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Jerry Gumbert Steve Safran's MediaReinvent
  • Looking Back: Teachers Are My Heroes

    April 16th, 2017

    (Note:  A speech to elementary and middle schools teachers.)

    Thank you for your time this afternoon.  The real intent for being here is to once and for all find out what really happens during “Teacher In-Service Days.”  And, to validate the widely held belief that these meetings are used to further the conspiracy against the parents and students of St. Andrew!!

    Seriously, I am here because of the fondness and respect I have for this school, everything it stands for, and all of the people that provide this safe and academically nurturing community.  Today, I want to talk to about heroes.  Heroes are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things at an extraordinary time.  This is a room full of HEROES and a room full of EXTRAORDINARY people.

    Growing Up

    I would like to tell you a story about a young boy.  He started kindergarten at four years old in Southfield, Michigan.  He had neither the maturity or ability of his classmates and quickly fell behind, and was LEFT behind.  It would take a long, long time for this boy to ever catch up.  C’s, D’s, and F’s became his elementary school legacy.  A.D.D. and Dyslexia didn’t exist, so he was labeled, perhaps rightly so, an academically-challenged child with a behavioral problem.  In most education circles – it was the kiss of death.

    Struggle became his life.  He was the only student given spelling test words three days in advance.  One of a few students in the S.R.A Reading Program (he read a lot “Sea Hunt” books in 6th grade), and with an inability to articulate because of a stuttering impairment, he spiraled ever so consistently, out of control.

    His physical size was also a concern.  As a 5th grader, he was still smaller than most third grade students.  So small, that his homeroom teacher once asked him how it felt like to be “so tiny.”

    He didn’t learn that he was “different” until the 7th grade.  The morning before the new school year began he rode his bike to school to pick-up his class schedule.  He was headed to Birney Junior High!  When he returned home, he showed his mom his schedule and asked her what the “R” in parenthesis after almost every class meant.  His mom told him the word that he didn’t want to hear – remedial.

    Not that he actually knew what it meant, so she explained that too.  It devastated him.  For he knew, or at least thought, that he was not as “good” as everyone else.  He was the “dumb” boy.  In the “dumb class.”  And what ever measuring stick was used – it was clear that he didn’t measure up.

    High school brought other challenges.  His family moved 1,200 miles from the only place he ever called home.  A motorcycle accident at 15 almost killed him.  It didn’t, but he was hospitalized for a month with internal bleeding and a broken femur.  He didn’t walk for a year.  And his ever-growing liability of a bullet-proof mentality and rebel attitude rubbed, in every way, against the grain.  He did graduate from high school.  Barely.  Then, it was on to college.

    As you have probably figured out by now, this story is MY STORY.  It is still humbling and still difficult at times to talk about.  The human mind has a way of blocking out the pain of the past, doesn’t it?

    This is My Story

    I am telling you this story today because through it all….there were three teachers who saved my life, They literally saved my life.  They were just like you…and today they are the great heroes of my life.  Each teacher found a way, in their own way, to connect with me and impact my life.  Each teacher gave to me the special gift of time and undivided attention, even when I repelled against it.  Each teacher taught me and instilled in me a “life lesson” that still shines brightly within me.

    I am here today to tell you that you are all HEROES.  Sure, you are under-paid. Under-valued.  And under-appreciated.  But, you are HEROES and what you do, in every way, is heroic.  You change the lives of our children.  You inspire them.  You give them hope and strength.  You teach them how to dream.  And every day, you give them back to us a little more nurtured, shaped, molded, and polished than they were when we dropped them off at 7:30 am.

    You have both power and position to change lives, and I stand in front of you this afternoon in awe and with a great admiration and respect for your talent, passion and commitment.

    My Heroes

    Mr. Krass was my Leonard Elementary School gym teacher.  He was a tall athletic man and a former minor league baseball player.  This giant of a man taught me how to set goals, make the effort and sacrifice needed to reach them and gave to me the gifts of determination and competitive spirit.

    He inspired the smallest of the small to become a Top 10 goal scorer in hockey and a Michigan State Summer Olympics champion.  Today, he is responsible for my drive and success as a businessman and my determination to be an involved father.

