Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two More Local News Veterans Head For Greener Pastures

It started as a trickle a couple years ago. It’s not a flood now, but it’s a huge and steady leak. Radio and TV reporters in Madison are either being shown the door, or cheating the hangman and escaping from the gallows. Two more familiar local TV faces – Linda Eggert and Kim Sveum - are leaving “the biz” for jobs which, right now, are probably a lot more stable.

Eggert, who’s been with Channel 3 for at least a couple decades, is taking a communications job in the public sector, and Sveum, who’s been in Madison for the past 10 years with Channel 27 and its news partner Channel 47, is taking a job in the health care industry. Both of these women are accomplished professionals in the news biz, and they take with them a huge amount of “institutional knowledge” about our community.

It’s the kind of knowledge that can’t – and won’t – be replaced. Nobody can afford us “old-timers” any more. The children are in charge.

A couple years ago, in the “first wave” of defections from the biz, long-time reporter Joel DeSpain left the friendly confines of WISC-TV on Raymond Road for a job as the “mouthpiece” of the Madison Police Department. Not too long after that, my long-suffering wife, who’d worked with me on radio for a decade and spent the next 15 years working with Joel and the crew at Channel 3, left to take a Marketing and Public Affairs job with UW-Health, making the same move photojournalist Don Cady had made a few months earlier.

Also in the “first wave”, familiar Channel 3 staffers Katy Sai and Jay Olsen left the TV biz to form their own production company. Rob Crane, a talented news manager who’s worked at a couple local TV stations, headed off to a media job with a local utility company around the same time.

Not all the exits have been voluntary. Some have just “not had their contracts renewed”. Some, like veteran WIBA radio news reporter Jennifer Miller, have fallen victim to the wholesale bloodshed at the big group radio operators. In Miller’s case, it was the biggest radio consolidator of them all, Clear Channel (a/k/a “The Evil Empire”) which threw her under the bus.

Local 9 PM TV news anchor and WISC-TV reporter Teri Barr fell victim to a second round of personnel cuts a few months ago and was dismissed; ironically, her husband still works there as a photojournalist – another endangered species.

And some, like me, were axed more because of house politics than anything else. My first phone call after my termination - after 30 years with MidWest Family Broadcasting - was to a lawyer at the top labor-law firm in Madison, and it resulted in a settlement, specifics of which both parties have agreed not to reveal. A few moments after I was terminated in November 2008, my good friend and colleague Glen Gardner was terminated after 15 years with MidWest, and moments after Glen was sent packing, five-year MidWest veteran reporter Erik Greenfield was dismissed. He was hired back after another news department staffer quit in disgust a few days later. Greenfield has since taken a communications job with state government.

When you add up the broadcast and print news terminations, layoffs, buy-outs, and resignations in Madison in the past couple years, it’s a stunning amount of experience and talent that’s either moved online or to “the other side”.

These broadcasting jobs are gone, and they’re never coming back. It’s a bad time to be “in the biz” – but, the future – well, you’re lookin’ at it…….


  1. The notion that news should be free and universally available has had, for better or worse, profound effects on our society, but the preponderance of evidence strongly suggests that for the most part it has not made us wiser or even better informed.

    The ubiquity of news has done much to bring about the industry's downfall. The product has become seriously devalued. Human nature is such that when something is free, people treat it with carelessness and contempt.

    News has always been a product produced for revenue. News was a commodity delivered by the traders on the Silk Road caravans, and even kings had to pay to obtain it. Until modern times, ship captains were the bearers of news and their accounts were valuable. News, after all, is information and information is power. Particularly so if it is scarce. I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that we must somehow return scarcity - and thereby, value - to the news.

    Having been in the news business in one form or another literally since I was a youngster, I don't like to admit it, but if we are ever to see news rise in prominence, public esteem and value, the traditional news business must be allowed to die.

  2. I will miss Linda Eggert. Her stories go deeper than just repeating other media or regurgitating government press releases.

    Ms. Eggert stories are also factually accurate which is becoming a real rarity these days.

  3. By the way, experience (and its cost) is being shunned in a LOT of areas aside from the news.

    Ask anyone in industry...

  4. As I recall, Kim Sveum is married to Eric Franke of WISC. It's always intrigued me that with a probable "no sharing of insider information" clause in their contracts what their dinnertime conversations are like. Tim - were there any restrictions in place when you were with the radio station and your wife worked at Channel 3?

  5. To answer anon., above: no, other than the bounds of common-sense non-disclosures.

  6. It's a shame that the news business can no longer support people who are actually skilled at getting and interpreting and then reporting real facts. The upheaveal at Madison newspapers, the continued churning at radio and TV outlets leave the public less informed than ever.

    I don't know what the cure is as long as news is paid for by advertising and advertising doesn't pay when people aren't buying stuff. But sooner or later, there is going to be a huge scandal here in Wisconsin or Madison and everyone will wonder -- how come nobody knew? And the answer will be: because everyone who was capable of reporting it is gone and there is no competition any more.