LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A year ago about this time, as I was leaving the world of newspapers for the world of television and Internet, someone asked me, "What can you do there that you couldn't do here?"
"There" referred to WDRB, where today Rick Bozich and I celebrated our first anniversary. "Here" referred to The Courier-Journal and the newspaper business in general.
Honestly, when I made the move to WDRB, it wasn't a question I knew quite how to answer. I'd have been satisfied to be able to do the same things I'd been doing for the paper -- except maybe with the opportunity to write longer columns and to pursue a few more outside projects and a bit more writing outside of sports. I also was hoping to move forward without having to watch a building full of people go through the anxiety of yearly layoffs, or losing several weeks' pay each year to furloughs, or being asked to do more in the way of blogs and online content without receiving more pay.
Those were the simple reasons behind what I did, and had I just been able to realize those things at my new media home, I'd have been happy.
In fact, I've been able to do a great deal more.
The simple matter of being able to write as many words as I want on a given subject (too many, in some cases, I'm sure, and too few, probably, in some others) has been one of the great gifts. Last week, when The New York Times wrote about a lawsuit Julie Hermann was involved in at the University of Louisville in 2010, I went back to my own archives of my blogs for the newspaper and found a lengthy piece I blogged about it. I remember, when looking at it, that I hadn't written a column on it for the paper because I couldn't do the various twists and turns of that case much justice in 600 words, and didn't even want to try. Maybe that's a shortcoming on my part.
It no longer matters. Nor does deadline. I never could understand how, thirty years ago, newspapers could have deadlines that were as late as 2 a.m., when today you're lucky to go past midnight. When the University of Kentucky won the NCAA championship a year ago, it was an exercise in instant writing, as it always is with such late games. This year, when the University of Louisville won a championship, I reported until I felt there was nothing else to get, but only then sat down to write. It was the same when U of L won the Sugar Bowl. That day began with live appearances on the news beginning at 11:30 a.m. and continuing through the afternoon, then continued with the game and postgame TV, and kept on going beginning with the morning news at 5 a.m. and running for five hours. It wouldn't be my last experience with marathon journalism. Steve Andress and I logged 2,500 miles in a WDRB Ford Explorer while traveling back and forth between the men's and women's Final Fours in Atlanta and New Orleans.
Moreover, we have explored storytelling over multiple platforms, such as when Pat Doney and I traveled to Miami to the home of Eli Rogers, to tell the story of he and Teddy Bridgewater leaning on each other in high school through the illnesses of their mothers.
Newspapers are hitting video hard these days. Rick Bozich and I had already been hitting video hard for several years. We figured if things were trending toward video anyway, why not do the videos for a visual medium and take our writing in that direction? Consider this: Newspaper journalists are now having to be true double-threat people. They'll be conducting their postgame interviews while holding up a smartphone or webcam to capture video. I did it for years. It compromises your writing. With television, that video is being captured by professional videographers, camera operators or reporters, and I'm in the locker room focused on reporting and what I'm going to write, and what I'm going to say in our video stand-up after the game.
That's not to say I'm not going to learn to shoot more video in the coming year. (Shoot, I got hazard pay when I shot Steve Andress for his stand-up recap on the court at Illinois after the Illini knocked off Indiana and their students stormed the court. You can usually tell when I shoot those, because the shot is slightly crooked, like what they used to do with the villains in the old Batman show.)
Still, on the whole, one thing I've been able to do in television that I couldn't in newspapers is actually focus on the writing and reporting rather than worrying about capturing and posting video. I do that still, in some cases, but not as much.
Rick and I did a webcast for years. And we still do one. But our webcast on Wednesday mornings for WDRB.com is done with an entire production team on a professional set and includes highlights and all the bells and whistles to complement what we're doing.
Now, there's a whole list of things I've done in the past year that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. I'd lump all these in the "cool" category. I got to throw out the first pitch at a Louisville Bats game. I got to drive a decal-laden Camaro for a month during the NCAA Tournament. I played in WDRB's "Mascot Bowl" and got tackled by a giant Early Times mint julep mascot. I was on three billboards, which I wouldn't necessarily describe as "fun," but certainly was different. I've filled in as guest host of both The Early Birds and The Afternoon Underdogs on WKRD-790 AM. I'd never done that before. They tell me I'm a finalist for a Best of Louisville Award. That never happened before. (I will thank all of you who voted for me personally at the next family reunion.) When national news happened, if I felt I had something to say on the subject, I weighed in. And I was grateful when the local Society of Professional Journalists named me a finalist in their category for political commentary. Again, that never happened before.
