Archive for the ‘media’ Category

20 Years Later, How TV News Has Changed

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

WDIV20TV20420 years ago, I was on my way back home, after just accepting a job as a news producer at WDIV-TV in Detroit.

Thinking back to the newsroom I was hired into, it easy to see what the media business is challenged by change, as there has been so much of it. Beyond the obvious – such as the advent of online news – here are some observations as I think back on the WDIV newsroom in 1996:

-We produced newscasts on DOS-based computer terminals. A Windows-based desktop system was still more than a year away, along with laptops inside news trucks.

-All TV was still what’s now called “standard definition” (and is unacceptable to most viewers and incompatible with new TVs). I wouldn’t even see a demonstration of HDTV until three years later, while visiting Los Angeles.

-All news was shot on, edited on and played back from tapes.

-Reporters were generally given one minute and forty seconds “on tape” to tell their stories, plus, if it was a live report, about 15 seconds for an introduction and 15 seconds for a live close. “Tape time” is generally closer to one minute now and many stories that would have been live 20 years are are now “look live,” with recorded openings and closings.

-The only cell phones used to cover news were docked permanently inside live trucks. The only texting was from a keyboard terminal at the assignment desk that could send messages directly to pagers.

-If we went a crew outside of the immediate market area, it required a satellite truck to uplink news via a satellite in space in order to cover the story. Today, much distant reporting is done via Internet connection or even cell data.

-I was originally hired to produce the station’s Noon newscast. If I remember correctly, we had to earn about an 8 household rating to win the time slot. Today, an 8 rating will win Prime Time locally.

-The 11:00 news was often dependent on the network’s Prime Time lead-in. In 1996, “ER” would attract 30 million viewers nationally on Thursday nights for new episodes. By comparison, new episodes of the current Prime Time smash, Fox’s “Empire” attracted about 17-18 million viewers nationally.

What hasn’t changed is that in Detroit especially, TV news is highly-competitive – a daily battle for audience and attention in a news town that is diverse and compelling. 20 years later, it’s still a privilege to be a part of it, just from a different vantage point.

PR Firms: Journalists Are Clients Too

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

UnknownIf you claim to be in the PR business and do media relations, chances are you’re forgetting your most important clients – the journalists you purport to understand and with whom you’re supposed to maintain relationships. That’s what we’re hearing more of these days, anyway.

We believe that at least on the agency side of this business, you have multiple sets of customers that include the clients who pay you and journalists, the clients you also need to serve to be successful. We’ll leave other roles out of this, as we see how those can so often boil down to “protect the boss to protect your job.” But here, we have learned that on the agency side, it is incumbent upon us to balance the communications needs of our clients with a fast-changing media environment, in order serve the needs of both and achieve a successful outcome for all.

While we must always in the best interest of our paying clients, it has become more imperative than ever to understand and act appropriately based on what’s happening inside continually shrinking and changing news organizations and among their audiences. We must not overload them with pitches that we know won’t fit. We must empathize with what is expected of them on a daily basis in a multi-platform environment. We must listen when they instruct us as to what interests them and fits their strategy to win audience and what doesn’t. We must work within their deadlines and criteria. We must do legwork when it would be helpful to them, especially when they don’t have time and resources and we do. We must respond when asked. If we haven’t worked with an individual journalist before, we must ask them the right questions in an effort to meet their needs. We aren’t gatekeepers, we are conduits and connectors. In other words, it should be like any other sound customer service relationship.

We have a saying in our office that “no one client is more important than our media relationships.” From what we hear in the marketplace, that is a different approach. But from what we hear inside newsrooms, it is appreciated and pays off for us in ways that spreadsheets could never calculate.

We operate in an era when anyone can get a message out to an audience. Essentially, anyone can be a publicist. But the traditional media still, more often that not, holds its rightful place. As the ranks of journalists sadly continue to thin, understanding how they have to work and treating that with the highest level of respect will allow them to be customers we will have the privilege to serve into the future.

America’s Most-Watched Broadcaster Will Soon Be Tirico

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Unknown-1Even in a media environment that has drastically changed, there is still room for a few stars. One of them is about to get brighter.

