Credit Where Credit Is Due

He Gone

I’m one of those people who can admit a mistake (some of the time). I had been a tad critical of some of the local TV coverage of Allen Iverson’s exit from the Grizzlies. There seemed to be a bit too much supposition on his reasons for leaving without any sourcing.

My point at the time was that we should actually wait for something a bit more definitive before throwing AI under the bus. Sure, it was pretty likely that he had walked out on the team because he didn’t want to accept a backup role. But everybody thinking that doesn’t make it reportable, even if it happened to be true.

So, once the Grizzlies waived Iverson, we had a better idea that it was actually true. Of course, I have to note, that even though the team has released the reluctant player, there’s still no confirmation from the man himself that he’s not playing anymore.

Okay, I guess that whole multiple source thing is no longer applicable in journalism. I can accept that. Seems like in some cases, no source is okay too. Kinda cheapens the whole profession, but if that’s the way it goes, I’ll go along.

Making Progress

So Far, So Good?

The Grizzlies have gotten off to a bad start. The Tigers are 1-1, but that one in the loss column was pretty close, and a lot of observers have already accepted this season as a write off. The idea is that Coach Pastner has lined up one of the better recruiting classes in recent memory. So, no matter how the team does this year, they should be gangbusters by next year. Either way, it appears that people are coming to terms with the exit of the former coach.

I’ve only met Pastner once, but he is a pretty personable guy. I can see him being very convincing when it comes to getting recruits to commit to the University of Memphis. And even if he’s not the strongest floor coach, he’s got enough talented help to get by. So, will he be another John Calipari? Another Tic Price? Gene Bartow? Dana Kirk? Larry Finch? Way too soon to know, but I’m thinking that’s not going to stop some fans from building him up… while some others are waiting to tear him down.

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This Just In…

Breaking News

Breaking News

Imagine my surprise Saturday night when I was watching Joyce Peterson anchoring WLMT’s 9pm news Saturday night. Not surprised that she’s anchoring, it was the breaking news that led the show. Here’s the headline: Allen Iverson Leaves Memphis Grizzlies.

According to the way the story was reported, Iverson asked the team’s owner for permission to “leave the team,” which was granted. He was then headed off to Atlanta to attend to family business. Peterson tossed to a live report, which basically repeated that bit of information with the promise of more to come.

After listening to the whole story, I had the distinct impression that the headline didn’t actually tell the entire story. It seemed that Iverson just needed some personal time off to take care of something with his family, not that he was “leaving” the team after complaining of having to come off the bench.

Gone?

Gone?

The Sunday edition of the Commercial Appeal was a little more informative, although its headline was also a tiny bit unclear: Allen Iverson leaves Grizzlies for personal reasons.

The CA report went on to say that Iverson had asked for an “indefinite leave of absence.” That’s a little bit different that him quitting the team in a huff, which is what the “myEyewitness News” story was still reporting into Sunday afternoon. While the team is not saying specifically when he’ll come back, the team owner says it’s nothing more than that.

Personal Business

Leave Him Alone

So why the breathless reporting that AI is gone? I know the guy has had a sometimes tense relationship with this previous teams, but why write the story in a way that even suggests that he’s not coming back? I know that occasionally, an incomplete story comes into a newsroom. I also know there’s a pretty big urge to report what you’ve got and go with the rest when it comes in. Still, I consider myself a fairly experienced news consumer and the headline left me with the impression that Iverson was gone for good. The story itself managed to be incomplete and confusing.

How about this? Next time, report the nugget you’ve got, without sensationalizing it. After all, at the time of the original story, it’s obvious that no one at “myEyewitness News” knew the extent of Iverson’s absence. Why not make that part of headline, as in “Iverson Goes, Return Unknown,” to indicate the fact that you don’t know all the facts? I’m not trying to be too critical, but the story on 30 and the myEyewitness.com site made Iverson out as a bad guy who just up and left after complaining about his playing time. If that turns out to be the case, so be it. But the CA story makes this point: “the veteran guard did not ask for a trade or request to be waived. Team owner Michael Heisley said the team knew about Iverson’s issue before signing him to a one-year, $3.1 million contract in September.”

Most of the stories on other sites are making the case that no one knows whether Iverson will play again or not. Seems like nobody knows enough about this story to report it accurately.

