Tuesday, June 26, 2007

NEPA negativity, revisited

Al Zobel was right.

That statement alone is bound to ruffle many feathers among the television reporters in this area. But when Zobel spoke about the pervasiveness of negativity in northeast Pennsylvania, he was right.

I should know; I have to review all the submitted comments to decide which ones get posted and rejected. In those comments, people usually point fingers at each other for the misfortunes of their station, their jobs, their personal lives, etc. So what's being done about it?

You know, besides posting here?

Probably nothing. Part of it is because every company that owns a television station is concerned about making money, not pleasing their employees. The other part of it is because people here are more apt to bitch and moan amongst themselves. Hell, around here, there are STILL people who whine about past events and people who have long since left NEPA!

Your job is what you make of it. If you spend your way whining, you're not going to like your job. But if you try to make your job better, then hey, coming into work won't be as bad. Maybe others will see what you're doing, and follow your lead!

Remember, you chose to work at your station. You can always choose to leave (and take some office supplies with you) if you don't like the way things are going.

You know, I should submit this to Soapbox 16!

(I'd like to amend my initial statement. Al Zobel wasn't right. Television people outside NEPA complain just as bad. A former reporter shared a tale with me about their current station, where people still complain about being understaffed, even though the place has more resources than you can shake a stick at. Can't win 'em all.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ticked about a ticker

WNEP wants to know what you think about its apparently controversial morning news ticker. Ever since it was introduced this week, Talkback 16 has been flooded with comments for and against the ticker. As of this posting, the poll on WNEP's website shows 53% of people want to keep it, with the rest either against it, or unable to care.

Honestly, I'm not surprised there's been so much unrest over a simple news ticker. Lots of people in this area don't do well with change. Look at what happpened when someone noticed a reporter's hair color was darker than usual.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

WYOU loses meteorologist

After 12 years, Scott Stuccio is hanging up his hat at WYOU. The station's chief meteorologist will resign on September 28th to take a marketing/on-air analyst job with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the area's minor league hockey team.

"Weather has always been important to Scott, but hockey is his true passion. I've had the opportunity to hear Scott broadcast some Penguins games and I can tell you he is very talented. I have no doubt that Scott will be every bit as successful in his new venture as he has been for many years here at WYOU," news director Ron Krisulevicz told employees via e-mail this week.

Stuccio's job has already been posted on WYOU's website.

(Remember, if you've got a tip, you can anonymously e-mail it, or send it via AOL instant message to Howard Beale NEPA.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New contact method

Since instant messaging seems to be all the rage in the newsroom and elsewhere, I've decided to jump aboard the bandwagon. So, whether you've got a tip, question, or a death threat, you can now shoot it to my AOL screen name Howard Beale NEPA, provided I logged in. E-mail still works as well.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


WNEP is making two changes to its morning news show this week. The biggest change is a new co-anchor, Mindi Ramsey (formerly of WVIT-TV in Hartford, Connecticut), who formally replaces Kim Supon tomorrow morning. WNEP has already introduced her through various promos and segments, pairing her up with the seemingly zany Tom Williams and the certifiably zany Joe Snedeker, who I hope won't make the mistake of asking her to choose between her job and her children.

The other change is the addition of a news ticker to the bottom of the screen, similar to what you see on WBRE and WYOU's "Pennsylvania Morning." The bored housewives and chatterboxes on Talkback 16 are already in an uproar over this.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sid Michaels back at WYOU

Imagine my surprise when I saw Sid Michaels on WYOU Sunday night. The anchorman who left the station last summer when "Dialing for News" eliminated weekday sportscasts, is back as a fill-in anchor. Either that state PR job isn't paying well, or he couldn't get the sports out of his system.

I'm not the only one who's scratching his head. Several of you e-mailed me in shock as well, with one of you comparing Michaels' return to that of a woman who goes back to her abusive husband. I wouldn't go that far, but then again, this is a guy who saw the writing on the wall after WBRE axed sports anchorman Jacon Knapp.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Grading the Video: WYOU

Here's the final critique in the "Grading the Video" series.

Bar Shooting
Any efforts to prove WBRE and WYOU are separate entities were shot in this story, as Laurie Monteforte's mic had a WBRE logo. Oh well. That said, the video in this story was average. We had police officers walking around a crime scene, and other outside shots of the bar. Final grade: B-

Bus Fire
You can't get much better on a story about a bus fire, than by seeing the burned-out bus itself. Final grade: A

Overrun Shelter
Video of cats in a shelter...well, that's what the story was about. Final grade: B-

It's a story about people running around Wilkes-Barre, and that's what we saw. Eh, nothing exciting really. Final grade: B-

Father's Day
It was an interesting take on Father's Day, with dads and sons spending the day piloting model airplanes. and that's what we saw in th video. Final grade: B

Car Show
Unexciting video of a car show. Eh. Final grade: C+

Unexciting video of people swimming. Another "Eh." Final grade: C+

Miner Dedication
There wasn't too much video to this story, just a statue of a miner. Yet another "Eh" response. Final grade: B-

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Grading the Video: WNEP

I wasn't able to catch the 6 p.m. news tonight for my ongoing video critique, so I tuned to WNEP at 11 p.m. I'll get to WYOU tomorrow. As always, I don't count video that came from other sources, like network video or online video. Ergo, I won't mention the Obama YouTube story, or the Lancaster County murder (unless WNEP did go down there to cover the story).