Reports say that ESPN’s Mike Tirico, the voice and face of Monday Night Football, NBA and college basketball coverage, Major PGA events and seemingly so much more is headed to NBC. There, he appears in line to broadcast the Olympics, by far the most-watched sports event in America and becoming more valuable as live events become the new mass media, in addition to Sunday Night Football, the most-watched weekly TV series in the country, as well as NBC’s golf coverage and whatever else the Comcast-owned network acquires in the coming years.

If the evolution of media continues, and audiences continue to splinter with the exception of “big events,” Mike Tirico is set to become the most-watched TV personality in America. Unusually talented, Tirico is versatility skilled at play-by-play, studio hosting and interviewing. His preparation to become well-versed in all relevant subjects is legendary, as is his uncanny memory for names and ability to instantly recall information.

The first I heard of Tirico was more than 25 years ago. I was entering as a freshman at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and, meeting with peer advisors heard one advisor, a senior boast that his boss at his internship was “The Next Bob Costas.” This is a school where hundreds of us every year left home with the goal of being “The Next Bob Costas.”

Someone asked, “Who’s your boss?” The answer was the 23 year-old sports director of WTVH-TV in Syracuse, a recent graduate of the school I was entering. “I’m telling you, he’s the next Costas.” “OK,” I thought, “I’ll check this guy out on TV and see how good he really is.” Once I got my TV hooked up in the dorm, I turned on Channel 5 to see the hype for myself. Tirico lived up to it. A personality that jumped off the screen and a smooth articulation, it was no surprise when he joined ESPN just a year later and gradually but steadily worked his way from late night SportsCenter anchor to that network’s marquee talent.

Since the mid-’80s, there has only been one Bob Costas. But now, Tirico is poised to succeed not only Costas, but also Al Michaels, another of the all-time greats. It won’t be long before students show up on campus at Syracuse wanting to be “The Next Mike Tirico.”

A Rare Endorsement Of Broadcasting

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

imagesI had the privilege of starting my communications career at age 11.

That’s because I had the exceptionally good fortune to grow up in a community that funded a radio station, put it inside of a school, staffed it primarily with students and made it accessible. By the time I got to college, I had seven years of experience on the air but also invaluable leadership and teamwork lessons learned behind the scenes. This adventure began more than 30 years ago and it’s reassuring to know it will continue long into the future.

This weekend, I had the honor to speak at the dedication of spectacular new studios for WBFH-FM in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The people who make decisions about the area where I grew up, which is not too far away from where I live now, have decided to invest in the future of community broadcasting. When the school district decided to merge two high schools into one, leaders determined that WBFH should be the physical centerpiece of the new school, to ensure its relevance, vibrancy and accessibility well into the future.

I remarked during the dedication ceremony how energizing it is to see a long-term commitment made to local media. In today’s environment where, for better or for worse, large public corporations own media outlets, decisions are made about meeting financial targets quarter-to-quarter. Decisions about “the future” often mean next year. Cuts and “more with less” rule the day in ways that audiences are having a hard time understanding.

WBFH will turn 40 years old in October. During the dedication ceremony, community leaders spoke of “the next 40 years” for the station. That kind of talk is unheard of as commercial media faces an uncertain future. I remarked, tongue slightly in cheek, that “Leaders here seem to care more about the future of broadcasting than the corporations that are in the business of broadcasting.” That is not to suggest public companies should abandon commitments to shareholders to make capital investments. But it sure is refreshing to see broadcasting, which is now happening over an app and not just via a tower, embraced by a community that understands its value to education as well as quality of life.

Media Pros Opine on Today, Tomorrow

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

imagesHow is media evolving and adapting today to market forces and realities? What does the future hold?  These are questions that many of us ask everyday. Today, PRSA Detroit met the media and posed those very questions at a morning program with some enlightening results. The event featured a roundtable discussion with Alan Stamm/Deadline Detroit, Marge Sorge/Detroit News Hub, Jon Zemke/Metro Mode-Model D and Dustin Blitchok/Metro Times.  Yours truly had the good fortune to moderate in my role as 2016 Chapter president.  No journalist shied away from any topic or question; on the contrary all were candid and open.

