Should I Care About Letterman? I Do

It was obvious the audience was also caught off guard. They didn’t seem to get the drift of what he was saying.

“I’m glad you folks are here tonight, and I’m glad you folks are in such a pleasant mood, because I have a story I’d like to tell you and the home viewers as well.” – David Letterman

letterman-ticket.jpgI rushed home and quickly turned on the TV. I wanted to watch David Letterman’s mea culpa. I am not proud this was must see TV.

A few quick notes. The Letterman extortion story exploded because of the Internet and social media. It wasn’t long after Letterman’s audience exited the Ed Sullivan Theater that the twittering began. Though Letterman was mum the accused perp’s name surfaced by 11:00p and his CBS News affiliation a few minutes later.

Social media led mainstream media by a mile. The Washington Post/CNN’s Howard Kurtz is a perfect example of the new pecking order.

“Weird: I tweeted, Anderson Cooper’s person saw it, seconds later I’m phoning in to CNN on the Letterman affair(s). Talk about Twitter power” – Howard Kurtz via Twitter

I’m a big Letterman fan and have been for nearly 30 years. I watched his confession tonight–that’s what it was.

I knew Dave was a flawed man, but this wasn’t a flaw I’d expected. My assumption was his shortcomings were beyond his control. This decidedly is not.

It was obvious the audience was caught off guard. There was no context so they originally felt Dave was setting up some bit. They didn’t get the drift of what he was saying. More than once there was awkward silence as they grasped to understand what was unfolding. They would have benefited by being pre-tweeted.

I wish I knew if tonight’s revelations would affect my ongoing viewing or even my opinion of Letterman in general. Though disappointing, these affairs of his aren’t at the Polanski level nor what suspect was Michael Jackson’s dysfunctional worst. I still enjoy Woody Allen movies and he’s been pretty skeevy as an adult.

I am conflicted. My opinion will certainly be swayed by the opinions of others.

Why should I care anyway? But I do.

Walter Cronkite

CBS got scared. Rather’s paw prints were certainly be found all over Cronkite’s back! Not a pretty scene.

Mediabistro’s TVNewser (Actually Gail Shister) is reporting WalterCronkite “is gravely ill, according to multiple CBS News sources. The network began updating his obituary more than a week ago, a source adds.”

How sad. Walter Cronkite was the dean on TV anchormen and an unlikely voice questioning the Vietnam War in the late sixties and early seventies. He was called the “Most Trusted Man in America.” It was a title earned and deserved.

In 1981 he was removed to make way for Dan Rather. Rather had threatened to leave CBS unless he was installed as the main anchor. CBS got scared. Rather’s paw prints were certainly be found all over Cronkite’s back! Not a pretty scene.

Even after retirement Cronkite remained active, but it was never the way it had been when he led his network’s coverage.

If these reports are true and Walter Cronkite is on death’s door it will mark the passing of an era–one which will never be repeated.

The Graduation

This past weekend is a blur! Even while it was in progress it was tough to see where Saturday ended and Sunday began.

Stef has graduated college. We all attended yesterday in what was a whirlwind weekend!

Helaine didn’t walk at her graduation and though I finished the meteorology program at Mississippi State that didn’t qualify me to walk. This was my first.

We headed to Long Island and got there in time to see some of Stef’s friends and take a few pictures. Stefanie lived in the dorm for four years, but we met at a small house. It was really more of a “housette” on a nondescript street in Hempstead.

One of the girls told me how much she (and by she I suppose she meant her parents) are paying for monthly rent. I did some quick in-my-head multiplication and figured the house goes for around $4200 a month. Seriously? For that it should come with maid service… which it obviously did not. Obviously.

The day was gray and chilly and we walked the few blocks to the school’s football stadium. My parents, both in their 80s but looking and acting much younger, hoofed it without trouble. Yes, that’s very good news.

The parents and guests filled two thirds of the stands while the grads–reported as about 2,000 by Newsday–sat on folding chairs set up on the field. There was rain, but not much. There were three commencement speakers and, as Helaine noted, no valedictory speaker. I wonder why?

First up was Senator Charles Schumer of New York. Here’s what I took away. The most important part of college is Chuck Schumer.