Schuylkill Murder
Unless my eyes deceived me, I saw a major mistake in this video. It's called a flash frame, which I saw somewhere before Ryan Leckey's stand-up. And I'm sure there was better video for this story, as I flipped over to WYOU, and saw video of what looked like blood at the crime scene, and a makeshift memorial there. Final grade: F

A Tree Falls in Scranton
You couldn't do much better for the story: we got to see the tree that fell on the highway. Final grade: A

Snake Wranglers
Again, you couldn't do much better: we see video of people handling snakes. It's hard to not use video like that. Final grade: A (because I was hoping someone would get bit)

Nay Aug Reunion
This story was a perfect example of what some in the business call BOPSA. It's short for "Buunch Of People Sitting Around," which you normally see in stories about municipal government meetings. In this story, we saw kids playing, and adults sitting around. Final grade: C

Cancer Walk
The story was about people walking around a track for a cancer benefit event, and that's the video we saw. Final grade: B

Endless Mountains Concert
Let's end the newscast on a happy note, with video of a bluegrass concert in Tunkhannock. I'd have liked to have heard more of the music, but I guess that's why God invented CD and MP3 players. Final grade: B

That's what I think. How about you?

Grading the Video: WBRE

What separates television from all other forms of broadcast media is its ability to use great video to tell or enhance a story. Listening to a story about a big fire isn't the same as watching the flames for yourself. If it wasn't for video, television would be radio! Alright, that's a dumb saying, but you get my point: great video is what makes television news.

I bring this up because a blog reader e-mailed me to point out the poor video seen on all three stations in this area. This person stated the quality of video was gradually going downhill across the board, so I decided to check for myself. Tonight, I watched WBRE's 11 p.m. newscast to judge its video. Here's my notes on the video used for each local story (this doesn't include video shot by other sources, i.e. national video).

Scranton Immigration Rally
The video was OK, as it was really just a bunch of people standing around, holding signs. But what made this stand out was the use of different soundbites to show how pissed off each side was. Final grade: B+

Story about some drunk guy
Like any crime story, this one included the requisite perp walk of the guy. It also included what looked like file video of the crime scene in question. It was pretty boring; here's a shot of two state troopers standing on a road, and here's a shot of something on the side of the road. Final grade: C

Another story about some guy in trouble
Same as above: requisite perp walk, and then a file video shot of an ambulance driving away. It doesn't tell me a lot about the story. Final grade: C

Pool Vandalism
It's a story about vandalism, and yes, we do see video of what the vandals did. From graffiti to damaged soda machines, the video really complimented the story. Final grade: A

Martz K9
For a story that mentions police officers patting down people at the Martz bus terminal in downtown Wilkes-Barre, I sure didn't see any video of said officers patting down said people. All you see are the cops, their dog, and a bus pulling away. Final grade: C

Filthy Animal House (with special guest appearance by Vince Sweeney!)
I would've loved to have seen the inside of this apparent hellhole, but I imagine the police didn't want any TV photographers in there. So we get the next best thing: people in hazmat suits carrying cats out of a filthy house that's been roped off. It gives you a great image of just how bad the inside was. Vince didn't want it to be like this! Final grade: A

McKinney Jobs Lost
Eh, this video was nothing home to write about. You see an outside shot of the building, but you do see the fired employees hugging each other in emotion. Final grade: B-

Call Center
This is a PERFECT example of the "wallpaper video" phenomenon. The term is used to describe video that doesn't add anything to the story. It's there for the sake of being there, like plain white wallpaper. This video showed boring shots of a call center, and the sign outside the call center. Final grade: F

Pharmaceutical Plant
More wallpaper video! Did this story really require the viewer see some shots of this plant's sign? Final grade: F

Octane Gas
The story mentions gas, and we see people pumping gas. Can't do better than that. Final grade: B

Make a Difference
The video in this story seemed blurry to me, which detracted from the story itself, which was really just a bunch of people at a college doing some sort of bonding experiments. At least we saw something more than just a bunch of people sitting around. Final grade: C+

Oh boy, more wallpaper video. Here's a shot of downtown Stroudsburg, here's a close-up shot of a clock tower, here's another shot of downtown Stroudsburg, here's another close-up shot of a clock tower. Final grade: D

Movies In the Park
Plenty of people were in the park, watching movies with their families, eating popcorn, all that good stuff. The video captured it. Final grade: B

Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the video in WNEP and WYOU's newscasts. Until then, discuss the results of my review amongst yourself!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bradley bolts 'BRE

Today's Citizens Voice reports WBRE reporter Amy Bradley has left the station to go back to school. She'll be pursuing a law degree, and with today's media obsession over celebrity court cases, a lawyer who doubles as a journalist can surely find a job at CNN, MSNBC, or Court TV.