    Mr. Orsarges was my junior high math teacher.  He was one of those “beautiful people,” a model and on the cover of a women’s nylon stockings product.  In seventh grade math, remedial math, he never stopped encouraging me.  He convinced me to go to summer school – he didn’t convince my parents – he convinced me.  Summer school allowed me to be in the regular math class in 8th grade and Mr. Orsarges was once again my teacher.  He made it a big event each time he handed out our graded tests.  And every time he handed it to me, he told the entire class how proud he was and how much I had improved in the past year.  He made me feel like…like a normal person.  His gift to me was dedication and perseverance. He taught me that, “nothing worth while ever comes easy.”  He gave me back my self-confidence and self-esteem.  And, many of you who know me, know I have never lost it again.

    Mr. David Heath was the head of our speech and drama department in high school.  R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton.  I took a drama class in my junior year because it was the easiest class I could sign up for.  Being a “path of least resistance guy,” it was the sure way to “slide by” again.  Within the first two months of school, I gave my drama teacher every reason to throw me out of his class and he did.  He sent me to Mr. Heath’s office where I am certain a miracle took place that day.

    Mr. Heath asked me only one question. He said, “Jerry, if you could be anything you wanted to be, what would you be?”  I told him a sports play-by-play announcer.  He looked into my eyes and said, “why don’t you try TV?”  Up until that moment, I had never thought about a career in radio or TV.  In fact, I had never thought about a career.  And at that moment, Mr. Heath forever and ever, changed my life.

    He put me on the speech and drama tournament team and I began the journey of being a print journalist, television sportscaster, ABC Television Network college football producer, and local TV station news director and station manager.  Today, I own several companies that develop television programs, innovate local newscast and marketing strategies, and train and coach the top television on-air personalities and Fortune 500 executives in the country.

    All because of one man.  One teacher. One hero.  Mr. David Heath.

    One Class At A Time

    This room is full of them, too.

    I am hopeful that the next time you face an academically challenged kid, a class clown kid, a disrespectful kid, a troubled or struggling kid, or a poorly parented kid, that you will realize the important and life changing impact you can have on these kids’ lives.

    About 12 years ago, I launched a community initiative in more than 50 cities across the country called One Class At A Time.  It is a community program that uses the financial and marketing power of a local television station to award local teachers and classrooms a cash gift that can be used for two purposes:  To purchase the tools a teacher needs to enhance the classroom learning experience, or to purchase supplies for students whose families’ can’t afford them, which places the burden of out-of-pocket expenses on the teacher.  Because most classroom issues are tied to “funding,” this initiative is trying to address the needs of a classroom, one at a time.

    Today, we award a grant of $16,000, or $400 to each teacher at St. Andrew.  These grants are to be used at the sole discretion of each teacher and in a way that each teacher believes is most effective for their classroom. For a young boy who was be given so much by teachers, it is the very least that he can do.  Unfortunately, you will continue to be under-paid, under-valued and almost certainly under-appreciated.  But, you will always be a shining star and a beam of light to your students.  You will always be someone that truly makes a difference.  And, you will always be HEROES.

    Thank you and God bless you!

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

  • Saying Goodbye To Mom

    September 5th, 2014

    Maxine Ann Gumbert.

    You don’t hear the name, “Maxine,” much these days. Her father gave it to her in 1930. His name was  Paul Max Hinckley, our grandpa. Grandma wouldn’t let him  name his oldest sons, Paul or Max.  So, he named his two daughters after him: PAUL-ine and MAX-ine.

    And her life began……

    But, it doesn’t end today.

    Yes, a great tree has fallen and opened an empty place in the sky.
    Our North Star, our brightest light has dimmed.
    The blooming flower of our family has laid down.
    The last page has painfully turned.


    We must turn dry the tears in our eyes.
    We must swallow the lump caught in our throats.
    We must leave behind us the sadness of her death.
    For death is the golden key that opens the palace of eternity and death is not her last sleep, but her last and final awakening.

