Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rude awakenings in religion

I read a few industry-related blogs in my spare time; one of them is run by Mike Sechrist, the GM at Nashville ABC affiliate WKRN. Recently, he posted about the troubles of covering religious stories.

It reminds me of my hesitation to cover stories on this topic. No, I don't have anything against religion or those who adhere to certain religious's just that otherwise mild-mannered religious folk turn hostile the moment they sense a reporter. Like the WKRN reporter who's been chased from church functions (even though the church sent a press release), I've been met with cold stares.

A long time ago, a church in the area had its Nativity scene vandalized. It always seemed to happen to this church, and the local newspaper quoted the pastor's disbelief that something like this could happen so closely to Christmas. So, I headed to the church, hoping to speak to the pastor. When I went into the church office, a secretary warmly welcomed me and asked if I needed anything. I identified myself, and asked if the pastor could spare a minute to talk to me about the vandalism.

The secretary immediately got up, and told me to leave. The other people in the office immediately shyed away from me. It was as if I was Madelyn Murray O'Hair herself. I was eventually told the pastor didn't want to talk to reporters, for fear of retribution, even though he spoke to the local newspaper. Not wanting to deal with the cold-shoulder treatment, I left, and used the tried-and-true backup plan of speaking to neighbors.

I don't understand why some religious folk have such contempt or distrust of reporters. Well, OK, I can make a few educated guesses. Either way, as much as I hate making broad generalizations, my experiences make me shy away from covering religious events. If I wanted to get icy stares from people, I'd head down to Harrisburg and pull a Mike Wallace on members of the state legislature, since they really don't like reporters!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Moving on up

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has bumped up a notch in the latest Nielsen market rankings. Currently Market 54, it will be Market 53 next year. A one-market bump, but still a bump upward.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

TL publisher takes calls on WVIA tonight

Times Leader publisher Rich Connor will be on WVIA's "State of Pennsylvania" at 9 o'clock tonight to discuss anything and everything about his takeover of the newspaper. You can even call in during the show and ask him questions. Wonder if there's any still-bitter union guys out there sitting next to their phones? More importantly, will Times-Shamrock's Scott Lynett call in and ask if Connor has any Prince Albert in a can?

(If you get the Prince Albert reference, you're either old, or know your history!)

You can call, toll free, at 1-800-326-9842. Tune in, it could be interesting.

Screwball told to stop bugging WNEP

If you've ever dreaded picking up that telephone and speaking to an idiot viewer, just imagine how everyone feels at WNEP. Doreen Bethel has been charged with harassment after police say she kept calling and writing to the station with bizarre claims and other screwball stuff, such as...

  • Claiming she was related to weekend anchorman Jon Meyer, and had information about a family emergency...
  • Claiming she was anchorwoman Marisa Burke's cousin, and asked for her phone number...
  • Leaving messages for sports anchorman Paul Grippi, asking questions about his family...
  • Claiming her husband worked at WNEP...

    Bethel's strange obsession with WNEP started back in September, and continued onward. She's now been told to stay away from the station and to stop calling its employees, though she could still pop up on Talkback 16's message board with the rest of the bored housewives.

    The harassment does bring up a darker point in television news. Some news reporters and anchors have found themselves the subjects of affection and attention from deranged viewers. It's downright scary. As a matter of fact, didn't someone stalk a WBRE anchor a while back?
  • Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Confirmed: WBRE/WYOU loses VP

    Beale's Bites has confirmed that John Dittmeier is no longer vice president at Nexstar's WBRE/WYOU duopoly. Well-placed sources say employees were called into the newsroom, as news director Ron Krisulevicz read a memo stating Dittmeier was gone. Whwther he was fired or not is unknown, so e-mail me if you know. Tim Busch, a senior VP at Nexstar, has replaced Dittmeier for now.

    Dittmeier's departure comes after several recent high-profile firings and resignations at the duopoly. From WBRE, weather forecaster Vince Sweeney and sports anchorman Jason Knapp were fired. WYOU anchorwoman Diane Lee and sports anchorman Sid Michaels both resigned to take other jobs.

    Several tipsters have previously said Dittmeier was initially brought to Wilkes-Barre to improve morale. After the past few months, it looks like he failed.

    Monday, August 21, 2006

    Little Leaguers with Big League mouths

    You know things are bad when the Little League World Series will be televised on a tape delay. This weekend, a player on the Staten Island team screamed, "One fucking run." One reporter in South Williamsport tells Beale's Bites the offending comment could be heard by those sitting around home plate.

    Oh, and it was heard on ESPN as well. Luckily for the cable sports network, new federal idecency laws don't apply to cable outlets, else they would face fines of $325,000 or more.

    Sunday, August 20, 2006

    Sid Michaels out at WYOU

    There's been another high-profile departure at the Nexstar duopoly. WYOU sports anchorman Sid Michaels resigned Friday, weeks ahead of the station's plans to eliminate weekday sportscasts on its Dialing for News format. A tipster says Michaels started looking at his options after WBRE sports anchorman Jason Knapp was canned earlier this month.

