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Staff reductions + broadcast = change

For grins, I typed into my Yahoo search engine the phrase, “staff reductions + broadcast.” The result was almost 2 million hits.

While the story headlines listed were primarily about cutbacks at newspapers, there were plenty of broadcaster mentions too. First headline, “The New York Times Company announces staff reductions,” leads to a story about the newspaper cutting 500 staff positions. If you care, those reductions were in addition to the previous staff reductions, which were taken in May of this year.

Other top headlines included, “Chicago Tribune trims 14 percent of news staff,” “BBC to give 3,000 pink slips” and “Era of the celebrity broadcaster fades on local TV." Okay, these are nothing we haven’t hear about, or God forbid, experienced. This got me to thinking about how Broadcast Engineering readers might be dealing with, what at best could be called, troubling times.

At a recent Broadcast Engineering News Technology Summit, Jerry Gumbert, president and CEO of AR&D said, “You can’t do more with less. You can do more by doing differently.” Let’s consider that point for a minute.

Gumbert was saying that it cutting back (typically on staff) won’t automatically allow you to create more products and services. Instead, he suggested that TV stations should reexamine how they do business. And by business, he meant everything from camera operation to news desk assignments to sales everything. While the car companies must be the best (and worst) example of an industry so totally unwillingly to change their manufacturing methods, broadcasters are only slightly more progressive.

In 1985, TV automation was just getting a foothold in stations. At that time, a friend of mine ran MCR at a St. Louis, MO, TV station. He once said, “Master control automation will never work; the process is too complex.” He may have been right then, but today is a different story. Does that TV station have fewer employees today than it did in 1985? I’d bet dinner it does. Does it generate any more channels or new products than it did 23 years ago, probably not.

Business and technology are the yin and yang of television. Business drives the industry. Technology is the enabler of business. But, you can’t operate a TV station without income. And a station can’t broadcast commercials without a transmitter, video server, etc. If these two processes don’t work hand-in-hand, the result is certain disaster. There lies the broadcasters’ dilemma.

Is your station doing the easy thing and simply chopping heads? Or, is management choosing the harder path and asking for new ideas, how the staff can do more things, but differently and thereby generate more products to sell?

It’s easy to fire Mary, John and Sue. It’s much harder to get Louise, the mid-day weathercaster to start an environmental weather blog (which can be sold). Think about the typical weathercaster. While stations spend millions of dollars building, staffing and promoting their weather departments, a station’s image in the area of weather is built on what happens on maybe 25 days out of 365. What is that staff doing the other 340 days? They certainly aren’t covering “breaking” weather. These people have time on their hands. They need to be building new sellable products. The same goes for the news staff.

Engineers, how many times does your station send a truck and reporter off to some location where an political event, robbery, death, press conference, football game or car crash for the 10pm news? It’s night and there’s no one important there, but we see some reporter standing out, in the dark, talking about something that’s many hours old. How worthwhile is that? Does that make a TV station any more money? I suggest it does not.

Three women were recently let go from a local Kansas City TV station. Of course, their claim is that they were discriminated against. I don’t know or care why they were terminated. But I suspect that if any of them had been developing new products, new ideas, something new to sell, instead of standing out in the dark reporting old news, they would still be employed. Instead, these women, based strictly on my own personal viewing, appeared to be doing the same thing everyday probably expecting something different to happen like getting a raise or promotion. Unfortunately, for some people, when that doesn’t work, they sue.

Like every business, broadcasters face tough times, which means making hard choices. Rather than entrenching, reducing staff and cutting spending, the survivors will be those stations who create a new business plan, supported by new products and services. They will succeed because their people will learn how to use technology in new, more efficient and effective ways, creating new things to sell.

I don’t mean to sound Pollyanna. My own company has a hiring and raise freeze. But, every staff member is continually encouraged, pushed and helped to develop new ideas and products. My company is following the suggestion of Jerry Gumbert. Do more, but perhaps differently, on the back of technology with the same resources. Create new products.

Tell me know how things are at your station. What technology are you using in new and exciting ways. Anonymity guaranteed. You can leave a comment below, post it on our Forum or send me an e-mail.