    Death does leave us heart-broken and the hole is large. But, love… a mother’s love, blesses us with memories and strength to walk forward. The cracks in our hearts will let the light shine through. We are on our feet, mom, catching our breaths, and we will go forward. We shall forever carry you with us, for you are permanently stitched in the tapestry of our lives as we were in yours. We know we will not walk alone because you left your footprints in our hearts.

    And like you, we choose God and family above all.

    Mom knew no spotlight. She chose to let it to shine on others while she cheered on the sidelines. She was unassuming and probably the last person you would notice in a room, but the one you would enjoy talking to the most. She was real. She was very comfortable with herself. She was highly personable, easy to talk to and, well, pretty darn stubborn when she wanted to be. She was an expert practical joker and funny. Quick-witted funny. Clever funny. And, fun.

    Mom loved to laugh. She was a happy person and she loved to listen to or watch things that made her laugh. As children, she introduced us to Bill Cosby. She bought his comedy records and we would listen to them over and over again. Together. As a family. She was also “into” Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and the Smothers Brothers like today’s kids are into One Direction, Beyonce and Lady Gaga. They made her laugh and it was so wonderful to have a mother who laughed all the time.

    Then there was Erma Bombeck. Mom loved Erma Bombeck. She wrote a newspaper column about Midwestern housewives called “At Wits End” and mom read every one of them. Bombeck wrote best selling books, too. Books like “The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank” and “If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?” She kept those books for her entire life.

    A few years ago, I was lucky enough to take mom to see the Smothers Brothers and Bill Cosby. I had tears in my eyes – not from the comedians, but getting to watch and listen to her bust out laughing.

    We loved her sense of humor.

    The greatest advantage a mother can give her children is love. Unconditional love. A mom is one of the only places you can find it. A few years ago I read a poem about mothers. It goes something like this:

    A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials, heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine, desert us; when troubles thicken around us, still she clings to us, and kindly she counsels us to help dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.

    Unconditional love is all we know from her. And, of course the words, “you wait until your father gets home!” For sixty years, from 1954 to 2014, she let her children stand on her shoulders, or in my case, carried me on her back. Family was her prize. It defined her in every way.

    And, she was always there. Hundreds of little league games. Years of high school football games. And yes, one “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves” school play. That’s love. She was my good luck charm in little league. I played shortstop and she sat five feet behind third base at every game. So every time I looked to my right, she would be there. To cheer a good play, or more times than not to cheer me up after throwing the ball over the first baseman’s head. There. From her, I learned to be there for my family and friends. Other than my children, it is the single greatest gift I have ever received.

    Mom wasn’t the type of person who wanted a “legacy.” She just wanted a family.

    She had five kids in nine years. The first four, Chip, Phil, me and Patty were born in five years. Bill was born four years later. It was a difficult pregnancy, so she stopped at five.

    And, thank God she did!

    Chip had polio when he was two years old. So, little brother Phil made a living from pushing him down all the time. I was late to dinner every night and dad would blow a gasket every time. Patty was the perfect one. The only child to ever have her own room… and we all still resent it. Bill shared a bedroom with Chip and learned very quickly that “life isn’t fair.” And it isn’t.

    Mom was no helicopter parent. She loved us instead. In a lot of ways, she taught us to love ourselves. Now, it took decades, and some of us are probably too good at it now…. But, mom did spend a lot of time motivating and course-correcting us…and it was a full-time job.

    But, we are who we are because of mom. And, I am so proud to have been her son and a brother to her children. To us five kids, Mom was a lighthouse. The guidepoint for our lives especially when we felt most lost. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “friends are angels who lift us up when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.”

    She must have been talking about our mom.

    I saw mom two days before she died. I brought her favorite chair to the nursing home. When I picked her up to move her from the bed to the chair, her eyes connected to mine and we had a “moment.” When I sat her back down, she put both of her hands on my face, leaned forward and gave me a great big kiss…right on the lips. It took my breath away. She looked up and said, “I haven’t had a kiss like that since dad was here!”

