Monday, August 31, 2009
The first indication that KEYE TV (CBS) was planning Spanish Language programming and news was notices posted on the Texas Association of Broadcaster’s web site looking for an experienced Spanish-language reporter, producer, and meteorologist. I was told that the search had begun for employees for a possible broadcast, but contracts had not been signed.
This afternoon (Monday, August 31, 2009) Amy Villarreal, president and general manager of KEYE, made it official. October 1, 2009, Telemundo programming will be broadcast on KEYE TV.2. KEYE TV.2 is presently broadcasting the RTN network, reruns of old series. RTN will no longer be seen on KEYE.2 after September 30, 2009.
“Telemundo is a leading producer of high quality content for Hispanics in the United States and is recognized for its originally produced primetime novelas, news, and weekend primetime movie showcases, Villarreal says. KEYE-TV 42.2 will also carry o Telemundo Sports, including in-depth soccer coverage including Futbol Liga Mexicana on Futbol Estelar and Futbol Telemundo, as well as the most Mexican League Soccer broadcasts including, the home matches of Atlas, Tigres, Monterrey, U.N.A.M., Atlante and defending champion Toluca. The addition of the Telemundo programming underscores KEYE-TV’s commitment to the local market and the station’s strategies to increase viewership and expand and improve service for its advertisers, Villarreal said.
“Approximately 23 percent of viewers in Central Texas are Hispanic and this demographic continues to grow. KEYE-TV’s Telemundo programming will ensure that the market’s Spanish speaking audience is both entertained and informed. In addition to airing 125 hours of Telemundo programming weekly, KEYE –TV will produce two local newscasts in Spanish which will air weekdays at 5:00 pm and 10:00 pm,” Villarreal adds.
This announcement comes less than a week after KVUE TV announced that it would soon begin carrying programming from “Estrella” on KVUE.2, instead of the weather. KVUE does plan to produce local news, but not right away, according to Patti Smith, KVUE president and general manager.
Telemundo, a U.S. Spanish-language television network, is the essential entertainment, news, and sports source for Hispanics and a leading international player in the entertainment industry with presence in more than 100 countries worldwide. Broadcasting unique national and local programming for the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, Telemundo reaches 93% of U.S. Hispanic viewers in 210 markets through its 16 owned-and-operated stations, 45 broadcast affiliates, and 800 cable affiliates. Telemundo is wholly owned by NBC Universal, one of the world's leading media and entertainment companies.
Univision broadcasts Spanish programming and local news, weather, and sports on UHF channel 62 in Austin. It has made noticeable gains in ratings. So, for a short while longer, Univision will have the airwaves to itself. “Estralla” starts on KVUE.2 September 7, 2009, and Telemundo begins broadcasting on KEYE 2.0 October, 1, 2009.
© Jim McNabb, 2009>
Austin Bumps Up
Does your beloved Austin feel a little bigger broadcasting-wise? Does there seem to be more stress and angst among the local television stations—more dog-eat-dog competition for a piece of the pie? There is.
The Austin DMA (Designated Market Area) bumped one notch from 2009 to 2010 in the ranking released by Nielsen, August 28, 2009. That means Austin gain TV households from 667,670 to 678,730. In that same week two of Austin’s media groups announced details for planned launches of newscasts. LIN TV owned KXAN TV (NBC) announced that it would be doing 30-minutes of news on its CW station KNVA at 9 p.m. seven days a week starting September 28th. Meanwhile, KEYE TV (CBS) is moving to a 4 p.m. hour-long newscast on September 14th. KEYE had been doing a 5 p.m. since becoming CBS in the mid-1990s.
Houston held at #10 in the nation with about 2.1 million TV homes.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
CW VS. FOX7
KNVA TV (CW) is taking on KTBC TV (Fox 7) head to head with a 30-minute newscast at 9 p.m. seven days a week anchored by KXAN reporter Shannon Wolfson and supported by meteorologist Jim Spencer and the staff of KXAN TV’s (NBC) “Austin News”. The new newscast will air starting September 28, 2009.
KXAN/KXAM/KNVA/KBVO TV President and General Manager Eric Lassberg believes that they can do better in 30 minutes than what others do in an hour. “Our new 9 p.m. newscast on The CW Austin offers great local news coverage and the area’s most popular local weather forecast in 30 minutes, 7 days a week,” says Eric Lassberg, says in a prepared release. “It reflects our ongoing commitment to provide viewers with more options and convenience.”
Valles and Wheeler
Plans for the new hour-long 4 p.m. live broadcast on KEYE TV (CBS) are beginning to take shape. Those plans are resulting in several staffing changes for the station.
“Management has made it clear that isn't going to be the same format, feel or look like any of the other newscasts. We are even going to dress differently. Basically I'm going to really get to be myself and have a blast doing it,” Valles said.
“I am ready to get in there and immediately start refining what we do with this show,” Wheeler continues. “No matter how heavily produced it is, I will do as I do with weekends and with every other project I undertake...I will make it mine, I will make it real and credible and respectable and worth watching. There's a lot of bad TV out there. I say it all the time as I scroll through the hundreds of mundane offerings listed on my TV guide. I don't intend for this show to be one of those that I would pass up as a viewer.”
