Stop complaining and do your job!

I was surprised in two ways when I read bureau reporter Gary Sinderson’s editorial “Why The Penn State Scandal Stayed Secret” in TVNewsCheck this morning. Surprise number one was that Mr. Sinderson’s employer, Cox Media Group, would permit this, and the second surprise was the cavalier manner in which he excused not doing his job.

In a nutshell, the piece is defensive rubbish about how he got scooped by a Harrisburg newspaper writer (Sara Ganim) and how tough it is to work as a TV guy in a restricted environment such as Penn State University. The key graph for me comes as Mr. Sinderson is congratulating Ms. Ganim while at the same time acknowledging that he had basically the same information.

We compared notes on the Sandusky issue. She did fine work and deserves the boatload of awards that will probably be coming her way. We both knew the truth of the story was in Harrisburg with the grand jury. The Patriot-News, to its credit, gave her the time necessary to work on the story.

Why couldn’t I report it? I didn’t have the time to get the needed verification to move the story ahead or to convince my bosses it’s not a rumor, but a real story. It’s just the nature of my particular job. I’m a one-man band, expected to crank out several stories a day. I may get a day or two to work on a large story, but not the time afforded to Ganim.

Let me say, as a veteran news manager in “the biz” and now as an observer of media trends that this is nonsense designed to shift blame to managers who either didn’t believe him or wouldn’t give him the time and resources he felt he needed. It also taps into the misleading and empty jargon from certain industry types who (perhaps even sincerely) believe that more resources is the solution to the problems of TV news. It’s the greedy corporations or the demanding producers who just don’t understand what it’s like out here. Poor me.

I’ve personally worked with “one-man-band” bureau chiefs who’ve worked tirelessly to uncover deep and provocative misdeeds while at the same time maintaining the daily needs of the content machines. These people never complained. Never. They felt it was a privilege to hold such a position, and they worked their butts off to prove it. In a bureau where you’re the Lone Ranger, you’re also the king. You are the master of your own reputation, more so than in any other job within the TV news industry. On behalf of all of those hard-working people everywhere, I deeply resent Mr. Sinderson’s suggestion that he was somehow blocked from this story by his institution or the difficulty of finding people to go “on the record” with him on such a story.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in the news business in Milwaukee in the 70s. We had a major who refused to talk to the press and a police chief with dictatorial powers who designated the chief of detectives as the only person who could speak with the media. Being seen speaking with a reporter, whether on duty or off, was grounds for dismissal. It was impossible to do our jobs without determination (never take “no” for an answer) and ingenuity, of which we had bundles. It all depends on how badly you want it.

That was then, and this is now, but the principle is the same. Cox might want to look into its resources in State College but not to “give more time” to what it already has in place.


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