T Dog Media Blog Think Tank: Local media blows it again

From the blog that gave you “The NHL blows it again” and “Radio blows it again”, now we proudly present “Local media blows it again.”

Yes, we now have a “blows it again” franchise.

As you know by now, Amy Jacobson, a reporter for NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in Chicago was fired from her job after a video surfaced of her at Craig Stebic’s house in Plainfield wearing a bikini top and a towel wrapped around her waist. That video that was submitted to CBS-owned WBBM-TV a rival of WMAQ’s. (It’s not NBC 5 or CBS 2, people. Enough with this branding crap.)

She appeared on radio shows on Wednesday and was interviewed by Robert Feder of the Chicago Sun-Times, who broke the story on Tuesday.

Craig Stebic is the husband of missing woman Lisa Stebic, who vanished two months ago. Mr. Stebic is a controversial figure in this case because he has not cooperated with authorities, though he is not a prime suspect. The couple was going through a divorce. They also have two children.

Jacobson apologized, but defended her actions. She says that she got a call from a relative, asking her to come over and discuss the case. Ms. Jacobson, who was with her two children at the time, was own way to a health club on the city’s north side.

So she went to Plainfield – with her kids in tow – to the Stebic house – 40 miles away – the same distance that separates Baltimore from Washington D.C. to do a story. She told Feder, “It was a way for me to do my work and to have fun with my kids”.

First of all, it was her day off. Who works on their day off? To paraphrase a quote from the movie “Friday”, (ironically, the day all of this occurred) “How can you get fired – on your day off?” She should have gone home, popped in a DVD of “Friday”, and hung out with Chris Tucker and Ice Cube.

What she was going to prove by getting a scoop on her day off? By being a fool?

Couldn’t Jacobson have told them that she was off, chillin’ at the crib with the kids, and talk about the case when she was on the clock? She’s not an intern. Why drag your kids out to a place where they sure as hell they don’t want to go? And yeah, you can do a story in a bikini top. That’s real professional. A lot of people get messed up by mixing business with pleasure.

And she broke journalism ethics in the first place by getting too close to a subject of the story. The Stebics said that she was an ally in this story, in this situation. That’s not a journalist’s job. Your job is to report the story and that’s it. Nobody’s paying you to become a victim’s advocate. The public isn’t interested in that.

This brings us to our next aspect of the story: the tape.

When Jacobson was in the Stebic talking on a cell phone, someone next door shot video of her. That video was sent to WBBM-TV, a rival station and they did what Potsie was told to do on Happy Days – sit on it – for four days. That’s wasn’t cool, according to The Fonz.

On Tuesday, station officials decided to air the tape (raw video) and put it online, where it has received close to 200,000 hits. After that video aired on Tuesday night, Amy Jacobson was released from her reporting duties at WMAQ.

Carol Fowler, the station’s news director, told Feder: “This is a tape that fell into our lap,” “It was certainly provocative, but I wasn’t sure we were going to do anything with it. A lot of questions had to be asked before we put it on the air. . . . We didn’t see much compelling reason [to air it] because it wasn’t germane to anything in the case.”

But when Feder and Tribune media reporter Phil Rosenthal reported that a tape was circulating around, WBBM aired it anyway.

Jacobson, in her interviews, called the move by WBBM “a cheap shot”, and said that “Channel 2 took extreme measures to get me off the story.

WBBM didn’t reveal where it got the tape.

So why did WBBM decide to air the tape? For a ratings advantage?

Yours truly thinks so (well, duh?)

And let’s not let WMAQ-TV off the hook, either. While WMAQ was right to discipline Jacobson, they went too far by firing her. A simple suspension would have been sufficed.

These scenarios reminds me why most young viewers like me don’t watch local news. We expect crap like this from Fox News and CNN, but local news is different. They connect to our communities. Or at least they used to. To sum it up: Everybody involved in this – from Jacobson to the management at both stations screwed up. Three wrongs don’t make a right. Young audiences gave up on local TV news (and local radio) long ago. No wonder more of us watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His fake newscasts are better and more informative than any “real” local newscast.

WBBM’s decision to run that tape was totally bush-league. Stations usually don’t take lobs at each other. That may work with Fox News and CNN and their nonsense, but not here with our stations. We don’t play that game here in Chicago. We don’t go there.