“In addition to doing the 4pm, I have insisted that I want to continue doing in-depth and investigative reports for the 10pm. Expect to see me popping up there on days when there are major news stories as well...and I can't rule out a big fight with the bosses when there is a hurricane to be covered...old habits die hard,” Wheeler says. He will also be available as a fill-in anchor for the 6 and 10 O’clock news.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Soon, KVUE TV.2, the ABC affiliate’s digital side channel, will begin broadcasting Spanish programming instead of weather. “It is called Estrella and has been successfully providing programming to viewers all over the country on owned and operated stations in the Liberman Broadcasting group, for years. Beginning September 7, 2009, the programming is transforming into a network, which we will be carrying [it] on our second digital channel,” says Patti Smith, KVUE president and general manager. KVUE and other Belo owned TV stations aligned itself with Estrella (“Star” in Spanish) last spring.
Estrella says it will have the potential to reach an estimated 60-percent of the Spanish speaking audience in the nation 24/7. "The addition of Estrella TV immediately enhances the programming we provide to our important Hispanic viewers," said Belo Executive V.P. of Television Operations Peter L. Diaz. "Estrella TV complements these stations perfectly and provides even greater choices for our Hispanic viewers in these communities." [“Broadcasting and Cable”, 5-19-09]
“It is our desire to meet the entertainment and information needs of the Spanish-speaking audience in Central Texas with programming that has proven its commitment to the Hispanic community in Dallas and Houston over these past years,” Smith says. When Estrella TV Austin launches, it will have no locally- originated programming, such as news, Smith says. “As time goes on, it is definitely in our plans to do so,” Smith says.
Viewers looking for weather on KVUE TV.2 have been seeing a notice saying that Estrella TV Austin is coming soon. KVUE.2 has been broadcasting a loop of weather graphics with audio from the National Weather Service NOAA radio station in New Braunfels since going on the air. Many Austinites have come to rely on the commercial-free weather broadcast.
“We’ve always known how important weather is to our viewers and consequently, we’ve programmed that station with weather information for the past 4 years,” said Patti Smith, KVUE TV general manager. “I realize that, for some of our viewers, these changes and the loss of weather radar on KVUE.2 will be significant. With that said, KVUE remains committed to providing that information to our viewers and will do so in a variety of ways made available to us through technological advances.”
Smith says the same, if not better weather information will be available to viewers because advanced technology through www.kvue.com. “Ultimately, it is our hope that our viewers will recognize that with these changes, our goal to serve a variety of constituents with a variety of needs is paramount and that each of these needs can be addressed with unique information found on KVUE, KVUE.2, Kvue.com and KVUE mobile,” Smith said.
Certainly, a driving force behind this change is the growing Spanish-speaking audience in Central Texas. KVUE.2 is non-commercial and therefore non-revenue-producing when it shows uninterrupted difference. Weather is a driver. If KVUE and Belo could have found a way to monetize the weather on KVUE.2, it might have survived, but the surging growth of the Spanish-language TV audience in Central Texas cannot and should not be ignored. The Spanish broadcast of Univision on UHF Channel 62 is proving that truth in the ratings.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
New Media Matters
Multi-platform: Adjective. Frequently used in 2009 to describe LIN Television’s (TVL) newsgathering activities. See LIN TV’s second quarter 2009 report:
“Commenting on the second quarter of 2009, LIN TV’s President and Chief Executive Officer Vincent L.Sadusky said: ‘During these tough times, we are focused on the rigorous execution of several new strategic initiatives, including our multi-platform, newsgathering and cost efficiency plans, which will help make us a leaner and more focused multi-media company.’” [Emphasis Added]
To that end, LIN TV Austin, KXAN TV (NBC) and KNVA (CW) are again moving to back up those words with action by hiring a new media director away from its toughest competitor. Larry Sanders joins LIN TV after six years with Cox Communications, including three years as the General Manager of statesman.com and Austin360.com. During his tenure at statesman.com, the website ranked #1 for online, local content and consistently grew its audience.
Sanders also worked six years with USATODAY.com, ending up as Vice President and General Manager.
“Larry has a proven new media track record, he understands the Austin market, and he can help us serve our purpose to the community by delivering the best local news and weather online content,” said Eric Lassberg, president and general manager of LIN TV Austin in a prepared news release.
KXAN TV also has job posting for a web site “managing editor & community manager” and a “multi-platform journalist”.
Also, earlier this month LIN TV announced the expansion of its mobile offerings to include a new application for BlackBerry smartphones, according to a LIN corporate news release. LIN TV is using News Over Wireless’s (NOW) technology to develop custom BlackBerry smartphone applications for each of its 27 local television stations including KXAN-TV. The app provides instantaneous and on-demand access to its local news, sports, and entertainment, as well as video, weather forecasts and traffic reports to BlackBerry smartphone subscribers. You may have seen the promotional spots touting the TV station as the first in the Austin market to tap into Blackberries. Best of all perhaps, it is free.
While these tools may help KXAN/KNVA with a leg up in the multi-platform market, Sanders must know that he and his new media shop will have to climb a steep slope to catch statesman.com for audience domination.
Meantime, competitor KEYE TV (CBS) continues to be rated the best web site among broadcasters having won first place in the Texas Association Press Broadcasters competition in 2008 and 2009 and an Edward R. Murrow regional award for best web site in 2007. KEYE’s new media staff is led by Sousa Williams.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Anonymous is a person of many personalities and persuasions. Anonymous has mood swings, but most of the time, all is well. I learned about Anonymous recently when I posted a log entitled “No News is Good News.” I only released it to my email list. I didn’t put on Facebook, Twitter, or austinpost.org. I was looking for feedback on this journalism/media blog, newsmcnabb, and did I get it—scores of email.
Many came from known people, but I often heard from the many voices of Anonymous. At one turn, Anonymous would question my intelligence. Another missive from Anonymous would be most gracious. Sometimes, one Anonymous writer would take issue with another Anonymous person.
