The Heroes of Local Television News
Amid all the tectonic shifts in the way we get our news and when we get it – which is pretty much whenever we want it – no news medium has clung to its old model as tightly as local television news. Most have some type of web presence, but the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts remain their raison d'être, even as many people in their twenties not only don’t watch the
six o'clock news but may not even know what it is.

Yet despite being hemmed in by their old formats, local stations are producing some extraordinary journalism these days. Following our recent look at the state of local print journalism, we thought to take a much-overdue look at the best of local television news.
WNBC's Jonathan Dienst and Melissa Russo have broken a remarkable number of stories over the years. Russo is one of the city’s best-connected government reporters, with a celebrated history on the social services beat. A memorable I-Team investigation revealed that women around Manhattan begging with babies were actually part of a coordinated scam – which prompted calls for action by the tabloids. Earlier this month, in response to her reporting, the city announced a plan to try to stop the practice. Russo also recently got the police to investigate an Instagram stalker who was trying to extort naked pictures from a 12-year-old girl .

Dienst regularly paces the best law enforcement reporters by breaking news online and then delivering it authoritatively on the air. This guy is sourced . He was first with Michael Cohen’s plea ; first to report last year’s mail bomb scare , along with The Journal News in Westchester (more on them below); and first to report crucial details of the October 2017, pick-up truck terror attack on the West Side, among others. His and Russo’s demeanors are calm and businesslike, with cool expertise. They let the facts tell their stories.

They aren’t the only standout political and government journalists on our airwaves (the station's entire I-Team is terrific). WCBS-TV's Marcia Kramer, the best-known journalistic sleuth of them all, makes us actually feel bad for Mayor de Blasio when she grills him; she won’t let up. Russo and Dienst rose to fame on New York 1, which even after its tumultuous sale to Charter Communications remains the city’s indispensable source of political news (Communications Breakdown has deep New York 1 roots, full disclosure). The channel has far and away the largest team of political reporters of any local station; Inside City Hall’s Errol Louis is a widely-respected figure in New York circles, and political director Bob Hardt is so well-loved that he was a write-in candidate for governor .

What’s the takeaway? It’s a theme we explored in our look at print journalism: despite hand-wringing that local news is cash-starved and doomed, the truth is that this city is pretty damn well-covered, and these are often exciting times to be a journalist. 
Lock the doors to your newsroom
Okay, back to doom and gloom. The biggest, scariest development in local journalism is the Gannett takeover attempt by Digital First Media (or Media News Group – MNG), which is owned by the Alden Group hedge fund, known for butchering its newsrooms and profiting handsomely.

Alden/MNG have been dubbed “The Newspaper Destroyers.” And that’s almost a compliment compared to what others are calling it.

“When it comes to troubled media assets, these hedge funders are prolific on the downsizing front,” wrote the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple . “The MNG brain trust made headlines in 2018 when it slashed The Denver Post to a total staffing level of fewer than 70 positions, down from a time when The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News — operating under a joint agreement — had north of 600 journalists.”

Yikes.

The Gannett papers closest to the city are The Record in Bergen County, N.J., and the Journal News in Westchester and Rockland Counties. Both have seen their share of cutbacks in recent years, but have managed to put out credible reports each day. There are more Gannett papers in New Jersey and, farther up the Hudson, The Poughkeepsie Journal.

While Team Alden sharpens its blades, we wondered -- how much more cutting is even possible? Let’s take a look at the January 15th edition of The Record. For your two dollars you get 10 stories written by staffers, plus roughly as many stories by writers at other Gannett newspapers (especially USA Today ) and the Associated Press, plus lots and lots of obituaries (causing us to wonder about the life expectancy in North Jersey). Some of the staff-written stuff was pretty good, like Charles Stile’s front-page column on New Jersey Gov. Bill Murphy’s stalled agenda.

The paper was clearly put together by a dedicated and thoughtful crew of editors and reporters. But we have to say, for two dollars it felt a tad thin. Alden will cut more at its own risk.
You Give Us 22 Minutes,
We’ll Give You - Ka-boom!
Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate live radio. 1010 Wins has all kinds of cool newish stuff on its website - video and traffic maps, etc. - but its bread and butter 22-minute newscast remains, to our ears at least, essentially unchanged from decades ago. There is something comforting about that. But they do divert from the format for live events from time to time.

Which brings us to the demolition of the Tappan Zee Bridge this week. Does such a visual event require coverage in such an un-visual medium?

And what happens when things don’t go as planned?

The accomplished 1010 Wins Reporter Glenn Schuck, bantering with daytime anchor Susan Richard, did his best as the planned demolition was delayed for roughly 20 minutes – a lot of dead air to fill. He and Richard tap danced, as they say in the biz, by talking about the size of the crowd, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and The Miracle on the Hudson, Mario Cuomo, kids playing hooky, congestion pricing, a nice coffee shop in Piermont, local airports needing major work, Mario Cuomo again, the building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the fact that Schuck was named for Astronaut John Glenn (which confused us for a moment) and Richard was named for her uncle .

Finally, the bridge came down, the crowd roared, there was a rumble, and then it was over. Kudos to the pair for keeping the banter ball in play the whole time; if you think it’s easy, try it yourself sometime.

Here and There
Comings and Goings in Media and Communications

We devote Here and There to the looming departure of New York magazine editor Adam Moss after 15 years. He personified New York in a way that magazine editors do less and less these days, even as he shied away from the spotlight. Brilliant and hands-on , his take on New York City – dividing it into tribes and covering them – and creation of web verticals like The Cut brought the magazine into the present and seemed to have guaranteed its future. There’s been a crazy amount of coverage of his departure, yet we’ve been hard-pressed to find a single bad word written or spoken about him – no mean feat in the back-stabby world of magazine journalism. We’ll miss his work a lot.
Quotable
I want to see what my life is like with less ambition” -- Adam Moss, explaining his decision to the New York Times.

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Kirtzman Strategies is a strategic communications and public affairs firm that works with public officials, nonprofits, companies, tech startups and education organizations.
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