Dear Friends and Supporters,
SPOILER ALERT: In keeping with my inclination to make my weekly newsletter, “off my chest,” the rant below has no real connection to this week’s HERE & THERE programming. For that, please feel free to scroll down to the last 4 paragraphs.
AN UN-APOLOGIA: Or why the one word most frequently applied to me during my broadcast career was “unmanageable.”
Have there ever been any good bosses in the broadcast news media?
My experience has been pretty dismal.
My first TV employer was WPIX, Channel 11 in New York, owned by the Chicago Tribune Co, and its notoriously right-wing commandant Col. Robert R. McCormick, whose values were made explicit when I openly inquired whether any of my colleagues in the News Department had interest in being unionized by AFTRA. I was fired 15 minutes after my query went up on the newsroom bulletin board.
Then, I went to CBS, first radio, then TV, where The Boss, William S. Paley, had forced his “friend” and greatest journalist, Edward R. Murrow, to leave the network over editorial disagreements, and then forced his even closer “friend” Frank Stanton to retire as President of CBS at age 65, even as he, Paley, gave himself an exemption from that age requirement.
Worse, Paley sent his own company into an precipitous decline by replacing Stanton, a managerial genius with a deep commitment to serious news, with a string of standard-bred corporate schmucks like Charles “Chick” Ireland and Arthur Taylor, whose signature acts upon taking power were “across the board” budget cuts.
I mean, why should a corporate President be tasked with knowing where to cut and where not to? Let’s just trim everywhere. Leadership, they call it.
When Paley was finished diminishing his own legacy, he sold to Lawrence Tisch, universally known as a “bottom-feeder,” whose trash-man strategies including handing management of CBS News over to Van Gordon Sauter, a third-rate faker from local news in a second-rate big city, Chicago. From that point on, the big slide was on.
NBC? Yep, worked there, too, and saw immediately that another military title-ist, Gen. Robert Sarnoff, who even out-ranked Col. McCormick, really was simply a guy playing Lenny to Bill Paley’s George, in the media version of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. News management at NBC was also in sharp decline from the days of the grumpy but genuinely journalistic Reuven Frank to the crazed Bill Small to the pathetic Larry Grossman.
Small’s innovative idea of managing NBC News was to try to turn it into CBS News, bringing in Roger Mudd as chief anchor and generally writing off or shipping out anyone who thought NBC was a pretty good operation before he, Small, and his ex-CBS acolytes took it over. Neither he nor Mudd lasted long at 30 Rock.
Grossman was a genuine anomaly. Usually, people go to public broadcasting after having failed egregiously at commercial TV, but Grossman managed to have his PBS career, short and unmemorable as it was, before failing egregiously at the network.
He read me the riot act for pointing out on the air of his New York affiliate WNBC-TV, Channel 4, that the previous night’s NBC Nightly News had featured melodramatic and self-glamorizing video from some anti-vivisectionist group which he and his organization could not vouch for, either in terms of its provenance or its accuracy.
Not long after that, Sarnoff sold off NBC to GE, which chose as its head of TV news Michael Gartner, the “respected” editor of a second-rate regional newspaper (The Des Moines Register) who knew absolutely nothing at all about television news except that he hated it. Real news was printed on a page.
You had to wonder – who was the greater knave, the guy who hired this pretentious ignoramus, or Gartner himself who accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to abuse people whose jobs he couldn’t understand and didn’t personally “respect?”
The results were predictable, and NBC News only regained its mojo after Gartner left to spend time, not so much with his family, as his farm. And the best of Burpee’s to you, sir.
At ABC (I did make ALL the rounds), my Boss was Roone Arledge, who did know both TV and news, and who, when his newly-hired #2 Dick Wald opined to the NY Times that Roone actually didn’t know news, but that he, Wald, would fix that, immediately dispatched Wald to carry Barbara Walters’ bags on the diplomatic shuttle between Jerusalem and Cairo. When he returned, Roone had replaced him as #2 with David Burke, whose previous #2-dom had been with Ted Kennedy. At ABC News he spiked an investigation into Chappaquiddick. Honor among thieves usually better protects crime than honor.
