September 14, 2009

More Anchors to Sink

A Christmas card addressed in a shaky handwriting was delivered to KHQ-TV’s newsroom shortly after I began working there. Randy and Deb, Spokane was all it read.


Talk about name ID. No last names, no street number, no zip code---just two first names and the city. Even the Postal Service knew that you didn’t need to follow the rules to get a piece of mail to our long time, extremely popular anchors Randy Shaw and Deborah Wilde. These guys are bulletproof I thought.

Shortly thereafter Deborah was eased out; Randy was sacked.

Bigger wow.

But I didn’t even raise an eyebrow when I learned that Nadine Woodward was gone at KREM. Popularity, credibility and a 19 year tenure were no match for a high salary, enormous changes in TV and savvy management. Her departure was inevitable---others are as well.

As Woodward’s contract came up for renewal she was apparently asked to take a 15% pay cut and renegotiate favorable working hours. According to the Spokesman Review she acceded to a reduced salary but was unwilling to give up a flexible work schedule which included coming in an hour late, a two-hour dinner break and Friday nights off. OK…fair enough…making six figures in far less than 40 hours a week works for me. But KREM’s management didn’t see it that way and declined to renew her contract. Woodward says it’s all about money and that KREM can get someone to read the news for half her salary.

Yup---that’s TV. Broadcasting’s like any business---the bottom line is the bottom line. So when the bosses in a corporation based outside Spokane tell local managers to cut the first place they look is the high priced talent. Technology has allowed broadcasters to reduce staffs while producing about the same amount of content; colleges keeping graduating more TV majors than there are on-air jobs. Of course TV station owners take advantage---they too would soon be gone they didn’t.

And this surprises people? It shouldn’t.

The Journal of Business recently explained how local media are just following the national trend of steadily declining ratings owing to the Internet, the economy and diminished relevance. Woodward’s just a high profile example: KREM had a huge lay off this past spring including Nadine’s husband which led to speculation that she wasn’t far behind, KXLY dumped its weekend news earlier this year and KHQ started cutting back long before I left.

I tell people that I never get attached to my golf balls because I don’t see them for very long. Local news is the same. I left TV news a step ahead of the executioner---Woodward didn’t, alas. I’m sure other long time, highly paid Spokane anchors are looking over their shoulders for the man in the hood…if not they should be.

August 31, 2009

Shame on the GOP

Seems that the GOP is trying to raise money by saying it's representing the U.S. Census Bureau. Check out this BBB newsrelease. If it looks like a scam....

August 25, 2009

A Different Spokane

An interesting thing happened during a recent impromptu barbeque with my neighbors the other night: optimism broke out. It wasn’t the typical good humored banter I normally hear when folks living in our downtown lofts get together over briquettes, burgers and beers---no summer vacation plans, reviews on the new neighborhood saloon or “’hell’s up with the Mayor?” comments. The conversation centered on the joys of unemployment instead. Three neighbors—all professionals who recently lost excellent jobs---explained that idleness was great, that they now have a rare opportunity to do something they really like and…get this…they have no plans to leave Spokane.
What? Stay in Spokane?
My neighbors are not the first ones who been laid off since the economy tanked last fall who have chosen Spokane over Seattle, Portland or Boise. At least a half dozen friends who suddenly found themselves cut loose decided that Spokane’s the best place to leverage their considerable skills and forge long term, and it is hoped, lucrative opportunities for themselves.
This is clearly not the same town that chased me away during the last big recession in the early 1980s. Cuts in broadcast newsrooms had cost me two jobs and almost a half-year of unemployment; the economy was bereft, Expo 74’s momentum had sputtered and died, and attitudes were as grim as downtown’s boarded up buildings. So I left.
During my decade long absence I watched as my adopted communities thrived; new ideas were tested, innovation was embraced and dynamic leaders made bold decisions. My cities grew, solutions to difficult problems were found, and new opportunities arose. It was infectious; I hoped the optimism would be catching as I returned to Spokane in 1994.
And there were glimmers of change. Downtown was starting to come back, television news had definitely kicked it up a couple of notches and who is this Walt Worthy guy, I wondered? Lots of stops, starts, detours, and vestiges of “we can’t do that” were still apparent (still are in some quarters, alas) but folks eventually realized that progress is possible and that positive changes invigorate and strengthen a community’s heart and soul, not damage it.
Almost overnight it seemed that billions of dollars were invested in Spokane and creative solutions to difficult problems such as the health of the Spokane River were found. Energetic people were pushing big cultural and business projects such as the Armed Forces and Aerospace Museum, Mobius and the University District. The Spokane I left never would have supported the YWCA/YMCA $40 million collaboration---the first of its kind in the country. A refurbished Davenport Hotel? A restored Fox Theater? Not a chance.
It finally hit me during one of the many times I was standing in the rain or snow telling my TV viewers that it was raining or snowing---time to quite being an observer and join the fun! I left broadcasting and am actively involved in public issues, projects and discussions that my previous profession rendered off limits.
Which brings me back to my neighbors who are eagerly embracing their unexpected, mid-life freedom, plotting their next moves and taking advantage of new opportunities. Thanks for believing in Spokane. Losing your talents, skills, enthusiasm and vision to another community would diminish us all. Having the courage to stick it out here will help ensure our continued success and create an even better community.

April 21, 2009

Univesity District TIF

This seems to be great news for Spokane in General and the U-District in particular. (As reported by the SR's Olympia guy Rich Roesler) Still looking for specifics...but I've seen Tax Increment Financing work wonders in other cities. About time we had more of those creative and successful development tools.

Spokane’s University District and the area between Pullman and Moscow, Idaho stand to get millions of dollars in improvements under a bill lawmakers approved Monday.Senate Bill 5045 now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire to be signed into law.The bill allows local governments to designate “revitalization areas.” It essentially recycles some tax dollars: improvements spur economic growth, generating more taxes. And the money pays for the improvements.The law allows work on public infrastructure like roads, pedestrian bridges, landscaping, sidewalks and utilities.The bill authorizes 7 demonstration projects:-A Spokane University District project, to get up to $250,000 a year.

April 13, 2009

Blowing Up Squirrels

Are you kidding me? The Spokane Parks Department says it's going to detonate the squirrels in Finch Arboretum. I'd say this was an April Fools joke if the calendar didn't read the middle of the month! But then the Parks Department sees things a little differently. I hope they have a good PR person because this one's going to get interesting.