When the University of Louisville won a national championship in men's basketball, I went to management at WDRB about producing an E-Book of my coverage of the postseason. All were more than supportive, and assistant news director Jen Keeney put in so much time editing the book that I'd like to announce right here that I'm splitting all the proceeds of the free book with her. I hope she doesn't spend all of her zero dollars in one place. Seriously -- I published an E-Book collection of writing from the web produced for a television web site. How's that for an end-around on journalism as usual? I probably could have done that working for some other medium, but not for free, which I think was both a nice thing for fans, and for this site.
And while on the subject of books, yesterday we shipped the manuscript for Rick Pitino's upcoming book, to be published in October by St. Martin's Press. I wouldn't have been allowed to undertake that project with the newspaper, and there's good reason for that. But as I got to thinking about where journalism is today, and noted that my parent company at the newspaper was forming business partnerships with the PGA and Major League Baseball and even the Kentucky Derby, all the while asking me to give up several weeks' pay a year through furloughs, it seemed to me that the template had changed. I've written a book with Pitino and my coverage of him -- and of everything else -- will be judged by that fact. I also have great respect for Dick Weiss, recently and ridiculously laid off by the New York Daily News. He also did a book with Pitino. Others have done books with other sports figures. I'm certainly open to doing them with other people if it seems like the right project. I'm aware of the pitfalls. But what Pitino wanted to do with his book, I thought made it a worthwhile project. As I sat with him and we discussed the more difficult times in his life -- both self-inflicted and some tragic and not of his making -- and the things he did to navigate through those times and emerge victorious on the other side, I was certain he was crafting a message, both practical and hopeful, that would be of use. The book just had a much happier ending than most people envisioned when the idea was floated a couple of years ago, because of this past season's NCAA championship. That wrinkle required some adjustments, but also made things more interesting. That's been a major effort in the past year and one that you'll hear more about as the drop date comes in a few months.
I've always been fortunate to work with great people, and that's certainly the case at WDRB. But more than that, they are people who feel like they're working in a special place, and actually show up in a great mood about what's going on around them.
I'm on a news staff that is expanding. The news staff has grown by at least 15 since I arrived a year ago. Later this month, WDRB will break ground on a major building expansion that will add office space and a new studio, which will allow us to crank out more sports programming for both the web and television.
After Rick and I left the newspaper and joined WDRB one year ago today, New Orleans' CBS affiliate hired a pair of investigative reporters from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. A Pulitzer prize winner, Charlie LeDuff from the Detroit Free-Press, went to work for Fox's WJBK in Detroit. Caulton Tudor of the Raleigh News & Observer was laid off, then went straight to work in television in Raleigh.
"If you are going to play by the rules your competitors set up, they are going to control your growth," WDRB president and general manager Bill Lamb is fond of saying.
The leadership here remains aggressive, willing to try new things, and willing to expand when most (though not all) others are going the other direction.
As for me, I've viewed the past year more as an orientation than anything else. We will branch out even more in the next year, try some new things and try to do the old ones better. You'll see some major new wrinkles in mobile delivery of our sports coverage, adding to what already are the city's best apps for phones, iPads and other mobile devices. You'll see more live streaming of news conferences. And I might even squeeze in a vacation.
I don't look much at TV ratings, but I like to check once in a while and see what the city is watching. Last night, June 4, 2013, of all the programming on all the channels, cable and broadcast, in the three prime-time hours between eight and eleven -- and that included one of the highest-rated shows on network television and a couple of network debuts -- the fifth most-watched prime time show in the Louisville market was the WDRB Sports segment of the WDRB News at 10, watched in nearly 45,000 local households. The late edition of ESPN's SportsCenter, which began at about the same time, totaled just over 4,000 households.
Now, we're not bigger than SportsCenter (though in Louisville, we are). And we don't get that audience every night. And I can't take any credit for that viewership. Heck, Rick Bozich and I weren't even on the show. (I buried that low in this blog entry so the bosses wouldn't take note). But we're moving in the right direction. As I look back at one year after a move that not everyone understood, that's the overall theme. We're part of doing something new, moving in a positive direction, and having fun doing it. Thanks to everyone at WDRB who has helped that to be the case, and to everyone watching and reading.