Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Year in Review

What a crazy year 2006 has been. From management shakeups, to ethics lapses, to a war of newspaper headlines, there was plenty for local media watchers to talk about. And without further ado, Beale's Bites presents the Year in Review.

WYOU starts "Dialing for News"

For the past few years, WYOU's newscasts have been dead last in the ratings. Nexstar management tried to tinker with WYOU, to try to gain more viewers, but all efforts fell flat. It's not like WYOU even tried to forge its own identity; its newscasts seemed to be a grab-and-pull from WBRE's shows. This year, Nexstar decided to "think outside of the box," as CEO Perry Sook put it. Gone were the usual newscasts...

...replaced by something management called an "interactive newscast." This time, viewers would get to play a part in the newscast, by calling in to express their opinions about the news topic at hand. They could even ask a question to the guests of the day. News was primarily limited to a CNN-style rundown at the beginning of the program. Sports were axed, except for Fridays and Saturdays.

In a way, it was a risky move. Nobody had done a newscast like this before. But, if the format failed, it's not like things could get any worse at WYOU, right? The official ratings are still not known, but if the amount of people who call in are any indication, it seems that people are interested in "Dialing for News."

For sale: WNEP

In a sea of constant change, WNEP has been relatively unchanged. Owned by the New York Times since 1985, WNEP enjoyed the benefits of ownership by a newspaper company flush with cash. In turn, the NYT enjoyed the benefits of a television station flush with advertising cash and dominant ratings. Most TV stations seem to go through five owners in a decade. But not WNEP.

Well, at least until now.

This year, the NYT announced it was selling its broadcasting group, which included WNEP. Management downplayed the sale announcement, but there were concerns rolling throughout the station. Who was going to come in and buy the place? What would happen under a new owner? Who would get fired?

Fortunately for the folks on Montage Mountain Road, selling a TV station is about as complicated as solving a Rubik's cube with your eyes closed. The amount of red tape from the FCC will likely delay any anticipated sale for another year or two. But with prospective buyers already touring the station, it's clear that someone out there wants WNEP. Employees will just have to wait until the deal is sealed, to know whether to polish up those resumes.

Management lost

2006 began with a big shakeup at WBRE. News director Paul Stueber, whose tenure as a news manager includes stops at WNEP and WABC, was suddenly and unceremoniously shown the door. The details behind his firing remain murky, though many staffers say it centered on Steuber's personality, which, depending on who you ask, can be pleasant or pissed off. Someone ventured down door #2, and went to human resources. Management later escorted Steuber out the door.

Just across the newsroom, WYOU news director Frank Andrews decided to hit the road. In the spring, he announced he would run for state representative in Scranton. Andrews won the primary, and in November, the voters gave him a ticket to Harrisburg.

WBRE and WYOU also lost its general manager, John Dittmeier. Whether he was fired or left on his own remains to be seen.

The Newspaper War

Those who have been around a long time may remember the infamous Wilkes-Barre newspaper strikes of the late 1970s. Upset that the newspaper was to be sold to Capital Cities, unionized workers at the Times Leader went on strike. What resulted was a giant mess that led to fights, vandalism, and a tiny strike newspaper that grew to become The Citizens' Voice.

2006 showed that the old wounds and memories of yesteryear were not forgotten. In March, the McClatchy Company announced it was hanging the "FOR SALE" sign on the TL's door. And before you could say "scab," the CV and TL began using their front pages to continue their decades-old battle. Both newspapers traded shots in back-and-forth editorials, and were eager to pounce on even the slightest of mistakes by its competition.

For the TL, it was a matter of survival -- there were rumors that CV parent company Times-Shamrock wanted to buy the TL and shut it down. But a buyer eventually emerged...a familiar one, at that. Richard Connor, a former TL publisher who held the reigns during the infamous strike, came back to Wilkes-Barre with his checkbook in hand. With that, Wilkes-Barre would remain a two newspaper town.

VNR fiasco

WNEP, a station that has long said it is "proud to serve" its viewers, ended up serving those same viewers a dish called "dishonesty." In April, a media watchdog group pegged the ABC affiliate as one of several stations which aired a video news release. A VNR is much like a press release, in that someone is trying to grab a reporter's attention, except the final product looks a lot like the news stories you see on television. Rarely does the VNR attribute its source, which is usually a company that paid to have the VNR created on its behalf.

