Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Ax Continues Falling...

Layoffs in the media, along with other businesses, in the past few weeks have been coming as fast as rounds from a Thompson machine gun, but the bullet has hit the bullseye at Raycom with deadly results for more journalists, engineers, marketers and production types. They called it "Bloody Tuesday." It really hit home in one of my favorite towns and favorite stations, Memphis' WMC.

Two of their more popular anchors, including one of the main nighttime anchors got pink slipped. One of them, on the day after she commented on the air about how lucky she was to work there. Ouch! Memphis Mediaverse has been following the story. I found this quote from the newly unemployed Bill Lunn the most interesting.

"The standards of journalism have changed since my days as an intern at WBBM-TV in Chicago 20-plus years ago. They will continue to change as budgets grow tighter and tighter. But we are a consumer-driven economy. Demand excellence and you will find it."

I never met Lunn, but everybody I know in Memphis says he's a good guy and a solid journalist. Nighttime co-anchor Donna Davis, along with a sports reporter/anchor were also sent packing.

"Davis got the bad news from her news director, who leaned on her shoulder and cried."

I used to work for that news director, Tracy Rogers. She's a good person, and I know it broke her heart to see them go. A sad footnote to the whole situation is while the three on-air personalities were let go by WMC, WMC, at this writing, plans to enforce the non-compete clauses in their contracts, so they cannot work at any other Memphis station in the near future. Non-compete clauses for broadcasters are illegal in Illinois and Missouri, but are still very much alive in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Closer to home, there were also layoffs at Raycom stations in Jonesboro, Arkansas (KAIT) and Cape Girardeau, MO (KFVS 12) although you couldn't find stories in the Southeast Missourian, or the Jonesboro Sun. Perhaps they've also laid off to the point that they're missing stories. Newspapers have their own problems these days. Maybe worse than TV Stations.

One thing I find interesting, is the quote from WMC general manager Lee Meredith. "For the station to properly position ourselves for the business challenges ahead of us, we have taken the difficult step of making a work force reduction."

In other words, although I'm sure revenue predictions were way off for this year, they anticipate the coming year to be even worse. Not so long ago, election years, especially presidential election years, were cash cows for stations. I remember one year when I was working in television, we had a presidential election, the Olympics and a Super Bowl in the same year! Now THAT was a great Christmas bonus!!!! This year? It didn't work out that way. There wasn't as much political advertising for local stations and many auto dealerships have slashed advertising budgets in the wake of their own problems. Those car dealerships can represent up to 33% of a station's total advertising revenue. The result? Layoffs, no Christmas bonuses, no corporate Christmas parties, and for some, no more job.

While some may argue if local stations improve their product, they might get more viewers and improve ratings, the fact is that it doesn't matter what their ratings are or how many viewers they have, if the advertisers don't spend money with them in the first place. Much more important than the number of viewers, is total revenue.

We'll keep our fingers crossed.

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