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KRONic Complaints 

A media chain buys a local television station. Employees worry. Oh, the horror.

Wednesday, Feb 7 2001
The video-editing machines at San Francisco's KRON television have been whirring double time during the past few weeks as on-camera staffers prepare tape résumés for stations from New Brunswick to Tacoma. They're scared witless that the station's new owner, Young Broadcasting Inc., will turn the KRON news operation into a glitzy-set, reporter-lean version of infotainment.

"They haven't communicated with us very well," says one source. "The transition's been hard on a lot of people. The pressure's been felt throughout the station. For one thing, we have no programming -- what are they going to fill the 24 hour news station with?"

Young Broadcasting bought KRON from the bizarre, secretive, feuding Tobin-Thieriot, Martin, and McEvoy clans as part of an asset reorganization accompanying the sale of the San Francisco Chronicle to the Hearst Corp. The Young chain is not known for top-drawer news programming, despite recently adopting the moniker "the 24 hour news station" for its KRON property. The KRON staff grows more troubled by the day.

"People are fearful for their jobs, and they're fearful of what this new vision means," our source says. "Morale's an issue. I've seen lots of reporters getting their reels together. Several have mentioned to me that they want to leave."

Which truly sucks. It would be just like those dirty rotten media chains to buy up our local patrimony, make employees really nervous, and otherwise assault the quality of life for the good citizens of the San Francisco Bay Area. Corporate chains can just cxxxxchtzzzzzzzzzzzzzzp tsuj nac sniahc etaroproc aerayab ocsicnarf ...(1)

Whoa Nellie! Stop this column and rewind for a moment. The week-in, week-out pressure of coming up with new opinions must've temporarily shorted a few of my circuits. Of all the San Francisco, knee-jerk points of view, lashing out at corporate chains is one of the most jerkiest, and kneeiest, and, sometimes, wrong-headedest there is. As for lamenting the possible fate of television "news" personalities, well, that just plain oughtn't be done. For them, a bad fate is not bad enough.

So allow us to interrupt our regularly scheduled column for some important announcements.

Journalism is the universal force. It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.(2) Because it is through news that people now perceive the greater part of their world, journalism is the modern Tao. Like a birthing tunnel that encompasses all of space, it is the source of the universe, just as it is the universe.

Television is the Dark Side of this force. Whereas the print side thrives through truth and enlightenment, the Dark Side rules through ignorance and fear. Whereas print offers feature stories about science, economics, and the evolution of the human spirit, the Dark Side offers video clips of traffic accidents and pets.

Dark Side practitioners bully their beetle-eyed cameras to the front at news events. They're bossy with interview subjects, as if they were doing the interviewees a favor. At journalism graduate programs they stand out like Mormon missionaries in Mogadishu; they're the surreally incurious ones who dress for class as if for dates. The Dark Force of television is to be vanquished, not preserved. The idea that an out-of-state chain might Disney-fy one of our local television stations isn't the tragedy S.F. commentators have suggested it is; rather, if the naysayers are right, and Young Broadcasting spells doom for KRON, it means there will be one less Dark Side satellite to obstruct journalism's final triumph.

As for the complaint that news quality supposedly suffers under media chains -- that's plain bunk. There nowadays exists a feckless career path called "professor of media studies" where academics scam a living by repeating the following chestnut: When media outlets are absorbed by corporate chains, editors change the slant of the stories to please advertisers; then there're more media outlet purchases, more toadying, more substandard journalism. Etc.

These analyses tend to be offered bereft of any actual observation of the true behavior of real media outlets. But among San Francisco Bay Area dailies, for example, there is no consistent correlation, either negative or positive, between chain ownership and journalistic quality. The San Jose Mercury News, owned by the Knight Ridder chain, is the area's best daily newspaper. The Los Angeles Times, owned by the (Chicago) Tribune Co., is the state's best. The Bay Area's second most consistently cruddy news operation is owned by the justly loathed ANG chain, while the cruddiest is the Fang family's "independent" paper cluster. Among alternative weeklies, the best journalism is done by the New Times chain, with papers in San Francisco and (prospectively) the East Bay, and Metro Newspapers, with papers in San Jose and Santa Cruz. San Francisco's "independent" alternative weekly, the Bay Guardian, meanwhile, is a journalistic laughingstock most noted for being the region's most egregious low-pay media sweatshop.

