KRON – Two Years Later

kron4.jpg

works like a newspaper… but in video….

Two years ago this week we started the conversion of KRON4 in San Francisco to the VJ model.

Many uninformed bloggers like to refer to KRON as a ‘failure’, but this is not the case. Despite Young Broadcasting’s financial woes, KRON has been a successful if painful transformation. Early adapters often endure the hardest times as they learn their way through.

GM Mark Antonitis has, however, done a masterful job of managing a very tough situation and has made it a great success.

Antonitis wrote to me on the anniversary of the 2nd year, and below I excerpt from his email with his permission. Let him tell the story in his own words:

Michael:

I noted this morning that we’ve hit the two-year mark on our VJ announcement. Given the anniversary date, I thought I’d give you a sense of what is happening here.

When we embarked on this my expectation was that it would take one year to substantively integrate the system, two to fully integrate and three to have any real impact in the ratings. I’d say at this point we’re actually ahead of schedule. It took about a year from the end of your training sessions to fully integrate the system. As of now, there is no debate in the ranks about VJ. It simply “is”. It’s very interesting to go down to the newsroom and see how well the new system works and how accepted it is. If not universally popular, it is universally accepted. No one, and I mean no one, has any expectation that we would go back to doing things the way we did.

…………..

Your training program was, I believe, the key to success. The training allowed everyone to see VJ as something more than a harebrain scheme born of desperation and doomed to failure. During and after the training people thought it might actually work and it had the potential to be fun.

…………..
The surprise to many people is how well the photographers have done in the transition. As a former photographer, it was not unexpected, but it shocked a lot of traditionalists. The best new people, and I dare say stars of the future, have all come from the ranks of former photographers.

Content

We’re covering more stories than any other station, by far. That’s with fewer people, but many more cameras on the street. We have long ago transitioned from feature-driven material. We’re hard news. But there is a definite difference about how stories are told and approached, I think your training had much to do with that.

The real boon has been in breaking news stories. I’ve never understood the presumption by many in the industry that VJs somehow could not cover breaking news. Our VJs have dominated virtually every breaking news event over the last year. The latest was theLake Tahoe wildfire. We had people everywhere. The live shots we did included six or seven people at times. We did two solid days of primetime coverage. We were nimble, versatile, everywhere, extremely productive, comprehensive, dominant. KRON received dozens of emails from viewers praising our coverage. No one else came close.

We’ve had several other examples of breaking news successes. I’m sure it will be years, if ever, before the traditionalists concede that VJs can cover breaking news. It’s no longer an issue here. We not only cover breaking news, we’re exceptionally good at it.

………..

The “quality” issue has simply not come up – at least not in the audience. Absolutely no one has noticed, nor cares who shot a story. I’ve stressed the “quality of content” argument from the beginning and I believe it still applies. We’re covering more news with fewer people than the other stations.

VJ is without question the superior system. You must, however, have the right training and the right people. We had the former, we’ve acquired or are acquiring the latter.

That’s your brief update for now.

Best regards,

Mark Antonitis
President/General Manager

KRON-TV

11 responses to “KRON – Two Years Later

  1. The last paragraph speaks volumes.

    VJ is without question the superior system. You must, however, have the right training and the right people. We had the former, we’ve acquired or are acquiring the latter.

    Well done, Michael on your success with KRON.

  2. Watching closely

    “No one, and I mean no one, has any expectation that we would go back to doing things the way we did. ”

    that’s because all the people who have any sense were either fired or quit.

    “The “quality” issue has simply not come up – at least not in the audience. Absolutely no one has noticed, nor cares who shot a story. ”

    That’s because no one is watching!

  3. as i get ready to attend the “blogadelphia” conference today in philly, i get the feeling it will brings things into crisper focus for me.

    ‘blogadelphia’ is a gathering of 20 and 30- somethings that create and share their own news and info via online video, text and pix. sites like viddler, blip.tv, philebrity, etc, are becoming the 6 oclock news for this generation.

    i am sure that i will see no one from broadcast tv here at today’s sessions. i cringe when i watch most traditional media take on ‘blogging’

  4. I still feel that KRON’s news programming is still an absolute failure. The VJ product quality is poor and I was still quite upset when I started noticing that the broadcasts were misspelling words on the screen (and were repeated on the next broadcast that evening), and with the acquisition of MNTV, all see now is just news, violence (fighting), D list celebrity telenovelas (which are being removed after this season is over), and sex (models, “Hooters” contests, etc.). KRON has hit rock bottom, and if they want to gain back their true reputation as one of the best in the city, it needs to clean-up its act and put more funding into quality news.

  5. How do I hate to tell you “I told you so”, but I told you so.
    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/business&id=5884307

    http://www.sfweekly.com/2006-04-12/news/kron-s-last-gasp/full

    How many more ways can you spell failure.

  6. Hey Nino
    I often think you live in the past. Now I am sure of it. That article was from 2006. Out here in the future, it’s 2008!

  7. Hay Michael
    I often think that you live in a fantasy world. Now I’m sure of it. The first to article, that you failed to mention, was from yesterday.

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/business&id=5884307

    You VJs compelling news storytelling, that in reality turned out to be the worst news reporting ever, contributed to the demise of KRON, it was supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread, remember what you said in the past? The rebirth of news reporting.

    The second article was from two years ago and clearly shows the shortcoming of the VJ system. Leading of course to the current disaster

    http://www.sfweekly.com/2006-04-12/news/kron-s-last-gasp/full

    Again, you are giving an all new meaning to the word failure.

