Premature Speculation

I remember a day when May sweeps meant tv newsrooms shined up and showed off. The most important ratings book of the year meant special investigative reports, multi-part series pieces on important cultural, political and criminal justice issues.

But this year, for many newsrooms May has given employees the effect of two Starbucks espressos downed within minutes of each other.

They’re nervous, on edge and maybe even shaky.

I don’t remember a sweeps period with so much change in personnel and management. My station, WKRN said goodbye to a general manager and a news director during the first weeks of the book. Stations in the former New York Times broadcast group said goodbye to a number of staff members, some in the news department and some in the important production department. The new owners of 19 and 3 have sent down word that there would be no more cuts. But those of us who’ve been in the business for a long time understand the business. They may “hope to make no more cuts”, but layoffs are never off the table when they look at profit margins.

What is happening to the business of local tv news?

I remember a post from Terry Heaton, former news director at WAAY-31 in Huntsville and now a consultant. Late in 2004 (the year I left tv news in Memphis) Terry wrote that 2005 would be a year of trouble for broadcasters. He predicted that because of a shrinking audience (that isn’t coming back) and disruptive technolgies that empower viewers, tv stations would begin making cutbacks sending many journalists to the unemployment lines.

I suppose we’ve all been holding our breaths for the past few years, wondering if maybe Terry was off or way off. Turns out maybe it was just premature speculation.

Is this the year? Or will 2008 be the year Terry figured was coming soon?

I hope Terry’s forecast was more like a meterologists 7-Day Outlook and less like a glance at the gazillion watt Doppler radar and an approaching storm.


1 Comment

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One response to “Premature Speculation

  1. Anonymous

    I’ve been in this business for more years than I care to admit. The one thing I have learned in all of that time… more so in recent years, is that relevance is of paramount importance. You have to come in every day and be better than the next guy. Over my years as a manager I have been warned that layoffs are always a possibility. As a manager, it’s my job to know who that person would be should I get that call. For this reason I preach relevence to my team all the time. Your job is never safe because expectations change as as often as the weather. In a business as competitive as this one, you have to be in a state of constant professional evolution. I have been fortunate enough to have never received that call. But tomorrow is another day and you never know. It’s a business and at the end of the day the “company” is going to release the person or people who THEY feel is not as important as others. I’m fortunate to have six designers on my staff. For a local station of any size, that’s considerable. I worry all the time about my company deciding we are too heavy. But we bust a** every day and we are better than the guys across the street. But, tomorrow is another day and you never know.

    Chris Brown
    Art Director
    Former WHNT & WREG Employee

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