How is media evolving and adapting today? For one thing it is doing more with less. Less people, less money and less time.  What none of these seasoned veterans will ever compromise is journalistic integrity and quality.  Yet, that is continually challenged, as Marge Sorge noted, by buyouts and early retirements whereby up and comers miss out on the mentoring of those who have been there done that.  After all, any skilled trade requires apprenticeships.

Moreover, less available time portends a need to receive materials from communications and PR professionals that are tailored, ready-made and more substantial (without overwhelming).  For example, a press release sent to one of these online outlets on a charity event should also include a couple of interesting photos as well as an event logo – even a short video snippet if apropos.

As for the future, who knows exactly.  The panel pointed to traditional print media outlets across the country that are already going entirely online save perhaps a Sunday print edition.  Also expected are more foundation-supported and organizational (i.e. union) news sources with, of course, their respective individual biases.

We are all staying tuned, of course, for what may come next.  Some can be anticipated while others cannot.  One thing, though, is certain. In the world of media, the more things change, the even less they stay the same.



“You Cut My Favorite Anchor.” “I Don’t Care.”

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Famous-Improvised-Movie-Moments-EMGN4When word got out this week that a highly-rated local TV station, owned by a global public corporation, was letting go three popular, respected on-air anchors and reporters amid other cuts, we started getting questions. Don’t they understand how much the audiences likes and trusts these guys? Don’t they get that they will lose viewers in the long term? Aren’t they concerned this will hurt their product?

I believe local management does understand that and is concerned about it. We know them and work with them. This is a station that takes its community role seriously and this has to hit hard. But, ultimately, in today’s media world, it isn’t their call. As one former general manager once told me about most local stations, “They’re an ATM for headquarters.” It used to be all about gaining ratings points and selling commercials. If ratings and sales were good, headquarters would leave you alone. Today, as with every public company, it’s about making a corporate spreadsheet look a certain way. Yes, management by Excel document dictates who you see on TV.

It reminds me of the famous scene in the movie “The Fugitive.” The escaped prisoner, played by Harrison Ford tells the Deputy Marshal, played by Tommy Lee Jones that “I didn’t kill my wife.” Jones, whose only job was to find him, responds, “I don’t care.”

In the powerful accounting and finance departments of big public companies, when it comes to things like customer loyalty, brand building and long-term reputation, they don’t care. They really only care about three things – hitting their numbers, hitting their numbers and hitting their numbers. It’s all about this quarter’s targets and meeting number expectations for this year. The cruel reality is that while journalists lose their jobs, headquarters bean counters will earn bonuses for making their marks.

This is just how it works with Wall Street. Several years ago, we did enormously successful work for a New York-based public company. While providing highly-specialized niche services, we received accolades from within the company and won awards within our industry. We accomplished this at a tiny fraction of the cost of the global firms the company used otherwise. But when corporate ordered cuts, our track record and relationships didn’t matter, nor did our efficiency. Someone took a look at a spreadsheet and cut our budget completely, along with some of the big firms’ work and multiple in-house, full-time positions. Not only was there a hole in our business, the company’s corporate communications was decimated and the company’s reputation suffered. But, that’s just not a priority in the modern corporate world.

We have seen the hard evidence from newspapers and radio that cutting aspects of the product that customers notice is not a pathway to growth or increased relevance in a fast-changing media landscape. TV follows this path at its own risk. They will hit their numbers now, but risk their long-term viability. The number crunchers just don’t care.

Everyone Needs A Murray Feldman

Monday, March 28th, 2016

hqdefaultI firmly believe that success in business and in life are not possible without mentors and role models. Looking back, I’m thankful that nobody had that better than me. I realize this now, as one of the professionals most instrumental to my early accomplishments in communication is, maybe for the first time ever, the subject of news rather than the one reporting it.

