The Crisis in
Broadcast Television

by Mark Bell

May God bless and protect all of the journalists of the world, and bolster the ability to go about our duties. May the corporations go about their duties as well to invest in their role as media owners to support these efforts. Truth and diligence will advance the cause of our efforts and preserve us all.


What the hell are we going to do with so much shame of a once great business?

     This is a national disgrace. Americans deserve much better. We have the right to demand it.We did some of this last month. You can read more about issues there as well. A few of us contributed. We wrote ourselves in to what we thought was the state of "enough," but it's not. It may serve readers to peruse last month's TDJ for these stories. Maybe we'll refer to these two month's as the two which TDJ burst out with love and emotion for television, but had to wade through all sorts of shit while we did it. I apologize for the language which was, and will be used here, but we really got to talk. The US has blown it with television. Perhaps this month will hopefully explain some of the why. There are some really basic, hard questions that need to be asked, so let's start:

Are there happy people in the business working for television stations?

     Yes, but they are getting harder to find, and for many, it's becoming a rough job in which salaries, hours, and conditions are easily exceed by companies which honor their employees, and put out products which are little more than fillers between commercial breaks.

     A small poll yielded two interesting responses from two people who are handling it all very well. Both have given a great deal of their lives to the business and earn less than many people in executive positions at their stations. These people actually make TV by being specialists at photography, human relations, emergency services behaviors and approaches to emergency situations. They also need to be drivers of a wide range of vehicles, video editors, technicians, be able to think like writers, reporters, and producers. 

     What is your perception of being a photographer or technician versus what it was 15-20 years ago?

     15-20 years ago there were less news outlets, there were less people doing what we do and there were well-defined career ladders. To start in a smaller market, establish a reputation and move up the ladder was a good plan. Now you start in a smaller market and the ladder goes many different directions, mostly freelance, as you get higher in the business. Good staff jobs, with bennies, paid vacations, etc., are disappearing from the top rungs of the ladder...and those who aspire to the upper echelons of the business must be great risk-takers and great salesman as well as great shooters and technicians.

     What has changed?

     At my level of the business, we are expected to do more (shoot, edit, run microwave and in my case, run a sat truck). It's not unlike what we were expected to do in smaller markets years ago. Also, when I started at XXXX years ago, there was always a feeling that money was no problem in pursuit of a big story. Now cost is always an issue; to cover a major story and do it in a cost-conscious manner is now the way we do things... Also, at the major O&Os and the networks, there are virtually no staff job openings anymore. If you want to work in the big
leagues, you must freelance.

     Would you advise others to go into the business?

     Yes, if they understand the adage that one must be a jack-of-all trades, willing to move and live a rather unconventional lifestyle.

     If so, in what capacity?

     Simply as a field news gatherer. There will always be a need for people to gather material in the field, no matter what the future brings. I would suggest that news people working in the field need to be 1/3 reporter, 1/3 shooter/editor/storyteller and 1/3 technician. That background will serve you well whether your ultimate goal is to be on the air, shooting, editing or producing...or running the place (imagine that--commanders with battlefield experience).

     If not, why?

     The money and job security aren't what they used to be for the younger folks..

     Would you do it again?


     What's the best part?

     Doesn't seem like work. I get paid handsomely to attend things and witness events that I would probably want to see and do anyway.

     What's the worst part?

     Many of the managers in the news business today are theorists and bean-counters. When I started most of the bosses were role models whose journalistic resumes were filled with trench duty, and who were great teachers and role models. Not enough people in charge today who understand leadership and the unique demands of leading creative, hard-charging, sometimes fickle newsies. There are a few of these folks in circulation and many of them command great respect from the troops and great jealousy from their management colleagues, who have no idea how leaders are really shaped in a news environment.


     What is your perception of being a photographer or technician versus what it was 15-20 years ago?

     By the public at large, not much. You are still loved or hated, nothing in between. By law enforcement they for the most part still do not trust us. By Management of the TV station, we are slowly becoming more than just guys who drive with lenses, we are storytellers.

     What has changed?

