Wednesday, November 4, 2009

** BREAKING / EXCLUSIVE – Pat Brown Returns to San Diego Television News.


** "How's It Going to End?" has learned that four months after leaving KNSD (NBC) Channel 7/39 – long-time San Diego news and weather anchor Pat Brown – has a new weekend gig.

** She will join ABC-affiliate KGTV Channel 10 as a weather anchor beginning this Sunday, November 8, 2009, at 6pm and at 11pm. She will work Saturdays and Sundays through the end of January, 2010.

** Pat Brown declined to comment about her status other than to say she is "happy" to be returning to San Diego television.

** However, Joel Davis, news director for KGTV Channel 10 – confirmed that Ms. Brown will fill in for weathercaster Kerstin Lindquist, who is on maternity leave.

** “We’re thrilled that since KNSD (NBC Channel 7/39) has farmed out their weather duties to Los Angeles, that we have the opportunity to bring someone of Pat’s stature and popularity to the 10 News weather team," Davis said. "It reinforces our commitment to bring San Diegans important local weather information – with the best weathercasters and the most advanced technology.”

** This development means Pat Brown will have worked at all three major network affiliates – KFMB CBS Channel 8, KNSD NBC 7/39 and KGTV ABC Channel 10 – since the late 1980s. Sources say she'll spend her weekdays continuing to serve the community as a tour guide for DayTrippers, a San Diego-based travel firm.

** My original story, posted on July 27, 2009, appears below.

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MONDAY, JULY 27, 2009
One Month Later -- What does Pat Brown's departure mean for local TV news?

** On Friday, June 26, 2009, Pat Brown gave her last weather report on NBC-owned KNSD 39 (Cable Channel 7) in San Diego.

** The pioneering host of the groundbreaking "P.M. Magazine" show on KFMB Channel 8 during the 1980s – Ms. Brown had a near continuous presence on the San Diego television news landscape. The former state pageant queen from Sheperdstown, West Virginia (1977), moved west – and effortlessly re-invented herself into a beauty-with-brains TV personality and news reporter – before settling into her last incarnation as a weather anchor armed with an effervescently sunny on-air disposition. In an industry never known for stability, Ms. Brown's admirers knew her to be just that – a consistently productive and positive force for San Diego television programming – and for the community she continues to serve.

** The following Monday, Ms. Brown was replaced by Fritz Coleman, a nearly 30-year veteran of the TV wars from KNBC Channel 4 in Los Angeles, one of NBC's flagship-owned stations (alongside WNBC in New York).

** But that wasn't the headline to some of us. The headline was that the award-winning Mr. Coleman, by all accounts a "nice guy" with broad appeal – is now broadcasting his San Diego weather reports from Los Angeles – on a custom-built set back at KNBC.

** Though such "arrangements" aren't new – the move was the first of its kind involving a network-owned news station in San Diego. It illustrates the dire economic health of local television news – with KNSD NBC 39 (in my view) – probably faring the worst, budget wise, among its competitors. Station managers everywhere have been slashing budgets – first dumping behind-the-scenes staff and "superfluous programming" – while saving their biggest (and most visible) cuts for last.

** Pat Brown's departure wasn't your garden variety "revolving door" personnel change. It was emblematic of something worse that has cast a chill in the rooms and halls of KNSD NBC 39 – and beyond. Wishful-thinking station heads might be blocking out the precedent – and scoffing at satirically minded suggestions that any station that "jobs out" any portion of its local identity to a distant area code – is setting itself up to be wiped out entirely - by a thousand paper cuts afflicted over the next several years. Some TV insiders are quietly saying that "it could've been worse." Well, that's true. Maybe they should be thankful. They believe the tempest surrounding Ms. Brown's departure will "blow over." And likely it will. Fritz Coleman has already won over some skeptics – and I give credit to news director Greg Dawson for trying to manage the ill-smelling winds of anger still blowing after this change.

** But the bigger picture that's unique to KNSD NBC Channel 39 – has less to do with Pat Brown and more to do with the station itself being owned by NBC. Ms. Brown's departure raised eyebrows, for sure. But what was more ideologically significant to journalists – was that her departure and subsequent replacement by talent based in Los Angeles - was the first blatant evidence of what's been going on for a long time at network-owned stations in markets smaller than San Diego, e.g., the creeping decentralization of news and weather information – led by network executives who work in distant offices. Thus we have a classic instance whereby it's not always good to be OWNED by a network – and why it's sometimes better to be a network affiliate operating with greater independence.

** Since about 2002, TV news stations have been trending toward hiring more versatile reporters and anchors. These so-called "video-journalists" carry their own cameras and edit their own news segments – and sometimes get the privilege to present them live on the anchor desks where their higher-paid colleagues sit. Everyone knows that every "hybrid journalist" invited to the anchor desk to present his or her story – is being "screen tested." Such "hybrids" save big-time dollars for station managers – and equally significant, they can serve as "leverage" when the contracts of highly paid news anchors come up for renewal.

