The Price Point | Now More Than Ever, We Are Broadcasters
Plato was right: “Strange times are these in which we live.”
In normal times the thought of millions of Americans staying home and watching television would be cause for celebration.
In normal times ratings, revenue and expense control would be at the top of any general manager’s daily list.
But these are not normal times. Normal times were before the silent killer came to our communities.
Faced with an unprecedented public emergency, including the risk to their own staffs, these are times in which general managers and corporate heads have put economics aside for something much more important: taking on their responsibility to the public the way only television stations can.
News departments have been fully mobilized for some time now, even those staffers working from home. Public service has moved to the front. Everything else is secondary.
Talking with general managers across the country, no one mentioned lost advertising, nor anything to do with expenses. Postponement of the Olympics got barely a shrug. The things so important just a few weeks ago have been moved aside. Their time will come again, but not until after the emergency has passed.
Ratings are of course up, but I only know that from the national press. People in the stations are not talking about ratings. For the moment, competition is simply unimportant.
What station leaders do talk about is the safety of their staffs, how they are making sure nothing compromises their ability to stay on the air and serve the public, why they must get this job right. A general manager told me he is frustrated when national and state press conferences interfere with local coverage because local service is everything.
One can’t help but think of NAB’s We Are Broadcasters campaign last year, except this is not advertising. This is real.
As one who has written about leadership, I am intrigued by the way it is playing out in real life. The leader of a television station is the general manager. How that person reacts in times of trouble sets the tone for the entire organization. The best have been able to innovate and adapt. They have kept staff morale high, even while taking extraordinary means to keep employees safe, all while covering the news.
One general manger for whom I have great respect asked his employees working from home to bring their pets to an upcoming video conference. It’s the kind of thing a staff takes note of. If the leader still has his sense of humor, he must believe things will work out in the end.
We don’t know when that end is, but we do know stations across our nation will continue to do their job until that day comes. In the meantime, they are setting a standard for the next generation.
From community to community, we are seeing extraordinary work that fits these extraordinary times. Everyone working in local television should take a quick breath, then proudly say We Are Broadcasters.
Hank Price is a media consultant, author and speaker. He is the author of Leading Local Television, a handbook for general managers. He spent 30 years managing TV stations for Hearst, CBS and Gannett, including WBBM Chicago and KARE Minneapolis. He also served as senior director of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center and is currently director of leadership development for the School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss.