Young Broadcasting announced today that is putting KRON, its San Francisco station up for sale.
KRON was one of three stations we took into the full-blown VJ model in 2004/5.
The people at KRON undertook an enormous amount of effort to make the change. They did some excellent work, and the ratings for local news at KRON never dipped and in fact increased for the morning hours.
We had, of course, hoped that KRON would become a flagship for other stations going to the VJ model. But KRON was handicapped by greater issues. Vincent Young purchased KRON in 2000 for $823 million. It was, at that time, the highest price ever paid for a television station. Maybe it was worth it. KRON was then the number one station in the Bay area. But the price was driven so high because Vincent Young got into a bidding war with GE for the station.
It is always a mistake to get into a war with Jack Welch.
Vincent Young may have won the battle for KRON, but he lost the war. Welch wanted KRON to add to NBC’s O&Os, and when he could not get it, he took vengance on Vincent Young. He pulled the NBC Network affiliation and moved it to a small station in nearby San Jose.
KRON without NBC was suddenly worth a lot less than it once had been. A lot less.
Shorn of its network affiliation, rating plummeted.
Television is a very conservative business. If it isn’t broke, they don’t fix it.
And KRON was suddenly broke. So they called us.
We would have preferred, much preferred, to have built out a strong station instead of one in trouble, but you can’t pick and choose your clients. KRON and Young provided us with an opportunity, even in their distress.
Those afraid of the VJ movement will look to KRON’s sale as a result of the VJ move. To do this is to ignore what happened – but that has never stopped spinmeisters before, and it will not stop the fearful now.
The reality is very different. Had KRON kepts its conventional crews, it would have lost more news coverage faster as budget cuts rolled through the station.
Due in large part to the vision and dedication of Mark Antonitis, the GM at KRON, the station not only adapted the model, but succeeded in building a model that worked. The photo above is also the photo my blog carries every day. I was an am enormously proud of the people who worked there and the work they did.
It is unfortunate that KRON was handicapped with the burden of Young’s fight with GE and the financial ramifications of carrying so much debt and the loss of the NBC affiliation all at once.
When Deb McDermott committed to the VJ model, almost no one did it in the US. Today, there are VJs or Backpack Journalists or MoJos (as Gannett calls them) in TV newsrooms across the country. It is no longer an anomaly but increasingly a regular part of the TV newsroom and landscape.
This will only continue, as more and more young journalists, used to working in this way and trained to do so percolate into television and online video news. ABC New’s placement of 9 VJs in bureaus overseas only serves to underscore that this is not only a viable, but in fact an honorable way of working.
VJ is not for the weak. It is not for the lazy. It is not for those seeking a sinecure. But for those who are truly talented and dedicated to the craft, it is the way of the future and a pathway to producing highly personal, intimate and powerful television journalism.