Next was Nichols Negraponte of MIT’s Media Lab and the One Laptop Per Child project. I have been a fan of his for years but his speech was anything but inspiring. This was the definitive speech when people talk about graduation speeches they don’t remember!

The third speaker was Bob Schieffer of CBS News. He is connected to the school by virtue of his moderating the presidential debate at Hofstra last fall. Scheiffer was charming. He just seemed like a nice guy&#185. I’m not sure there was anything earth shattering said, but I wasn’t disappointed.

All three speakers acknowledged how difficult it would be getting a job in this horrendous economy. No one wanted to hear it, but it’s certainly the 500 pound gorilla in every grad’s life.

By the time we got back to Stef’s dorm room we were down to two hours to vacate! No problem. We’d taken some stuff last weekend and were prepared. With plenty of time to spare her possesions were packed into the back our Helaine and Stef’s cars.

We were back in Connecticut around midnight. I was exhausted and not alone in that regard. Helaine, Stef and my folks were soon in bed and asleep. I followed a few hours later.

This past weekend is a blur! Even while it was in progress it was tough to see where Saturday ended and Sunday began. I woke up this morning thinking it was Sunday.

Stef has graduated. It’s a hell of an accomplishment. We are very proud.

&#185 – Someone I work with was an intern for Scheiffer in Washington and confirms he is a very nice man.

My Bob Simon Envy

During the football season, it’s tougher to watch 60 Minutes. It’s on after football, so the start time drifts. The DVR is fooled.

I watched last night. Zip – right through A-Rod story. I just didn’t care.

What did catch my attention was an amazing story by Bob Simon. He went to a pristine, untouched area in Indonesia, hundreds of miles from any kind of civilization. As his scientist host said, “It�s probably basically the way it was five or 10,000 years ago.”

Think about the financial and resource commitment from CBS News and Simon. This story cost a small fortune to produce.

After a 20-hour flight to Jakarta, Indonesia, followed by a seven-hour plane ride to New Guinea, Simon and the team had concluded the easy part of the trip. They then boarded a single-engine plane with Bruce Beehler, the lead scientist from “Conservation International,” which stirred the world with its discoveries in 2005. After an hour in the air, they were looking for a grass runway.

The next morning, we loaded up a helicopter for the 45-minute journey up to the mountain. It’s at least a two-week hike from the village and there are no trails.

The destination was a jungle paradise never touched by man – never. These would be first footsteps over much of the ground. It was lush, green, astoundingly beautiful and bounding with life (though curiously, very few mammals).

I would love to go there. I probably never will. At the moment, I don’t even have a valid passport.

There aren’t many jobs like Bob Simon’s left. Some big newspapers still have foreign correspondents. The TV networks have deemphasized international news.

Bob Simon travels the world, covering wars and this week, covering paradise.

The Downside Of Coffee

I found this on Shoptalk, a daily broadcast news newsletter, this morning:




Our Claire Leka 7:45pm et pkg/insert/looklive will be DELAYED. It will not be available for the 7:59:30pm et Live Generic because …. we plugged in our coffee and blew out our circuits. No kidding. We’ll try to get the piece out just after 8pm et. ….and we will try to better manage our caffeine consumption so this doesn’t happen again. We apologize for the inconvenience.

We’ll be using the 3:30pm et insert for the 7:59:30pm et live generic.

Lisa Farrell

CBS Newspath NYNY Newspath

Newspath is a branch of CBS news which serves local affiliates. ABC, NBC and CNN have services like this as well. You’ll seldom find the Newspath reporter on a network newscast and seldom find the network reporters on the affiliates local newscasts.

Less Of Katie On CBS

This is a news story that has to be ‘delicious’ to any editor or producer. Katie Couric’s photo has been published as part of the publicity campaign to launch her reign as anchor of the CBS Evening News. TVNewser&#185 discovered the photo had been doctored.

The photo on the right is a slimmer Katie!

Colors were adjusted too, but I see that as much less troublesome. Often photos need to be properly white balanced after the fact. I can’t tell you which, left or right, is closer to the ‘real’ color look. Does it matter?

