According to reports out of Washington, Albritton Communications is transferring control of its experimental news start-up, TBD.com, back to its TV station in the market, WJLA-TV, where GM and News Director Bill Lord will now be in charge. The news was not unexpected. In December, TBD GM Jim Brady quit suddenly over differences with senior Albritton executives, primarily the direction of the site, and noted at the time that his biggest burden while running the site was fighting with “the TV guys.” As Jay Rosen tweeted today, the TV guys have won.
The Washington Post is reporting that this is a “retrenchment” of sorts for Albritton’s Newschannel 8:
TBD was envisioned as a new multimedia brand, incorporating traditional broadcast TV, cable TV and the Web.
Instead, the reorganization disclosed to staff members today will restore the old identities to Allbritton’s various media properties. TBD.com will remain, but Allbritton-owned WJLA, Washington’s ABC-TV affiliate, will get its own Web site once more. WJLA.com had been the station’s Web site until it was swallowed up by TBD.com last year. In addition, the Newschannel 8 name will be restored…
…The changes reflect Allbritton’s conclusion that changing the name of the 19-year-old Newschannel 8 last year was a mistake, and that the loss of WJLA.com complicated the TV station’s ability to send its viewers to the Web for more news.
The move is not going over well with media observers who favored the original switch to TBD.com. Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman wrote wrote about it back in August.
Just about every journalist on the planet agrees that TBD.com is a vast improvement over the old WJLA.com, from coverage to design. Its real-time focus capitalizes on the social media explosion. After all, it’s designed for the web, not to “replicate the experience of turning on your television,” as TBD explains.
Jim Brady is a pioneer in the world of Web news and information, and TBD was widely held as a model of what can be done by those who’ve been following this evolving space for many years. TBD was a hybrid of sorts, aggregating the work of others while doing original reporting and producing its own brand of writing. I have been a big fan of the site and have referred many people there when asked about how to write for the Web.
Brady struck out today in tweets regarding the takeover by WJLA, “At good companies,” he wrote, “the people who resist necessary change are pushed aside. At bad companies, they are put in charge. RIP, the old TBD.” However, he also noted in a later tweet that he has no hard feelings. “Not so much hard feelings as just stating reality. I’ve seen this movie before and know all too well how it always seems to end.”
After he quit, Brady was interviewed by Sarah Hartley for The Guardian and painted a clear picture of the hardest part of running TBD.
Well, it was probably getting the Channel 7 folks to understand and support what it is TBD was doing on the web, and to be truthful, I don’t know that we ever did while I was there… Frankly, it’s a battle I’m not interested in fighting anymore. I want to be somewhere where everyone is pulling the same direction, a direction set clearly and uncompromisingly by senior management. That wasn’t the case with TBD and Channel 7.
I think Jim Brady did everything right with this start-up, and I’m surprised but not surprised by events of the past couple of months. TBD emphasized the real time streams and flows that are news, 21st Century style. They also recognized that there are many voices in those real time streams, and that curating those voices is the duty and responsibility of media today. It was certainly not a TV station website and may not have been what WJLA-TV wanted to represent itself, but it did provide a great service to the people of DC. What happens from here on out may seem a foregone conclusion, but I would certainly hope otherwise.
A few years ago, the local TV industry went through a flurry of activity involving renaming sites to create community portals. While I’ve always been a fan of community portals, I’ve been outspoken about letting the TV station keep its own brand-extension site, for the reasons Albritton is now stating. Local media companies need sites to which they can refer and have those sites associated with their brands. Community portals should be stand alone businesses, and it’s sad to see something as far along as TBD.com lose its hard-fought footing in trying to accomplish something it never should have been expected to accomplish in the first place.