With Election Day drawing mercifully near, local TV folk everywhere are leaning into their sets, anxious to see just what will replace all those annoying political spots. God help us if it’s a station promo. Hey, I’m no corner office accountant; ask me to tally up my time-slip too quickly and I gotta use all my fingers and toes. But even a troglodyte like myself knows what happen if area businesses don’t buy advertising time: We. Cease. To. Be. Okay, so maybe it’s not as simple as all that, but tell me this,Mr. Smarty-Pants, who’s going to buy gas for the satellite truck if Crazy Ned’s Used Car Emporium doesn’t pony up for a slew of new commercials? Don’t bother answering; I’m way too busy learning new skills to listen.
For years now, we in the electronic press have pointed and snickered at the denizens of Print. ‘Them and their fancy learnin’ degrees - a lot good it’ll do them when their paper tanks.’ As predictions go, it wasn’t too far off. Esteemed newspapers large and small are slashing staffs, offering buyouts to senior employees and laundry lists of new responsibilities to junior ones. Why it’s enough to make a broadcast schlub like myself feel sorry for all those print folk, the ones juggling notepads and handy-cams down at the courthouse. If most of them weren’t so unbearably smug, I’d let ‘em know their lens cap was still on. But in End Times like these, it’s every data-gatherer for himself. Besides, I have seen the crumbling future of print journalism and it is US.
“Who’s US? ”, you didn’t ask. I’ll tell you: You, Me and everyone else with a station logo on their paycheck.
There was a time ours was a sanctuary for the single-minded. Weasel your way into a local affiliate, develop a specialty, lather, rinse and repeat. Show up on time to push that button of your choice and you may very well have what passes for a career in local television. No more. Mind-blowing new tools and a stomach churning economy are conspiring to render many of us irrelevant. Like to edit but too lazy to shoot? Buy some vitamins and shoulder a Sony if you want your job to last. Always thought producing was for the soft and weak? Stack a show or two and see how you feel. Mastered the lens so you’d never have to write? Better buy a vowel. Think your safe from all this since you’re a reporter and hot? You’d better be DAMN HOT.
I, for one, am far from hot. Still, I can shuck, jive, shoot and go LIVE(!) with little to no assistance. It’s rarely easy, hardly ever pretty and at times taken a day or two off my life. But with a mug like mine, you gotta offer something other than deep dimples and a tendency to glisten. Now however, even the beautiful people have to multi-task. Or will. Sure, they’ll always be the Katie Courics of our field, but more and more anchors will also be called on to report and a few of them will frame up their two-shots as well. It’s going to make for awfully ugly TV at first, but after the herd is greatly thinned, we’re sure to discover some auteurs among the talking head set. We’ll also find that some of those camera folk can write and produce almost as well as they shoot, edit and pick their collective seat.
Will any of it be pretty? Not likely. But in case you haven’t noticed, the world is changing. The economy’s in the pisser, new technology is devaluing inert skill-sets and someone other than George W. Bush is about to lead our still great nation. If THAT doesn’t fill you with hope, you’re just not paying attention, which is one more reason you gotta go. Don’t worry though; there’s a twenty year old Twitter freak who’s been assembling epics on his mom’s laptop since he was twelve. He’s got a YouTube reel of himself doing stand-up, writes blogs under three separate monikers and has more political opinions than you got sensible shoes. What kind of news he’ll make we’ve yet to see, but one thing’s for sure: no one’s going to look back at the early 21st century and pine for the good ole days of local television.
We’ll be lucky if they look back at all…