Murray Feldman has been at Detroit’s WJBK-TV for 40 years. I met him 30 years ago. He let me spend an off day from school shadowing him in the newsroom and out on stories. Just days after my 16th birthday, he invited me to spend a whole week off school doing the same. At the beginning of the week, I was opening his mail. By the end of the week, he had me at the typewriter, writing stories for air (on carbon paper).

A few months later, I landed what I thought was a big interview with a radio personality for my community radio station. But when I got back to the station, I realized the interview didn’t come out. It was a blank tape. I was devastated. As hormones pumped through my body, tears ran down my face. I got home, plopped on my bed and looked at the carbon copies of the scripts I had written not long before. I called Murray for advice. He told me it happens to everyone. It has happened to him. It’s part of the business of electronic journalism. Sometimes the equipment fails. My focus now should be looking forward, not back. So, I did.

I’d send Murray tapes, he’d send me critiques. When I got to college, he helped me get an internship at Channel 2, rare for a freshman (the photo here is from that year). I got to work half-time with him and half-time for his Executive Producer. That EP soon became the news director at WWJ Radio and gave me my first paying job. Murray has done business reporting for WWJ, in addition to his TV work, for about 30 years, so we became colleagues. He was always honest about “The Business” and never tried to do anything but help me chart my own path.

Murray was my first phone call after my parents when I got my first full-time broadcast news job. He was my first phone call when I became an equity partner in a PR firm. I talked to him on the first day of Tanner Friedman. He has always been encouraging, nurturing and in my corner.

Thanks to Murray, I have now been among news people for 30 years. I have never met anyone in the media industry with his consistent class, professionalism, attention to detail and commitment to teaching. After 40 plus years as “talent,” he has never thrown a tantrum, never acted like a stereotypical anchor. He has been anything but.

Now, Crain’s Detroit Business reports he’s leaving the station. Circumstances aren’t clear (Fox doesn’t allow its journalists to talk to reporters, keeping a “corporate employee” type policy). I just hope he’s leaving on his own terms. While I’ll miss working with him on stories, maybe we’ll have more time for lunches and dinners? I’m trying to be like Murray – to think positive, to look forward, not too far back.

Everyone who wants to be successful needs a Murray Feldman. I will be eternally grateful that mine has been Murray Feldman himself.

CBS Is Getting Out Of Radio? What About You?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

cbsradioCBS Radio owns many of the best radio stations and employs many of the best broadcasters in the country. Its top stations generate profit margins so large they almost don’t even seem real to business people when they learn about them. But yesterday, CBS announced to investors that it plans to get out of the radio business.

CBS? Out of the radio business? The business that started it all, as its logo brags, in 1928? Wouldn’t that be like Ford getting out of selling cars or Kellogg getting out of cereal?

Maybe it would, except ABC got out a decade ago, with Disney selling its radio division to a company called Citadel, which ended up in Bankruptcy. And NBC has been out of owning and operating radio stations since the late ’80s.

For CBS, like just about everything traditional media, radio has moved in recent years from “slow growth” to “no growth” to “declining revenue.” That means it has been treated as a failing business. There are many reasons for it across the board, including dramatically changing media consumption habits and a “moving target” approach by advertisers chasing elusive audiences, unsure of where to get the most for their dollars. But, among the reasons is a lack of investment in product and the inability to introduce the product to new audiences. Stations have seemingly been in cost cutting mode for almost 25 years.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I posted this on Facebook last night: “Question for those younger than 40 who drive a car: What if there was a way for you to get updated on live news without a particular political focus – more than headlines but less than long-form reporting – get updated weather forecasts and traffic information and even sports information, all while you’re safely driving, rather than looking at your phone, piped through the speakers in your car. Cost to you? Nothing, as long as you’ll be exposed to some advertising. Would you be interested in such a thing? Why or why not?”

I got a few serious responses but the punchline here is that product exists in CBS’ largest markets in the all-news radio format, which has been a money maker and audience grabber for decades. But its audience is getting older and it makes me wonder if the younger audience was ever given a chance to find it and experience its usefulness and ease. Is there any chance there are more of them listening, just not being measured? Do they really want to carry around a pager-sized Portable People Meter? Those could be, quite literally, billion dollar questions.