On retouching in general – mea culpa. Helaine has complained when I’ve doctored vacation shots to remove power lines or other schmutz. The temptation to improve on reality is great, especially when it’s so easily done.

I’ve also removed dozens of pounds in photos of friends and relatives. Not one has ever seen the finished product, realized I’d slimmed them, and complained!

Professional photogs like Greg Apodaca do this all the time, and even brag about it by showing examples on their website.

I shouldn’t have any problem ‘glamming’ Katie in publicity shots. Can a guy who wears makeup every night really complain about the vanity of others?

However, since Katie represents the entire CBS news organization, maybe this would have been better left undone. This photo might be OK for publicity, but has to violate the news policies of CBS. That’s a standard even more important to keep after the revelation of doctored and staged photos from the Israeli/Lebanese conflict.

The need for a doctored photo implies our hearts may be in the wrong place, valuing physicality above content. That’s a message I don’t want to send.

&#185 – I am a daily reader of Brian Stelter’s blog, and once had a comment published. After watching Fox News follow a particularly heart pounding car chase for much of the afternoon, coverage stopped at 8:00 PM. That’s when O’Reilly (pre-taped, I believe) goes on. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

If they continued the chase, it would have been an acknowledgment it was news. By stopping at 8 p.m., they instead signaled it was news porn.

Unfortunately, news coverage based on the compelling nature of video, as opposed to the story’s impact or content, is a constant worry – and it’s certainly not limited to FNC, who happened to be the guilty party this particular time.

On Being Katie Couric

Is it the same in your world as mine? I read a lot of ‘trade’ reports, so the Katie Couric story has been front and center for a while.

There was lots of speculation – much of it I thought was posturing. I was wrong.

So, it’s $15,000,000.00 per year. Wow! That’s a lot of money.

Is she worth it? As strange as it might seem, it’s possible she is. And, obviously, for me – or anyone else on TV, that’s a good thing.

Television networks and stations all make money the same way – by selling commercials. The larger the audience, the more they can charge. And, if that audience if coveted by advertisers, they can charge even more.

In the world of TV, my daughter (age 18) is often more valuable than me (age 55). That, in spite of the fact that I make and spend significantly more than my college student child. But, for the same reason, Regis Philbin or John Madden, neither kids, are more valuable than an equally talented neophyte.

By the way, that’s especially true of John Madden.

If you’re on-air ‘talent,’ your value is being able to bring viewers to your station. And, though bosses don’t like to admit this when it’s contract time, people are often drawn to television programs by people they are comfortable with.

As a weatherman, you might think I’m minimizing the impact of my forecasting accumen and accuracy. No – because someone who lets the viewers down time-after-time will be unwelcome, no matter how well known or previously liked he was.

This draw is often synergistic, so the same person in a different setting might not be as effective. Is Katie as good without Matt and Al?

If I could put myself in Les Moonves seat for a second, I’d be thinking anyone can match the technology CBS buys, but there’s only one Katie Couric. If she can increase the audience a few percent just by being there, the $15,000,000.00 is a good investment.

Of course if this goes bust, Moonves looks like a fool and only Katie gets to laugh all the way to the bank.

There’s a second reason I like this move. It would be so easy to say Katie Couric is a morning show host and shouldn’t be considered for a hard news show. To a large extent, we’re all typecast. If Katie is successful in this switch, that will open the door for others.

Andy Rooney said, “I’m not enthusiastic about it. I think everybody likes Katie Couric, I mean how can you not like Katie Couric. But, I don’t know anybody at CBS News who is pleased that she’s coming here.”

How can he not say that? The reason Katie’s being hired flies in the face of everything in journalism he holds dear.

All this being said, I don’t think it’s going to work. I hope it does, but I just can’t picture the personality I know as Katie Couric being the right personality for this show.

Katie – please prove me wrong, because in this case, a rising tide will lift all boats.

Why I Went to Nashville – What I Found

I had a great time on my three day trip to Nashville. My hosts were nicer to me than I could ever expect.

There was a reason I went. It was my curiosity about what’s going on at WKRN. It is a Petri dish for a change in local TV news.