    (Look at it this way, at least WYOU doesn't have to update his bio anymore.)

    While sports typically doesn't fare well in viewer demographics, I'm rather surprised that WYOU would kill its weekday sportscasts before the start of the high school football season, which viewers in this market love. However, it looks like the Friday night sportscasts will stay, which means all the big high school games will still be covered.

    Saturday, August 19, 2006

    Pronounciation 101

    Being a reporter or anchor in this market can be pretty difficult when it comes to pronouncing things. There's plenty of last names with more Ys and Zs than you can shake a fist at. Then, you have places like Throop (troop), Schuylkill (skool-kill), Mocanaqua (mock-uh-naw-quh), Susquehanna (sus-kwuh-ha-nuh), Shenandoah (shen-in-dough-uh), and other tricky tounge twisters. Many reporters, especially rookies from elsewhere, slip up on these words. I can't say I blame them.

    But what if you mispronounce a name on a big national story? Well, just ask WNEP's Rosa Yum. On tonight's Newswatch 16 at 10 newscast, she pronounced JonBenet Ramsey's name as john-bennett. Even worse was that the following story correctly pronounced it as john-buh-nay.

    The lesson? If you don't know how to pronounce it, ask. Otherwise, you look like an idiot who doesn't know what's going on.

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    WNEP caught in FCC "fake news" probe

    WNEP is one of 77 television stations being contacted by the FCC over its use of video news releases. The agency is investigating whether the stations broke the rules by airing VNRs, which are paid commercial messages disguised as legitimate news stories. If so, stations like WNEP could be fined.

    You may recall that, earlier this year, WNEP health reporter Jill Garrett used a VNR in a health report on dietary supplements. The story was actually produced by a public relations agency who was paid by a supplement manufacturer, which makes any credibility on the story non-existant. After the VNR scandal came out, WNEP admitted it aired the VNR without identifying the source.

    Sunday, August 13, 2006

    Cubra su asno

    Broadcasters have a lot to worry about these days. Because of indecency fines that now cost more than $300,000 per violation, many networks and stations are holding back on its content. For example, PBS is reconsidering a WWII documentary because war veterans use rather salty language in describing what happened.

    Now, Hazelton's anti-illegal-immigrant law could affect a radio station in the city. WAZL airs Spanish-language programming on Saturdays, which could violate the law that prohibits "goods or services" to be given to illegal immigrants in Hazelton. What does that mean? Well, one person's interpretation says WAZL could be fined by the city.

    Will it happen? Probably not. But it's scary that broadcasters have to worry more about covering their asses than serving their listeners/viewers.

    Saturday, August 12, 2006

    Former WARM newsman, DJ dies

    Anthony McNulty, better known to NEPA radio listeners as Terry McNulty, died Friday at the age of 70. Some of you may know him best from his nearly 40 years at WARM (back when it was known as "The Mighty 590"), where he was a DJ, news anchorman, and talk show host.

    McNulty left WARM in 1998 when the station's new owners, who wanted a "younger" sound, yanked him off-air. He later sued Citadel for age discrimination.

    Friday, August 11, 2006

    Dialing for News starts 9/5

    WYOU has pegged September 5th as the start date for its Dialing for News newscast, where viewers can call in and ask questions about the day's stories. At the helm of the Starship Enterprise will be WBRE weekend anchorwoman Candice Grossklaus and Eric Scheiner, "director of content" for a small independent station somewhere in New Hampshire.

    I'm reserving judgment on Dialing for News until I see what the final product looks like. But whatever it turns out to be, it's not like WYOU's ratings can get any worse, right?

    Thursday, August 10, 2006

    The future

    I've been doing a lot of thinking this week, and I've been talking with some experts regarding my rights in running this blog. Many of you have chimed in with words of support and much-needed criticism. After much consideration, I've decided that Beale's Bites will return.

    The big problem was that the comments were getting out of control, which was my fault, since I didn't keep a closer eye on the moderation queue. People were coming here to needlessly bash fellow/former employees, not to discuss the ins-and-outs of this market. Hell, the mere mention of Al Zobel's name seemed to send everyone into a frenzy! That's not why I allowed discussion in the first place.

    If you want to come here and call a former news director an asshole, or speculate about the marital fidelity of a news anchor, go away. I don't want you here. Start your own gossip rag. But if you want to talk about what drives or burns this market, you're always welcome here, and I hope you'll continue posting.

    As for the threat of a lawsuit, I'm not concerned. The good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have assured me of my rights.

    Comments are re-enabled. Play nicely, kids.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    It had to happen...

    Someone has threatened to sue me over comments posted here on Beale's Bites.

    I won't get into specifics, but this person wasn't happy about being mentioned on the blog. Thus, legal action was threatened. For all I know, this person could be full of shit, but when you're in my position, you can't afford to take that chance.

