Category Archives: bannon race

Not so tough, part two

By Race Bannon

Today’s tv news follows predictable algebra: stories need to be an easy to get quick turn, and have a low litigation risk. Hustlers, hookers and dirty preachers are busted yet again, but purveyors of true lawlessness and high crimes at the executive level…WALK.

Broadcasters want their news operations to be viewed as smart. They fly 20 color HD graphics with wiping titles to announce “From your street…to Wall Street”. Don’t forget the jet engine sound beneath the 80’s era, canned, rock and roll. How desperate.

For years tv stations kept education reporters, health reporters, and feature reporters on staff. That was before consultants convinced news directors to sell their news as “Live!-Local!-and Late Breaking!” No one knows for sure when abstract video of cars and buildings took over substantive feature, medical, and education stories, but it did. Traffic fatality? That’s your story. Late to a story but have to cover it anyway? Run video of cars near the story that was missed. Don’t have time to do the story? Hang an HD camera out the window run that video with a stand up…remember to use the chopper video first. That’s not smart.

Broadcasters want their news departments to be viewed as committed, but with managers programming two, three, and four hour live shows, there can be no commitment to news in its classical meaning, only in its meaning as “reality“ news. The everyday occurrences which are many, must be made into “news” by a lucky few. Each reporter must tell at least three stories, preferably all different. They may have many false starts or “throw aways “ (shoot this story until something more ratings oriented comes along [code: breaking news])

So if you‘re one of the unfortunates who has a reporter begging you to tell them what you saw yesterday morning, just say no, and offer them a bathroom and a big glass of water. Though they may look OK outwardly, inwardly they’re tired, hungry, and dehydrated zombies, who likely suffer from a two weeks old, stimulant oriented U.T.I. More importantly these poor wretches have been driving in a live truck all day, breathing mobile generator fumes, and have either aired or thrown away at least two stories already, and have only thirty minutes left to tell yours, which may also be soon thrown away. Now that’s coverage you can count on!

In summary broadcasters want their news operations to be viewed as tough, smart, and committed, but the business practice of killing good stories for fear of litigation and time consuming fact-finding, the obsession with fancy graphics and sounds in place of legitimate community franchises like education, features, and health, and the filling of giant news holes with what is in effect hotdogs and cereal, make a charge of hypocrisy more than dedicated, determined, and dependable.

Race Bannon is a pseudonym for a current employee at an Atlanta TV station.

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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.

Protect the Children

By Race Bannon

Summer is the time when hordes of college interns enter into service at television stations, as wildebeest calves into crocodile infested waters. The interns, like the poor wildebeest calves, will have little chance of happiness. Which is why it’s important for parents to discourage young adults from becoming interested in careers in television in the first place. You’ll need to have a few canned answers ready for those squeaky clean, freckle-faced sons and daughters who return from college with news that they are going to be a network TV anchor after they graduate! It’s an icky trend not too dissimilar from high school boys saying that they are going to play in the NBA after graduation. Hoo-boy.

The U.S. Department of Labor says there is “keen competition” for television jobs created by “large numbers of jobseekers attracted by the glamour of this industry.” Good grief. Most television stations are purposefully understaffed sweat-shops, where your tender son or daughter will work pre-industrial revolution hours, for pauper’s wages, in a filthy and poorly maintained live truck, turning out dozens of stories about nothing, for an ungrateful, jealous, and angry god hereafter known as the news director. “Glamour of this industry”…sheesh.

It will only take around five years before they become jaded and calcified experts on exploiting the survivors of ordinary fatalities, zooming in slowly to tear stricken faces and trembling hands. At the town murder de jour they learn to recognize family members who still don’t know their son or daughter was the one killed in the ever so recent lawlessness. They’ll roll their cameras early to get every frame of the coming implosion and emotional collapse. Yay!

Lately, many broadcasters have created low cost, easy to produce, one, two, three, and four hour live shows. The shows have lots of time for advertisements, but that extended length has also changed the definition of news. News used to be confined to events with conflict, timeliness, proximity, impact, oddity, and prominence. Now news is defined simply as reality: every tree that falls, every person who dies, every teacher who is fired, every traffic accident, every arching power line, every everything … is covered. And that means that your son or daughter has a 100 percent chance of doing a live shot due to a risk of rain in the area, and a 100 percent chance of doing a live shot in front of an empty intersection where the day before, a tree allegedly fell, and then was allegedly cut up by utility crews. “Wow! That was a close one Skip. Now back to you in the studio!”