The VNR that ended up in a WNEP health report promoted the benefits of glucosamine supplements, and was created on behalf of a company that...get this...marketed glucosamine supplements. WNEP's story, which used the VNR seemingly verbatim, made no mention of this fact.

Within a day, news director Dennis Fisher issued a statement, and admitted the story was indeed a VNR, and that WNEP never attributed the source of its story. But he called it "an honest mistake," because the reporter who picked the story thought it came from a medical journal.

That wasn't the end for WNEP, though. At last check, the Federal Communications Commission was investigating WNEP, and the other stations mentioned in the PR Watch report, to see whether airing the VNRs broke federal regulations. That will probably be the last we hear of this, since the wheels of government bureaucracies move slower than molasses.

Coming and going

The doors at all three stations continued revolving in 2006. Here's a sampling...

  • Elliot Weiler (WBRE)
  • Phil Yacuboski (WYOU)
  • Gabrielle Prutisto (WYOU)
  • Vince Sweeney (WBRE)
  • Jason Knapp (WBRE)
  • Diane Lee (WYOU)
  • Sid Michaels (WYOU)
  • Rachel Lindenmuth (WNEP)
  • Kim Supon (WNEP)

  • Josh Brogadir (WNEP)
  • Sarah Buynovsky (WNEP)
  • Jim Hamill (WNEP)
  • Jeff Chirico (WBRE)
  • April Gonzales (WBRE)
  • Jeff Jumper (WBRE)
  • Brian Fitzgerald (WBRE)
  • Kevin Derk (WBRE)
  • Colin Riccobon (WBRE)
  • Eric Scheiner (WYOU)
  • Les Still (WYOU)

    Four weathermen walk into a bar...

    WYOU wasn't the only station to shake up its format. WBRE decided to place a bigger emphasis on weather, with its new "All Points Accuweather." In short, more weather forecasters spread out across the area! Josh Hodell stuck around in Wilkes-Barre, Dave Skutnik manned the Scranton bureau, Jeffrey Jumper headed to Williamsport, and Brian Fitzgerald kept his eyes in Stroudsburg.

    Of course, bad weather has a way of screwing up the best of plans. The night it debuted, Hodell and Skutnik were in Wilkes-Barre (sorry Scranton!), and a thunderstorm killed Jumper's live shot from Williamsport.

    Viewers love weather, and it's the main reason why they watch local news. Hopefully WBRE can find a better use of its "field meteorologists," because as I've said, all you have are four people standing around in a studio, waiting for a lightning bolt to kill their live shot.

    One year later

    If you had asked me, one year ago, whether this blog would make it to 2007, I'd probably say no. Why? Well, I'm sure there are some people out there who don't like what I post. Hell, someone even threatened to sue me.

    But what started as a crazy thought in my head has kept going, and I plan to keep it that way. This blog lets me vent my frustrations about my job, and the news business in general, and it gives you the chance to see what goes on behind the scenes, when the cameras are off. There's a lot to this line of work, both good and bad, that the public rarely gets to see.

    And it's you, the readers, who make this blog what it is. Thank you.
  • Friday, December 29, 2006

    Prutisto out at WYOU?

    A tipster claims WYOU will not renew the contract of reporter Gabrielle Prutisto.

    "Who's she?"

    I don't blame you for asking. Prutisto hasn't been seen on TV since January. Sources say she was in a bad accident, and has been using sick time and leave since then. Hopefully Prutisto is recovering from whatever it was.

    The original tipster said her job was posted, but I don't see it on WYOU's websie yet. WBRE is looking for a reporter though...

    Sunday, December 24, 2006

    Working on Christmas

    When you work in television news, working on Christmas is a mixed bag. There's the holiday pay and the usually-soft newscasts of "Look at all the nice Christmas crap happening today." And, there's the whole "I'm stuck here while everyone else is home with their families. Is anyone even watching the news today?"

    Earlier in my career, I worked at a station where the GM would allow people to go home early on the day before a holiday. His e-mails usually went something like this: "If your work allows it, you may leave at noon." Of course, those of us in the news department, where we were stuck until our shifts were over, felt the e-mails should have said: "If you work in sales, and you haven't left yet, go home."

    For being the department that was supposed to make our station money, the sales people were sure eager to blow off work when they could. Can't say I blame them; I'd rather be home with my family than doing the same feel-good Christmas crap we did last year, and the year before, and so forth.

    Oh well.

    Here's to hoping your Christmas is happy, safe, and spent with the ones you love. Even if they work in the sales department. :)

    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Allbritton interested in NYT group?

