CRAWFORD COMMENTARY | Five years in, WDRB still feels like the right move
WDRB sports journalist Eric Crawford reflects on five years in the television business on his fifth anniversary with the station.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Five years ago today, an experiment began. Rick Bozich and I walked down a couple of blocks on Sixth Street to join WDRB News after many years – three decades for Bozich, in fact – at The Courier-Journal.
You never know how such things will go down. We gave the paper some notice, but when our phones stopped working a day later and we were told to turn in our stuff, the change-over happened faster than we anticipated. Bozich was headed to New York to cover I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown bid for the newspaper. Instead, he covered it for WDRB.
And I wrote this column, trying to explain a decision that everyone was curious about. Well, “curious” is probably too kind a word. One commentator said that a move to ESPN.com made sense, but a move to a local TV station? Even to compare the two was ridiculous. I’ll let that go without comment after recent events. Colleagues at the newspaper suggested WDRB would keep us long enough to get some publicity, then cast us off. It was a risk I was willing to take.
Five years later, we’re still smiling. Think about the things we’ve seen in five years – the University of Louisville winning an NCAA basketball title (column). American Pharoah winning a Triple Crown (column). Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman Trophy (column). Muhammad Ali passing away and the eyes of the world turning to Louisville (column). Some of the most extraordinary sports stories of my professional lifetime have happened just in that short time, and I’m extraordinarily grateful to have been at WDRB, right in the middle of them, in Atlanta, in New York City, in Louisville, when they happened.
I won’t speak for Bozich. But today I still consider it to have been a great move, personally. The folks at WDRB have been unfailingly supportive, positive, professional and hard-working. The newsroom, expanded several years ago, hums with energy. Barry Fulmer, news director at WDRB, remains relentless and innovative. Jen Keeney, assistant news director, is unfailingly supportive. Bill Lamb does not deviate from his vision of what he wants this news organization to be. The sports staff -- Tom Lane, John Lewis, Mike Lacett and Katie George -- are a pleasure to work with.
One testament to the success here – they’re always interviewing new candidates. The newsroom has grown to 91 employees (it was at 45 the day Fulmer took over as news director a dozen years ago). I don’t know how many folks have come in and moved on up the TV ladder in that time, but thanks to social media I still see them in Dallas or St. Louis or Cleveland or Minneapolis or lots of other places.
Of course, some of us are at home right here. As a result of all that, the newsroom always has a great mix of talented newcomers with respected veteran journalists. A Gallup poll recently showed that the No. 1 reason people change jobs is not more money (that was factor No. 4) but “the ability to do what they do best.”
As I’ve said and written elsewhere, I came to this job for the opportunity to keep writing. Television is what makes that happen. That is still, as far as I understand it, how WDRB makes money off Bozich and me. And TV, frankly, after five years, is something I’m still learning. Fortunately, I’m around a great many people who do know what they’re doing. But it pays for the opportunity to keep writing, and reporting.
Reason No. 3 people change jobs is “greater stability and job security.” That’s the holy grail in the news media. I don’t know that it really exists. But whenever he speaks to the news department as a group – and he does it often – Lamb talks about just that. Our job security, he tells everyone, is in how hard we work and in what kind of success we’re able to build.
The media landscape in this country is always changing. Slowly, some of the same change that happened to newspapers will overtake television, though the effect may be different. Everything is moving toward the phone you’re reading this column on. Or the tablet. Or, less often now, the computer screen. Chances are, you came here because you saw the link on Facebook, or Twitter. (By the way, follow me on Twitter here, or on Facebook here.) In fact, increasingly, the things people want on the TV screens in their homes are what they see in the small screens in their hands.
When the violence broke out in London the other night, I didn’t need FoxNews or CNN or MSNBC. I could pull up a live stream of SkyNews or the BBC on the scene, and follow reports on Twitter.
So the challenge for me, and for everyone else in this business, is to try to keep finding a way to be someone you want to keep pulling up on that little screen.
Changing news mediums, I have found, is easy. We all essentially do the same things. My newspaper friends are always shooting stand-ups and videos. My TV colleagues at WDRB are writing stories for the web. Often, we’re all covering the same stories.
Every newsroom now displays large screens which show what stories are generating the most traffic, and other screens that measure social media activity and engagement.
What they don’t have a screen to monitor is trust – and that is the most valuable metric in all of media. Public trust in our media institutions has eroded, to an alarming point, though at local outlets less than national.
In the recent presidential election, journalists I know and news outlets in general couldn’t believe that major stories they were breaking didn’t have more of an impact on the final result, even if they dominated the news cycle for a day or two. The reason is that the influence of media organizations is waning. We’re not post-truth. We are post-influence. (It’s one reason I thought it was so important that WDRB cover the Republican and Democrat national conventions ourselves last year – which we did.)
But that influence, born of trust, is what every media outlet in the country ought to be seeking and treasuring above all else. Changing mediums is easy. Keeping trust is hard work.
It’s what we’re hoping we have built and are continuing to build at WDRB. Whether it’s a big weather situation or a big sports story or a big news event, we want your thought to be, “I want to see what they’re reporting or saying about this.” The viewing habits of people with regard to local news are some of the most difficult things to change. So we have a lot of work to do. We don’t take it for granted.
And I don’t take it for granted. The easy way to get people to watch is to be outrageous or intentionally controversial, or to be divisive and play people against each other. I can’t pull any of those things off very well. My hope is that over the years, you and I have come to know each other and respect each other.
I just feel the need once in a while to thank those of you who read faithfully or watch when you can or who follow along on social media. You certainly don’t have to. I don’t want you to feel ever that I take it for granted or don’t appreciate it.
And I also want to take the opportunity of this five years in the box, so to speak, to thank everyone at WDRB. It’s one thing to write and talk about sports. It’s another to have someone pay you to do it. They’ve not only done that, but provided a supportive work environment, and encouragement to venture outside of the sports arena now and then to topics far and wide.
Let’s keep going. Now if I could only get used to wearing a tie.
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