TV troubles mounting

It’s been a rough couple of days for the broadcast biz.  On Monday, the Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy protection.  Tribune owns  TV stations in 19 markets, as well as the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Cubs.  According to tvnewsday, the company is struggling with a $13 billion debt. 

In addition, according to Bloomberg,Equity Media Holdings Corp., the operator of English- and Spanish-language television stations in 41 U.S. cities, sought bankruptcy protection after defaulting on a $41.5 million loan.”

There’s also news of people losing jobs as reported by New York Daily News:

The talent exodus at the NBC O&O is continuing with four familiar faces leaving by year’s end. Long Island bureau chief Carolyn Gusoff, correspondent Monica Morales, sportscaster Otis Livingston and weathercaster SallyAnn Mosey found out late last week they would be leaving, though some still have time left on their deals.

And newcasts are falling by the wayside as reported in the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The NBC O&O is cutting its early-morning Spanish-language newscast; the weekend morning newscasts and its Friday morning lifestyle show. The station would not comment on the number of layoffs, but sources familiar with KNSD say the cuts involved at least 12 employees, including editors, photographers and production staff members, but no on-air talent.

In this climate, it’s still important to keep perspective.  There are still jobs to be had, but the search may take a little longer and the competition may be tougher.  For those of you in the hunt for work right now, we’d love to hear about your experience – especially what you’re finding in terms of the need for multimedia skills.


Adjusting to online demands

It’s a fact of life in TV newsrooms–you have to feed the Web.  That means reporters and photojournalists have to learn new skills and fit new demands into their already busy days.  For KARE-TV reporter Boyd Huppert and photojournalist Jonathan Malat, adjusting to the Internet has been a challenge:

Huppert’s blog, Boyd’s Back Track, includes links to the original stories he follows up on, and they’re definitely worth viewing.  You can see how much effort he puts into each blog entry, which probably explains why he hasn’t managed to post very many.

Community funded reporting

It’s the latest twist in non-profit journalism. is a project of the Center for Media Change based in the San Francisco area that launched a few weeks ago.  It allows the public to commission journalists to investigate what the site calls “important and perhaps overlooked stories.”

Users can offer story suggestions and freelance journalists can pitch story ideas to the site with an estimate of how much it would cost them to report it.  Once a story is approved by the editors, solicits funding from individual donors. If enough pledges come in, the story gets covered and is made available free through a Creative Commons license to anyone who wants to publish or air it. also is promoting itself as a way for news organizations to save money on freelancers.  News organizations can get exclusive rights to content by paying all of the costs of a story; or they can put up 50% and get first publishing rights.

MediaShift‘s Mark Glaser points out that the idea of crowdfunding isn’t new.  “Independent bloggers and online journalists have for years been asking their audience to help support their work through small donations,” he says.  But most journalists don’t have the business savvy to pull that off.

That’s where the “hub” idea makes more sense, and a platform such as — properly marketed — could help connect writers with potential funders, and handle financial transactions.

The New York Times says some critics (unnamed) believe the project raises troubling questions.  “For example, if a neighborhood with an agenda pays for an article, how is that different from a tobacco company backing an article about smoking?” says it won’t let any one funder pay more than 20% of the cost of a story, but it probably wouldn’t be that hard for a group of donors to fund a story they really want covered.  That doesn’t mean the story would support a particular point of view, of course, but funders might expect it to.  Still, says its “fact-check editors” will ensure fair and accurate reporting.

Former USA Today reporter Jim Hopkins has a different concern.  He told MediaShift he’s worried about the possibility of being scooped if he puts his story pitches online. Should he be?

State of the blogosphere

If there was ever any doubt about the popularity and staying power of blogging, a new report says there shouldn’t be.  Ten years after the launch of the first blog host, Open Diary, blogs have become a truly “global phenomenon that has hit the mainstream,” according to Technorati‘s annual “state of the blogosphere” report.

How big is the blogosphere?  It’s hard to tell.  Last year’s Technorati report used the figure 70 million; this year’s report doesn’t hazard a guess, but quotes Universal McCann’s estimate that 184 million people worldwide have started a blog (leaving open the question of how many of those blogs are are still active).

Who blogs?  Technorati surveyed bloggers in 66 countries across six continents and says most of them are male, 18-34 years old, and more affluent than the general population.  But there are far more women blogging in the United States than elsewhere in the world.  Forty-three percent of US bloggers are female, compared to 27% of European and Asian bloggers.

Why do people blog?  “Self expression and sharing expertise are the top reasons for blogging,” the report says. Most say they blog for fun and that they don’t make any money doing it.  But the majority have advertising on their blogs, and those who do come out ahead.

Among those with advertising, the mean annual investment in their blog is $1,800, but it’s paying off. The mean annual revenue is $6,000 with $75K+ in revenue for those with 100,000 or more unique visitors per month. Note: median investment and revenue (which is listed below) is significantly lower. They are also earning CPMs on par with large publishers.

So what’s the future of blogging? Depends on who you ask. Is it microblogging, using services like Twitter?  Video blogging on YouTube?  Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, tells Technorati that blogging will stop being a voluntary form of self-expression. “The future of blogging will be an auto-synching of our lives directly to the web —often a quiet recording in the background.”  That’s a little creepy, if you ask me.

Contracts: Read the fine print

If you’re lucky enough to find a TV news job in these tough economic times, make sure you take a close look at any contract you’re asked to sign.  You may not have much say over the terms, but you should at least know what you’re getting into.  And this cautionary tale should prove the point.

According to a Texas newspaper, the Beaumont Enterprise, a TV meteorologist is suing the local NBC affiliate over a provision in her contract that forced her to pay $10,000 to leave the station.  Rocio Garza joined the station last summer as the morning forecaster at a starting salary of $25,000.  Her lawsuit says she tried to get out of her contract earlier this year, unhappy with the progress she was making at the station.  Management said no, unless she paid the “liquidation fee.”  This fall, she was demoted to weekends and eventually resigned.  Now, she’s fighting in court to avoid paying the fee.

However this particular case turns out, it’s a clear reminder that contracts–especially for first jobs in TV–are written to protect the employer.  And that’s nothing new.  When I took my first CBS News contract to a lawyer, he read it carefully and then laughed out loud.  The contract was binding on me, he said, but not on them.  They could let me go but I couldn’t quit.  I signed it anyway, and was able to negotiate better terms in later contracts.  But at least I had read the fine print first.  You should too.