     Technology for one. Non Linear editing being the largest contributor from when I started with my TK-76. The cameras have become smaller and easier to use, but the techniques of steady sequenced video and meaningful compelling natural sound have always been a standard.

     Would you advise others to go into the business?

     If a person wants to experience all parts of life, how it effects people and make a difference, yes, this is the best challenge a person can have.

     If so, in what capacity?

     As a Photojournalist/Storyteller

     If not, why?

     If that person has a bad attitude about life and how all the issues of the day from bad reporters to bad gear get to them. I tell that person to think of another job.

     Would you do it again?

     Of course!

     What's the best part?

     Getting to make a difference with the video I have shot.

     What's the worst part?

     Maintaining a great attitude amongst the pessimists of the world.


  What is your perception of being a photographer or technician versus what it was 15-20 years ago? 

     -Broadcasters no longer own and operate the stations, they are now owned by huge conglomerates with little background in the business of broadcasting. Most decisions are made on short term "bean counter" planning rather than long term quality. 

     -Companies are now allowed to own more stations. 
     -The stations are now run by bean counters who rely on outside consultants much more now than 15 to 20 years ago instead of hiring good managers to run the operation. 
     -News coverage has been "dumbed down" significantly from 15-20 years ago. 
     -The almost constant hyping and promotion and tie in stories that attempt to draw viewers watching entertainment shows airing before news. 
     -A much greater push to be live from the scene even though it does not help tell the story and often detracts from it by wasting resources that could be better utilized. 
     -Companies in a cost saving mood no longer hiring full time employees although using them on a full time basis. People are willing to take this type of work and not getting the benefits like sick time, pension/ retirement, medical, paid vacation 
     -Newsgathering equipment is smaller, lighter and more dependable. 

  Would you advise others to go into the business? 

     -I would warn them to look closely at what the business really is like. Talk to others who have experience in order to get a feel for what to expect.

  Would you do it again? 

     -Knowing what the business has morphed into, I would probably consider looking elsewhere

  What's the best part? 

     -Getting the story on the air before the competition and doing a good job on coverage. 

  What's the worst part? 

     -Being second guessed by managers who never set foot in the field!!!

What about Government intervention?

     The Government seems to be doing something about this. Perhaps the way they are doing it is a bit slow and back-handed. Rather than limiting the abilities of the stations to perform in the weird ways some seem to, they have required stations to convert to digital signals the public is poorly equipped to receive. This is costing stations a lot of their wide and deep profits. Some stations are paying $10-15,000/month extra just for the electricity to run high powered transmitters for their manadated digital signals. That doesn't count the money for the equipment, labor for renovations, installation, and then learning curve to operate it all.  Only few consumers can receive the signals with special TV "sets." 
     Some stations and companies may not make it and will have to be sacrificed. Less TV seems to be the way of making less problems. On top of it all, there are still broadcast schools turning out people who feel they may get jobs for big bucks and have some sort of wonderful life doing it. This author wonders if these people know what they are getting onto as older people are escaping to other careers with a lot more stability and the need for expertise outside of making money in any way they can by exploiting life. 
     Here's a news item possibly related to the government's financial pressures:

From the daily newsletter, NewsBluzette, available from the NewsBlues website.


     Standard & Poor's has lowered its corporate credit ratings on Benedek Communications Corp. and its subsidiary, Benedek Broadcasting Corp. to double-'C' from triple-'C'-plus.

     The downgrade follows Benedek's disclosure that senior secured bank lenders will likely prohibit the Nov. 15, 2001, interest payment on the 13.25% senior subordinated discount notes.

     Benedek has indicated that refinancing would be unattractive and that it will attempt to negotiate a deferral of cash interest payments on the discount notes.

     If the company does not make the cash interest payment on the notes and is unable to modify its obligation to pay cash interest, noteholders will be entitled to accelerate their debt and exercise their remedies.

     Benedek expects its proposed bank agreement amendment will require it to sell assets in order to bring the company into compliance with financial covenants under the current facility, as of Dec. 31, 2002.

     Such transactions would most likely include TV stations in the company's largest markets. While many of Benedek's stations are VHF with first-or second-place ratings, they are in smaller markets, which are generally less attractive than larger markets.

