Abrams: TV News Needs Less Plastic, More God?

Tribune Co. Innovation Chief Lee Abrams is clearly more focused on the Tribune's 25 television stations than he is the newspapers right now. And, judging from his latest think pieces, he's not at all happy with the appearance of the company's anchors. In a recent piece, he decried the fact that female anchors dressed so conservatively. In this latest screed, he moves on to the anchors' faces. To wit:

"Since we're all about brutal honesty: We looked at the photos of your anchors on the wall. They're SO plastic looking," Abrams writes. "I'm all for attractive and intelligent, but the photos undermine that. They look like cardboard cutouts. Soul less. More akin to an 8x10 glossy of The Captain and Tennile<sic> in 1977 than modern TV journalists."

The TV news industry, he writes, is a parody of itself ("Man, do we BS!") and it needs to look at new models. Two suggestions from Abrams: Adult Swim and the Sci Fi Channel. Another suggestion Abrams shares is one from the Tribune station in Sacramento, FOX40-KTXL. Abrams copies an email circulated at that station urging staffers to do more pieces on religion.

"People say you shouldn't talk about politics or religion," writes FOX40 news director Brandon Mercer. "In newsrooms, we clearly have no problem about politics, but when it comes to religion, this old advice is more than just a misguided set of manners. It has become a cardinal rule. Newsrooms are so afraid of speaking words like Jesus, Elohim, Moroni, and Allah that reporters rarely cover some of the most meaningful stories in our viewers' lives."  

Abrams also reports that the Tribune station in South Florida, WSFL, is worth seeing: "These guys are on fire...burning the old playbook and writing the new one. In EVERY area. The channel wont have music...it'll have a soundtrack that reeks South Florida...they have done one important thing: Assumed that EVERYTHING on TV is WRONG until proven right."

The entire piece can be read after the jump.

 

February 06, 2009

THINK PIECE: THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED...IF WE LET IT


The revenue crisis in TV is real. But there's a creative crisis just as real that you don't hear much about. We need to tackle BOTH. And start to challenge the accepted style of presentation broadcast TV stations are painfully addicted to. We need to have the same attitude toward presentation innovation as we do to tech innovation. Harsh? Sure. But there's no time for denial at this point in time.

I've been on a continual road trip. A goal is to help inspire a new kind of local Television. Being brutally honest, I was at one of our well performing, professional and well run stations but saw nothing but opportunity as in this visit summary where I encouraged them to park egos and pride at the door and take a hard look not only at themselves but the state of local TV. I suggested:

You guys are close to it. I'm not. But I can assure you that local TV presentation is extraordinarily out of sync with 2009 America. Not the shows, but the image and presentation of the station on a local level. Its NOT you...its EVERY station. If you had that reality check meeting I described at the Sun Sentinel,(from last year where we blew up myths and secrets) I guarantee you guys too would have everyone raising their hands at how silly stations including yourselves are. Lets call them "TV secrets". We need to be bold enough to deal with the reality before a) someone else does or, b) its too late.

Since we're all about brutal honesty: We looked at the photos of your anchors on the wall. They're SO plastic looking. I'm all for attractive and intelligent, but the photos undermine that. They look like cardboard cutouts. Soul less. More akin to a n 8x10 glossy of The Captain and Tennile in 1977 than modern TV journalists. And I'll bet most of the anchors are actually strong performers and journalists. The photos work hard at diminishing any cred. We gotta tear away that layer of Bullshit that permeates every local TV station in America. And YOU GUYS can do it...IF you want to. It costs nothing. It's all about creating the culture to revolutionize, and executing a NEW vision. Not easy, but I am here to help.

Cant kinda do it--gotta DO it so its noticeable and dramatic. Nothing to lose, your lineup is in tact, you have a nice audience. I'm saying lets blow up the TV playbook and create the new one to better support your shows and your viewers with less culturally insulting TV (sorry---its not you...its ALL local TV) and deliver something that screams (YOUR CITY)....in 2009. Instead of screaming Anywhere USA plastic disposable focus group Television.

I can only speak to the opportunity we spoke of yesterday. Please take that very seriously. Its maddening the barriers we run into. I can't stress enough that there's a dramatic culture shift happening in America and most local tv stations are a parody of themselves. I say that with respect for the industry and people, but with a huge red flag that we simply must evolve from the lame, circa 1988 imaging we project. Watch onion tv...slick and well done...and a goof on the state of TV in America. We have to liberate ourselves as we have in print.

This industry believes its own bullshit--that we're important, edgy, "the best", in it for you. And its all BS. If we accept that, we can move on and do something about it that'll drive your brands into the new century on YOUR terms.

Instead of listing all of the elements of image reinvention proposed, I think it all boils down to you guys stepping out and taking it seriously. It's not optional arts and crafts...its part of surviving and remaining relevant in the emerging Hulu era.

...this is NOT a slam at the TV Industry...its a wake up call to re-claim Americas eyes. WE HAVE THE TALENT TO DO THIS. In the newsrooms, edit suites,...everywhere. Lets be the ones that DO something about the cookie cutter sameness that is quite honestly, and I think we all know it, WAY below the quality and vision we are capable of delivering


A big problem is that I don't think we should be looking at other local TV stations for inspiration. That's not where it is. we need to expand ourselves. Maybe it's Adult Swim or the Sci Fi Channel. The point being that there's more to learn about the future on YouTube than on the competing TV stations who are likely stuck in the same invention rut that everyone is. Looking at other stations is blind leading the blind. Everyone is still working off the old playbook.