  8. Dear Nino
    The demise of KRON is actually due to Vincent Young getting into a bidding war with Jack Welch at GE over the purchase of the station. Young paid $850 million for the station, outbidding NBC, but as soon as the deal was done, Welch moved the affiliation to a small station in San Jose to punish Young.

    That, my friend, is why KRON collapsed. The VJs, if anything, cut costs and kept the station alive far longer than the conventional crews would have.

    However, don’t let facts get in the way of a good argument.

    As for VJs, you will find them now at pretty much every station. They are increasingly being accepted as part of the newsroom. They may be called Backpack journalists, or MoJo (Mobile journalists – at Gannett), but they are unquestionably here to stay, and keep your eyes open for more and more of them.

    You, however, I think, have a big future in the ever growing world of ‘spin’. If I were you I would get on the phone to Mitt Romney or Hillary.

  9. “The VJs, if anything, cut costs and kept the station alive far longer than the conventional crews would have.”

    Michael I’m sure you realize that this quote of yours will become the joke of the business.

    So KRON hired a consultant (and I’m sure a well paid one), they probably spend a small fortune to retool their newsroom and retrained their staff with the goal to buy themselves another year?

    Maybe you forgot what you’ve been saying for years, and that is that your maverick and revolutionary methods of productions that you’ve been preaching would take the business of news reporting to a higher level and rescue the failing news industry, some rescue.

    You might also think about taking some of those comprehension training courses that you’ve been offering to another poster, so let me repeat this for the hundredth time maybe this time it will sink in. One man band journalist have existed since long before your even knew that television existed. As I told you before during the Vietnam one of my duties in the Army as a photographer was to lend support to photo and film journalists, the difference was that one man band were people who was exceptionally multi-skilled and volunteered to do the one man job, and that my friend is a big difference from when the boss tells you that you must be a one man band or else.

    In conclusion, why don’t you read again the letter above from Antonitis

  10. Dear Nino
    I am always happy to engage with you on this topic.
    KRON’s problems were not VJ related. They were a direct result of NBC cutting off their affiliate relations. The move from conventional to VJ in no way affected KRON news ratings. In fact, they experienced a slight uptick in the morning. KRONs overall income and ratings however, suffered enormously from the loss of TODAY, TONIGHT and all the rest of NBC programming, as I am sure you can imagine. Enormously.

    Those losses were translated to much lower budgets for local news. Had there been local crews they would have been laid off, just as surely as the local news coverage was cut. The fact that there were more cameras and more edits in play only helped KRON in a very very difficult situation.

    It is of course unfortunate that only troubled stations turn to this. TV news is a very very conservative business, and for the most part NDs and GMs are content to sit with the ‘if it aint broke dont fix it’ mentality, while ratings continue their very slow but constant decline over thirty years. I have to give Antonitis credit for the courage he showed in embracing a whole new approach.

    Does the approach work. Well, you said it yourself. Nothing new. Been around for years.

    Does it take a ‘very talented person’ to do this? I don’t think so. It takes a very talented person to get a great story – crew or alone. But watching WNBC here in NY this morning for example, the litany of badly shot exteriors of buildings, windows, police tape or perp walks could have been shot by pretty much any PA with a camcorder. There is no genius here either, trust me.

    As for the ‘above’ writer, this is of course, our old pal Chicago Dog, sending in his usual rantings half coherent dribble. Most of which I delete for a variety of reasons. He is, I think, a part time newby cameraman working the odd overnight shift on a fifth rate station, and despite his many many many hours spent online, not particularly qualified to comment on much of anything.

    Hope the weather in Tampa is better than here.

  11. Michael, if you have to sum up the main reason that VJ have failed in broadcasting
    “Does it take a ‘very talented person’ to do this? I don’t think so.” This is it.

    Even on the professional TV photographer level, only 25% succeed and make a good living from it while the rest will make a living but struggle for their entire career. With still photographer the percentage is even worse. Why do you think this is?

    You’ve been at this VJ thing for several years and yet no one has come forward and shows that he/she is making a good living from it.

    You might not think so and most likely you don’t know but there are many intricate skills involved in creating images but the most important, once the technical and creative parts are accomplished, is the understanding of client’s needs and how those needs relate to final objective and that’s how all this will be received by the ultimate judge, the viewing public. This is something that you have never addressed; your priorities were always management first, saving money second, quality somewhere in the middle and the public always at a distant last place, this is the perfect storm for demise, like the one that KRON is going thru now. Without a viewing public a station has nothing and the only way to get the public to watch a station is with interesting and well done programs. On the contrary of what you’ve been saying for years, to accomplish this it does not require big money, just brain power, the ability of management to find the right talent, and with your method of doing business “Does it take a ‘very talented person’ to do this? I don’t think so.” It will never happen; you will just have more and more KRON like stories.

    If you think success in this business is easy just ask those 75% who is struggling or take a look how all your VJs are doing financially.

    The only work that I’ve seen from KRON was awful, that was the California fires that according to you and Antonitis those were supposed to be your shining moments. The point that both of you have been praising those news videos as quality work, as well as your praises of the work created by those VJs of yours for Verizon, one can only assume that both of you are part of the 75% that never quite got a good grasp of what the business of creating images is all about it. Two words will sum it up “Marketable Quality” but you haven’t got it yet.

    Weather in Tampa low 70s, partially cloudy.

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