Edit: Just watched Fox 13’s Sunday night report. Scott Madaus went out for man on the street reaction to Iverson “leaving the team,” and how people are “fed up” with his antics. Nothing from the team or the player on what his plans actually are. Doesn’t anyone get facts before going on TV anymore?

How the Mighty Have Fallen

I left CNN nearly 3 years ago, and hadn’t worked in Prime Time for a couple of years before that. I haven’t been a heavy watcher since the presidential campaign ended last year (yes, I’m the typical CNN viewer – riveted to coverage when there’s a big story – forget it exists at any other time).

"This is CNN"

Tough Times

I’d like to say I was surprised when the news came out that CNN has fallen to fourth place in Prime Time ratings among the four cable news networks (Fox News, MSNBC, HLN & CNN). I’d like to say that, but I can’t. In the 7 years I was with the network, I watched their programmers flail about in prime, sure of nothing except Larry King Live. Larry (who is still alive, by the way) has the only prime hour on CNN that’s not in fourth place right now. He’s tied for third (which is still last place).

Cable_News

Who's on Top?

For a time, I wrote on a 10pm hour for Bill Hemmer. It was a straight newscast, and Bill’s a pretty good anchor and we had a good EP and line producer (both still with the network). Also wrote on a 7pm hour, also for Bill. Of course, he’s over at Fox now. Also worked on an 8pm hour for Greta Van Sustren. It was much less news-based, and more of the type of show she does at Fox now. During the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, I worked on a live show, initially called “Live from Afghanistan.” It was a face-paced hour that covered all the bases. It evolved into 2 hours, looking at the wars there and in Iraq.

nancy-grace

She Scares Me

Once the fighting slowed, the network didn’t seem to know what to do in prime time, jumping from anchor to anchor, trying to find a personality who would attract and hold an audience. Connie Chung, Paula Zahn, Aaron Brown. They’d toss them up and hope something would stick and nothing has so far. The other three networks, including the other owned by CNN, HLN, use people with strong, nearly overpowering personas to drive their personality-based shows. I’m not a Nancy Grace fan, but like they do with O’Reilly and Olbermann, people seem to watch her. Strong opinions seem to draw viewers. Is it news? Not really.

Except for Lou Dobbs, CNN has seemed reluctant to turn early prime and prime over to screamers and shouters. But, their lackluster personalities are unable to compete with what people are watching on the other channels. And they’re really going to be in trouble once Larry King decides to do something else with his evenings.

I wonder if it might be time to go back to regular newscasts in prime time.

A Slight Detour and a Chop from COBRA Kai

My good friend Joe Larkins usually comments on media issues in Memphis. He’s traveling this week, but I felt like this issue deserved immediate comment. I was checking Twitter Tuesday and was surprised to see the post from Mediaverse: Memphis that Mary Powers is leaving the Commercial Appeal for a position at St. Jude.

Mary, if you don’t know, has been the CA’s health and medical reporter for years. To employ a somewhat sappy cliche, she covered that beat like a blanket, breaking stories, making sense of complicated procedures and staying on top of unfolding stories better than anyone in the market.

When I took over the health beat for WREG in the early 90s, the CA had two reporters on that beat. One left for a job out west, but Powers managed well enough to make you think that there were still two journalists doing the job. I have enough ego to think I’m the best TV health reporter this market has had — but I’ve got enough brains to know that I wasn’t in her class.

I won’t pretend to know what prompted her move, although the way the newspaper industry has been contracting is a probable culprit. If so, I have something else to admire in Mary — her foresight in making a move before events conspire to make that move for her.

I think Memphis will be worse off without having her insightful reporting. While the paper will probably be able to find freelancers to cover some health news, you can’t get the same depth of coverage by having folks parachute in for individual stories. Even if the CA chose to assign a staffer to the beat, it would take years for them to have the same level of understanding that Mary has.

Still, while writing for science journals sounds a tad on the dry side, St. Jude does the work of angels, so it’s good they’ll have someone of her talent to help them tell the stories of their scientific advances.

Congratulations, Mary.

News & Notes:

Rejected!

In the old days, job applications were always on paper. Rejections, if companies bothered to give them, came the same way. You always feared a thin letter, knowing that the only thing inside was a rejection letter. With the Internet, the process is a little different; the rejections are still form letters, you just get them much more quickly, via e-mail.