    Life is measured by moments that take your breath away. Dad did that in 9th grade. Mom took his breath away, too. They were high school sweethearts, went off to college and nursing school, received their degrees and got married in 1953. “Some people come into our lives, touch our hearts, and we are never the same.” That was their love story.

    Dad was the only man mom ever loved. She loved him for 70 years. If there was ever a marriage made in Heaven, it was theirs. They were devoted, loving and an example of what a husband and wife should be for all us. Mom grew up with a lot of arguing in the house and she promised herself that her home would be different. Mom never argued with dad. Ever. She loved him too much to be so little.

    Here’s a news flash: Mom got pregnant on her wedding night. Or did she? Chip was born exactly one day shy of nine months after her wedding date. Some of us have been suspicious about the actual conception date, and we kidded her for years about it. 18 months later Phil was born. Yep, mom was pregnant for 18 of her first 25 months of marriage!

    Mom and dad believed in family and for the next forty plus years taught us the true meaning of life…love and family. First hand, we saw things like “unconditional love,” “sacrifice,” “hard work and responsibility,” and “faith.”

    Today, we stand here as a family with deep convictions about those things because of them.

    Into each charmed life some rain must fall. And it did on the morning of August 20, 1997. The love of her life. Her world. Her everything. Was suddenly gone. Dad’s death was devastating to all of us, and it crushed her heart. I don’t think she ever really got over his death and the loneliness. How could you?

    She lived 17 years and 10 days after dad died. She missed him and talked about him every day. Every day until Saturday, the day she died.

    That’s love. True love. Epic love.

    No one has ever measured, not even the poets, how much a heart can hold. But, our hearts are filled with her love and memories of a lifetime.

    Her beauty is a reflection of all of life’s moments – love, joy, and sorrow. Mom taught us about the first two and in death, we now know the third, “sorrow.”

    Mom, I know a son only holds his mother’s hand for a little while, but I will hold on to your heart for the rest of my life.

    You are the star in the sky. And when we look up, we know you will always be there.

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  • Perspective Is EVERYTHING

    March 16th, 2014

    Today was an interesting day.  Here are just a few of the things that happened to me (all true):

    • I woke up with a headache
    • I cut myself shaving
    • The power went out while I was taking a shower and never came back on
    • Both my computer and cell phone were dead when I went downstairs
    • I had no way to contact the electric company about our power
    • Someone took my cell charger, so I couldn’t charge my phone
    • I went to pack my bags for an out-of-town trip I and didn’t have any black socks
    • I got into my truck only to find the gas gauge below “E” — compliments of one of my kids
    • It took me 20 minutes to find a parking place at the airport
    • I sat on a fully loaded airplane for 30 minutes before the flight was cancelled due to a hydraulics problem
    • We deplaned and were told that our new plane was not at the A Terminal and we needed to go to the D Terminal
    • The flight attendant was a jerk and wouldn’t help a passenger with her luggage
    • We finally departed two hours late
    • During the flight, I learned that Michigan State soundly beat Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game costing the Wolverines a Number One seed

    It is 5:30 pm, so I don’t know what this evening will bring.   Ugh!

    Still, each day is determined not by what happens to us, but by what we choose to focus on.  Here are a few other things that happened to me today (all true):

    • I woke up.  Some people did not.
    • I woke up with my arm around the most beautiful woman in the world, my wife
    • Saturday night ended with no problems involving the kids (six kids in six states right now)
    • I shaved with a $6 razor blade — the best you can buy
    • I showered in hot water — at any temperature I wanted it to be
    • Unlike many, I live in a house that has electricity
    • Unlike even more, I have a computer and cell phone to charge
    • I am going out-of-town because I am lucky enough to have a job — something I love
    • Gas is 75 cents a gallon cheaper than it was a year ago
    • Fortunately, the pilot identified the problem with the landing gear before we tried to land
    • My flight was rescheduled and I will get to my location this evening instead of tomorrow
    • I got the exercise I needed walking through Terminals A and D
    • I had the opportunity to assist a woman with two broken feet put her luggage in the overhead compartment
    • I am posting this using WIFI on the airplane – it makes work and life easier
    • The U of M won the Big Ten Regular Season Championship — their first outright title in 28 years — they will be a Number Two seed at The Dance.

