Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Year of Fear

Press SpaghettiEver get the feeling you’ve been cheated? It’s more than the coda of an endlessly overrated punk rock band; it’s the mind frame of many a broadcaster these days. Those of you in the business know what I mean. Those of you who aren’t can still play along at home. Mind you, I’m not asking for pity. ’The Media’ - that faceless entity blamed for everything from global warming to Sarah Palin’s shortcomings is not the kind of thing people easily feel sorry for. I get that. But, then again, I’m not talking about the pompous cable news screeching heads with the chauffer and sense of entitlement. No, I’m speaking of the hard-working men and women whose skills and nature make up the very underbelly of the nightly news-beast. Photographers, editors, associate producers; the folks who bust their collective humps not for treasure or glory, but for a humble stipend and a chance at an interesting career. For years on end, it was possible to pay (most of) the bills by mastering a single craft and learning to live without the credit you so richly deserved. Even that now, seems to be coming to an end.

Lay-offs, buyouts, unpaid furloughs. 2009 is barely two weeks old and already the business of TV news feels like it’s in freefall. Pundits far more prescient than I have predicted this for years, mostly due to the extrapolation of a dozen newfangled gadgets. Magic laptops and diminutive lenses were the opening salvo, but the keelhauling economy is what’s about to sink this ship. Sure, there will always be television and newscasts aren’t soon to shake their mortal coil. But the methodology behind them is already splintering, because the technology makes it possible, because the lack of money makes it a must. Still, knowing this seismic shift was coming makes it no simpler to stay on your feet. Neither does it make it any easier to watch good people hurt. I have many blogger friends who rue the day ’corporate media’ gained power. They’re often the same ones who hang on their local newscasts’ every breathless syllable - if only to gleefully disparage the messengers. Hope those folk get as much pleasure from watching old Mork and Mindy re-runs…

When I first began slinging lenses in the fall of ’89, I knew I would witness breathtaking upheavals. I had no idea they’d take place within the hallowed halls of broadcasting. No, this ain’t the process. In fact, a job at a TV station ranks somewhere between computer repair and a really good milk route. Unless it’s your face on the billboard, it’s pretty damn thankless. Now however, the crazy pace, oddball hours and total lack of gratitude looks downright fetching. People who have made bellyachin’ about their jobs into performance art are simply grateful for the latest paycheck. Oh, how the surly have fallen. That includes me, of course; I can bitch with the best of them. But what used to set me off now just fills me with dread, for all bets are officially off. Luckily, I’m pretty versatile. If logic should prevail, I’ll be fine. That’s what worries me the most - especially when I see people more talented than I accepting less between gritted teeth. Simply put, dark clouds on every outlet's horizon. Those dire conditions may not last forever, but I'm beginning to wonder who’ll still be standing when - and if - this perfect storm passes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a shelter to erect.


Austin said...

Tell me about it... right before Christmas my company laid off 18 people "locally" and about 3 times that from the other 3-4 stations owned by it. I'm sure Amanda can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think KXLY lost 20 people by itself.

The only reason they kept me (I have the least seniority) is because I can do news things AND commercials. One of my colleagues who has been there 17 years got laid off because he can't produce commercials.

Right now I'm the only person left in my department locally. My boss is 80 miles away and I might see him twice a month.

This is a rough industry right now.

Amanda said...

KXLY lost 18 people and most of the weekend shows.

My first official day here as an actual employee (was working as a freelancer prior) was strange. It was the day after bloody Tuesday and the layoffs, went to the morning meeting where the names laid off were announced and then "oh and this is Amanda who just started today, she has been working freelance for us". The chill in the air from my new colleagues after that statement could have froze Hades. I still have to deal with the attitude from many here due to how and when I was hired. Lets just say I hide in my hole up on the newsroom balcony to avoid a lot of people right now.

My position as a web dev, I replaced four people AND I work for all the stations in the group company-wide - TV and radio. Every station pitches in a little to pay for my position. I was only brought in because I know the web inside and out, I speak teevee and the group finally realizes that we have to take the web a little more seriously than the lets just throw re-written prompter scripts online.

KHQ was slaughtered to afford their DTV transition. They are a small family-owned group. A friend there describes the station as "a sea of empty desks"

A friend at KREM reports that things have gone to hell there too. Asst. ND turned in his two weeks notice, sports anchor quit on-air, at least one reporter and a photog was canned that she knows of.

Scott Hedeen said...

man... now the Pistols were a bit overated... true... but after the Last show in SF... where Johnny Rotten said the "cheated" quote. He spilt the band... made it the bahamas and joined DEVO for a day (not a joke) ... then back to a London flat and formed Public Image Ltd. The band the inspired a whole sound that is the basis of dub/fun/post punk rock.


The world may look like it's blown up... but to rise from the ashes of mismanaged newsrooms and tv station led astray by high anchor contracts. Reborn in a new world...and new media. The chickens may have come home to roost... but i learned how to make chicken salad years ago.

i quit a Gannett station in 2006, man... it was nice to walk off the Titanic before it left the dock. I work my own HD cam...and edit on Avid and Final Cut Pro. I'm doing ok.

as for the Sex Pistols... Johnny Rotten became John Lydon and formed PIL. Sid Vicious? He OD'd in the same hotel romm in NYC that he killed his girlfriend in. Maybe the moral is.... Are you Rotten or Vicious?

Scott Hedeen Atlanta GA