    Bad comments are something I hoped moderation would solve. While I've been lax at times in moderating comments, it has worked. Sadly, there are some in this market who feel they must drag everyone's name through the mud. As the saying goes, it can be hard separating the wheat from the chaff.

    What now? I've disabled comments, and I'm considering my options. Do I continue to stick my neck out by posting my thoughts and opinions? Do I disable comments from now on? Or do I throw in the towel and walk away?

    I don't know.

    If you've got any ideas, send me an e-mail.


    WBRE's former Williamsport bureau is no more. It's now being torn down to make way for a downtown theater in the city. WBRE has since moved into a new bureau, which hopefully has less rats than the old one.

    Friday, August 04, 2006

    A moment of clarity

    This comment was posted in response to my last post. Between all the whining and complaining about local television news employees, past and present, I think this post sums up the real problem in this market. I've reposted it here, because you all need to read it.

    Behind all the backbiting, bitching and complaining, one fact is lost. We got into this mess to be journalists. We just got lost along the way.

    If it's not light and fluffy, if it will offend, if it truly matters, it doesn't get covered in this market.

    In Scranton, the Public Works Director is being accused of using his department to pay political favors. The Mayor is directing him to appear before council. This may involve the mayor, since the favors allegedly were done for him. This could eventually topple the mayor.

    Yet not a word from any of the three stations? Must not be "news worthy." Not even from "Lackawanna county's news source." No puppies, no murder, no airtime.

    New sets, hunky reporters, personality clashes- they all make good fodder for social columns but aren't we supposed to be bringing news to the people?

    The day political corruption in one of the larger cities in the state brings no attention from a news director is a sad day in this industry.

    If a station exists to spoon-feed the public oatmeal, it should go black and instead, open a nursing home.

    The sets, personalities and organizations like Nexstar are what make give TV news a bad name. The content of TV news is what confirms it.

    Did we really go to school for four years, work like slaves as interns and accept peanuts so we deliver schlock to the masses?

    "It's all in the past now,
    money changes everything."

    Thursday, August 03, 2006

    Sink or swim

    Things aren't looking good at WYOU. Hell, things are in the toilet for the habitual bottom-dweller on South Franklin Street. Let's recap...

  • With Diane Lee's departure, the newsroom will be down to just three on-air news personalities.
  • At least one person is debating whether to leave, according to insiders.
  • Morale is in the toilet, as are the ratings.

    And that's only for this year.

    Nexstar Broadcasting seems to be uninterested in helping WYOU fix its bleeding artery. Sure, CEO Perry Sook wants everyone to think "outside of the box" with the revamped "Dialing for News" format. But the fact that the originally-planned-for-this-month launch has been pushed to October shows Nexstar has put the cart WAY ahead of the horse.

    As surprising as this may sound, a good news operation needs an appropriately-sized staff. Just ask WNEP, who sends its reporters to every nook-and-cranny of this market. Even WBRE has enough reporters to keep its head above the water. But WYOU? You tell me if three reporters/anchors are enough.

    Were it not for the shared-services arrangement with WBRE, WYOU would be dead in the water. Judging by the way things look now, that situation may not be far off. WYOU's survival now depends on whether Nexstar will beef up its reporting staff and replace those who have left, or merely order management to keep thinking "outside of the box."
  • Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    Another one bites the dust

    Times Leader editor Matt Golas is out the door. The newspaper reports he's been bumped by Rich Connor, who plans to add "editor" to his existing titles of "president" and "publisher." The TL quotes Connor as saying, "My intention all along was to do both jobs. Basically that’s what I’ve always done."

    Cripes, is there something in the water supply that is causing everyone to leave the newspapers and television stations around here?

    Diane Lee out at WYOU, Kuharchik promoted

    Several tipsters tell Beale's Bites that WYOU anchorwoman Diane Lee isn't sticking around to anchor on the Starship Enterprise. She has resigned from WYOU, and is heading to Fox affiliate WXXA in Albany, N.Y., for a morning anchor job.

    Tipsters say someone else at the Nexstar duopoly is expected to hand in their walking papers as well.

    Also, WYOU weekend weather forecaster David Kuharchik has signed a five-year contract to work on WBRE/WYOU's simulcast Pennsylvania Morning and Midday. He'll formally replace longtime forecaster Vince Sweeney, who was fired last month for still-unknown reasons.

    Looks like the staffing situation at WYOU is getting worse...

    Snedeker on GMA, after all

    After the bored housewives of Talkback 16 complained, ABC's "Good Morning America" acquiesed and gave WNEP weather clown Joe Snedeker a plug. The video of his charity bike ride is on WNEP's website, so if you missed yesterday's broadcast, go check it out.

    Some tipsters wrote in to say that "Good Morning America" told WNEP Friday's live shot was a long shot, but WNEP's promotions people played it up as if it was a sure thing.