A reader also points out the CV's television column, which they never post online anymore, will be printed less often, from every Thursday to every other Wednesday. Anyone know why?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Boring reality

I once worked at a station that gave semi-regular tours of the place to anyone interested, which was usually elementary school students and sales clients. They were probably disappointed when they came through the newsroom. All they would see were people hunched over at their desks, writing scripts, making beat calls, and grumbling to themselves. It's a far cry from the oft-romanticized image of a television newsroom, where people are running everywhere, trying to beat the deadline.

Fact is, unless a plane crashes nearby, a television newsroom can be one of the most-boring places in the world. That's why I was rather surprised when I saw that the TV Guide channel will roll out a brand new reality TV show (as if we need any more) tonight at 8:00, called "Making News: Texas Style." It follows the hijinks and exploits at a small-market station in Texas, where the anchorwoman is a former Miss Texas, the anchorman is a well-groomed hire from a competing station, and their combined egos could probably fill up Madison Square Garden.

It's an odd pick for a reality TV show, as it doesn't show anyone stranded on a deserted island (though I imagine Odessa, Texas, is just as bad) or anyone eating a bucket of worms and spiders, but I dare say it might just be realistic. It might just show how mundane the inner-workings of television news is, or how some journalists have a vernacular that could make a sailor blush, or how egotistical some anchors can be. Hell, it might even show the rather morbid humor that's exclusive to this line of work. Only in a newsroom will you hear someone wish for a cop to get shot, or a house to burn down, just so they can blow off St. Ubaldo Day in Jessup.

Frankly, I'd like to see a similar show focus on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market. Until that happens, I'm sure you could call WNEP, WBRE, or WYOU, and arrange a tour of the place. Just keep your hands inside the car at all times.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cookie cutter coverage

In honor of the Pocono 500, I'd like to point out a pet peeve that's so common in this area. It's the time-honored tradition of covering a major event with the same stories that were done in previous years. It's as if the assignment desk digs up a checklist of the same ways to cover the same story every year, because it's easy to do.

Case in point: WNEP aired a Pocono preview story Friday, about how the annual NASCAR race is a "boost for business." NO DUH! Major sporting events tend to bring money to the area. Is this news to anyone? That's like doing a story entitled, "Doctor washes hands before surgery."

WNEP is not alone; WBRE and WYOU also trot out the same tired stories on other annual events. The worst examples from all three stations include the ever-popular "PennDOT is gearing up for that big winter storm by putting gas in its snow plows," or the "Idiots are buying milk, bread, and eggs before the storm hits." It's the same thing every year!

You can't avoid major stories, like the Pocono 500, but you can avoid the same year-after-year cookie cutter coverage. When I covered a major annual event in this area a long time ago, I poked around to find an interesting way to cover it. I won't speak in specifics, but I ended up finding a great story about how a group of people made their way to the event. I thought it was a new and interesting twist on the event, and my boss didn't disagree.

To sum it all up: It's not really news if it's now new, is it?

We're not live, but we think we are

One of the stupidest ideas in television news is the "look live." That's where a reporter will act as if he or she is live at the scene of a story, when in fact it's being taped for later broadcast. But to your untrained eye, it looks like the reporter is live, and you'll probably hear the anchor end the report by thanking the reporter, who at that time is probably at home laughing at the newscast.

The only station around here that regularly does these stupid things is WBRE, but it's only during the weather segments. The next time you watch their "All Points Accuweather" segment, watch the lower part of your TV screen when Josh Hodell (or whoever the forecaster is) toss to Brian Fitzgerald in Stroudsburg. The word "LIVE" suddenly disappears from the WBRE logo. That's because, well, it ain't live!

Why pretend you're actually live, when you actually aren't? It's one of those crazy things dreamt up by news consultants, who think that a live broadcast, or the appearance of one, makes the story look fresh, even if it's a few hours old. And if the live truck is in the shop, the "look live" is the next best thing.

Frankly, I wish every station would ban those stupid things. Reporting from the Internet, I'm Howard Beale, back to... *TAPE JAM*

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Time to play catch up!

Let's recap some of the exciting stuff that happened in my absence...

