Daily Archives: March 17, 2009

Not so tough, part one

ralph-tarsitano-hannaBy Race Bannon

On Monday a News Director walks with an internet technology employee to her car. We think she may be paid as much as $80 day. The News Director is walking her to her car because he has just terminated her. He has promised to offer her the job back after the economy recovers. That offer, and the conciliatory walk to her car, are probably the only acts of kindness she has received from her employer since she was hired.

Almost exactly 24 hours later, the News Director takes two mid-level managers to an hour and a half lunch and then to Starbucks for thirty more minutes of downtime. One doesn’t begin to know the conversations at such a lunch, but the $80 tab for food and candied coffee, and the unknown costs of having three managers away from the office for two hours are not among them. If you can stomach that kind of hypocrisy, strap in for the head trip of your life in your new career in tv news. Smiles everyone…SMILES!

Because broadcasters get their money from their community, the message to that community from broadcasters is common: we care, we understand, and we’re on your side. This perennial message is false. Though many believe what tv stations say about themselves, there is no “Action” at channel two news. There is no “Eyewitness” at channel five news. And poor old “11 Alive!“ is neither alive nor dead. But there are other messages that broadcasters want us to believe.

Broadcasters want their news operations to be viewed as tough. That’s why they run promotions of lady reporters modeling pouted lips, with their hands on their hips, and upturned brow, or of male reporters in a “I’ll jump right though this tv and kick your ass!“ stance. Tough reporters ask tough questions right? Don’t be so sure.

In almost every market, in-house station lawyers and accountants dictate what can and can’t be investigated and for how long. For every “successful” watch-dog piece that airs, half a dozen others or more fail. Why? One huge reason is cost. If a subject in a story has the slightest chance of success suing the broadcaster, the story is usually killed. Sometimes it only takes a scary phone call to whatever 25 year-old producer answers the phone. Add a dash of power to the subject of the story (State Rep., popular Mayor, or the stations fattest advertiser) and the threat of litigation finds itself front and center in the corner office. Hmm.

Broadcasters can’t risk losing a trial in the face of sweet-on-the-plaintiff juries, or having national or even international legal precedents set, or suffering the public embarrassment of being whipped in court, so they settle before trial. Better still than settling before trial is just KILLING THE STORY.

“Race Bannon” is a pseudonym for a current employee at an Atlanta TV station. Part two will appear tomorrow.  The above image came from this blog, with thanks.