    Every day our happiness is determined by what we think and how we react to the world we live in.  We all have a choice.  Plus, I really don’t like black socks anyway.

    Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

  • To The Mountaintop

    May 31st, 2013

    So, you wanna be successful, huh?

    Dream big. Nothing is out of reach.

    Don’t dim your light, simply because it’s shining in their eyes.

    Never yield to those who say it cannot be done.

    If you believe in yourself, no one can stop you.  No one.

    Posted in Leadership | No Comments »

  • Heroes

    May 27th, 2013

    I have never worn a uniform.

    So, it would be unfair for me to say I know the sacrifice of American soldiers. I don’t. I really have no idea. I can’t imagine the courage and selflessness it takes to risk your life, every day, for your country and its people.

    I do know that they are heroes. For a hero is someone who gives to something bigger than oneself. For them, today is their day and because of them, the other 364 days are ours.

    Posted in Leadership | No Comments »

  • A Leader and Believer

    August 18th, 2012

    Robert Ratliff is 22 years old.  I have known him for nearly all of them.  I watched him learn to play baseball and earn his way into the Little League World Series when he was 12 years old.  I watched him bury his father (and my dear friend) the following spring.  I watched him learn to play football and at quarterback lead Nolan Catholic High School to the State Championship — a big deal in Texas football land.  And, I watched his disappointment when college recruiters didn’t call.

    Through it all, all of it, Robert did not quit.  He never felt sorry for himself. He never stopped believing.  Never.

    Two weeks ago his mother, Patti, his rock and his everything suffered a tragic brain aneurysm. She is still in ICU and critical condition.  Robert and brother John have been at her side ever since.  Last night, they returned to Oxford.   The first day of classes are on Monday – Robert is a senior and John is a sophomore.  Both are walk-on football players at Ole Miss.  Robert is a quarterback and John is a wide receiver.

    This morning they attended a team football meeting and practice.  At the end of the team meeting, Ole Miss Head Coach Hugh Freeze asked Robert to stand up.  Time stood still for a few seconds and then it happened.

    He awarded Robert Ratliff a Division I Football Scholarship for his senior season.  A dream come true.

    In God’s glory, he has walked through life, step-by-step, with an unyielding commitment to being “the very best he can be.”  He is not the tallest or fastest guy on the field – ever.  But, this young man’s heart is unmatched.  His  passion for competition and victory burns deeply.  His love for coaches and teammates is true.

    In so many ways, Robert Ratliff is a champion and a role model to all of us.  For more than six years he was told he couldn’t play D1 football.  But, for six years Robert believed.  Believed in God.  Believed in himself.  Believed in what his dad had always told him – “You Gotta Believe.”

    Robert Ratliff,  we all congratulate you.  We salute you.  We are in awe of you.  We love and adore you.  We believe in you.

    And, no one believes in you more than your mother, our Patti.

    And his journey is just beginning.

    Posted in Leadership, Uncategorized | No Comments »

  • AA: Customer Service is DOA

    June 16th, 2012

    I have two very, very close friends at American Airlines and I am certain that this story will offend both of them greatly.  But, it needs to be told.  I am
    a travel warrior.  I have flown over 5,000,000 miles on AA. I thought I had seen it all after some 22 years of flying until early Tuesday evening.  As I was walking off my airplane in Las Vegas, I saw a young 18 or 19 year-old girl running to the jet bridge door at the next gate for her departing flight to Chicago. She was late.  As soon as she got there, the gate agent closed the door right in front of her without saying a word — not a word — and just walked away.  The young girl broke down crying and pleaded with the gate agent who never even looked back or acknowledged her.

    I stood there in disbelief.  How heartless and mean-spirited can a human being be?  How can a “service” agent care so little about service?  How can an employee hate their job and people so much?  Two complete strangers walked over to the young girl and tried to comfort her. She was hysterical as she was headed to her father’s funeral just outside of Chicago and had now missed her flight.  Then, they did what the AA gate agent should have done:

    They helped her!  The strangers — not American Airlines.