I posted “No News is Good News” because my efforts to get information were being rejected. Nobody likes rejection, even an old journalist. “Emails that were once friendly in tone have become icy with formality, calling me “Mr. McNabb”, which I have always thought was reserved for my 93-year-old father,” I wrote. “Other emails use terms like, “…with all due respect…” which can be interpreted as veiled disdain. Another said, “I will respectfully decline this and future offers to provide source material” citing the competitive nature of the business. This friend has not replied to my follow-up email.”
So, I questioned whether a blog is worth losing friends over. “I may rightfully wonder if they were really friends in the first place, and if they were not, then there is no loss,” I wrote. I received scores of emails, many of them saying this same thing:
“Keep up the good work. F**k 'em if they can't take a joke. I'm not surprised you've made enemies. I've always marveled at how many of my fellow journalists are good at giving criticism but not taking it,” said one award-winning journalist and friend of more than 30 years.
“I think your so called "friends" are of the fair weather variety and show a lack of integrity that ultimately will reflect on their news product. These people are not journalists who got into the business for the reasons that you and I did many years ago,” another friend said.
“I love your posts!!! Boo-hiss to the people who can’t handle the heat. Bring it!!!” This, from a friend still working in journalism in Austin.
“If your friends don't like it, tell them not to read it,” said another friend still in the business. “And, honestly, I think you hit it on the head: They're not friends. They're friendly acquaintances or friends of convenience because you travel in the same circles. I mean, these people need to get real.”
“About the blog, didn't you start this project with an idea of maybe improving journalism in Austin? If nothing else, you've "smoked out" those who aren't real journalists, and that in itself might improve the craft in our fair city. Give 'em hell!”
“Just like the old saying that doctors and nurses make lousy patients, journalists generally hate when they become the target of someone else's story. But journalists need to be held accountable just as much as those they cover. Don't give up,” said Anonymous.
“I, for one, would miss reading your posts. You have such a meaningful way with words and your stories are always of interest to me, even though I am not in "the business". I understand your concern about losing friends with whom you have spent years building relationships and sharing a passion. Due to the nature of your subject matter in your blogs, you may end up alienating the very people for whom you write,” said another friend.
Then Anonymous spoke again. “Please keep pounding Jim. I understand your frustration. Sometimes it seems the corporate owners of media outlets think the First Amendment is important only when it is not applied to them. We need those who point out that the changes taking place in the media today affect all of us. Good solid journalism is often about criticism. No one likes to receive it.”
And another former journalist and friend of more than 30 years agreed. “If you're making some people mad some of the time, so be it. ‘Comfort the discomforted, discomfort the comforted.’ That's what reporting is all about.” He said. “It's great that you recall past experiences while understanding contemporary pressures and issues. You're a good bridge of generations in the news biz.”
“Who else can I cuss at each morning,” asked a news manager friend of mine?
Then, Anonymous spoke with another voice saying sardonically, “Honestly, McNabb: you are really wasting much of your time. Perhaps back in the day, you were a real journalist. However, considering you are averaging 4 page views and 1.3 comments per day, you would be better served by standing on any street corner, and mumbling about your days in a newsroom 20+ years ago. Your ‘takes’ are old and stale.” This Anonymous actually went to the trouble to get a joke g-mail address. They (“The note said “they”.) have the blog bookmarked. That’s good enough for me.
Then another Anonymous went for the kill. “You're also absolutely right when you say someone needs to keep an eye on the media to make sure it's doing its job. However, before you continue, I think you need to step back and re-analyze your own reporting. You rip into the media for not doing solid reporting and chastise reporters and news directors for only wanting to make money and find fame.And yet you yourself ‘analyze’ the media through such biased lenses as to skew any possible intelligent insights you might have come up with. Isn't that ironic? This void is only worth filling if it can be done by someone who knows true reporting.”
Hmmm. I’m going to stand on my record of nearly 40-years in Austin journalism and communication. I do not delete comments from the blog. I would only delete them if they were in bad taste or brushed too close to libel or slander. More often than not, Anonymous comments with his/her many voices, but a casual reader might not find them if they are collapsed under the post. There are many more comments not recorded here. Certainly, Anonymous may be working somewhere in Austin, and revealing a name might jeopardize a job. I get that. Other writers may use the cloak of anonymity for other purposes.
At any rate, I’m going to continue writing. My reasons for writing are genuine. I wish for the best journalism now and in the future for Austin and Central Texas. For those who did not see the original post it is found at www.newsmcnabb.blogspot.com.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Same Source Reporting?
When each newscast is alike, I have said, it is a busy news day. When each newscast is different, there is no real news. I am amending that pronouncement: When each newscast is alike, it could be a busy news day or it could be that stations are getting their “news” from the same sources or possibly from one source.
Sanders Shooting Case will have Private Review – Apparent Source-Statesman web site on KLBJ AM, KXAN TV, KVUE TV, and News 8.
Guaranty Bank Take-Over by Spanish Bank – Apparent Source-Statesman Web on KXAN TV and KLBJ AM.
Firefighters Union Upset about new Driving Policy – Source unknown but it was on statesman.com and KEYE TV.
Capital Metro Status – Source - News Release on KXAN TV, KVUE TV, and in the American-Statesman
Home Invasion Suspect Drawing – Source - News Release on News 8 and the Austin American-Statesman
Hammer Attack – Source - News Release on KEYE TV and in the Austin American-Statesman
Tax Free Weekend – News Release announcing a news conference in Houston which generated coverage here on KXAN TV and KVUE.