1. People got fired at WNEP

Back when WNEP was sold to Oak Hill, I predicted that some changes would be coming. And what do you know, they did, in the form of pink slips. The four who were canned were all behind-the-scenes people: operations manager Len Modzelesky, engineer Bob Schacht, assignment editor Mike Rudolf, and photographer Dan Harvey. Viewers would raise a stink if an on-air person got canned, but nobody really cares about the hard workers behind the camera. It's one of those sad facts of life under new ownership: your new bosses will find ways to save money, and if it doesn't mean smaller paychecks, it means none at all.

Meanwhile, a newspaper down in Virginia speculated that WNEP anchorman Mike Lewis might want to return to his old stomping grounds. Should that happen, I honestly don't think anyone would care. It's not that Lewis is terrible, it's just that people who were hot at WNEP tend to become nobodies when they leave the station. Look at what happened to Gary Essex.

2. Someone hand Perry Sook a parachute!

Talk about interesting; Nexstar Broadcasting is thinking about selling its TV stations! There must be something in the water that's causing everyone to sell TV stations like it's a freaking sale on hi-fi stereos at Crazy Eddie's. It's not like selling WBRE or WYOU would necessarily be a bad thing, as both stations don't do anything but exist. WBRE is stuck in the middle of the road, and while there's interest in WYOU's "Dialing for News" format, all eyes still shoot over to wNEP come news time.

Maybe a new owner is what both stations need. If anyone's willing to pump money into all the right things at WBRE and WYOU, like technology and staff, then I think WNEP could be given a real run for its money.


Yes, I know, it's a Rube Lomax column.

Either way, arbitration has made two former WYOU employees a lot richer. Photographer Stephen Yevchak and reporter Gabrielle Prutisto will share a $1.36 million arbitration judgement stemming from a car crash a while back. I don't know the details of the accident, but it kept Prutisto off the air for quite some time, even though her picture remained on WYOU's website. She thankfully seems to be doing better (I've been in car crashes, and they're not fun), as she's now jumped over to PR as one of those people at the state capitol who keep flooding my inbox with stupid press releases about how Democrats in Harrisburg are better than Republicans, and vice versa.

PR people usually wind up in my spam filters anyway.

4. Impersonating Don Imus gets idiot in trouble

Here's someone who makes Stephen Hawking look like Beavis or Butthead. As Don Imus faced a lot of heat for that whole "happy headed hos" comment, which ultimately cost him his job, a morning radio DJ in the Poconos decided to say the same phrase on-air, and even hold a contest about it. Not surprisingly, he lost his job, which proves that the clue train didn't stop at Gary Smith Junction that day.

Friday, June 08, 2007

I'm back

It's amazing what happens when you're away. WNEP's new owners take out the big red pen and start crossing out names and jobs on Montage Mountain and at other former NYT stations. Nexstar Broadcasting fans the flames of scuttlebutt that it will sell its TV stations, including WBRE and WYOU. And former WYOU reporter Gabrielle Prutisto gets a settlement that's worth more than all of my belongings combined. And people tell me you can't make money in television news!

I never thought I would just walk away from this blog, but I did, and I think all of you deserve to know why: I had to. I won't go into specifics here, but let's just say that a breakdown of sorts nearly happened, which sucked away at my love for my line of work. It became difficult for me to walk into the newsroom, and tell myself that something positive would result, because the end result was the same stuff I've criticized: lame stories, horrible writing, idiotic management, etc.

And despite my best efforts to push my work, and the work of others, towards the well-written, insightful work that television news should produce, it was the same old thing. And when I would go home and update this blog, it was the same old thing. "WNEP can't write its way out of a paper bag!" "WBRE wouldn't know a good story if it smacked it in the face!" "WYOU...well, WYOU!"

Perhaps I'm just stubborn, but I'd like to remain in television news. For better or worse, it's what I do. I even turned down a PR job with the state, just so I could stay in my line of work. Dedication or stupidity? I'll leave it up to you. Regardless, I realized that I couldn't be a journalist and be Howard Beale all at the same time. I needed to get away. With that, I walked away, and never said a word.

That was a big mistake.

Even though this blog attracted the mudslingers and trolls that made my job as Howard Beale hard, it also attracted real insight, from the people who bring you the news, to the people who watch the news, and everything in between. It was refreshing for me to hear people point out what was right, and what was wrong, about television news in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market. I'd rarely hear that in the newsroom, as either people were too scared to go against the grain, or their noses were up someone's you-know-what to even care.

Beale's Bites serves a bigger purpose than as a medium for me to rant and rave about my job. It gives people a forum to say what they couldn't otherwise say about the news in this market. Few stations or newspapers want to give people an open forum to call them out on bad decisions or other goofs. That's where this blog came in. And even if the tip box goes dry, which it sometimes does, I think Beale's Bites is just too important to sit around and collect dust.

I'm still mad as hell. I'm still not going to take it anymore. But now, I'm sorry as hell for leaving.