Wald, became the standards and practices guy at ABC, and was for years an intestinal obstruction between newsgathering and broadcasting. But, then, he always suspected me of packing left-wing bombs.
Roone and I had our disagreements, but when he died, and Cap Cities sold ABC to Disney, and my Boss became the hapless David Westin, ABC News passed its peak. Of course, King Log looks less worse in the retrospect of his Frog-ish successors Sherwood and Goldston, who like CBS’ present Big Boss Les Moonves actually hate news, because they know non-fiction is harder to monetize than fiction.
What started this ramble through the Management Fun House of Horrors was the latest dastardly act of the Big Bosses at Al Jazeera (or as they known there, “Doha”). Having made a terminal mess of Al Jazeera America, they just announced that they were cutting all their American technical and support staff from their Al Jazeera English payroll and turning them into daily hires.
What’s wrong with pinching a few pennies back into the corporate jar like that? Only this: TV News is inextricably a team game, and by severing your editors, camera-people and sound recordists from your still-staff reporters and producers, you are inevitably breaking up both the fact and culture of teamwork.
But hey, that may be less worse than just eliminating the camera and sound people and having your producer “shoot” and “record” the story on an iPad, or, as happens all the time now in big-time network news, turning your reporter loose with an iPad and a mandate to make a news report out of a series of shaky selfies.
The assumption is, the viewer will not mind the difference between having skilled professionals joining to keep several sets of eyes and minds on a story and knitting the results artfully together, and “My Vacation in Baghdad.” And if they do? “Who asked them?”
The recent history of American, if not global, corporatism has been all about the separation of first, the Bosses, and then the workers, from their products. Quality or integrity are just 2 things you can trim to enhance your bottom line. And as for the poor souls who actually care about the product, the less connection to it they have, the less annoying responsibility they may try to assert, and more easily management can enhance profit and shareholder value by clawing back part of their employees’ daily bread.
That’s one great thing about working for yourself. When the Boss of HERE & THERE messes up, you can slap him silly. Makes the Boss and the product better and the employee feel a lot better, too. Of course, there is no daily bread….other than the sustenance of …
AH YES, THE WEEK UP-COMING…
This week is fund-raising week at KSFR FM. All contributions to this unique and artisanal radio station are gratefully accepted. You can call in a pledge at 505-428-1393 or go to ksfr.org and start the process at the DONATE button in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.
While we do and must fund-raise separately for HERE & THERE, without KSFR FM and ksfr.org as platforms, this program could not exist. Please be generous.
Because we have to devote a lot of time to pitching to our pledgers, the conversations this week are foreshortened from 50-51 minutes to 30-32. Monday and Tuesday are devoted to a review of the 2016 “short session” of the New Mexico Legislature, an exercise conducted in the deep shadow of a budget crisis. The plunge in oil and gas prices has robbed The Land of Enchantment of hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax revenues, and for the first time in 5 years, state spending is actually being reduced, a very hard thing for an impoverished state in which many citizens depend on suddenly “unaffordable” services. My guest for both shows is Matthew Reichbach, the editor of the formidable online news service The NM Political Report. Matt’s knowledge is deep, and his judgments are more than just fair.
On Wednesday and Thursday, my guest is Laura Paskus, one of the state’s premier environmental journalists, now regularly featured on another great online news source NMindepth.com. We talk about the great faux-originalist Antonin Scalia’s last big abandonment of precedent, the gratuitous and destructive intervention that dis-empowered the Obama Administration’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, which will have an immediate effect on northwestern New Mexico.
That’s the same area which has the world’s biggest and most persistent escape plume of methane gas, which is even worse for global warming than CO2. Laura lets us in on the state’s lame efforts to contain methane emissions, and we look at the recent announcement that reparations from 30 years of irresponsible mining of uranium are literally being held hostage to community approval of a re-start for that toxic industry in this beleaguered state.