By the time your child has become an experienced broadcaster, he or she will use drugs and alcohol at almost the same rates as food service employees, construction workers, and waitresses: that’s right – media and entertainment employees are among the highest when it comes to substance abuse. You won’t have to talk with a professional to learn that soon after they’ll also be at increased risk of depression and of making choices which lead to divorce, both of which themselves may be symptomatic of whacky hours and low pay, not the booze and weed.

Respected organizations like the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics tell parents to separate their children from television from their earliest years to reduce the occurrence of childhood obesity and of anxiety disorders like bulimia, attention deficit disorder, and sleeplessness. Yet it may be even more important to insist that our young adults resist the temptations of a career in media and television, and it’s empty promise of “glamour” – a promise that delivers nothing more than a slow death for this most precious resource, our young adults.

Race Bannon is a pseudonym for a current employee of an Atlanta TV station. Bannon wishes LAF readers a happy, cheerful and optimistic July 4.

LAF welcomes guest submissions. See the “contact us” info to the right.

Drive Straight Away from a Career in Television

By Race Bannon

You’ve seen those brightly painted local television live trucks. The graphics are so fantastic. And there just might be (gasp!) a news personality inside! Is that the handsome Steve Day! No, O’migosh it’s the lovely Amanda Wi! And then three seconds later. . .REALITY CHECK. Wow. I almost hit that TV truck.

Live trucks are incredibly dangerous even when parked; but they’re even more dangerous in that scenario.

The live truck’s anatomy itself is dangerous. The mast – the telescoping antennae on top of the truck – makes the truck top heavy. Additionally, the equipment-laden truck is very difficult to stop once it gets going. Read on to get the inside scoop about why you ought to stay away from TV live trucks!

The person in charge of maintaining a television station’s fleet is called the fleet manager– usually a powerless employee who must wear many hats.

Because a television station is its own corporate bureaucracy, with bottom line obsessed bean counters in far away places, the fleet manager may have to wait for written permission to purchase a part or service. Repairs that are deemed non-essential may be delayed. Need new side view mirrors? The cracked ones are still OK. You say the trucks reverse and backing up alarm is down? Forget it. Brakes? Tomorrow.

There are, however, even greater challenges for the keenest of fleet managers. Many live trucks are driven around the clock. A photographer starts a shift at 9AM and drives the live truck for eight to ten hours. Then a night crew takes over the truck. The same truck may stay in use for the overnight shift.

News crews are necessarily rough on live trucks, because news events by their nature are difficult places to negotiate. Live trucks have to be parked in tight places, wacky inclines, stony fields, curbs, crumbled concrete– treacherous places where no “normal” motorist would ever go. That means that a live truck is in continuous need of repair and alignment.

Furthermore, the news crew themselves, though innocent in my view, are also a danger. Their thankless task masters incessantly call both the photographer and the reporter on their personal and company-issued cell phones and Blackberries, mercilessly urging the crew to hurry to breaking news, reminding them that competitors are already on the air, LIVE! with the story. After one call ends, another instantly begins as yet another person in the same office, from an adjacent cubicle, barks out the same questions: “WHERE ARE YOU NOW! NO, RIGHT NOW! I WANT TO KNOW WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW! WELL WHEN CAN YOU GO LIVE!?!

Never mind that these reporters and photographers just had the same conversation with three other people seated four feet apart back at the television station. In a live truck there are potentially four cellular telephone conversations going on at the same time as news crews handle their addled managers, the engineering department, those portions of John Q. Public – witnesses and survivors – directly affected by the news event, and the first responders’ public information officers, already at the news event. Let’s say it together with passion: !DISTRACTED DRIVERS!

Finally, the fair reader must know the truth about the occupants of the live truck, and about their employer. Because the aforementioned bean counters know that it is cheaper to make existing employees work overtime than it is to employ enough people to do the actual work, that news crew may be working a 14 hour, break-free day, using only coffee and cigarettes for sustenance. Be assured the driver of a local television news live truck is pulling a gruesome 50-60 hour work week, made up of a muesli of overnight shifts, doubles, split shifts, and turn-arounds. Indeed, the wretched souls who operate live trucks for local TV stations may be seeing double, and hanging on to consciousness like a loose tooth.

In summary, motorists should resist trying to get close enough to a local television live truck to recognize the people inside. The live truck anatomy is dangerous. The live truck may not be well-maintained. Of most concern is the human issue. More likely than not, the operators of these live trucks are exhausted, highly distracted drivers who are in a much different place that you could ever, or would ever, want to be.

Race Bannon is a pseudonym for a current employee of an Atlanta TV station. LAF welcomes submissions. We don’t have to publish your name, but we have to know who you are. Get our contact info from the “contact LAF” page.