And it’s not like both WBBM and WMAQ have had ethical lapses themselves over the years. Submitted for your review: WBBM’s erroneous reporting on the shooting death of Fred Hampton in 1969 (those “bullet holes” in his apartment turned out to be ordinary holes in a wall); The station’s decision to cover a “pot party” in 1971; Harry Porterfield’s firing in 1985; Giselle Fernandez’s speed boat date with a drug dealer in 1988; and then news director Bill Applegate’s decision to introduce tabloid newscasts in the early 1990’s, not to mention Jerry Springer showing up at WMAQ to do commentary ten years ago.

Yes, yours truly reached back to 1969 to point out this isn’t a new problem.

And then there’s weathercaster and licensed pilot Jim Tilmon, who set a benchmark by unjustly getting fired from both stations.

You can say WBBM-TV is the Chicago Blackhawks of broadcasting, since the public don’t seem to care for neither. Both have had glory days until stupid decisions ruined them both. You sure Bill Wirtz isn’t running this station a well as WMAQ?

There’s a reason why WLS-TV is number one in the news ratings. They win by default. They’ve dominated the market for 21 years and will do so for another 21 (they somehow managed to survive the awful “Happy Talk” format in the ‘70’s that featured weathercaster John Coleman, who often brought a live turkey to the set at Thanksgiving. Oy!) WLS is at least doing something right.

Meanwhile, WBBM and WMAQ’s news operations pretty much reflect the inept management at NBC and CBS. NBC has a lousy prime-time lineup and executives like Jeff Zucker and Kevin Reilly (who has since moved on to Fox) who make Fred Silverman’s time at the network (in the ’70’s) look like a success. Whoever thought that two bombs from that era, Pink Lady and Jeff and Supertrain, would be better received than much of the network schedule now? (Actually, those two stinkers weren’t well received at all.) Yep, NBC is partying like it’s 1980 over there, with the chimp from BJ and the Bear serving as guest of honor.

CBS isn’t anything home to write about, either. Look at the low ratings for WCKG-FM and for Jack (WJMK). And don’t get me started on Les Moonves. How many CSIs are on the network schedule again? Remember, this is a network that was screwed up by former owner and penny-pincher Larry Tisch and is now only starting to recover. In fact, WBBM started falling apart right around the time he took over the network. CBS should have been better off being sold to Ted Turner, who tried to mount a takeover of the network.

After reading blogs’ comments section about this story, you can feel a lot of anger and mistrust with traditional media. On Eric Zorn’s blog, there were nearly 1,000 comments made about the Jacobson story, and most of them were negative. Local television has let them down, and the brain trust doesn’t seem to care.

The network news and the cable news channels are no better, where propaganda is the order of the day. Shoutfests, finger-pointing, and downright mean behavior is common on these shows. And it’s for… you guessed it. Ratings. What does it say when your biggest cable news star is someone everybody hates? (Initials – B.O. Yes, I went there.)

The television and radio businesses keep taking their audiences for granted. Both are losing audience share to other media (the Internet, DVDs, iPods, etc.), and the suits are panicking. They don’t know what to do. So they get desperate. They stunt for ratings. But they backfire, and badly. Remember what happened to that mother of two in Sacramento last year in that radio stunt where she drank all that water? She’s no longer walking with the living.

As a result, radio and television and their executives have a poor image with the majority of the public, especially among young audiences. But as long as that money keeps rolling in – through higher ad rates, unnecessary expansion of local news, and more and more commercials, nothing is going to change. And viewers and listeners are taking their act elsewhere.

From Vince McMahon’s “death” to Chris Benoit’s real death, from Howard McGee’s firing to the cancellation of Studio 60 and Veronica Mars (and the renewals of junk like National Bingo Night), from to high gas prices, to poor transit service to the shameful antics of FCC and the RIAA, one could wonder if the public is getting fed up with being treated like shit. How much more screwing over the public can take before we reach a boiling point? I think we’re close to it, and when it’s reached, it’s not going to be a pretty sight.

Television and radio executives – especially here in Chicago – you better wake up before it’s too late. The next generation of media users are already ignoring you. You not as invincible as you think.


1 thought on “T Dog Media Blog Think Tank: Local media blows it again

Comments are closed.