     Who will bite the bullet?

WPDE ABC Myrtle Bch, SC
WWMB UPN Myrtle Bch, SC
WMTV NBC Madison, WI
WWLP NBC Springfield, MA
WILX NBC Lansing, MI
WTRF CBS Wheeling, WV
KAUZ CBS Wichita Falls, TX
KCOY CBS Santa Maria, CA
KMIZ ABC Columbia, MO
KGWN CBS Cheyenne, WY
WTAP NBC Parkersburg, WV
WBKO ABC Bowling Green, KY
WYTV ABC Youngstown, OH
KDLH CBS Duluth, MN and Superior, WI
WIFR CBS Rockford and Freeport, IL
WHSV ABC Harrisonburg, VA
KHQA CBS Quincy, IL and Hannibal, MO
WTOK ABC Meridian, MS
WTVY CBS Dothan, AL and Panama City, FL
KKTV CBS Colorado Springs, CO
KTVS CBS Sterling, CO

.......and on another day......(8-31)


     Employees of Seattle-based Fisher Communications Inc. were told yesterday to expect layoffs as the company tries to cut expenses by 10 percent next year.

     Citing a severe drop in advertising revenue and a more-competitive media environment, Fisher CEO William Krippaehne Jr. said the cost-cutting will affect all areas of Fisher's business as it
continues a restructuring begun earlier this year.

     About a thousand of Fisher's 1,100 employees work at 12 television and 26 radio stations, mostly in the Northwest. About a quarter of that number work at the company's flagship station, KOMO-TV.

Seattle, WA
Portland, OR
Eugene, OR
Coos Bay, OR
Roseburg, OR
Idaho Falls, ID
Yakima WA
Pasco, WA
Lewiston, ID
Boise, ID
Augusta, GA
Columbus, GA

Who do you like on the news?

     I like the people I like.

      This is a picture of two wonderful people. Kim Carrigan was at WHDH as their top anchor. Seven months pregnant and trying to renegotiate her contract, she was canned, reportedly in spite by Ed Ansin, because she, or should we say her agent, wanted to negotiate her contract and compensation.  Jack Williams was placed in weekend news hell because he is older and a bit lumpier then the youthful exuberants that are supposed to make up the better ratings. Jack was over at WBZ for a zillion years. I like Jack. I like Kim. They were shoved down my throat during their earlier tenure and I want to keep them. At seven months pregnant, we hope Mr. Ansin's induced stress doesn't create a legacy for the little kiddo.

         Thank goodness they are both doing news at the UPN station here in town. Is WSBK, TV-38, still a superstation? I hope so, as others all over the US will be able to see these guys. And when Jack starts laughing with that contagious, friendly laugh, the world will laugh around him. 

         But there is a kind-of negative societal message here, dontcha think? I guess we're just taking those older people, no matter how smart they are, and shoving them out on icebergs to drift away. We teach that to the kids, too. Imagine if we just had young white people on TV. (Shit, we do....especially if we're talking NBC anchors. Is Tom coming back?)  I guess the lessons taught are the ones we teach. 

         As I write this there's a trial going on for some poor anchor in Colorado who was reportedly fired because of misspellings.... I giggled when one newspaper report misspelled the news director, Melissa Klinzing's name as Klenzing.....heh heh heh..... (Ze Fuhrer would be proud....)    From NewsBluezette as taken from the Denver Post: "According to attorneys for KMGH, the 17 year veteran reporter was fired because of unacceptable performance, including sloppiness, inattention to detail, irresponsibility and lack of focus and commitment. They also said he made "almost daily serious spelling and grammar errors." This, unfortunately, was the failed focus of Tuesday's court testimony."  All I can say is thank goodness it's illegal in most states for TV station management to place anchor people in meat grinders.

(UPDATE 9-06: From thte Denver Post: Minshall, the anchor, won over $500,000 in his suit, with the station being liable for twice as much according to the jury, because the charges were viewed as "willful."  According to the Post article, Minshal said the jury didn't believe any of the lies and it was nothing but a corporate coverup. This is the type of story a broadcast management should be reporting on, not becoming involved with. DO ANY BROADCASTERS WHO MAY WISH TO CRITICIZE THIS ARTICLE'S TONE GET THIS? Broadcasters should be imaginative with what they do, and there is a way to get the job done, there always has been. Any industry which kicks out it's seasoned veterans will end up with unseasoned rookies. What happens then?  It should be illegal to place rookies in meat grinders, too.) 

