Is the cost associated with network television coverage of the conventions over the top? Could the money be put to better use doing long-form reporting about critical issues facing the nation?
Need to Know’s Executive Producer, Marc Rosenwasser, who has worked at ABC, NBC and CBS during his 37-year career, offers his opinions about this in a TVNewser op-ed.
His open letter to the network anchors and network news division presidents, written Thursday on the final day of the RNC, is personal. It does not represent the views of PBS, WNET or “Need to Know.”
To: NBC, ABC, CBS evening news anchors and news presidents
From: Marc Rosenwasser
I hope you’re surviving the oppressive heat and humidity down here and finding some news to report from the convention. If you are, you and your producers are even more industrious and creative than I thought.
I say that because the hours I’ve spent at the convention center this week seem like one big party — not a single thing more.
Sure, there are the speeches that the delegates seem to pay attention to — occasionally. And, of course, those speeches do give millions of potential voters an opportunity to hear what the party and its leaders stand for.
But my question is this: why do you need to spend many millions of dollars flying hundreds of your employees to Tampa and Charlotte and then housing and feeding them for a week when you could just as easily cover the story from New York via a pool feed?
Of course, I understand that you don’t want to surrender access to the candidates and top party officials to your competitors. But let’s face it: for all the endless talk about tweeting and the blogosphere, what routinely gets lost in the conversation is that your nightly news programs are still where the numbers are, lopsidedly — 21 or 22 million viewers each night during slow times, many
millions more during big news stories. So it’s not as if the candidates and their minions wouldn’t talk to you by remote. They need the platform you offer. (Last time I checked, satellite time was still available.)
Conversely, because there are so many other news outlets offering virtually the same convention coverage you are, the ratings for your 10pm specials are, by your own standards, exceptionally small.
Are those specials really necessary, anyway? After all, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and others already provide more extensive coverage. And, of course, the “NewsHour” team on PBS offers three hours of prime-time coverage each night, enabling millions still without cable to see it all.
But since so few people are watching the convention, anyway, I’m sure your corporate bosses would be happy for you to do less.
So here’s my idea:
When 2016 comes around and beyond, don’t just do something, stand there. Stay home. Send a few correspondents and crews to the convention sites and do the rest by remote.
But here’s the more important idea: sign what amounts to a non-aggression pact and, using only a tiny portion of the millions you would each save, join forces and produce a series of nine, one-hour documentaries airing between Labor Day and Election Day that would explore “The Great Issues” facing the nation. ABC, for instance, could produce and air shows 1, 4 and 7; CBS could do shows 2, 5 and 8, and NBC 3, 6 or 9 — or something like that. Agree to run them at a common time for the nine-week period (10p on Fridays, perhaps.)
Even if you were incredibly loose with your money, these pieces each would cost no more than $75,000-$100,000 to produce – approximately $250,000 per network for three shows. That means you would each save many millions and fulfill your public service duties and responsibility in a dramatically more meaningful way than what you are offering viewers now during the conventions.
All it takes is for one of you to take the lead to make this happen.
Who among you will?
<em>Marc Rosenwasser worked at ABC for seven years, at NBC for 16 years and at CBS for one. He is now the executive producer of “Need to Know,” the weekly PBS newsmagazine. His personal views expressed here do not reflect or represent the views of Need to Know, WNET or PBS and are explicitly his own. Based on his experience in Tampa, he is cancelling plans to attend the Democratic convention in Charlotte.</em>