Media Watch: Top 10 Media Stories of 2008
1) Statesman Want Ad With newspapers currently considered stinking dog turds on Wall Street, in August family-owned Cox Enterprises announced plans to sell dozens of its papers, including the Austin American-Statesman. As they say in the financial biz: not great timing. The economy promptly crashed, along with interest in buying newspapers. Five months later, the Statesman is still available to anyone willing to make the right offer ... and, really, please, anyone, make an offer, any offer.
2) Media Meltdown Layoffs, cutbacks, financial implosions, frogs falling from the sky – among bad years, this was one of biblical proportions for media companies. The Tribune Co.'s recent bankruptcy filing was only one of several headline-grabbing disasters. By some counts, in the past two years, more than 20,000 journalists have lost their jobs.
3) KXAN vs. Time Warner NBC briefly disappeared from Time Warner Cable, when LIN TV, owner of local NBC affiliate KXAN, engaged the cable system in hand-to-hand combat over retransmission fees. Both launched smarmy PR campaigns, accusing each other of molesting poor downtrodden viewers. At its heart, the debate was over future payment systems, a key industry issue. Austin viewers were just happy The Office eventually returned.
4) Political Bloviation In a historic election year, rife with the weighty issues of our time, the mainstream media focused on Joe the Plumber, crazy preachers, socialism, and Sarah Palin's relative hotness. On an hourly basis, they explored new depths of shallowness, eagerly latching on to whatever miniscandal the campaigns presented. No wonder a good chunk of the populace went to the polls thinking Obama is a Muslim.
5) Emmis Woes As dozens of media companies struggled, none affected Austin like the plummeting fortunes of Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications. Not only has it tightened budgets at its six local radio stations – slicing into the hearts of such Austin stalwarts as KGSR-FM and KLBJ-FM – but the axe fell at Emmis-owned Texas Monthly, which lost 10% of its staff. By December Emmis' stock was wallowing at 50 cents a share, suggesting more cuts might loom.
6) FCC Boobs Bounced In one of those mostly overlooked little stories, a federal appeals court tossed a $550,000 indecency fine against CBS, for Janet Jackson's near nipple-exposing flash during halftime of the 2004 Super Bowl. No case better exemplified the silliness of the Federal Communications Commission's zealous Bush-era attempt to clean up the airwaves. The court's decision renewed hope that the new administration will steer the FCC away from its strange and costly attempt to wash out broadcasters' mouths with soap.
7) No Need to Know The analog era of television officially ends in February. As a run-up, broadcasters and various government agencies spent millions in 2008 trying to explain the transformation, even though only a relatively small group of people is affected (specifically, those not using cable or satellite services who don't have digital TVs). A yearlong campaign of commercials, news stories, infomercials, and text crawls only served to confuse the hell out of everyone.
8) Radio, Not The radio industry continued to plod. No dramatic new formats. No excitement for mysteriously acronymed "HD." No love from advertisers. It was a year of layoffs and cutbacks and more Rush Limbaugh. Broadcasters did delay the Sirius-XM merger long enough to screw the satellite companies. Oh, and Mix 94.7 renewed The JB & Sandy Morning Show, which is what passed for big news on the local radio front.
9) New Statesman Leadership The most recognizable face of the Austin American-Statesman, Editor Rich Oppel, retired into the sunset, leaving behind little of the promise he brought to the paper 13 years earlier. Longtime No. 2 Fred Zipp slipped into the editor's chair and put his stamp on the job by making no major changes at the snoozing paper. The biggest shake-up could be the addition of Publisher Michael Vivio, who may push to liven up the product.
10) KEYE Krunch In one week, 14 staffers were jettisoned from CBS affiliate KEYE-TV, a year after the station was purchased by the same private equity firm that bought buyout-begging carmaker Chrysler. No big deal, KEYE management said. Many in the industry saw the layoffs as a sign of things to come, as TV companies around the country begin to scale back to protect diminishing profit margins.