Another big problem is that we are delivering BS at a time when people are just too media savvy to buy it. You know, if we did a contest for say, a cruise giveaway and said: "Cool cruise, but you know, there's about a 1 in 2 million chance you'll actually win...BUT--its a cool cruise and what the heck--enter..." instead of "NOW! YOU CAN WIN THE SUPER CRUISE IN THE SUPER CRUISE GIVAWAY. REGISTER NOW" you'll get more traction. TRUTH or should I say ZERO BS is powerful...but man, do we BS!

Then there are myths about reinventing. In the past, TV reinventions have tended to be:

FUNNY: It's hard to be funny and it usually fails. Maybe we should leave funny to the pros. Reminds me of when I used to critique morning radio shows. The hosts would be on the floor, but everyone else was thinking "huh? Lame. Not to say we shouldn't be funny, but it has to happen naturally...cant force it.

BLUE: Again, TRYING to be blue will probably backfire. You just have to be REAL...if something REAL is blue...fine.

YOUTH SKEW: Going TOO far in the Paris DUI direction. It has its place, but you'll probably come off mildly insulting to anyone over 30.

One station that has committed itself to complete reinvention is WSFL in South Florida. These guys are on fire...burning the old playbook and writing the new one. In EVERY area. The channel wont have music...it'll have a soundtrack that reeks South Florida...they have done one important thing:

Assumed that EVERYTHING currently on TV is WRONG until proven right. Currently the mind set is that everything is right, therefore new ideas go through WAY too much research and over thinking...and either:

a) Get watered down so one notices outside of the building

b) Is a small part of a traditional picture that again, doesn't get noticed

c) The "change will hurt us" myth kicks in and its back to 80s TV.

..and you probably saw that the #1 "testing" Superbowl spot cost 2k to produce. Kinda blows a hole in the "we cant be creative with less money" argument. Maybe America is tired of the hyper expensive and slick stuff...

INTERESTING FLASHBACK:


"Imagine if you will sitting down to your morning coffee turning on your home computer to read the day's newspaper."

1981 primitive Internet report on KRON

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WCTn4FljUQ


ODDLY ENOUGH A BALANCED REPORT FROM THE FREQUENTLY SKEWED NPR ON THE HARTFORD COURANT:

http://www.npr.org/templates/player/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=100256908&m=100272905

TWO NOTES WORTH SPEADING AROUND FROM DANIEL HONIGMAN AT TRIBUNE INTERACTIVE AND FROM BRAD MURCER AT FOX40 SACRAMENTO:

The Colonel Tribune Twitter campaign was a runner-up for a Shorty Award in the news category .

The Shorty Awards are new, but they're given out to the best Twitter accounts in a given category. Folks nominate the accounts they want, and there's a final vote. We came in 4th place. (Granted, the other accounts had pretty massive PR campaigns going for them.)

Anyway, just wanted to give you a heads-up. Could be a bullet point in your next post, Lee.


Agree or not with this item below, they're THINKING:
______________________________________________

From: Mercer, Brandon

Sent: Monday, November 10, 2008 8:34 PM

Subject: for the weekly email: FAITH MATTERS to FOX40

1. VIRAL VIDEO: We have an on-air reporter who does 4 daily reports in our morning show giving viewers that "must-see"/"must-share" video each morning. She shows the video, then reminds viewers that the daily dose of viral video is in her blog, one of the tops on our site

http://www.fox40.com/pages/annalee

2. MUSIC: We do a local blog on music. http://www.fox40.com/pages/fox_rocks www.fox40.com/pages/fox_rocks>

3. RELIGION AND "FAITH MATTERS": We run a regular segment on issues of faith and how they impact people. We have an email address "faithmatters@fox40.com" and we've told churches and religious groups that we want their stories.

Why TV News Anchors Never Talk about 'Jesus'....

(unless someone sees an image on a French Fry)

People say you shouldn't talk about politics or religion. In newsrooms, we clearly have no problem talking about politics, but when it comes to religion, this old advice is more than just a misguided set of manners. It has become a cardinal rule.

Newsrooms are so afraid of speaking words like Jesus, Elohim, Moroni, and Allah that reporters rarely cover some of the most meaningful stories in our viewers' lives.

Most newsroom staffs don't know that:

90% of Americans believe in a god or God

83% of Americans pray every week

47% of Americans attend church every single weekend

21% of Americans attend a Catholic church

SOURCE: Barna Research Group

Now think about this:

Why is it that the only time TV cameras show up at places of worship is after a crime or disaster?

It's time for a new look at what is news. The issues facing churches and religious institutions are far more interesting and relevant than the predictable stuff most local newscasts run.

Faith Matters to FOX40

FOX40 is launching a new commitment to covering faith and how it impacts our lives and our communities. Here are some examples of what could be covered in this new initiative:

College students distributing the Quran at the state fair

New TSA policies for searching Sikh turbans

What the Bible does and doesn't say about gay marriage, and how it applies to Prop 8

Can belief in Jesus turn a criminal's life around?

Is "Jedi" a real religion?

Is it really possible to lose weight by praying?

So why does FOX40 News matter to you?

We want to cover your stories.

We're looking beyond crimes and fires, for stories that truly affect people.

If you have an amazing story to tell... email or call us.

If you see an issue that people should know about... email or call us.

If you want to tell people about the wonderful things going on in your community... email or call us.

faithmatters@fox40.com

Example:

http://www.fox40.com/pages/video/?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=3269081


...Time to examine ourselves and create the new standard than trying to outdo the other guys which will likely result in a spinning circle of average...at a time when average won't push us forward. When this economy improves, WE will be the ones in position to score because we are the ones that balance economic realities with the equally important reality of relevence through innovation.

Posted by Lee at February 6, 2009 08:30 AM


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