** On the surface, it appears to some that Pat Brown's "Achilles heel" was not being "versatile" enough. If so, you can count on other anchors at NBC 7/39 to be reviewed similarly for "fitness and compatibility" with the network's finance department. Hence the oft-heard advice during the last few years remains sound, e.g., "if you're still in TV news – the faster you can jump on the "hybrid train" the better – thus avoiding obsolescence and/or getting dragged or tossed behind.

** Local news anchors draw salaries that are double, triple or even higher than those working behind the scenes. An anchor's "work" is to bring in ratings. So what's that got to do with Pat Brown? Nothing unless you think she was a drag on ratings. I personally don't. It was all about saving money – but in a way more pernicious because the station is owned by a network - that decreed that news about the weather – does NOT require a local person to deliver it, hence can be pared less painfully than other departments.

** Everyone working in television news sees the handwriting on the wall. But in the past, even when times were good - that handwriting was mostly about being dumped in a budget cut and being replaced by someone cheaper, usually someone younger from a smaller market.

** But at a network-OWNED station – you have the additional fear of watching departments consolidated or phased out in stages, replaced by talent or crews located hundreds of miles away at other stations bigger than your own. It's analogous to newspapers shedding staff while publishing articles by news syndicates or wire services that are written in other states.

** What's unfortunate is despite the acknowledged downturn in local TV news nationwide - (because web-based news keeps siphoning viewers away) – the band-aid patches applied by network-owned-and-operated "suits" can't stop the bleeding. And watering down a station's local news product – under the aegis of saving money during a recession – also risks washing away the higher purpose of targeting audiences and advertisers in a region that will drift further away from KNSD NBC Channel 39 – and toward competing stations that remain committed to San Diego.

** It bears repeating that San Diego is the ninth largest city in the U.S. Yet corporate America and NBC keeps treating San Diego as if it's geographically, demographically and politically identical to Los Angeles. I sense that Mr. Dawson knows this to be true, even if he can't say it. Corporate America has always acted as if San Diego is a suburb of Los Angeles – and even believe its WEATHER is the same – despite San Diego's location on a harbor and Los Angeles's location on a smoggy basin.

** NOTE: Philadelphia is about the same distance to New York (and yet so different in character) - as San Diego is to Los Angeles. But NBC knows that replacing Philly-based weather anchors at WCAU NBC Channel 10 - with their counterparts at WNBC 4 in New York - would be greeted with outrage. Yet network executives continue to have a "blind spot" about San Diego - seeing it as being the same as L.A. - despite the polarizing political and cultural differences that are obvious to viewers in both cities.

** Pat Brown will re-invent herself like she always has – and will turn up soon because of her strong ties to the community. But in my view, intra-state or interstate consolidations – involving network-owned news stations like KNSD Channel 39 in San Diego – are incompatible with efforts to maintain revenues from local advertisers. Magnify that when you consider NBC's prime-time lineup is weak on every evening except Thursday – and that its sports product is limited to golf, NFL Sunday Night Football and the Olympics.

** The final irony amid all these words is this. A visit to KNSD NBC 7/39's website on Monday, July 27, 2009 at 9:45 p.m. Pacific Time – yielded the following banner slogan:

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(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why is the WSJ the #1 Newspaper in America? (It's not because of its politics.)


** On October 26, 2009, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) finally reached the top of the newspaper world.

** As expected, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), announced that the WSJ is now the highest circulation daily newspaper in the United States with 2,024,269 readers. Of America's top 25 papers, the WSJ is the only publication that is gaining readers. The other 24 papers continue to drop circulation at alarming rates. You can read the results by clicking here. (My own hometown paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, dropped 18,548 readers since the ABC's April 27, 2009 survey, but climbed up one spot to #24 out of 25 dailies.)

** If you're reading these words now, you are responsible for the death of your local daily newspaper. Every minute you spend on the web – is a minute you've taken away from reading a newspaper or magazine. Millions have done the same. You've fled to the web to get news and information more quickly. Advertisers have likewise fled, tanking revenues at many news organizations, leading to scores of layoffs and consolidations. The reasons for the slow death of newspapers have been well documented.

** But the bigger question is this: "Why is the Wall Street Journal an exception?" Why is it defying gravity? Why is the Journal's popularity climbing?

** If you're reading this – and you DO NOT read the Wall Street Journal – what image pops into your head?

** Here's what the WSJ looked like almost 10 years ago:

** Here's what the WSJ looks like today:

** Alan Murray, Deputy Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal – and executive editor of the Wall Street Journal Online – declined to comment, react or to speculate about the constellation of reasons responsible for the Journal's success – and what role, if any, does Rupert Murdoch play. (Murdoch's News Corporation took ownership of the WSJ after a shareholder vote in December 2007.)

** Thus I'm going it alone.

** Some political partisans want you to believe that the WSJ's conservative political positions are responsible for its success.

** I say baloney.

** Some political partisans also want you to believe that Rupert Murdoch, a known political conservative who owns the WSJ through his News Corporation – is becoming financially enriched because of his positions against the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama.

