Thursday, March 04, 2010

Death Watch

For those who toil in the mainstream media, these are times that try men's (and women's) souls.

Saying the dinosaur media is in trouble is the equivalent of saying the Titanic had a bit of a problem with an ice berg. Across the media landscape, "traditional" outlets are in trouble, bleeding red ink and shedding employees in a desperate effort to help the bottom line.

If you need more evidence, look no further than ABC News. Quite frankly, a lot of media companies would gladly trade places with ABC, which has a wealthy corporate parent (Disney) and programs (World News; Good Morning America) which finish second in their time slots and generate modest profits.

But that isn't good enough. Last week, ABC News President David Westin announced that his division was cutting 20% of its workforce, in an effort to save money and improve profitability. Additionally, ABC will shutter its various news bureaus around the country (except for Washington, D.C.) and slash the number of journalists covering flyover country. The Los Angeles bureau, now home to six correspondents, will soon have only two, with a corresponding decrease in producers and technicians as well.

And for those that remain in the down-sized bureaus, their accomodations will change as well. ABC's regional newsrooms will now share space with their local stations. That means the network's Chicago bureau will be housed at WLS-TV, while the Los Angeles staff moves into the complex owned by the local affiliate, KABC-TV.

As you've probably heard, the network types typically look down their noses at the "locals," who are viewed more as entertainers or "personalities," rather than serious journalists. So, the local ABC news departments won't exactly greet their network breathern with open arms. If you're part of a domestic ABC bureau outside D.C. (and you still have a job), congratulations: we hope you enjoy your new digs in the broom closet or the basement. Local anchors, producers and news executives who've been turned down for network jobs--or snubbed by ABC News "royalty"--have been waiting for this opportunity for years.

But the folks at ABC aren't the only ones experiencing hard times. In February, CNN just suffered its lowest audience ratings in four years, and its smallest viewership in the 25-54 demographic in almost a decade. To be fair, those numbers were registered against the Winter Olypmics opening ceremony on NBC and its affiliated cable networks. But CNN's decline began well before MSNBC got its recent Olympics "bounce."

And the trend for March doesn't look much better. HotAirPundit has the cable news numbers for last night (originally posted at TVNewser), and they are stunning to say the least. At 8 pm, The O'Reilly Factor pulled in roughly 10 times the audience of Campbell Brown on CNN. And, if that isn't embarassing enough, Ms. Brown's program usually runs dead last in the time slot, ranking behind the noxious Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and Nancy Grace's nightly crimefest on HLN.

Still, the folks at NBC should resist the temptation to break out the champagne. Despite tons of favorable publicity (and countless cross-network marketing efforts) Olbermann has only one-quarter of O'Reilly's total audience, and Bill kills him in the demo as well. In fact, Olberman is also getting clobbered by Nancy Grace, who beats him in viewers between the ages of 25 and 54. While Olbermann still beats HLN and CNN in total viewers, recent reports suggest his act is wearing thin at MSNBC and the network's new owners (Comcast) may be planning to dump their "star" host.

Traditional media types are quick to blame the internet and the economy for their problems, and there's an element of truth in that. But it's also true that some media outlets are dong quite well in the on-line age and still attract a significant audience. You don't need to be a TV executive to understand that FNC is crushing the competition in cable news, and generating a tidy profit, to boot.

In a recent profile, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes affirmed that his channel is on track to deliver $700 million in profits to the News Corporation bottom line this year, and he sees $1 billion in annual profits in the near future. Not bad for a new outlet that was given virtually no chance for success when it launched 14 years ago. As a comparison, FNC's profits are greater than those of CNN, MSNBC and the three network evening newscasts combined.

My, my how times have changed. I'll bet a lot of "professional" journalists who once sneered at Fox are now calling their friends at the news channel, and asking them to put in a good word. As the MSM dinosaurs die a slow, agonizing death, Fox is (if you'll pardon our analogy) looking like an alligator: tough, dominant and built to last.


chrisale said...

Fox has perfected the truism.... "Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story"

The MSM isn't dying at the hands of Fox, Fox News is simply joining the MSM.

What is dying is journalism. That will, for now, be the sole domain of bloggers (that are actually interested in fact anyway), independent news outlets and freelancers.

Vigilis said...

Nice post with excellent points.

For today's journalists to rejuvenate their profession, some (myself included) believe higher standards are necessary:

1) Journalists must either possess expertise (experience or degreed credentials) in matters upon which they report, or disclose their inexpertise to the public.

2) Also absent in much of what masquerades as today’s journalistic 'quality' is routine reporting of contrary assessments by dissenting experts.

Until then, people calling themselves reporters had better turn to door-to-door advertising to fund their pulp.

Jackrabbit said...

"Fair and Balanced" should not be a revolutionary mission statement.

There is no competition for Fox.