    Newsblues is reporting that Allbritton Communications has been sniffing around several New York Times-owned stations, including stations in Alabama and Arkansas.

    The report doesn't mention WNEP by name. But, if the NYT wants to sell its broadcast division as an entire group, and Allbritton is already looking at some stations in the group, you can put two and two together. We'll have to wait and see what happens.

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Who wants to buy WNEP?

    With potential buyers already crawling through WNEP, everyone's wondering where the folks on Montage Mountain Road will end up. Will they wind up with a company that is just as good, or even better, than the New York Times? Or will a crappy outfit like Granite Broadcasting saunter in and swoop up WNEP?

    Either way, whoever wants WNEP will have to pony up some major cash. Even if you don't believe the $100 million estimate, WNEP ain't going cheap. In a sea of stations that lose money, WNEP practically has its own printing press. It always makes money -- just look at the ad rates it can charge -- and it's got the long-dominant ratings to keep the cash coming in.

    That's what makes guessing who will buy WNEP all the more difficult. Who doesn't want a TV station that makes money? From the Belos, to the Gannetts, to the Sinclairs, to the Granites, and everyone in between -- I wouldn't be surprised if one of those companies had its eyes on Moosic. I'd even go so far to wager that ABC might even look at WNEP. It's a long shot, but remember, WNEP makes money and has dominant ratings. Also, ABC does own stations in smaller markets, like Flint, Michigan.

    However, WNEP's past and current success is no protection from failure down the road. Consider the saga of San Francisco's KRON. For the longest time, it was owned by the publishers of the San Francisco Chronicle, who poured money into KRON like there was no tomorrow. It was the WNEP of San Francisco. When the Chronicle put KRON up for sale, it was expected that NBC would swoop in and buy its longtime affiliate. S

    uddenly, out of nowhere, Young Broadcasting ponied up more than $800 million for the station. NBC was outbid, and in revenge, it pulled KRON's network affiliation. Since then, KRON has slashed its budget, lost many of its best reporters, and now uses one-man-band reporters. Needless to say, its ratings went in the tank as well.

    It will be interesting to see who ends up buying WNEP. Will things stay the course, as our president might say, or will we see drastic KRON-like changes? Or hell, will WNEP become even bigger than it is now?

    As we like to say in television, stay tuned...

    Friday, December 08, 2006

    Late start

    Pennsylvania Morning got off to a late start on WBRE/WYOU today. Many tipsters report the show didn't start until 5:30 a.m. Was it a power problem? Did a computer crash? Or, as one tipster put it, did someone sleep in late?

    Monday, December 04, 2006

    More on

    Nexstar now wants your ideas about what should be used on, the website that appears to be a replacement for WBRE and WYOU's individual websites. Why, you can even win a handheld computer for suggesting that include forums. Cool, another place for the bored housewives of the area to gather and discuss which anchor they love best!

    It seems that Nexstar is giving some, if not all, of its stations new, rebranded websites. Take a look at, the new website for Nexstar flagship KARK. Unlike most Nexstar stations, the stories appear to be regularly updated, and some even include accompanying video.

    Hopefully, WBRE/WYOU's joint website will include the same things. As I've always said, Nexstar's duopoly puts no effort into its websites, where many stories are just verbatim transcripts of a reporter's story. Friday's now-confirmed tornado is just more proof that WBRE and WYOU need to put more effort into its online presence. When the storm knocked both stations off-air, the Internet was the only practical way to get the news out. But people who went to WBRE and WYOU's respective sites were instead greeted by two-week old stories.

    Overall, it looks like will just be a combined WBRE/WYOU website, and not a sign that both stations will merge. However, both stations are sharing more resources nowadays, and if they'll soon share an online presence, who's to say that a merger couldn't happen?

    There I go again, stoking the flames of those ten-year-old rumors... :)

    Saturday, December 02, 2006

    No signal

    WBRE and WYOU are still missing in action, one day after a giant wind storm swept through the area and knocked their signals out. Fun, fun, fun.

    Fellow local media gadfly NEPA Media chimes in with who had the best coverage of what some think was a tornado.

    Friday, December 01, 2006

    Tipster: Interested buyers looking at WNEP

    A tipster claims WNEP is already being shown off to some interested buyers. You may remember that the New York Times wants to sell WNEP and the rest of its TV stations. According to another tipster, employees have been told the station is worth about $100 million. Either the interested buyers have DEEP pockets, or WNEP has overestimated its value.