Property Taxes won’t be as high because of New Revenue – Apparent Source – News Release on KVUE TV and in the Austin American-Statesman
Saturday, August 15, 2009
“Sound bite reporting,” that’s what I call it. Some might also label it lazy reporting. Reporters go to an event, wait for somebody to say some inflammatory or provocative, scribble it down, and build a short story around it. It is superficial, but it helps to fill the news hole. Producers and editors are happy. Everyone is happy. Everyone goes home, only to return to the scene of the crime again the next day.
On MSNBC’s “Hard Ball” of all places, I listened while analysts and others beat themselves up about not doing a better job in reporting former governor and VP candidate John Edwards and his dalliance during the past presidential campaign. More details are now emerging. The reporters and analysts took the easy road then. I remember one network commentator blurting, “Could this be the ticket?” when Edwards withdrew and endorsed Barack Obama.
Well, national and , yes, local reporters and news managers might as well start the self-flagellation now for under coverage and sound-bite reporting of health insurance/health care reform.
In a recent post on the importance of beat reporting, I wrote that there is only one health reporter in Austin media. Mary Ann Roser covers the health beat for the Austin American-Statesman. I have not noticed any health reform stories she may have written. Seema Mathur was an award-winning health reporter at KEYE TV (CBS). She moved to Dallas but has returned to KEYE as a freelance general assignments reporter. KEYE is currently accepting reporter applications.
Facebook states that one of its goals is to bring people together. Then, I see this poll on my wall:
Are you in favor of a Government run healthcare system- Yes- No- Maybe
The poll is playing to the fears of a certain population. The question before Congress is not about a “Government run healthcare system”. It is about
An explanation like that is too long to fit in a poll. So, Facebook created a biased, edgy question bound to create controversy among its “friends”. Unfortunately, the resulting conversation is similar to what one might hear at a town hall meeting on the subject. Without some “friend” risking alienation and writing a comment, the misinformation and disinformation stand unchallenged. I contacted FB regarding the question, but have received no response.
It is obvious to me that citizens/readers/viewers/users/consumers of media want information. Even if they don’t want it, they need it. One man drove almost all of the way across Montana to get answers from President Obama this past week. All of the media focused on him, of course, in the pack mentality producing sound bite reporting. The president can answer with his goals and beliefs, but the heavy lifting must be done by Congress.
The bill in Congress bulges with amendments. More amendments will be added during debate. If it makes it to the Senate, it may be amended further, resulting in reconciliation in conference committee. The bill emerging from conference committee must then be passed again by both houses. It is impossible to say exactly what reform might look like by the end of the year.
Why not assign somebody to follow this huge and important legislation every step of the way in something more than sound bites? Why not bring the bill home to the small businesses? Why not find folks with pre-existing conditions and tell their stories? Why not talk to people on Medicare, asking them whether this “government-run” insurance works for them? Why not explain the way a bill becomes law, because apparently many do not understand? Why not do all of these things rather than waiting to see how it turns out and then muttering, we should have done a better job?
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Looking inside other people’s refrigerators to learn about them? No, I don’t do that. Who does? Apparently is done by a significant number of people because it merited coverage in our local newspaper. No, that wasn’t the A-Section Page One story in the Austin American Statesman Wednesday, August 12, 2009, but it was Page One of “Food and Life”. You must be kidding, I thought. Yeah, I read, and I guess the goal was accomplished. The newspaper grabbed me and made me read the Addie Broyles story “What does your fridge say about you? Everything.”
Actually, it told me very little. Ms. Broyles did cite a chapter in a book entitled “Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You” by University of Texas at Austin psychology professor Sam Gosling who apparently studies the contents of other people’s refrigerators.
In the spirit of openness, I’m posting our open refrigerator. Hmmm. There is milk, tortillas, leftovers, a plastic container of cantaloupe and other stuff. I’m not showing the “beverage/overflow” fridge in the garage. Suffice it to say it is stocked with 12 ounce cans and bottles including Coke Zero.
Then, I looked below the fold of the “Food and Life” section, just above the ad for Spec’s is another article, “A six-pack of Austin stores that make convenience a good thing” by Dina Guibudaldi. I actually agreed with a little of the list. I had to ask the question, however, is this news?
Have you read the little paperback book It’s Not News, It’s FARK/How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News, by Drew Curtis? Hardly a journalistic treatise, the book is an outgrowth of his web site
Television listings, classified ads, and comic strips filled out the 12-pages of the American-Statesman D-Section. The back page was split between an ad and a story about a beer tour of San Antonio. Yes, San Antonio.
When in doubt, I apply my definitions of news to articles as sort of a test. The definition: Issues, events, and developments that interest or affect the greatest number of people in your audience on that day? Or, another test is the answer to the question, “Who cares?” If few people care, it’s probably not news. Further, I don’t care what’s in other people’s refrigerators. It’s none of my business. These definitions, I believe, apply to features as well as other news stories.
Anyway, while we have open refrigerators inside in the D section, it has always bothered me that many of the truly important stories of the day are on Pages 2 and 3 or deeper. Often these national and international stories merit only one paragraph. Wednesday’s A-Section was only ten pages with much of the space given to ads. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad that the newspaper is selling ads. I hope they sell lots, and lots, and lots of ads so that they can also provide readers with lots, and lots, and lots of news. Not just summaries.
Judging from the other media that I have seen and read, much has happened during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s historic African trip. A misunderstanding in translation resulted in an unfortunate snap response from Ms. Clinton, and that’s what got coverage while other important aspects of the trip are glossed over.
