Friday, October 16, 2009

LA Times: KCOP a 'Zombie Station'

Fox's Los Angeles duopoly commenced a content-sharing arrangement with KNBC and KTLA in June, all four stations sharing photographers and assignment editors. The assignment desk is housed at KNBC and overseen by KNBC veteran Kris Knutsen. “The gist of the agreement is that it frees up our news resources to allow them to do more enterprise news stories,” says KTTV VP/General Manager Kevin Hale. “It’s an efficient way to help us put on a better newscast.”

Now it's October and KCOP, the less famous half of Fox’s Los Angeles duopoly, has been relegated to nothing more than a “zombie station” with no true identity,writes Paul Rainey in the LA Times.

Rainey laments that it’s KTTV personnel that writes, reports and presents the KCOP news.

The station’s news operation has been taken over — lock, stock, news desk and teleprompter — by its duopoly partner, KTTV-TV Channel 11, the local Fox television affiliate, which itself has been hobbled by mass layoffs in recent months.

The emergence of KCOP as the first (but likely not last) of the news undead may seem like a trivial milepost in what has been a decades-long slide by local TV news into banality, trivia and marginalization.

Rainey laments that you don’t even see the KCOP branding anymore, a victim of consolidation in the modern media world.

The Fox-MyNet duop went through heavy layoffs last month,
117 staffers at the Fox-owned KTTV-KCOP duopoly were laid off as of Sept. 10, according to a KTTV senior editor who posted an open letter to News Corp. management.

With the economy continuing to sputter, the stations are downsizing considerably. One insider said the downsized are roughly half full-time staffers and half per diem freelancers.

KTTV senior features editor Mark Sudock sent an open letter to the Los Angeles media Website LA Observed imploring News Corp. Chairman/CEO Rupert Murdoch to spare the staffers.

"Mr. Murdoch, I am appealing to you personally, as approximately one-hundred and seventeen dedicated workers face layoffs beginning on September 10th," Sudock wrote.

Sudock emphasized the role KTTV plays in the Los Angeles community, and says the stations would be significantly crippled should the planned layoffs transpire. "The cuts are so severe that virtually no one remains on-site to technically maintain the facility," he writes. "The cuts are so deep that our ability to cover the news as we did this past week (with pursuits, brush fires and the Michael Jackson funeral happening simultaneously) is in absolute jeopardy."

Sudock asked Murdoch to consider withholding bonuses among Fox brass in order to free up cash to keep the KTTV staffers on the payroll.

Mr. Sudock's concerns were ignored.

KTTV GM Kevin Hale tells the Times that “our on-air product is as good as it ever was.”

Rainey doesn’t seem to be buying it.

Late Tuesday, I treated myself to KCOP, which spent a few minutes reporting on the “hunky Santa” competition at a local mall, with plenty of shots of shirtless young musclemen preening for the camera. Then weatherman Mark Thompson danced — yes, danced — across the set as the day’s forecast flitted across the screen.

Apparently improvisational dance is a Fox leitmotif, since the next day I caught Maria Quiban shimmying through part of her forecast on KTTV. In the most cringe-inducing moment, fill-in anchor Michael Brownlee joined in, swaying in his chair and loosening his tie as if he might shift into full Chippendales mode.

Can anything be done to restore more substance to the market that brought the world Warren Olney, Jess Marlow and Tom Brokaw?

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