         A business with public license which caters to just one age group to optimize earnings is going to be biased and unfair as much as they are allowed. Fines are not appropriate, just pull their licenses. If a station's on-air makeup does not reflect their communities, there are other motivations for their business than serving them. Where will THAT stop? And all a regulatory agency has to do is look. (OK, we're ready....GO!)   I was comfortable with Jack and Kim, and will support both of them, just because it's them. I can't imagine I'm alone in this regard, either. I like to carry friends with me through the years.  I can't even tell you who is on the other stations. It's just not important anymore, and besides, they are gone so fast these days over bullshit issues, not what they did or how well they did it. I just don't care. I've been taught not to. 

          TV stations with constant shuffling in their desperate attempt to make money are just making the business worse. There is no way to serve a community when the core interest is to mesmerize them. See ya soon Kim and Jack! (Newscast starts September 3.*)

*It has started, and had the expected warm, seasoned, and mature professionalism. Too bad it's only a 1/2 hour long. Also, where's Jack's "Wednesday's Child" segment going to go? They're not going to throw away the orphans with Jack, are they? I hope there's money in orphans or they may be doomed, too. 


     What the hell is going on here? This is about media companies. This is about the main stream messaging to the people. If we feel we are the best country in the world we have to allow for the expression of freedom, but we also should allow for some regulation which would limit and ultimately disclose who is pulling the strings. Or maybe it should be simply stated that corporations which create programming or sell anything else should not be allowed to be news broadcasters, as a first step.

     Should companies which manufacture poison be allowed to make money on the cure of their poisonings? Should Exxon/Mobil or any other fuel company be allowed to own a cleaning company to make money cleaning up their fuel spills? How about a weapons manufacturing company...think they should be able to staff EMT vans in cities? Why do we allow an industry which begs us to let them show violence and lewd behaviors to make money reporting on the news of the results of these behaviors? Should we let CNN run the military?

     Experts readily testify as to the effect of TV violence on kids, but you really don't see a whole lot of those interviews or stories...not as much as you see the replays and news "specials" about school slaughters, right?

     It's because it's bad for business.

     Why have we given right for commercial corporations to take life's events and create entertainment out of them, such as the reality bending piano playing in the background heard on NBC as the Columbine school slaughter video played? It's not news, it's a show, with the exploitation of public tragedy and anguish as the event. The choice? Don't watch, and it's happening. That sucking sound I hear is the sound of Benedek and Fisher trying to stay solvent because of diminishing ad revenue, maybe digital conversions, or maybe just because they can't maintain the 40% needed by greedy investors, bored or impatient with less.

     How many universities which train people to go into television tell them about the REAL side of the business? Please read NewsBlues and and tell me that those pages are about companies who ought to be allowed to broadcast information to people. As long as they operate under the guise of a federal license they ought to have some check.....or is that a deal with politicians so they may leverage media companies? Heh heh heh....the old fox watching the chicken coop? Me, distrust? 

     There are things you can't Monday-morning quarterback. News information is one of them. The more the big corporations are involved in media, the more questions need to be asked, and on Sunday, before the game. Who's going to ask them? The corporations? Not if money is involved. Look at the corporations I've been a apart of. Are all businesses like this? I tell people about my work life as a tech in broadcast facilities and frankly, I'm embarrassed. Am I going to brag about it to a person in a high tech company with an exercise room, performance bonuses, stock options and progressive management?

     The American way is freedom and justice. The corporate way is anything but. Is that news to anyone? Is this really the best we can do?

     All the power of what television can do and we let corporations run it?

     We're not learning what we can, we're seeing what can make them money.

     And that's the way it is.....

Mark Bell
Broadcast Professional

Mark Bell is a freelance writer and broadcast industry safety information specialist. His work can be read on Broadcast Professional,, and in Digital TV magazine.

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