** "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.
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.)