News organizations pay good money to find out what the audience wants. It is then the job of news managers to help create the stories that fit that image. Sometimes, however, news organizations must answer this grave question: Do we always give the people what they want, or do we give the citizens what they need. Granted, the Austin American-Statesman may not view itself as the daily record, leaving that to other national newspapers and media, but when I see more pages of newsprint given to open refrigerators, a list of the best convenience stores in town, TV listings, classified ads, and a beer tour of San Antonio than the important and even threatening hard news stories of the day from Iran, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere, questions of “news judgment” and priorities come to mind.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Post Script: This week I’ve been assessing the topics and emphases of this medium, this blog newsmcnabb. I even considered whether I should continue writing. That question is answered with this post. I asked for comments and got them, scores of them. Most were quite gracious. A few weren’t. I’m digesting these thoughts, and I’ll share some later.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
An Open Letter
These past few months have caused some introspection on my part with regard to this medium I call “newsmcnabb”.
When I started writing this journalism/media criticism blog, I was convinced that it was filling a void. No one was keeping a day-to-day eye on news in all media in Central Texas. No one wrote critically about the Austin American-Statesman. Few were writing about so-called “new media”, the traditional media’s web sites and the blogosphere. For the most part I still think this is still a valid pursuit after some 115 posts during the past ten months.
Feedback regarding the newsmcnabb site has been most favorable. I’m gratified and humbled. It was fun reading this past week for example that one of my readers is a ninth-grade journalism teacher. That’s fun. Thank you.
I also seem to have alienated some friends still in “the business” who have been moved to anger or some other emotion after reading a post focusing on their newsroom or medium. Emails that were once friendly in tone have become icy with formality, calling me “Mr. McNabb”, which I have always thought was reserved for my 93-year-old father. Other emails use terms like, “…with all due respect…” which can be interpreted as veiled disdain. Another said, “I will respectfully decline this and future offers to provide source material” citing the competitive nature of the business. This friend has not replied to my follow-up email.
It is my perception that people in this market nowadays are taking things way too seriously. Don’t get me wrong. I was and still am more into competition than many. Witness my campaign to make the top three on Austin360.com’s “A-List” not long ago. There was a time when people had fun while competing and practicing journalism here in Austin and Central Texas. Some shops may still be having fun, but they don’t outwardly show it. I am convinced that newsrooms where you hear laughter are also the newsrooms producing quality reporting. Show me a white-knuckled newsroom, and I’ll show you a newsroom that makes mistakes out of fear of making mistakes, if nothing else.
When one is in the news business, one may grow an extra layer of thick skin. I never did. No one enjoys rejection. When I was in the business, and I would have to handle a mean-spirited soul on the telephone, I would not roll over. Many of my former colleagues have heard me engage in righteous debate with people who wished to take me on. When the smoke cleared, however, I would debrief myself and even beat myself up, thinking that I might have handled that call or that email better. One can never retrieve words, you know.
So, during the past few months, I’ve been asking myself if continuing writing this medium is worth losing friends. I may rightfully wonder if they were really friends in the first place, and if they were not, then there is no loss. If real friends are muzzled by management, is it fair putting these true friends in the middle of possible controversy or in jeopardy of losing their jobs if they talk to me about anything, even if it has nothing to do with journalism or media?
Believe it or not, this blog consumes chunks of my time. I don’t just sit down and start writing, shooting from the hip. Many topics require a fair amount of research. I do pay attention to the truth. Part of truth telling is fact finding, asking questions. If I cannot get facts or answers, it is difficult to tell the whole truth. Some stories are left untold. A reporter cannot write about something if they don’t know about it, even if it is “good news”.
I congratulate Michael Vivio, publisher of the Austin American-Statesman, for his good news this past week. Cox will retain ownership of the newspaper. I also thank him for calling me after I emailed, even though he was not wishing to comment further. I respected that, and I didn’t use anything that he told me during the ensuing conversation. In a similar vein, I am appreciative of the spokesperson for Fox TV who returned my call within minutes about their bad news that Fox 7 was laying-off seven employees. These are two people whom I have never met, yet they helped confirm information, if nothing else.
Those whom I have counted as friends, however, either will not or cannot have these conversations. For going on 40 years I have been forming friendships and building relationships in Central Texas and Austin media in particular. Those relationships were built on trust and respect. It saddens me when some apparently no longer see me as a friend because of the newsmcnabb blog.
So, in this “Open Letter” I’m asking you, should I continue? Does this serve a worth-while purpose? I’d like to know your thoughts. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org use the “comments” button at the bottom.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
Instead of giving Austin Independent School district attorneys the go-ahead to fight an attorney general's open records rulling, the AISD Board of Trustees backed off a legal fight over releasing the names of the other applicants for superintendent for now.
Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General, had agreed with attorneys for the Austin American-Statesman that the names should be made public in accordance with the Texas Open Records Act. The School Board was posted to decide whether to proceed with a legal defense of its secrecy in its meeting in two weeks.
The school district has already spent in excess of $21,000 to attorneys hired by the school district to support its position. AISD attorneys challenged the open records request from the American-Statesman and others saying that revealing the names of the applicants could hurt them and future searches for top talent. To proceed with the lawsuit would lead more legal expense.
Keith Elkins, executive director of the non-profit Freedom of Information Foundation in Texas spoke to the School Board meeting Monday night in oppostion to continuing the lawsuit. No others spoke. It was clear, however, that this question of whether it is legally and ethically correct to release the names of applicants for Superintendent is an issue that reaches beyond AISD to other jurisdictions in the state.
