A Sunday in Vegas

I’m sitting here at the window-view desk of my room on the 23rd floor of the Las Vegas Hilton and pondering the RTNDA and today’s panel. Next year will mark my 40th year in broadcasting, and, oh my, how things have changed.

Nice view, away from the strip

When I first got in the business, newsrooms were mostly dominated by former radio or newspaper people, and TV news was seen by us as a way to make a difference. We didn’t have to deal with the whole profit-center business, because there weren’t a lot of public corporations running stations. That came much later. Privately-held, locally-owned television stations were an entirely different animal than today’s bean counter, process-driven world. People get into the TV news business today, because it’s cool to be on TV, and that remains one of the biggest problems of the day.

Through it all, the RTNDA has been a steady voice, always relating the industry back to its roots. I have been proud to be associated with this group, and it’s a little disconcerting to see what’s happening to it these days. People don’t join the RTNDA like they used to, because they’re so busy primping for the next newscast. Like the sheep heading for the cliff, they don’t even realize that no shepherd is leading them. The RTNDA’s current ill health is far more a result of news people who haven’t a clue as to why such a group is relevant and necessary, so they spend their money on make-up instead of joining the association. It’s evidence of how the industry has lost its way.

This is not to suggest that the RTNDA has the answers to disruptive innovations in news and advertising that are threatening the business, but it is the right group to bring people together to talk about such things. That’s the purpose of its annual conference, which, to be honest, has spent more time in recent years digging the hole than trying to figure ways out of it. Even now, the panels on technology involve people from broadcasting, and I think we should be listening to those involved in the disruption (been saying that for a long time). It’s like the annual convention of the whale oil industry having panels about electricity, but seating only whalers and processors. They’re more content to see who will be the last harpoon maker than changing business models, and so it goes.

I think that the realities of the job losses and budget cuts have smacked everybody upside the head, and there’s a sense of “how do we stay positive amongst all this?” I haven’t been to the registration desk yet, but everybody’s expecting attendance to be way off. This is, of course, a shame, for at a time when we really need to be pulling together, the bean counters say “we can’t afford it.” Really?

The opening chapter of our new book is a call for leadership. Leaders can set aside process for the sake of the goal, and this is what we so desperately need. The summary for my panel this afternoon, for example, states, “This session will help introduce attendees to what is working in the industry now.” We want to know what’s “working,” because we’re process-driven. We’re outstanding at copying, but lousy at innovating. Leaders need only a goal. We badly need leaders.

Time for breakfast. More later.

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