funded by a vitamin supplement company, as seen left. As if that wasn't enough, health reporter Jill Garrett simply repeated the VNR message seemingly verbatim. WNEP neglected to mention that the report was really just disguised advertising by the supplement company.

Uh oh! Let's hope the viewers didn't notice. Oh wait, they did! WNEP news director Dennis Fisher made a surprise appearance on the Talkback 16 message board, and admitted that a VNR was used for Garrett's "report," and the source of the information was never disclosed. Fisher is promising an "investigation" into the matter.

So, has Jill Garrett been dipping into the VNRs? One Talkback 16 poster thinks so. "It seems like she seldom uses real doctors and real people from around here; it's always stuff that looks like it comes off those VNR's," the person wrote. And since many VNRs are health-oriented in nature, it's very possible that WNEP's health reporter has simply been re-hashing health messages that are actually funded by corporate interests.

What excuse does "The News Station" have for completely throwing ethics to the wind? I guess we'll have to wait for WNEP's "investigation." Whatever the result is, one thing is certain: WNEP's decision to air a video news release was inexcusable.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Awards ahoy

The Pennsylvania AP award nominations were released today, so let's see how everyone fared.

In television, WNEP, once again, got nominated for several awards. Since WBRE and WYOU no longer subscribe to the AP, it's pretty obvious that WNEP would pop up. This year, their "Proud to Serve" foray into Iraq is up for News Documentary, and their sportscasts have been nominated as well.

Radio is a bit more crowded...

WILK: Up for awards in News Documentary and Best News/Talk Program.
WVIA: Up for an award in Spot News.
WKOK: Up for awards in Enterprise Reporting, Spot News, Best Newscast, Best Feature, Best Radio Sound, Best Sports, Best Sports Play-by-Play. (whew)
WGRC: Up for awards in News Documentary, Best Feature, Best Series, Best Radio Sound, Best News/Talk Program. (whew)

Final awards will be given later this month. Best of luck to everyone!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Skycam 16 semi-grounded

There's been a few rumors floating around that WNEP is tightening its budget due to a directive from further up the food chain. The most recent order from the folks in corporate, according to a tipster, is that Skycam 16 will be semi-grounded. Only ten hours of flight time per month is allowed, the tipster says, presumably to cut down on fuel costs.

An earlier tip said there was a hiring freeze, or something to that effect. What is interesting is, shortly after that tip came in, WNEP put anchorwoman Marisa Burke in charge of producing the 6 p.m. newscast, after the previous producer was axed for misusing station resources. Is not hiring a new producer a sign of a tighter budget on Montage Mountain Road, or a sign that there's not many good producer applicants out there?

Belt-tightening at WNEP seems odd. The station's immense ratings and popularity has practically given it its own license to print money. And lest we forget about all the fancy toys WNEP has, like its own helicopter, and its fleet of microwave and satellite trucks. But times are tough across the board, whether you work for a successful station group like The New York Times Company, or a crappy station group like Granite Broadcasting.

For what it's worth, a source at WNEP declined to confirm or deny the rumors. But if we see less airtime this month for Skycam 16, then perhaps something is up...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Missing the story

WKOK has the distinction of being the only all-news radio station in this market. Tucked away down in Sunbury, the station actually does news, instead of the usual talk-o-rama heard on other AM stations across the region. Sometimes, people from WNEP and WBRE will listen in, to see if there's anything big happening down in central Pennsylvania.

This weekend, WKOK also earned the distinction of missing a big story in their own backyard. A PPL error cut off natural gas to everyone in Mount Carmel, leaving thousands of people without hot water, heat, or a way to fire up their stoves. It got coverage on WNEP and in the local newspapers down that way. And why not? Weekends are typically slow anyway, so breaking news is welcome news.

Where was WKOK? They were doing stories about the United Way, the Easter Bunny, and other fluff. To be fair, it's possible the station never put the story on its website (which would be dumb). But how can the station miss a big story happening right in their own backyard? Maybe station management should be watching WNEP and WBRE to see if there's anything big happening.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Joke's on you?

Taken from Andy Palumbo's "April Fool!" blog post at WNEP...

Don't get too comfy, you might get hired as their newest news director!

(For those who don't get the joke, Palumbo worked for WYOU in the early 1990s.)

"Where are they now?" will return next week.