"School is about to start for the fall and Austin taxpayers should attend Monday night's meeting en masse to teach the AISD School Board Public Economics 101: $21,000 spent to repeatedly be told you are not above the law is totally unacceptable," says Keith Elkins, executive director of the non-profit Freedom of Information Foundation in Texas. "I do intend to go to the School Board meeting tonight to testify - depending on what action they do or do not take the FOIFT may take additional action later," Elkins said Monday afternoon.
“Two of the biggest threats to freedom of information in the future, in my opinion, are an apathetic citizenry and trying to balance the ‘public’s’ interest versus an ‘individual’s’ interest as it involves personal privacy,” says Elkins. Elkins was an Austin television investigative and legislative reporter for more than two decades.
“How many times do we hear that a news organization, or public watchdog group, is having to retain legal counsel to fight for governmental information that in many cases has already been ordered released by the Texas Attorney General. And yet, for whatever reason, some bureaucrat or newly elected official decides the law doesn’t apply to them. Eventually, the information is often finally released. But at what expense to the taxpayer?” Elkins continues.
Some of Mr. Elkins’ comments for this post were not a direct response to the legal issues confronting the board Monday night, but they are germane. He was talking about the ongoing threats to freedom of information in general.
“It may involve tens of thousands of dollars or possibly millions, at the federal level,” Elkins continued. “And while it makes for a sizzling investigative news story or provides ample fodder for critics of big government rarely, if ever, do taxpaying citizens rise up and say, ‘Enough is enough’ demanding to know how the bureaucrat or elected official could justify wasting THEIR tax money. Remember, Government is supposed to work for us – not the other way around.”
Elkins says this type of open records resistance is an example of just one of the threats to freedom of information in Texas.
“During this most recent legislative session multiple new laws were introduced which were designed to ‘seal-off’ previous public records and information readily available to the public – theoretically because it left state employees ‘vulnerable’ to potential identity theft, even though no hard evidence was presented to prove that theory,” Elkins says.
The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas holds its 2009 Bernard and Audre Raporport State Conference Friday, August 21 at the Renaissance Hotel in Austin. State Senator Rodney Ellis, (D) Houston, is the conference Luncheon keynote speaker. State Senator Rodney Ellis, (D) Houston, is the conference's Luncheon Keynote Speaker. Ellis and State Representative Bob Hunter, (R) Corpus Christi, will receive the James Madison Award from the foundation. Ellis and Hunter were sponsors of the Texas Free Flow of Information Act, signed into law earlier this year by Governor Rick Perry. This award is given annually to honor those who have demonstrated outstanding commitment and service in upholding the principles of the First Amendment.
Conference agenda also includes panel discussions on social media and government, the recent legislative session, and shaping tomorrow’s open government by examining recent Freedom of Information rulings.
The Freedom of Information Foundation conference and/or luncheon is open to the public. The cost of the total conference, including the Keynote John Henry Faulk Awards Luncheon, and all sessions, is $100. The awards luncheon only is $75 per person. For more information or to register, visit www.foift.org or call the FOIFT office at (512) 377-1575.
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
It’s 4:33 p.m. in the fall of 1983. I’m working on a newsroom piece for the 5 O’clock, before crashing on my main story in the 6 O’clock, called “24 Action News” (KVUE TV, ABC), back then. No computer then. We were typing stories on six-part carbon script packs. I finish and walk briskly to the front of the 4X4 double-wide that housed the newsroom to get the producer’s OK.
The producer was good, especially with breaking news. He read. Then, he crossed through something and changed some words. “Hmmmmm,” I thought and leaned forward, reading upside-down. (Reporters have this talent.) “Why did you change that,” I asked. He muttered something. “I won’t read it that way,” I said. “It’s poor grammar.”
“I don’t care. That’s the way people talk,” he answered still reading.
I could feel my face getting red. “I won’t read it that way,” I repeated. “Those words won’t come out of my mouth on camera. If you want to go on camera and say them, fine. I won’t do that.” His face reddened.
Soon, someone else was involved—the executive producer or the news director, I don’t remember. Time was growing short. I was on deadline, but I made my case. “The reason,” I said, “that people talk that way is partially our fault in the media. If they or their kids hear it on TV, it only validates incorrect usage. If we use good grammar, those who know, notice. Those who don’t know don’t care. Those who know better and hear poor grammar will think less of us; it diminishes our credibility.” I recall saying something like that. There was a pause. Everyone looked at the producer. Everyone then looked at each other. It was time to go on the air.
I read the story the way that I had written it. Nothing else was ever said, and from that time on from job to job, I became the unofficial “grammar police”. Oh, sometimes I’d have to look things up, more often than not, someone would shout a grammatical question, and I would shout back “Yes” or “No” or the correct usage or word. Don't trust "Spell Check" to bail you out. It's best to know the correct spelling and usage in the first place.
I can remember one time diagramming a sentence on the KXAN TV (NBC) white board, AKA assignments wall, before computers made them anachronisms. (I understand that some stations still use the assignments boards. I don’t know why.) Anyway, I diagrammed this sentence in a vain attempt to explain a predicate nominative. The case of the subject and the predicate nominative should agree. Most, if not all, present stood there glassy-eyed and dumbfounded. Most had never seen a sentence diagrammed before. It’s really a useful tool to understanding syntax.
I used to tell first-year journalism students that they must love words, and they must respect what those words can do when used well. Words are like tools. When working on a project, one needs the “right tool”, just as a journalist or any writer should reach for just the right word. The word selected can create or diminish credibility.
