'Doing More With Less' Discussed At RTNDA Panel
April 21, 2009 at 10:58 AM (PT)
The RTNDA@NAB conference addressed an issue facing most newsrooms in today's economy, "Maintaining Leadership While Doing More With Less," at a session TUESDAY morning in LAS VEGAS.
ABC NEWS RADIO VP/GM STEVE JONES discussed partner CITADEL MEDIA's struggles since buying the ABC owned-and-operated radio stations and syndication arm and counseled people to know the dates by which their employer's parent companies must make their next debt payments. "I now have a familiarity about bankruptcy laws... and debt amendments," he said, adding that the debt has an impact on how his company does journalism. "I think it's incumbent upon everybody to know" their companies' economic situation so that their own job security, or lack thereof, is clear, JONES said. He discussed the value of offering sincere encouragement to employees as motivation to continue to work hard despite the economic situation, and his philosophy of "management by walking around," keeping lines of communication between management and staff open. In the other direction, he suggested that staffers should let their supervisors know what they're doing, ensuring that the manager is aware of how hard and well the staffers are working.
DEBBIE BUSH, VP/GM of NBC affiliate WFIE-TV/EVANSVILLE, said that her News Director is now a "Content Director," recognizing that the material generated by the station no longer is merely transmitted on a television signal. Her station has moved master control into the production department and creative services into the marketing department. "The strong ones are gonna survive this," BUSH said, "and the weak ones may not." DAN SALAMONE, News Director of CBS affiliate WOIO-TV/CLEVELAND, said that regardless of title, "all News Directors are content managers." He noted that his news department has shrunk from 110 to 80 staffers in two years through layoffs and attrition, but must still try to reduce overtime and maintain ratings. However, he added, "there is still good news being produced today" despite the reduction in staff and the stresses of the situation. "It's a struggle," he admitted, "but we're doing it as a team."
On what affiliation with a radio network can do for a local station, JONES said that "you'll find... a greater inclination to be helpful and provide resources" on the part of the network for a local station. "I have a whole range of eperts on different things" available for affiliates to use, JONES noted. His network has also begun to provide "editorially pure" content on several topics that lend themselves to be effectively sold for local sponsorships. Conversely, for television, BUSH says that her network appears to be increasingly dependent on local stations for news coverage, which SALAMONE echoed, talking about how his station's helicopter was the first on the scene at the site of the recent plane crash near BUFFALO, five hours away.
BUSH suggested that communication is the key to managing employees whose required duties have multiplied (such as radio reporters shooting and editing video, or TV reporters shooting their own video as well), noting that "the old days of just reading the news are gone," replaced by the need to perform multiple duties and master different tasks. Her station has instituted a mentoring program and has instituted a strict review of several producer and videographer positions to consider whether they are necessary or can be absorbed into a multipurpose "VJ" video journalist reporter/cameraperson position. SALAMONE called his station's changes "an evolution... the more versatile you are, the more valuable you become."
JONES said that new hires still need to be "fantastic storytellers with great presentation" and need to show that breaking news is critical to them, but efficiency is also critical, with reporters needing to be able to provide additional value such as shooting video for ABC NEWS' TV operation. The ability to do such multiple tasks, said JONES, helps his own operation because it allows him to send reporters to locations for longer periods when they can provide value for other divisions as well. SALAMONE suggested that students looking to enter the business should be optimistic because they are "not intimidated by technology."
The use of SKYPE and IP technology occupied part of the session, but JONES warned that the use of "herky-jerky video of a car swerving in traffic," as shown in a clip from FOX affiliate KPTV (FOX 12)/PORTLAND, does not necessarily deliver the kind of information a listener or viewer wants. With the barrier to entry for newsgathering lowered by cheap camcorders and Internet delivery, he suggested that pumping out bad video and forgetting why consumers come to a station for information is "a really good way to put yourself out of business."