All eyes are on the eye

The CBS EyeIt’s been an interesting couple of weeks for CBS. First, its local station group reduced expenses by cutting 150+ people, including some very well-paid anchors. Observers expressed astonishment, and overnight, every local news anchor began to squirm just a little bit and discover that those expensive office chairs at the anchor desk aren’t quite as comfy as they used to be.

Then this week came word that the network is continuing talks with CNN to take over some of its newsgathering. Observers gasped again. “What’s the world coming to?” they may have asked. Jeff Jarvis, on the other hand, cut to the chase with the provocative headline, “CBS is leaving the news business.”

We don’t need three evening newscasts exactly alike except as a repository for erectile dysfunction commercials. So let one or two networks win the ratings. Let CBS put more resources into investigations on 60 Minutes. Let CNN cover breaking news — with more help from witnesses with cameras.

Ouch! And now comes word that CBS appears to be giving up on Katie Couric, something that 99% of Americans have seen coming since the day she was first brought into the fold. CBS is denying the CNN and Couric stories, but people view that with the same raised eyebrow that accompanied “I didn’t inhale.”

And so the entire tribe of media observers stands poised to pounce, because CBS seems to be blazing a trail that others will have to follow, and everybody’s got an opinion about that.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia TV columnist Laura Nachman writes of a panel discussion in Philly involving the state of local television news, quoting WCAU-TV news director Chris Blackman.

“In my 26 years in news, I’ve never seen things as dicey as they are now. With layoffs, shrinkage, and downsizing, we need to reinvent ourselves.”

“We are not relevant the way we used to be because viewers don’t need us anymore,” Blackman said referring to mobile devices and the internet.

Blackman proved his point when only a handful of people in the audience of around 150 television professionals raised their hands when he asked if anyone needed to watch local television stations to get their news.

What Mr. Blackman is feeling is the same thing that the CBS observers are feeling, and that is the enormity of the disruptive innovations brought about by technology and a shift away from the modernist, colonial culture that spawned traditional media in the first place. Put a fork in it; it’s done.

Oh, mass media will be with us for a long time yet, but it will never again enjoy the status it once held, and to think otherwise is just nostalgic denial. And I would add that the reinvention process is so pressing that we don’t have time for blame assessment, nor do we have time to do a lot of research. An industry run by bean counters has little chance when entrepreneurship is what’s required, so we need to take a few chances along-the-way.

I’m reminded of the wonderful lament by Henry Adams, “The law of nature is change (chaos), while the dream of man is order.”

Embrace the chaos of change; it’s our best hope for tomorrow.


  1. Argh, this thing says I didn’t pass math, so I lost a great long rejoinder.

    I’ll summarize: I don’t believe everything must change today, any more than I believe we can keep doing everything the same old way.

    Technologists were saying, less than a decade ago, that profits didn’t matter any more. That was mega-wrong.

    Reinventing local TV news at a time when it’s ALREADY pouring the required mega-$ into HD/digital transition is probably a recipe for “chaos,” alright, as in the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.”
    I’ll stop and see if this one flies;-/

  2. “…with more help from witnesses with cameras”

    “Help” is is not a good description for TPFKATA posting the video on the internet before you know anything has happened.


  1. […] All eyes are on the eye. While we’re all busy watching the newspaper business to see what happens, startling things appear to be happening with CBS and, writes Terry Heaton, there may be portents there for TV news at large. […]

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