I realize that language evolves and “new words” are added to the dictionaries every year, but I wonder like former newsman Edwin Newman (NBC and author of “Strictly Speaking” and other books), “Will America be the death of English?” I maintain that media must continue using correct grammar. Media should model what is correct, not what is wrong. Twenty-five years after asserting myself and standing up for my script as written, I still believe it.
It is just as true for interpersonal communication as it is for mass communication. If an individual wants people to hear a message, not the words, one should choose the right words and use them well.
What brought all of this on? This week, I heard on TV someone say something like, “The attacks centered around this area.” Hint: Something cannot center around. Something can center on, but something cannot center around. Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Cox Enterprises and the Austin American-Statesman announced today (Thursday, August 6, 2009) that the Austin newspaper is no longer for sale. The announcement comes on a day that a new Rassmussen nationwide survey says newspapers are “on their own.”
“Just 25% of American adults favor the creation of a White House commission to help save journalism jobs and find ways for struggling news organizations to survive,” a Rassmussen newsletter says. Such a commission was proposed last week by former CBS anchor/reporter Dan Rather.
So, Cox says, fine, we’ll charge “Onward Thru the Fog”, borrowing the phrase coined in the last century by Austin’s unique shop Oat Willie’s.
For a business that operates on facts not rumor, rumors had been flying about the Statesman’s headquarters all day yesterday day. It was in the air. All knew that something was afoot. Today’s announcement came as a big relief.
“We were really scared of Platinum Equity,” on staff member says. And then there was that trio of buyers that had teamed up and they were pretty scary too. As of last night, gossip was running rampant that we had been sold to those three buyers. But then we got an email announcing a meeting would be held by the publisher.”
Michael Vivio, American-Statesman publisher, and a representative from Cox Enterprises called the staff into the lobby to make the announcement that the paper was being taken off the market. Vivio said he would get straight to the “punch line.” With the announcement the crowd erupted into prolonged cheers and applause. You can sense the room exhale.
“People started yelling and cheering and clapping,” one source said. Another source tells me, “There is great joy and relief in the newsroom. It's been a very trying year with great uncertainty and tension.” “I kind of thought this is the way it would go,” Vivio said. Video of the announcement is on statesman.com. The cheers were so loud that it distorted the audio on the recording for a few seconds. If you look for the video (It’s under “Multimedia”.), look at the faces. You might even pause the recording for a moment and go from face to face.
One tends to forget that many news media stories or posts are really about the people who have chosen this profession. They invest years in what is sometimes belittled by the public. I have always said that people are all called to a job or profession, often termed by their gifts, their talents. So, the newspaper is a plastic bag that falls in your driveway is not the whole story. It is the reporters and photographers bylines past, present, and hopefully future that makes journalism a higher calling. It is in our constitution. The sobering irony is found under today’s announcement in the comments section where readers/users/consumers of the newspaper (They wouldn’t be posting comments if they were not.) have all manner of snide and even crude things to say about Austin’s only surviving daily newspapers.
The news traveled fast through Facebook and texts to others outside of the newspaper industry.
"It's really good news--for the newsroom and for the community," said Elizabeth Christian, public relations executive and a former newspaper reporter and owner herself. “Can you imagine NOT reading a newspaper?” she said. “I read both the Statesman and the NY Times every single day and feel naked if I have to run to an early meeting without getting through the papers. I also notice that people who rely on on-line news sources, even the papers' web sites, miss many, many stories. They just don't seem as educated or up on the news."
After Cox announced that it was putting the American-Statesman up for sale, I began to wonder if was really going to happen as the weeks grew into months. As I noted in previous posts, the newspaper is a successful, big business—the largest print shop in Austin, located on a prime piece of real estate. Its audience growth continues .
“’Cox Enterprises said from the beginning that it would not preside over a fire sale,’ Statesman publisher Michael Vivio said Thursday. ‘This is a profitable company, and it just did not make sense to sell it for the prices offered.’” (AA-S “Breaking News Alert).
OK. Now that the Statesman is not for sale, what’s next? It is a new source of some anxiety for staff members. “I admit to being skeptical about the future. We all are. But we're all very happy to still be with (as I've heard it phrased many time today) ‘the devil we know’."
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
KTBC TV (Fox 7) is eliminating seven employees, including its high-profile “7 On Your Side” unit reporter Chris Coffey. Coffey’s contract had expired and was not renewed. A “7 On Your Side” producer was among the other six laid off, according to a Fox spokes person. KTBC is a Fox Network owned and operated TV station.
The remaining five Fox 7 workers included two graphic artists and three studio camera operators who worked in at the KTBC studio in downtown Austin at 10th and Brazos and were not part of “7 On Your Side”.
The layoffs were very hard decisions and a reflection of hard economic times. “The ‘7 on Your Side’ franchise is not going away,” the spokes person said. The station remains committed to investigative journalism. Future stories will be handled by general assignments reporters on the Fox 7 staff. I, myself, used to say that every reporter is an investigative reporter, but media must give them the freedom, time and resources to develop well-told stories.
Coffey had been the face of “7 on Your Side” since 2004. The Texas Associated Press Broadcasters awarded Coffey first place in “Beat Reporting” in 2008. Now, Mr. Coffey joins a long list of specialty reporters who must retool in a tight economy.
The KTBC layoffs come on the heels of a renewed commitment to investigative journalism by rival KXAN (NBC) with the hiring of Nanci Wilson from KEYE-TV’s (CBS) investigative unit. That team once consisted of Ms. Wilson, Keith Elkins and a producer/photographer. Mr. Elkins is now executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, and the producer/photographer, John Salazar, is now chief photographer at KEYE. As promised, KEYE has continued investigative reports, but not with the intensity and frequency they once had.
