Thursday, March 8, 2012

Local News Era Ends With Exit Of Sue Simmons

The nation’s highest paid local news female anchor, Sue Simmons, is being let go by NBC-New York this June, according to newspaper reports.  Her 32-year run will end and the viewers will lose out.

It’s all about the money.  The media is a business.  New NBC parent, Comcast, couldn’t afford to keep Sue and Chuck Scarborough, her co-anchor and partner in crime for 30 plus years.  You can say its age discrimination but I’m not sure about that.  Chuck and Sue are both 68.  He got extended for three years; she got the door.  No doubt they’ll pair Chuck with an under 40 woman.  But the local news won’t get younger viewers simply because of a younger anchor.  They’ll get new viewers when they make local news more interesting and relevant.

The decline of local news has been long and steady, and happened way before the Internet or cable-TV came on the scene.  The problem is the format.  People don’t want to hear the crime escapades of their city, nor do they want the lead story to be the weather unless a blizzard is coming.  Too many commercials, too much fluff, and stupid banter between the anchor and reporters.  To get the lotto winning numbers or sports scores, people will just check their smartphones. 

Local news shows lack true original reporting or exclusives.  They don’t have the budget, perhaps.  Or perhaps they lack creativity or journalistic instincts.  Local news is more and more just a collection of personalities and attractive faces.  There’s little difference in NYC, the largest media market in the nation, between the local newscasts.  One is as bad as the other, though News 12 Westchester takes the cake for looking like a college radio station. 

I stopped watching local news about a year ago.  I use that time to either watch Jon Stewart (his faux news is better than the real thing) or to see what Netflix has to offer.  I am a news junkie and should be counted a viewer of the local news, but that format has abandoned me.  And if I’m not watching it any longer that means others aren’t either.  One wonders if local news shows will be around a decade from now.

I first met Simmons about 30 years ago when I was in high school.  I wanted to be a journalist and decided to go visit NBC with my good friend, David Erani.  We just went straight into the building and asked to visit and they let us up.  No way that happens today – security would throw you a beatdown.  We saw Marv Albert and Al Roker in the hallway.  We spoke to Don Gould and interviewed Chuck Scarborough for a piece that I don’t think ever made it into my school newspaper. We saw Sue as well.  Back then the best local show was Live at Five, an early evening mix of news and entertainment, a kind of local version of the Today Show.  They’d interview residents and celebrities, address consumer complaints, analyze important issues, and actually dig up real news.  It was better than what comes on these days.

Sue, we’ll miss you.  Local news, you are no longer missed.  You’re just irrelevant.  

Interview With Business Book Author Mark Schaefer

Mark, what’s so special about your new book, Return on Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scores, and Influence Marketing (McGraw-Hill)? This is the first book that examines the democratization of influence and how brands are tapping into the passion and expertise of everyday people to promote word of mouth marketing for their brands.  An entirely new marketing channel has opened up yet few people really understand it.

You write about the new rules of online influence. Can you share a few rules with us?  Influence in the "offline world" has been well-documented but influence in the online world is showing up in some new and surprising ways. I compare seven of these differences in the book, but probably the most dramatic development is the fact that we can now create influence and power by creating content that can move through an engaged online network. This is revolutionary. Through the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet and free publishing tools like blogging and Facebook, a new source of influence has been created.

What do we need to know about the rise of the citizen influence? Today, everybody can publish. Everybody can have a voice. It doesn't matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you were born. It doesn't matter how much money you have or if you went to college. Influence has been democratized. This is the era of the citizen influencer.

How can we increase our klout score? In the book I explore a three-step process in detail. First, you have to build an engaged online network who wants to share your content. Second, you have to create or aggregate interesting and useful content (which can be something as simple as a tweet!). And finally, you have to actively engage with these folks. You can't be influential if you don't show up!

What is the future of “social scoring”?  This development -- or assigning influence scores to everyone -- is really in the silent movie stage. What they are trying to do is infinitely complex. So there is a long path of opportunity ahead of them. But I think the real opportunity is to drive this down to the local level, so that every business can identify who is creating buzz for their business so they can reach out and reward them. The possible applications are endless.

You say that any of us can be an Internet celebrity. Really? I guess it depends on how you define celebrity!  The point is that to a large extent celebrity today is based more on "being known" and staying "known" than accomplishing anything. With the Internet and our ability to publish, this is within the grasp of anybody. We don't have to wait for luck or something to happen to put us in the spotlight. We can create our own online presence, our own online reality.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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