** Again, I say baloney.

** Meanwhile, some political partisans believe that only money-grubbing fat-cats – who are in love with Republicans – read the WSJ. Some of these same partisans say Murdoch is a fascist pig who runs a fascist paper. (Honest, this is how a few left-wing pals of mine view the WSJ. One even told me publicly on Facebook that "decent people don't read fascist rags" like the WSJ.)

** Again, I say baloney.

** My response is this: My life is filled with much more important things to worry about – than to think about Rupert Murdoch. I don't have an opinion about him one way or another. I do believe, however, that if Murdoch is becoming financially enriched from the WSJ – it's NOT because of any antipathy toward Democrats or President Obama. I say this because most people DON'T read the editorial pages of any paper, let alone the WSJ's.

** In my view, the WSJ is now the nation's largest circulation daily for one reason, and it has less to do with Murdoch and more to do with what the WSJ has become since 2000. And that's an entertaining paper that's no longer just covering financial news.

** Anyone who has a job – or doesn't have a job – from CEOs down to the lowest rung of a company's ladder -- has discovered, especially during this recession, that the WSJ's "no-polemics" rule while covering breaking news or business trends – to be much more valuable than whatever is published on its editorial pages.

** Career Journal, which features job tips every week, Walt Mossberg's columns about computers and software, Sue Shellenbarger's Home and Family Mailbox – and the WSJ's Weekend Journal – the latter featuring arts, entertainment and sports news laid out in rich color – have become the most popular features in the Journal's recent history.

** Among the writers on the WSJ's editorial pages – only one conservative is considered widely read – and that's Peggy Noonan, who came out against GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008. In fact, it is the WSJ's "guest editorial writers" – and NOT editorials written by the Journal's own staff – who have caused more indigestion with political partisans.

** Conversely, the New York Times has dropped 150,000 PAID readers since March 2008 – and its better-known anti-Republican columnists who are still on the Times payroll include Frank Rich, Paul Krugman and the always enjoyable (to me) Maureen Dowd. Over the same period, the WSJ GAINED circulation. Why?

** The Democratic Party presently holds the greatest power and influence in all branches of the United States government since 1964. Barack Obama is only the 3rd Democrat to capture the White House over that period – and he's the first Democrat since 1976 to earn a majority vote. So why are the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times – two papers which cater to liberal Democrats – failing?

** The answers to both questions are NOT related to politics. In my view, partisan politics isn't a significant factor. The destruction of metropolitan dailies in the United States are a reflection of what's happening everywhere in publishing. Advertisers and readers have fled to the Internet, because that’s where readers are getting content.

** Pick any one of the 25 papers listed in the latest ABC Circulation report – and I'll wager that NOT one has lost readers because of its editorials. Twenty-four of those 25 are simply not providing content that's "perceived" to be as timely, as useful or as relevant to readers – compared to their online counterparts. Meanwhile, the WSJ – while not a "hometown" paper – is perceived to be instantly providing everything – without giving away everything for free. People are actually PAYING to access the Journal's content (more on that in a minute).

** Most Wall Street Journal readers, myself included, don't always care about what's on its editorial pages. We're sticking with it because since about 2000, the WSJ has embraced a more inclusive view of daily content. Financial news, once the signature bread and butter of the WSJ – that filled page after page of stock quotes and other facts and figures printed in mouse type – has given way to news about large and small businesses, careers, computers, fashion, movies, arts, television – the whole nine yards.

** Competing papers offer the same, but the Journal hammers people with news people can use now, instantly – from finding the right job, navigating office politics, buying the best car, selecting the best wardrobe and patronizing the best hotels, restaurants and stores. Gone forever is the WSJ's image as a stuffy, 19th-century-looking, black-and-white broadsheet with ridiculously narrow columns and stories set in tiny type.

** More significantly, I believe the Wall Street Journal continues to "lead the way" with the most important news of the day, setting the news agendas of some of its competitors. It was the first paper to break the sub-prime mortgage and other financial scandals during the last 3 years, causing a "piggy-back" effect with competing editors in print and television. It's a rare day, for example, when a tabloid story about a balloon hoax – or a faux pas committed by a celebrity – will find its way onto the WSJ's front pages.

** So while the aforementioned represents the biggest reasons – in my view – for its success – the more spectacular phenomenon associated with the WSJ is this:

** At a time when almost everything online is FREE, the circulation for the ONLINE-ONLY version of the WSJ is through the roof
– with more than 360,000 PAID subscribers – which beats everyone else in this category by a country mile. Major "day of publication" stories are free – but the WSJ charges people for its content. Why are people reaching into their pockets to pay for content that other news organizations are giving away for free? I believe the answer is that they view WSJ-content differently from what's found in other papers.

** In sum, during this most trying of economic times
– in my view, subscribers believe the WSJ's stories are more relevant and more immediate to their personal and professional lives – and thus worth paying for.

** It's not about politics.

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)