10 Questions for Peggy Phillip

by Terry L. Heaton
Peggy Phillip's blog is a unique blend of her life as a television news director and, well, her life! The news director at WMC-TV in Memphis, Peggy was quite likely the first television news person to publish a daily Weblog — certainly the first at the local level. Her archives go back nearly two years, which makes her a pioneer by most standards. Back then, she was ridiculed, vilified and criticized by colleagues and observers throughout the industry, often the curse of early innovators in any endeavor. Peggy is quick to point out that the blog is hers, not the station's, and that Peggy Phillip is the only one she needs to please.

Q — How and where did you first come across the idea of an online journal or "blog."

I saw an article in the New York Times. All the news that's fit to blog? Anyway, I was fascinated with the idea of TYPING RIGHT ON TO THE INTERNET. After the November book of 2002, late one night, with a glass of cheap white wine on one side of the keyboard and a cigarette on the other, I wrote out my thoughts and feelings about the grueling sweeps process on TV newsrooms. I included some choice barbs at the competition, but really I wrote it just for myself. It wasn't a blog yet and didn't become one for a couple of weeks. Nobody knew about it, but eventually, I did share it with one or two people, and it snowballed from there. That original blog entry has long-since been deleted, by the way. I printed it, but I'm pretty sure it will never again see the internet...

Q — Do you think the criticism you got early on was deserved, or did people just not understand what you were trying to do?

I deserved the criticism, because back then, even I didn't know what I was trying to do — and because I didn't realize the power, at first. It was fun to poke fun at the competition, in a cheerful way, of course. I heard that one station printed it out and hung in on the wall of an edit bay with "this is war" scrawled across the top of the page. So it started out as a way to get inside their heads. Just another way to be competitive.

Q — You were one of, if not the first, blogger in our business. Did you realize what was going to happen with blogging when you first began, and how do you feel about all the attention the blogosphere is getting these days?

I don't feel particularly insightful about what's going on with the blog world. I have my small list of favorites that I visit every day and a longer list that I check once or twice a week, but I'm just as fascinated by the personal blogs as I am by the professional ones. That's probably why peggyphillip.com is so bi-polar. I just can't decide which lines to stay within.

Q — What kind of reaction do you get today? Do people finally "get it?"

I don't really care if they get it. It's like TV. If you don't like it, turn it off.

Q — You don't allow comments on your blog. Any thoughts about changing that?

I know my blog could be more interactive. I just don't have the financial means to stave off the inevitable lawsuit! Nor do I have the time to check on it twice an hour so if somebody has something to say, they can email me. It's more courageous than slamming me or my opinions anonymously elsewhere, which is what usually happens. I have never avoided posting critical messages when I get them.

Q — Who reads your blog (besides the people at your station)? The competition?

There are a handful of non-TV people in the community who read it. I know the competition does. I know that some agents do. Other than that, I'm blissfully unaware.

Q — Any stories you can share? And what has been the response from the general public?

The Memphis mayor's assistant reads the blog regularly. She emailed a correction (July) and I posted it as soon as I got it.

Q — What's been the corporate response to your blog? Has that changed over the years?

About six months in, I was ordered to stop. I refused. I wouldn't say my bosses backed down, but I'm very aware of how what I write could get me fired, so I'm pretty careful. (Never drink and blog)

Q — Does anybody in your shop blog other that yourself? Would you permit that?

I'm very proud to say there are four other bloggers at WMC-TV. Wally Green(www.wgreen.com), Steven Russell (www.russellsabode.com) Jason Plank (www.jasonplank.com) are photojournalists that have blogs. And Darrell Phillips (www.dnphillips.com) a reporter, has a blog. Only Darrell really asked permission but if the others had asked, I would have advised them to proceed but be cautious about certain things (like posting the WMC logo or talking specifically about personnel issues, or research or strategies). One of the photojournalists was critical of our management team on a couple of entries, but I have pretty thick skin. Now, if he started posting our research, I might have to ask him politely to stop.

Q — What advice would you give to others in the local TV news business about starting a blog?

Be prepared for the likes of "peggyphillipblows.com." It no longer exists, but somebody went to the trouble to build a spoof website that looked just like mine where for a few days, I got trashed. I thought it was clever and sometimes funny. I don't mind professional criticism.

Q — If fortune took you to another market, would you continue the blog, even if it meant without the station's permission?

Absolutely.

Visit Peggy's blog