Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Don't Be So Hard On The Kids

The title of this post is a comment my friend Doug made in response to one of my Facebook posts last night. The last few days I’ve been snarky about the children doing weekend weather on a couple of the local TV stations (not the station Doug works for), and Saturday morning I posted that one of the local dweebs had just said the wind chill factor was “minus 25 below zero” (which, in English, is said “25 below zero”). The post got a few dozen “likes” and engendered a string of comments, many of them from current or former nooz people, about the dearth of experience of many of the young folks doing nooz, weather, and sports on the local TV stations.

One of the TV kids last night said the temperature was headed down to “negative five”.  I don’t know where he was raised – presumably in some climate where the temperature never got below zero – but where I come from, in the Fox Valley, we say “five below”. I’m pretty confident you’ll never hear a native ‘sconnie say “negative five” or “minus five” in conversation.  In true ‘sconnie dialect, you’re more likely to hear someone say “oh for the cry-yi I goes to the kitchen window and looks at the big thermometer the old man’s got nailed up to the garage wall and it says it’s twenny below zero”!!!!!

Doug, who is an experienced and talented TV photographer, said I was lucky they didn’t have Facebook back when I was on the radio.  And then he made the “don’t be so hard on the kids” comment.

It often comes as a shock to Doug, and lots of other media people around here, when they find out I’m still very much “on the radio”. My reports for the Wisconsin News Connection (owned and operated by Public News Service) are heard pretty much daily on several dozen radio stations in the Fox Valley, Eau Claire, Rhinelander, and lots of other small burgs around the state – just not in Madison or Milwaukee.

Every one of my reports – which are one-minute and two-minute “voiced” news stories – is subject to a level of editorial review which would shock most electronic media news people. Every word I write is examined by one of four hard-nosed editors before my script is approved for recording and distribution.

Years ago, when I anchored news on several of the local radio stations, I was also the “coach” who reviewed the writing and reporting skills of the rest of the news staff. I’m confident any one of them will tell you our weekly coaching sessions were pretty thorough. And, to their credit, my bosses made sure my work was reviewed by a coach. “Somebody’s got to coach the coaches”, the senior board members would say.

For WTDY, my coach was nationally-famous radio consultant Holland Cooke, who is the premiere news/talk consultant in the industry. He would listen to my newscasts at random times (online) and make critiques, and about once a month, at his in-market visit, he would critique my work.  For Q-106, my coach was Tommy Kramer, who works for another big national consulting company, Audience Development Group. Tommy’s a Texas boy who knows his way around a good country newscast, and like a good Texan, he’s cordial and polite, but he does not mince words.

One time, one of the news staffers I was coaching said I was being a little too tough. I said “you want to see my latest critique?” and pulled it out of a desk drawer. As he read it, his jaw dropped farther and farther, until he finished, and looked up at me, and said “holy cow…that IS tough”. I said “and you’ll notice at the top that this report is copied to each member of the board of directors”.

I was tough on the “kids” because I wanted them to be better writers, reporters, and anchors.  My coaches were – and now, my editors are - tough on me for exactly the same reasons.

So, Doug, let me ask you this: is your work reviewed? Is every piece you shoot reviewed by a coach, peer, or manager? Does someone edit every news script that’s written in your newsroom? Does someone spend at least one full hour a week working one-on-one with your writers, reporters, anchors, producers, to coach them, sharpen their skills, develop their talent, and – heaven forbid – help them correct their mistakes?

Didn’t think so.

So, I’ll take a snarky facebook comment any day, rather than a withering glance from Holland Cooke or Tommy Kramer.  

Copied to the board, by the way.


  1. I'll second that and add why can't our local stations hire local talent? Or at least put the youngsters through a briefing on how to pronounce Waunakee, Mequon, etc. There is a website dedicated to the correct pronunciation of most all of our cities, villages and counties.

    1. Thanks, Dee. I heard one of the young anchors say "McKwan" the other day...at least it wasn't the usual "MEE-kwon"...... There are so many online resources available to nooz folks today; it shocks me to find out how many of them are unaware of things like MissPronouncer and the many other easily used assets.

  2. Yes, their skills won't erase the memory of Walter Cronkite but you know, some of those youngsters anchoring and reporting are awful darn cute on TV.....the journalistic ability is secondary these days. The Madison market is just a stepping stone to a bigger one for a lot of these nooze people, so they're in and out in a year or two, but with the way so many of the longer term local reporters have been unceremoniously dumped around here in recent years, who can blame them?

    1. I'm not sure that's a safe assumption any more - stepping stone to a bigger market. In a few cases, maybe - but more often than not, it's a parallel move at best. It used to be that you started in a market like Rhinelander, Eau Claire, Wausau, Green Bay, or La Crosse, and then worked your way to Madison or Milwaukee. But now, the Madison and Milwaukee stations are hiring almost exclusively the entry-level people right out of college that used to start in smaller markets. Salaries are so shitty that with rare exception, all that's being hired these days is entry-level folks. There are, of course, as I mentioned, exceptions, but what used to be the rule is now the exception. And, FWIW, often appearance trumps any reporting, writing, or story-telling skill. Channel 3 just hired a new reporter; I think he was in Denver; plenty of experience, but the guy stumbles over every script. I have yet to see him make it through any report without stumbling. So, he's experienced....but his knowledge of the Madison and Wisconsin market is very limited at best, and he may be a great news photographer, but he's not really a story-teller in the great Joel DeSpain tradition, and he stumbles constantly.

  3. OK, so maybe it's just a stepping stone to a job in PR or the Walker administration...

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