As I said before, the most obvious change has been to combine photographer and reporter into a video journalist or VJ. In and of itself, VJs or “one man bands” have been around for a while.

My own boss in Connecticut pointed out he had done this at NY1 sometime late in the last century. Small market stations do it all the time to save money.

Early in his career, one of our anchors in Connecticut was a ‘one man band’ in South Carolina. He didn’t relish doing both jobs because he felt he couldn’t concentrate on reporting if he also had to concentrate on shooting.

Having VJs can increase the body count of cameras on the street. Here’s what Michael Rosenblum, the guru of this technique said in an interview at

In a typical TV newsroom, there may be 70-100 employees while fielding 5-6 Betacams. This is as insane as having a newspaper with 70 reporters but only owning 5 pencils. The cameras are the pencils — they are the thing we make TV with. The thing that is actually on the air. When you only field 5 camera crews every day, every story must make air. It makes people very conservative. Very nervous. We can’t take risks. We can’t ever fail. Good journalism requires the ability to take a risk and fail from time to time. Creativity requires the ability to take a risk and fail.

I expected this increase in cameras to be what I noticed first. It wasn’t. The difference in what they’re doing in Nashville that hit me has more to do with reporting technique than anything else… and that was the nuance of this concept I missed from Connecticut. They go out to shoot stories differently and certainly go about the editing process differently.

Michael Rosenblum: In 1988, I was a producer with CBS News. But the more I produced TV news in the conventional way, the more I felt like I was involved in some kind of fraudulent activity. Producer, Reporter, Cameraman, Soundman, Editor. There was no way to get close to any character and no way to spend time on any story. So I quit. I bought a small video camera and went to live with a family in a Palestinian Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip. I stayed there for a month shooting every day. Even though I had been a TV producer for years, I had never touched a video camera before. (Union rules). But it was not hard to learn, and in a few days, I had some pretty good stuff. And by living with the family, 24/7 I got their trust and got a kind of access and intimacy that you just can’t achieve in conventional TV.

I watched 3-4 stories that I know were done by former photographers (one was old enough to be my contemporary!). By and large, they were great. One, about a girl with cancer and her team’s support for her, nearly brought me to tears.

The stories were more personal, more close-up. I was impressed by the better use of natural sound, allowing people to speak their emotions. There was no dropoff in quality from using little DV cameras and laptop edit stations.

I wish I could say I missed the reporter involvement, but I didn’t. I’m not sure one day is enough to make that judgment and high profile reporters can often bring additional weight and credibility to a story.

I didn’t see much hard news done this way and I’m not sure if the technique can work as well. It might be, for harder news, two man crews still offer an advantage.

Watching a few newscasts, I didn’t come off with the feeling that something was different. However, there were differences I would have probably latched onto over time: less repetition and more stories covered from more locations. People complain about repetition and missed coverage now.

Is this the coming trend? Absolutely. There’s no way to hold this back over the long term.

The question will be more how to let it happen. There are unions (I am a member of AFTRA, for instance) and contracts with work rules. No one wants to be squeezed out. No one wants to be marginalized. No one wants to be made less important or earn less money. Certainly no one wants to lose their job.

What is the obligation from company to employee, or employee to company, after a relationship of years or decades?

Though WKRN hasn’t cut back on staff while transitioning to this technology, it has to be something managers and owners look at. Certainly Michael Rosenblum, the force behind all this makes his disdain for our large legacy TV operations known.

This is a trend I will follow with great interest. But, like I said, whether I end up liking it or not, it will come. It can’t be stopped.

Hurricane Pissing Match

Sometime in the next day or so, I’ll write more about Isabel. But, tonight, I saw an incredible press release from AccuWeather from earlier this summer. It’s posted on the link below.

This is the kind of sniping you seldom see between government and private industry. It’s obvious, the gloves are off.

But, should anyone who forecasts for a living ask to be judged on specific individual forecasts, as opposed to forecasts over periods of time? We all make mistakes from time-to-time. Is one event’s forecast indicitave of anything?

Meanwhile, the most interesting part is that this really is a pissing match, in public.

Continue reading “Hurricane Pissing Match”