David Diaz, a former award-winning reporter for WNBC, who now teaches journalism at CUNY, said the changes at WNBC are just another potential blow to the future livelihood of the experienced beat reporter.
“Experience for a long time in this business was an asset,” said Mr. Diaz. “Over the last 8 to 10 years, it’s become a liability. The longer you’re on the air, the more money you make. And the longer you’re on the air, the more you want to exercise your own independent judgment about the validity of stories. Generally speaking, there has been a move toward younger reporters who don’t cost as much. Certainly in this market, WNBC has been the exception.”
Mr. Diaz predicted NBC Local would have to increasingly rely on freelancers, stringers, and neighborhood amateur journalists to fill the extra on-air real estate.
Terry Heaton, an executive with Audience Research and Development (“the Premier Television Branding Company,”) and author of a series of essays titled “TV News in a Postmodern World,” said he approved of NBC’s proactive repositioning. “What they’re doing here I think is terribly smart,” said Mr. Heaton. “The ability to output multiple digital signals is really problematic unless you prepare for it.”
“The tools that have been created for personal media are vastly more superior than most people in professional media care to admit,” said Mr. Heaton. “I think the day may come where the people who do the work for the TV stations are from the community. The rise of independent journalists is a likely scenario. It costs a lot less to employ a stringer than a full-time employee.”
Steve Paulus, the general manager of NY1, said he was skeptical that his soon-to-be competitors could create a 24-hour local news station and maintain their editorial standards without adding more staff.
“They’re talking a lot about 24-hour news, but they’re not talking a lot about how they’re going to ramp up the journalism part. They’re doing more with less, is what it looks like to me.”
Mr. Paulus said that one of the challenges of covering New York City is the vast size of the marketplace. New York 1, he pointed out, covers only New York proper—whereas WNBC is now talking about covering parts of New Jersey, Westchester, Long Island and Connecticut.
“The problem is that to satisfy that huge of an audience, you have to homogenize the newscast,” said Mr. Paulus. “You end up leading with Lindsay Lohan and the fur coat. Or Anna Nicole Smith. Or Joe Buttafuoco. That’s what appeals across the board to everyone. At NY1, we can lead with congestion pricing five days a week, and we know it’s relevant to our entire audience.”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Scarborough had been online, perusing the video content on the Web site of The New York Times. “They are putting things on the Internet that used to be our domain entirely. We’re having to compete in new arenas constantly,” he said.
“But I’m not sitting here wringing my hands over the dreadful future of disseminating information about the world we live in,” he said. “I think there’s a lot to be excited about. We will make adjustments.”