After returning from the National Association of Broadcasters/Radio Television News Directors Association convention in Vegas, I have been haunted by the size of the infrastructure of the industry. The convention center was packed — blimp hangar after blimp hangar and the lots inbetween and meeting rooms all around — with salaries and equipment devoted just to filling a little screen a few minutes a day. Look at the video below — not yet; wait until I tell you — and you will see thousands of salaries walking around — and, of course, they represent a tiny fraction of a percent of the people who work in TV, just those who are sent to conventions in Vegas. There are thousands more like them at home. That will be the death of TV: the unbearable weight of its infrastructure. (I talked about the media infrastructure implosion here and I calculated the savings of a new world of TV practically free of infrastructure here.)
At an RTNDA panel, my pal, panel star Michael Rosenblum, lectured executives and stars of local TV news about this implosion. There was no lighting and so my video of him sucked even more than my usual video (proving the point of the pros, I suppose, and making them smug in their belief that better pixels equal lifetime jobs). And so I put his words on top of random images from the floor of the convention, just to show the number of people, the salaries, the weight of it. Over to you, Michael:
But, of course, it’s not just about the infrastructure of staff and equipment but of culture. Now see a San Francisco anchorman from WPIX TV complain, predictably, about quality and hear Michael’s response (again there was no lighting — as the anchorman pointed out — and my video sucks, but you can get the substance of it; think of this as a transcript with sound, a podcast with wallpaper):
Now go to Michael’s blog as he reacts to my wishful and surely and sadly wrong suggestion that the end of the age of the anchor may be at hand — anchors like that guy. He calculates the real cost of Katie Couric’s $14-million-per-year salary:
The whole concept of ‘anchor’ is a complete waste of time and money.
Where did this come from, this notion of the ‘anchor’?
People seem to believe that the ‘anchor’ gives the newscast some kind of credibility.
After all, we call it, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.
We don’t call it, The New York Times with Tom Friedman, but the New York Times still seems to be pretty credible. And we certainly don’t pay Tom Friedman $14 million a year!
That is a nice sum, $14 million (let the number roll around your tongue for a minute), a year, to work 22 minutes a night, reading what someone else has written for you. By the way, in every other journalistic endeavor we would call that plagiarism. Only in television do we deign to call it ‘journalism’.
There is a rationale that these people somehow earn their pornographic salaries.
What they do instead is strip the true journalistic assets of any newsroom, whether it is local news or network, because that $14 million has to come from somewhere, and it comes from the budget of the news division. How many local news operations work with old equipment, broken vans, ancient editing decks and a skeleton staff so that they can pay the ‘anchors’ their insane salaries?
In short, Katie is infrastructure. Along with all that equipment and those executives and those studios. Michael suggests a better use for the money that buys all that infrastructure: reporting.
Newspapers are fairly simple. You get a bunch of reporters. Pay them a decent salary. You give them pads and pencils. You say, ‘here’s your pencil, there’s the door, see you at 6â€²and they go off and find stories. Works pretty well. (That is why TV news gets its stories from the newspapers, and not the other way round).
We could build a TV newsroom based on a newspaper. We could, for argument’s sake, take 100 great journalists, give them small HD camcorders and laptops and say ‘here’s your camera, there’s the door, see you at 6, and send them all over the world. They could upload their stories and feed them to a web site, 24 hours a day. Refreshing all the time. With text and video and sound… Live and podcast and VOD.
Really kind of a digital model for journalism for the future, don’t you think?
And it would not cost all that much.
Let’s say we paid each of our 100 reporters, $140,000 a year. That’s a pretty good salary. You would attract a lot of talent. Real reporting talent.
Where would you get the money from?
Well, let’s take the $14 million you’re paying Katie Couric and guess what… you’re there.
What, really, do you think gives you better journalism?
And then get rid of some of that unnecessary equipment and layers of production and management and imagine how much more you could spend on journalism. Of course, it wouldn’t all fit in 22 minutes a day. But to hell with those 22 minutes. Feed the web with reporting.
If you get rid of the presses and the trucks and the broadcast towers and the headquarters buildings and the fancy equipment and the old-time stars, if you kill the infrastructure, you are left with more resources for journalism — and savings in the face of reduced revenue in a suddenly competitive marketplace — and the bottom line is a and more efficient and sustainable business.
Infrastructure is the enemy of journalism.
Ah, but you say, what about editors and correspondents? If they’re vital, they’re not infrastructure. If they are not vital, then they are merely expenses and you must get rid of them.
Infrastructure is the enemy.