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In Defense of WOOD TV 8 and the Handling of Suzanne Geha’s Departure

April 25, 2011 12 comments

The recent departure of longtime local TV anchor Suzanne Geha from WOOD TV 8 has generated a storm of backlash from the West Michigan audience that watched her for the last 30 years.

The reason the public is upset is that they’re justified: the station deliberately marketed its anchors as personalities and made community involvement a component of their jobs when they were away from the set. They invited the public in to see the positive aspects, and then when an uncomfortable/unpopular development happened – they shut the people out.  Or at least, they tried.

The public has flooded social media with commentary, speculation and condemnation.  I’m pretty confident the full story will come out somehow, no matter how hard the decision-makers try to obscure it with nondisclosure agreements and other old-school tools for enforcing opaqueness.

That sort of detached, clueless decision-making smacks more of a large corporate conglomerate than a local business.

The real problem is that WOOD TV, like so many media entities, is owned by a parent company: LIN Media, a publicly-traded company based in Rhode Island.  I doubt the decision to end the relationship with Suzanne Geha was made at the local level.  It was probably part of budget cuts made by some suits with MBAs in a corner office in Providence who over-value quarterly earnings reports and under-value public relations.

The story of news entities being bought up by conglomerates and subsequently starved of funding to increase profitability is a very common one in the past few decades, so I feel bad that the station’s been hammered so badly in the public sphere.

That concentration of media ownership is also a key factor in the problems traditional media have had in being able to innovate and evolve in response to the social media revolution that has eroded audiences.  Rather than investing the massive profits of the 1980s in development for the long-term future, the corporate ownership of most news entities (including print, radio and TV) pocketed the money and are now in the process of wringing the last remaining drops of revenue out of those acquisitions.

Unfortunately we may have to wait until investors lose interest in news media enterprises before they’re able to return to people who actually value news gathering and begin the difficult process of innovation.  It may be too late, though; and the next stage of evolution for the news may be usurped by the social media-driven ventures that exist outside the traditional model.

One thing is for sure regardless of which path is taken – the road will be a rocky one.