Open Mic

Note to Readers from TVWeek.com Managing Director

Chuck Ross Posted June 1, 2009 at 10:20 AM

I'm Chuck Ross, the editorial director and publisher of TelevisionWeek and TVWeek.com. If you're reading this in our print edition, it's the last column I'll write, as today we publish the last regularly scheduled print edition of TelevisionWeek. If you are reading this at TVWeek.com, it's the first of many blogs I'm planning to write.

Regardless if you are at this moment holding the paper edition or looking at a computer or PDA screen, let's get the commercial message out of the way: This column is being presented by Debmar-Mercury and its new syndicated comedy "Meet the Browns." "Tyler Perry and TBS have turned the traditional sitcom model on its head with hit comedies like 'Meet the Browns' and 'House of Payne,'" Mort Marcus, co-president of Debmar-Mercury, has said, and local TV audiences are in for quite a treat when Debmar-Mercury starts syndicating "Meet the Browns" next year.

Tomorrow, by the way, my blog at TVWeek.com will be presented to you by a network that attracts the Type-H male viewer that advertisers crave: a business owner, a proud father and into wine, not beer. So if you're a marketer--or media planner or buyer working for a marketer during this upfront season--and if this male viewer is one you need to reach--you know where to look: The History Channel.

So, whatd'ya think? Do these commercial messages, presented this way, bother you? In fact, we did NOT really sell the sponsorship of this column to Debmar or the History Channel. But, quite frankly, don't be surprised if such sponsorships eventually become commonplace. And the way I've just presented them, embedded in this piece, is probably nothing like any print advertising you've seen before-but it's nothing that's particularly new or revolutionary. It's a sponsorship format that I've stolen from TV's first newscasts over 50 years ago-and those guys were just copying what had been done for years and years before that on radio.

By the mid-1950s, about 40 million people a week were tuning into NBC's live, signature evening newscast. Here's a partial transcript of the newscast that was broadcast on April 18, 1955:

"Ladies and gentlemen, a good evening to you. This is John Cameron Swayze reporting the news for the biggest car of the low-priced three, Plymouth."

An announcer then said, "Plymouth, the car that's making news, presents the Plymouth News Caravan. The excitement, the drama, of today's news today, produced for Plymouth by NBC."

Mr. Cameron--and his Washington D.C. correspondent, a young reporter named David Brinkley--then proceeded to deliver the nightly news, with placards on their desks reading "Plymouth presents" and their names.

When it was time for the first commercial, Mr. Swayze intoned, "Now, to New York's famous hotel Waldorf-Astoria for important news about Plymouth." What follows looked like another news story about a Plymouth press conference.

At the end of the 15-minute newscast Mr. Swayze said, "Well, that's the story folks. Glad we could get together. Remember to tune into the Camel News Caravan at this time tomorrow night, brought to you by Camel. No other cigarette is as rich tasting, yet so mild as Camel. Now this is John Cameron Swayze saying goodnight for the all new '55 Plymouth, the biggest car of the low-priced three."

I dwell on this because advertising is germane to what's going on here at TVWeek. We announced last month that in the current environment there isn't enough advertising demand to support any more print editions of this publication after today. From here on out, after a rich publishing heritage that's lasted 27 years thus far, TelevisionWeek will exist virtually exclusively online at our longtime Internet address www.TVWeek.com.

As most of you know, TVWeek has not published a hard copy on a weekly basis for more than a year--there just hasn't been advertiser demand that we do so. Thus on many weeks we've been available with a digital online edition only. In fact, the interests of our readership has long demanded that we publish news daily at TVWeek.com, which we've been doing and will continue to do.

Too often these days you'll read that such-and-such a publication has gone exclusively online, discontinuing its print edition "to better serve our readers." We find that justification suspicious. What publisher would not rather still have a healthy print publication as well as a robust Web site, with considerable advertising support for both?

Our journey over the past two-and-a-half decades isn't particularly different than that traveled by many publications--and is shorter than many, longer than some. For most of our lifespan we were known as Electronic Media, and primarily served the syndicated TV marketplace. But due primarily to consolidation--consolidation on both the TV station ownership side as well as on the program producer side--we've gotten fewer and fewer ads for syndication. We broadened our ad base considerably over the last several years, but still came up short.

So we will carry on online. Some of you may be wondering why we are doing even doing that.

We are doing so because we fervently believe in the necessity of the journalistic endeavor. More than a decade ago the prestigious Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism came up with this definition of the purpose of journalism: "to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society."

Of course here at TVWeek we aren't doing something as high-minded as that. But we ardently believe that we serve a similar high-minded purpose for the professionals in the TV business: we provide you with the accurate and reliable information you need to do your jobs better.

And if real journalistic coverage of the business of TV on a regular basis disappears, there will be five people--or 45 people--who will have enough of an interest to blog about what you do on a daily or even hourly basis. And maybe they'll get it right and maybe they won't, and who knows what self- interests they'll bring to the table.

Don't get us wrong--we have a number of folks who blog for us today and we'll have more in the future--but the blogs need to be tempered by the accompaniment of real journalism, and we will continue to do that.

As we make this transition we'll be losing a few more staffers, and that's always painful. Greg Baumann, our editor since the spring of 2006, will be leaving, and we will miss him. Greg's done a tremendous job during a very trying period.

Our executive editor, Tom Gilbert, will be staying, as will our deputy editor and blogger, Joe Adalian, who becomes editor of TVWeek.com. And I'll be staying as the managing director of TVWeek.com and all of our online products.

Our monthly NewsPro section of TVWeek has always been popular with our TV-station newsroom and cable-news readership, and it's been a success story on the ad side as well. So, as we've previously announced, NewsPro will be spun off as its own print publication starting in August. Mr. Gilbert will also run it. Online you can still find NewsPro as part of TVWeek.com.

We will continue to produce live events when we believe we can make a needed contribution. For example, our Upfront Summit at the Roosevelt Hotel in April was a major success. We'll also bring you webinars of topics that are of interest to you, and write a white-paper online when a subject matter demands one.

Will we make it online? Right now we have a vigorous online readership. Furthermore, we've gotten commitments from enough advertisers to keep us going online for the next year or so. We are grateful for their support of the kind of journalism we do. And don't be surprised, as we work with our advertisers to present their messages to you, that we may try some creative new approaches, including some new ideas, as we mentioned at the top of this column, that are 50 years old. Let me know what you think.

In the premiere issue of this publication, published on May 3, 1982, our editor-in-chief, Rance Crain, and his top editors wrote: "Our exclusive niche will be defined as the wide range of electronic media, in all its new, old and emerging forms. We believe in the need for a publication that will blow away all the smoke and pull together, in a meaningful and useful way, the relationships involved."

That continues to be our guiding principle at TVWeek.com.

See you online.

Sincerely,

Chuck Ross