A Depressing Conversation

I’m not saying stations weren’t out to make a buck. It was just a lot easier. There wasn’t Wall Street’s pressure to scoop up every penny.


I spoke to a friend early this evening. Known him a long time. High level manager in my business. We commiserated about where TV has gone.

The landscape has changed. I started on TV two months after CNN began. Cable competition was virtually non-existent.

It was impossible to run a network affiliated television station and not make bags of money! With less competition, fewer large corporate owners and ‘guaranteed’ money, TV stations were run more for the public’s good.

We did things because we wanted to be good citizens of our community. Stations that understood this best were often the most successful. Which came first? Success or understanding?

I’m not saying stations weren’t out to make a buck. It was just a lot easier. There wasn’t Wall Street’s pressure to scoop up every penny.

In 1980 a single entity could own seven stations. Period. End of story. Now you can own signals which cover nearly 40% of the nation.

If you bought a station you had to, by law, hold onto it for three full years. How quaint.

It’s all different now. TV is a business of large corporations with the same hometown loyalty as WalMart or McDonalds. Their business models are totally based upon financial results. Being the best isn’t part of the equation. If you can do it fine, but never at the expense of profit.

Walk into a TV studio today and you’ll see robotic cameras. Lots of jobs have been automated away. Many reporters shoot their own stories. And everyone works for less.

And with lots more competition for skilled employees the competence level has dropped. My first 11pm producer at Channel 8 in New Haven came from the network. My last producer came from college.

The good old days aren’t coming back. There will never be falling bags of money nor enough employees to fill the parking lot.

This is actually one of the reasons what’s being done in Nebraska is so exciting. They are truly local stations firmly rooted in the community and owned/run by locals.

Who knows what position, if any, TV stations will take in the next decade.

7 thoughts on “A Depressing Conversation”

  1. How many stations will hire a contractor like yourself to produce weather and science content from Your garage in Southern California, to places like Nebraska or Minnesota….places no one wants to live, vs. Hire a metiorologist at a high salary to keep them there, benefits, healthcare…..Must be a relief to the stations that you will be on, so long as you can link up.

  2. I remember the days pre-CNN pretty well and post since we didn’t have cable until around 1988. Local news was always on (and channel 8 since it was the most local).
    I also remember the limits put on station owners causing the sale of WTNH by Cap Cities to Cook Inlet. Now it’s about the bottom line and are investors happy and how far reaching each of the stations in Connecticut can make there way across the state.
    I think the drop in age for people in certain positions is what they cost in salary vs someone with years of experience. I think they are also competent- but cost less and are more likely to find another position in an area of the country that appeals to them instead of sticking to where they grew up.

  3. This is happening in ALL industries…and I use that term with a heavy heart in regard to medical/healthcare. When I started Nursing at the Hospice House in Branford, we nurses could spend as much time as we felt needed at the patient’s bedside. Moving to Florida and continuing with my career still in hospice care was a spiral decline in what, when and how much time and personal effort we were “allowed” to spend with our patients. Hospice is still a worthwhile, caring concept, but another victim of corporate spending…..even though MOST hospice organizations are non profit, Medicare calls most of the shots….SAD, SAD, SAD.

  4. “Business models are totally based upon financial results. Being the best isn’t part of the equation. If you can do it fine, but never at the expense of profit”

    I have to be brutally honest….the above line you wrote IMO, was the beginning of the end of the reign of the “local TV station”.
    Look at WTNH and the weather:

    Let’s face it…many of us who miss you, miss you because we knew you didn’t mix “marketing” into your weather forecasts, especially in terms of winter weather. Along with sports, a quick check of the weather was about the only reason to turn on the local evening news. Today, the hype, spin, and wishcasting by the weathercasters have long since turned off most of the CT viewers to local news, especially those under the age of 50 or so. Today, someone in CT knows dam well that in the 3 months of real winter (mid Dec to early March)….the on air forecasters will hype or spin every flake (or chance of a flake!) until it’s beyond silly for the sake of marketing and hype. You would be embarrassed to see what it has sunk to this winter. The mild winter this year made for a lot of red faces at WTNH – you could just see the anger when April came with sunny skies and 70 F temps after a fleeting winter with little snow.

    Then look at the screwed up “geography” of how WTNH and the parent LIN tries to “direct” the local news and interest:
    Many of WTNH viewers are in southern Connecticut, from Stamford, through the New Haven and shoreline areas, to New London. Someone in Norwalk, Milford, Hamden, Madison….etc is much more interested in the news in the “NYC area” (or Tri-State NY/NJ/CT) than in “New England/Boston”. Tens of thousands of CT residents work in Manhattan, root for NY sports teams, follow NYC news…etc. Yet, we in the New Haven area are constantly assaulted with a “New England spin” on the local news. Who cares what goes on in Boston or Vermont! They’ll give us a worthless story from some hick town up in Vermont 200 miles from New Haven about a cow that broke a leg…yet ignore a plane crash at White Plains Airport or Metro –North news of cancelations or changes that effects thousands of us each day. Yet we have to watch whatever New England based LIN thinks our “local” news is. The “local” weather map is the biggest joke….they show us the radar up in New Hampshire and Maine…..yet we can’t see if it’s raining in Trenton or Atlantic City – LOL.

  5. Jake, I totally agree with your analysis of the present state of broadcasting weather…creating drama where there is none is pathetic.
    But I must respectfully disagree with your views on WTNH focusing on NY and NJ more. Unfortunately, the FCC forbids cable subscribers from getting stations outside of their actual state, so even though I live only a mile from RI, 24 miles from Providence, RI, and an hour from Boston, I must rely on only CT stations for news. Fortunately Gil Simmons is from our area and includes on in the weather, otherwise we’re ignored up here in northeastern CT. If the FCC would change their senseless rules, and broadcast based on geographic location rather than state lines, you could get news from your tristate area (CT, NY, NJ), and I could get my tristate (CT, RI, MA)…..we would both be so much happier!

  6. Shirl, I am a bit confused! I live in CT a few miles from the NY border. I get all the NY channels as well as CT. Why would you not be able to get RI? As a matter of fact we often channel surf in the AM from CT to NY and sometimes to NECN which covers all of New England. We tend to favor NY news but when it comes to weather we go to CT as NYC weather doesn’t always work very well:)

  7. It’s the same everywhere. Health care grocery stores, the local vet; everything is all about money now. They only pay attention to ‘the public good’ if it’s good for their corporate image. And even then only as long as necessary. Makes me sick.

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