All-news radio, when done well, can be the greatest form of media in the moments when you need it most. I think of last summer, driving from the Chicago suburbs to Detroit, trying to get in front of a storm that included a tornado. I could actually see the storm in my rear view mirror as I drove through Downtown Chicago in traffic, trying to get south then east as soon as I could. CBS’ WBBM kept me updated every step of the way, keeping me informed, calm and reassured between traffic updates, weather updates and “all hands on deck” coverage, with reporters, even those on days off, calling in from across the region. This all happened live, on a Sunday afternoon, while every other station in the market was playing music or syndicated programming. If CBS doesn’t do live news, who will? That’s a scary question. For some of us anyway.

Radio was my first communications love. The first paycheck I ever earned in communications was cut by CBS Radio. I remember an old timer telling me then, “As long as you stick with CBS, Westinghouse or Infinity, you’ll always have a job in radio news.” For the past 20 years, those have been one company. Soon, they won’t be a company at all. That, above all, illustrates the profound changes in media that just won’t stop.

Why Our Books Have Lost Their Spines

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 1.18.18 PMThere have been times in recent months where I almost feel like a kid again; and not in a good way.  I am an avid book reader and always have been.  Yet, if I want to go out and pick up a new book to read my options continue to dwindle. Which rhymes with Kindle. And therein lies the rub.

When a friend of mine recently learned that another Barnes and Noble had closed near her house, she was crestfallen. Until I reminded her that she and I were part of the problem.  She hadn’t bought a book in years, opting to always visit the public library.  I, on the other hand, was choosing the downloading route more and more.

Growing up pre-Internet and before the advent of the big box bookstores, I did have access to books via smaller bookstore chains. Yet, when Borders debuted some twenty or more years ago, the tome-buying experience was taken to another level.  With amazing, seemingly endless selections of new and classic offerings.  As importantly and akin to the Starbucks recipe for coffee enjoyment, there was the experience. Browsing over scones and hot chocolate. Discovering new authors and topics amid a sea of wooden bookshelves with nearly unimaginable magazine and newspaper offerings. Storytellers reading picture books to wide-eyed children.

Today, my bookstore options, and perhaps yours as well, are a good 10 miles away in either direction.  The Kindle, meanwhile (or the Nook is you are so inclined – and at least that benefits Barnes & Noble) is always inches from my fingertips with a selection, available 24-7, that would rival fifty bookstores combined.  It’s how we consume more and more. Like our movement from CDs to MP3, we want what we want, when we want it.  Yet, there’s no denying that something is missing: The sense of community.

It is a dynamic lacking all too often in our society today. It is why we are still drawn to city centers and old-fashioned downtowns like those in Rochester, Ferndale and Plymouth while developers and DDAs continue to work to emulate them – in Wixom, Novi and Dearborn – quite often with mixed results. People still need people and shared experiences; or at least have the option.  Let’s hope that never changes.



In Crisis, The Governor Should Lose His Crutch

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

imagesTo some, this may seem like nitpicking. But when it comes to crisis communications, every word counts, sometimes especially those that are extraneous.

Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, in the midst of a firestorm, has a lingering problem that’s common and likely correctable. Like many public speakers, he uses a word as a crutch when he’s asked a tough question and his brain needs to buy him a second to come up with an answer. But unlike some speakers who use “uhm,” “uh,” “you know” and the like, Snyder uses the word “again” to answer questions, even in situations when he isn’t repeating himself.

If he’s like most, somewhere along the way, he developed this habit to the point where, now, it happens almost involuntarily. But he’s in a crisis situation where every word he says is being listened to and processed by his audiences differently. By answering questions with “Again…” he can seem irritated, dismissive or fatigued.

Take a look at this interview with WDIV-TV’s investigative reporter Kevin Dietz, which aired in Prime Time in the Detroit market as part of a special report on the Flint Water Crisis. He answers multiple questions this way, as if he’s already answered these questions.

Those advising him probably feel like they have a full plate. But maybe in the car on the way to and from Flint (where he should be spending most of his time), they could work with him on losing his crutch.