“It served its purpose”

Syed ShabbirVia Newsblues this morning comes word of a young reporter with a new job. He’s Syed Shabbir, and the lucky TV station to acquire his obviously brilliant services is KSHB-41-NBC in his hometown of Kansas City (Market #31). He must be brilliant, because he’s only been in the business for two years, having begun in Topeka (Market #136), where he worked for a year before jumping to WCPO-TV in Cincinnati (Market #35) a year ago.

He told Cincinnati.com that working in his hometown has been his dream since the 8th grade, and now he’s made it. He’s a big city kid. Good for him. Bad for the business.

“I came to Cincy, because I needed to get out of Topeka,” he tells Cincinnati.com. “It only took me a year before I got tired of the small market stories and small market pay (in Topeka). I knew WCPO was only going to be a stepping stone, so I only signed a one year deal. It served its purpose, and I guess I’m lucky things are going according to plan.”

According to plan. Yep. That’s the way it is. Along the way, everything this young man did was to prepare himself for his dream, and this is the curse of the ego it requires to “be on TV.” Mr. Shabbir’s concern as a journalist in both Topeka and Cincinnati was for what those stops could do to fulfill this dream, not in serving the community. I’ve seen it a million times. The job reel is more important than serving the news needs of the community. Moreover, these kinds of people who are  just having their purpose served have no interest in the roots of their stepping stones, because they’re not really in it for the news; they’re in it for their own purposes, and one foot is already out the door at the moment the other foot steps in.

A commenter to the Cincinnati.com story, Steve Gaines, wrote: “loved being your ‘stepping-stone’ ….pls feel free to come back to cincinnati & walk on us again in the future…but honestly, i don’t even know who you are..”

I hate this about our industry. It cheapens what we do and robs smaller markets of what they need and deserve. Parochial news coverage wanted by small towns gives way to the cosmopolitan stories that look good on a young person’s reel. The retort, of course, is “pay me what I’m worth, and perhaps I’ll stay.” No you won’t. It is what it is. What you’re worth? Give me a break! You’re not in this for a “living wage” in a small town, because your definition is a better-than-living-wage. You’ll add “who doesn’t want that?” to which I’ll reply “go to law school.”

Maybe I’m the prick here. Maybe I should instead be chiding broadcast companies for not paying people more. I don’t, because I honestly don’t believe it would solve the revolving door problem. Besides, it’s extremely unrealistic economically. These people likely believe that they’re doing the Topekas of the world a favor by loaning them their brilliance for a year or two. Oh. Right.

Moreover, the egocentricity of young news people is an evolution that took place during my lifetime in news management — on my watch. People used to get into “the biz,” because it was a way to make a difference. Today, it’s all about “being on TV” or “being a star.” Watergate produced Woodward & Bernstein, and they became the poster boys for a new generation of journalists and journalism instructors. Shortly after that, trust in the press began to decline. Around the same time, communications schools began popping up to feed the growing beast known as television news, and the industry borrowed from the newspaper paradigm of small-market-to-big-market.

The Personal Media Revolution challenges all this, and I believe the day is coming when communities themselves will grow their own journalists. The Syed Shabbirs of the world — with their 8th grade dreams — will build and study their craft at home and work their ways into positions with local media companies. They will then be people with roots who care deeply about the communities they serve, whether it is governed by geography or issue. That will be good for journalism, it seems to me, because what we have now are gunslingers passing through towns, people generally who are a mile wide and an inch deep (but look good on TV).

Like Mr. Shabbir, they’re serving the purpose of self, and crapping all over the public in the process.

Comments

  1. with all this connectivity avail, i wonder if one even needs to be “in” a certain town to accurately report on it.

    except for the usual standup shot in front of the smoldering building that burnt hours earlier, a crumpled car from a pile up the night before or some shattered glass on the concrete from a random drive by, do “local” reporters actually serve a purpose?

    i think fred w. calls it “in situ”.

  2. The kid’s only crime is that he has no tact and isn’t afraid to brag about it. That should serve him well in today’s TV news game. He’ll fit right in with all the idiots who think shoving a mic in somebody’s face and asking a dumb question is journalism. Mr. Shabbir probably doesn’t even realize that he was hired in Topeka, Cincinnati and Kansas City more because of his contribution to diversity than because of his talent. That’s a plus. Being dumb is a prerequisite for the job these days.

    Don’t blame yourself, Terry. Blame the big companies that inhaled all the TV stations over the last 25 years. When your chief concerns are making money and satisfying the EEOC, Journalism is bound to suffer.

  3. Mark Shepherd says:

    The guy he wanted to work in his hometown. What’s wrong with that? Okay, calling a city or station “a stepping stone” is in bad taste. But he just said out loud what we all know is true.

    This is an industry that won’t let you start out and serve in your hometown if it’s a large city.
    You can’t walk out of college and start reporting on TV in Los Angeles, Dallas or Kansas City. (Sure, there’s the rare exception of someone who started as an intern at a given station and worked his or her way up to being a reporter, but it’s rare.)

    On the other hand, if your hometown is very small, you’re struggling to survive as long as you stay in that market.

    And either way, if there’s not an opening at the moment you graduate from college, you have to take a job somewhere to put food on the table.

    It’ll stay that way until large market stations find value in developing their own journalists and small market stations find a way to pay their people more.

    Mark Shepherd
    (P.S. I worked in 8 markets before timing and experience converged and I could get “home.” )

  4. Carlena Dockery says:

    It’s definanly an AD Chevy truck coming down the street. Hard to see the grill because of the shadow, but the split winshield gives it away that it is a pre 1954.

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