Some media chains revere editorial content; others don't. Likewise with independents. It's that simple.

Now, there's hardly anybody outside the dark world of television who'll argue that KRON is the embodiment of the Bay Area's highest journalistic standards. It's true, I suppose, that things could get worse there. But the mere fact that an out-of-state chain took the place over from the quarreling Tobin-Thieriots, Martins, and McEvoys says absolutely nothing about whether things will get worse.

With that made clear, we now return to our regularly scheduled column programming.

"... KRON was like a family, and the previous owners treated it like a family. It was not so corporate, I suppose," says our source, wistfully.

Worse, the source laments, is the weak signal of KNTV, the San Jose station that will take over KRON's NBC programs in 2002, and won't reach northern parts of San Francisco and much of Marin County. "There will be parts that don't get ER, Friends, all of that," our source laments.

And that, dear readers, really is a story. Can you imagine those Peter Pan-esque hot tub-humping yuppies in Marin County deprived of watching those Peter Pan-esque couch-humping yuppies on Friends? If you can, perhaps you're seeing what I'm seeing: Donna Karan-and-Birkenstock-wearing lynch mobs toting torches and pitchforks, streaming across the Golden Gate Bridge and toward San Jose.

Concerned, I contacted Bruce Lindgren, a marketing consultant retained by KNTV.

It's true? No Friends on Marin County's air?

"Everyone with cable will get it. But you're right. Right now coverage is going to be a little spotty," Lindgren explains, gamely. "But you know, a long, long time ago, I had a bachelor pad on a hill in Tiburon. I had a direct signal. And I could watch everything from San Jose."

Thanks for sharing, Bruce. But studies I've read say people with bachelor pads in the Tiburon hills score so much action they don't need television. And SF Weekly is concerned about the little guy.

So I contacted Marin County District Attorney Paula Kamena, who kindly reassured me that everything would probably be OK. "Emergency preparation in anticipation of the potential Y2K crisis has left us with a heightened sense of community need in times of crisis," noted Kamena, calmly. "The Marin County District Attorney's Office stands ever ready to keep Marin safe of any manner of emergency: power outages, intruders on campus, the loss of Friends."

Besides, Marin County is the home of the movie studio Skywalker Ranch. Its denizens possess piles of money. Couldn't they make their own Friends?

They could hire KRON anchor Pete Wilson to play Ross, the serious guy.(3) "24 Hour News Anchor" Jeanne Lynch could be Rachel, the blonde.(4) Daybreak and midday co-anchor John Kessler could play Chandler, the guy with the mysterious corporate job.(5) Part-time anchress Suzanne Shaw could play Phoebe, the other blonde.(6)

The terrorized denizens of the Dark Side would be calmed; the Marin rioters could sheath their pitchforks; the equilibrium of the Force would be restored.

(1) That was a Roman alphabet-based representation of the sound of me stopping the column and playing it backward for a second.

(2) Obi-wan Kenobi, Star Wars

(3) A natural for a Friends role, Wilson is an avid film enthusiast who owns a collection of over 3,000 movies. He dabbles in scriptwriting and loves the outdoors.

(4) Lynch would almost certainly be a good sport about such a change. She was once a field producer and reporter for 44 Blue Productions' Off Beat Sports Beat and Future Stars in Sport, and the Discovery Channel's Discovery Sport.

(5) A real renaissance man, Kessler would take quickly to sitcom acting. He's an auto-racing and water-sport enthusiast, and enjoys running, fishing, skiing, and reading.

(6) The Phoebe character, experts tell me, often has her mind elsewhere, making this a perfect role for Shaw. "I have been as lucky as a local TV anchor can be," Shaw says. "Not many people get to build their television careers in the Bay Area and stay here for 24 years. Doing that has been an enormous privilege, but now my kids need me a lot more than the audience does. So I've found the perfect solution in going part time."

About The Author

Matt Smith


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