I got a couple today, and one came across as particularly harsh. Needless to say, I’ll think twice before I stay in their hotels again (that’ll show ’em!).

The COBRA strikes!

Today, I learned the importance of reading all my job separation material. In the insurance section, I saw something about not having to make an election for COBRA coverage until June. I did not see the part noting that my coverage would lapse immediately if I made no selection at all. Well, I found that out Tuesday when I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.

After getting home in a panic and going through my paperwork, I got online to get the coverage (at my age and level of decrepitude, it’s not something I can ignore). Keeping the same coverage as I had will cost nearly $700 for two months! Yikes! I’ve paid less for apartments. I may be eligible for a discount because of the economic stimulus plan, but it’ll be a while before I find out.

Here’s the kicker. I call the customer service line to make sure I’ll be covered when I go to the doctor on Thursday. I’m confused because the website says my payment for April & May isn’t due until June. Well, the nice young man tells that while the grace period does run through June, COBRA is a prepaid service, so coverage doesn’t start until they have cash in hand.

So, I could pay in June for coverage in April and May, but I couldn’t use that coverage if I waited that long to pay. And as it is, I’m paying in May for April coverage that I didn’t use because I didn’t know I had to pay. Are your heads spinning now?  ‘Cause mine is.

Wither news? (or news withers)

I think I wanted to be a journalist (TV reporter actually), since seeing Peter Jennings anchoring the news on WTVN-TV in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. And I mean the first time he anchored on ABC in 1965 when I was 9 years old.

It seemed glamourous and exciting to go places and see things and turn around and get to tell stories about those experiences.

On the way to TV, I had the opportunity to work in the sports department of a major American daily (Columbus Dispatch) as well as cover news for a big AM station. Once I got into television (1986, Casper, Wyoming), I had a pretty good ride until I left CNN in early 2007.

I never covered a war, didn’t report from the White House lawn or anchor in a major market.  Still, I learned how to get people to tell me things. I also told people things that actually helped them from time to time. More important, I learned how to write well (a skill not always found in TV). CNN was a nice place, but once Time Warner took over and began moving more of the operation to New York, it got a lot tougher to bear things in Atlanta.

Even with that, until I got an offer from the private sector that allowed me to use all my broadcast journalism training, I thought I’d be in the news business until they put me in a home.  Now that I’ve been involuntarily separated from the private sector, I wonder about going back to where I’ve spent most of my working life.

The collapse of the news business amazes me. Because of my interest in the business, I read Shoptalk, News Blues and FTVLive pretty much every day. And every day, it seems as if another local station is dumping news or another newspaper is on the edge of collapse. Even the New York Times looks as if it might shutter the Boston Globe. The changes are evident watching the drama surrounding the local newspaper.  The Commercial Appeal has laid off staff, cut back its delivery area and raised its prices. Since I’m looking for work, I picked up the Sunday edition with the intention of going through the classifieds.  There were hardly any to go through! Amazing.

The risk we face is if none of the traditional providers of news and information can continue in their traditional form, we lose ability to know what’s actually going on around us. I know a lot of people find it easy to depend on electronic sources for information – they don’t seem to realize that news aggregates have to have something aggregate from. Blogs can provide excellent analysis and good niche reportage, but there doesn’t seem to be an existing business model to support the type of staffing necessary to cover entire communities.

When I was a kid watching Peter Jennings and Walter Cronkite (sorry, never was too big of an NBC fan), I also went through both the daily papers. A two-newspaper town will soon be as distant a memory as black and white TV and cloth diapers, but there’s still a need for the kind of coverage driven by the competition of multiple news providers. Banner ads won’t be enough to support Internet news coverage. Media companies have to be creative enough to create new system, rather than merely try to find ways to appropriate what currently exists (And it seems they know that. See this link from the New York Times).

Did you know that when Western Union was one of the biggest companies in America, it had the chance to invest heavily in the telephone?  The bosses dismissed it as a fad and assumed the telegraph would remain the dominant form of near-immediate communication. If the company hadn’t lucked into the role of providing electronic money transfers to people without bank accounts, it’d most likely gone the way of the Pony Express.

I say all that to say I don’t know whether I’ll have another chance to practice my chosen profession, but if I do, I hope my profession is still around if I make that choice.