In a post written to coincide with Nanci Wilson’s official arrival at KXAN, having completed the requirements of the standard “no compete clause”, I said, “That sort of focused reporting comes with commitment and cost.” Fewer and few media are willing to embrace these challenges.
Marisa Guthrie wrote in the June 22, 2008 issue of Broadcasting and Cable magazine:
“Producers have felt the sting of contracting budgets and swelling corporate concern over the bottom line. Such conditions have been most inhospitable to reporters working on investigations requiring time and resources; these stories are often magnets for legal action.
“I think there's a huge need for that kind of investigative work, and it's clear there's less of it,” says Bill Buzenberg, executive director at the Center for Public Integrity, which specializes in investigations. “It's risky, it's expensive, it takes huge
resources and talent, and with much of the press owned by large corporations, I think there's a certain reluctance to do that.”
“There is a belief—and I don't know if it's because a consultant said so or what—that real investigations do not appeal to viewers,” says Walt Bogdanich, who produced the Day One piece
and is now at The New York Times, where he recently won his third Pulitzer Prize. “I think if you put faux investigative pieces on and package them as investigative, whether it's 'To Catch a Predator' or whatever, it ceases to be journalism and becomes voyeurism.”
Indeed, media research here indicates that perhaps the only people who care about so-called “watchdog” reports are the people who are directly affected. Stories that result in broad change, such as Ms. Wilson’s stories about “ghost voting” in the Texas House of Representatives while she was with KEYE, rise beyond “watchdog” to the level of investigative journalism.
Now, only the Austin American-Statesman has a marquee franchise that will take on individual problems. “Statesman Watch” is written by reporter Mark Lisheron.
“Rich Oppel, [former American-Statesman editor] is a vocal proponent of watchdog reporting focused on city hall, and when features similar to “Statesman Watch” started popping up in newspapers around the country, he insisted we start one, too. Lisheron has developed it into a worthwhile franchise,” says Fred Zipp, American-Statesman editor. “My impression is that it has developed decent name I.D. and a following among readers.”
News 8 (Time-Warner) is making an investigative unit a goal. “I am working to get one started perhaps next year,” said Kevin Benz, news director and acting station manager. “I believe it’s a key component of our community mission. We’re 10 years old now and I think we’ve got the chops to handle it.”
Viewers/readers/consumers/users of media always ask for more, not less, real investigative reporting instead of superficial, short sound-bite stories. “Big J” journalists in traditional media still strive for it despite economic odds. Alternative media such as blogs and efforts
© Jim McNabb, 2009
Saturday, August 1, 2009
“I believe there will always be a market for well told, well researched investigative reporting,” says Nanci Wilson, investigative reporter wooed to KXAN TV (NBC) from KEYE TV (CBS) last winter. “These are the stories that hold our government and the powerful accountable. These are the stories that reveal wrongdoing and provoke change. These are the stories that let the bad guys know someone is paying attention.”
It sounds like Ms. Wilson is burning with the same fire she always had after six-months away from the air because of the rather standard, “no compete” clause in her contract. “Yes. I’ve got a long list of potential stories. Curiosity is part of my DNA, so I’m always digging for information on things that I see or hear about. I came away from our annual conference of investigative reporters with lots of ideas, too.” She became free to return to the air Saturday, August 1, 2009.
Wilson says she looks forward to working with Michael Fabac, KXAN TV news director. “We both served on the committee that helped get the journalist shield bill passed. He’s passionate about the public’s right to know and understands the importance of investigative journalism. It’s really fun to work for someone who shares that excitement and commitment.”
“We work hard to provide Austin viewers with depth and clarity on issues that affect their lives,” said Fabac. “Nanci has a proven record of solid, in-depth investigative journalism. She’s committed to bringing the truth to light. We’re excited to have her on our team.”
That sort of focused reporting comes with commitment and cost.
“The state of investigative journalism is in a bit of flux. Many reporters around the country have been laid off or reassigned to anchoring or general assignments positions. It’s no secret that investigative reporting comes with a higher cost to stations and newspapers. With news outlets being owned by corporations, there is more pressure to make a profit, rather than serve the public,” Wilson says. KXAN TV is owned by LIN Television (TVL) based in Providence, Rhode Island. “The good news is that there are still some stations and papers that see the benefit, and I believe in the long run, those will be the ones who will see the payoff in viewers and subscribers.” LIN TV has a long-standing commitment to local, multi-platform news.
Obviously, KXAN has been aware of Wilson’s work. “Austin viewers are very familiar with Nanci and her award-winning journalism,” KXAN says a prepared release. “She has spent the last 13 years reporting in Central Texas, winning several awards, including two Associated Press Awards and the coveted Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative journalism [while she was with KEYE TV].
“More importantly, her reports have helped bring about important changes in local and state government. This includes proposed legislation mandating regular criminal background checks of Child Protective Services workers and an in-depth report exposing the over-medication of foster children and conflicts of interest within the Texas Mental Health & Retardation Department,” the release said.
“There are a number of new nonprofit organizations that are focusing on investigative reporting. Many of my friends have gone to work for them, and they are doing some exciting and important work,” Wilson says. Several high profile journalists recently resigned jobs in traditional media to work for a new start-up, the Texas Tribune (www.texastribune.org), a yet-to-be-launched nonprofit, online source of Texas news and politics. The Texas Tribune Launch is expected in November. “It is my core belief that investigative reporting is an essential element of maintaining democracy. And as such, I'll always support those who are committed to it,” Wilson says.
© Jim McNabb, 2009