    If there were ever a time and place AA employees should be helping people it is now in the darkness of bankruptcy.  I completely understand that you must get to the gate on-time, no exceptions, but in this case it was the rude, Christ-less, and unforgiving bitterness of an AA employee that was so ugly and wrong.

    I salute the two strangers who helped the girl get on another flight so she could bury her father the following day.  I deplore this service agent and so many like her today.  They are angry and cruel. I waited there for 17 minutes before the plane headed to Chicago pushed back from the gate.  I have six children aged 15 to 23.  That young girl in Las Vegas could have been one of mine, and the thought of what an American Airline employee did on Tuesday to a grieving young woman makes me want to never fly AA again.

    When people stop caring about others, we are no more than animals in the wild.  When employees stop caring about customers, the business value equation weakens.  At American Airlines, it is DOA.

    Posted in Branding | No Comments »

  • The Power of Emotional Marketing

    June 7th, 2012

    Local TV stations have a marketing problem.  The problem has existed for a long time but has evolved from concern to crisis over the past four or five years.

    The problem:  We don’t have the level of talent and investment required to market effectively in an increasingly complex world.  If there is ever a time when broadcasters need to prove, hour-by-hour, its relevance and value, it is now.  Well, yesterday.

    In addition, AR&D’s consumer research and critical analysis continue to paint a troubling picture for marketing local TV news. Simply put, we just aren’t very good at it. We all understand the importance of brand and its unique points of difference that drive a narrow message. But, very few station marketers have neither the ability nor time to create original, authentic creative capable of significant impact. Instead, they hold tightly to touting product “features” and using flashy “production techniques.”


    My friend and industry Chief Marketing Guru, Graeme Newell has been beating this drum for years. If we continue to fail to connect with consumers at an emotional level —  touching their hearts and souls — we will be left behind.  Soon.  Our important product features are well-known by today’s TV viewers:  Severe weather/the forecast, investigative/in-depth, breaking news and traffic reports. However, station marketers are selling these product features instead of how these features make people feel. That is the essence of emotional marketing, it makes you “feel” not “think.”

    Here’s a good example: Seat belts.  Most states have ongoing campaigns focused on driver safety and the need to buckle up. The overwhelming majority of them use the “Click it or Ticket” campaign. The message: “If you don’t wear a seat belt, it will cost you money.”  The assumption is that a $50 to $75 fine will scare people into fastening their seat belt.  Unfortunately, there are volumes of research that prove traffic violations are a risk most drivers are willing to take.

    One emotional marketing approach to seat belt safety is to focus on the value that “other people place on your life” and how that makes YOU feel.  Click on the link below to view a spot that targets this specific message.

    Embrace Life.

    Ah, embrace life.  Wear a seat belt.


    To thrive in the future, we must let go of the past (it doesn’t work anymore) and embrace new opportunities in the new world order. We must challenge ourselves to blaze a new path, a new way to approach TV news marketing. One that focuses on the value of what we do — not a play-by-play of it.

    Just do it.

    Posted in Branding | No Comments »

  • Innovator of a Lifetime

    October 5th, 2011

    Steve Jobs’ greatest gift:  He knew what we wanted before we understood it ourselves.

    Posted in Ideas, Leadership | No Comments »

  • Beat Reporting: Lost in the Past

    July 12th, 2011

    As I have preached many times, TV news must get back into the journalism business.   If we were as committed to beats as we are to breaking news our newscasts would be much more relevant to “today’s local media consumer.”   TV NewsCheck reporter Diana Marszalek’s article (see below) should help inspire all of us.


    TVNewsCheck, July 12, 2011 7:19 AM EDT

    Remember the rush of earning and covering a coveted beat?

    Cops, crime. Or perhaps City Hall, schools or consumer fraud — meaty subjects, all ripe and ready to sink your teeth into, accumulating contacts and sources along the way.

    But those formal beats under which TV newsrooms used to operate are fast disappearing at the majority of stations. And the dismantling of the system may be taking broadcast journalism down with it.

    In the FCC’s Future of Media report released in June, author Steve Waldman takes a swipe at the declining use of the beats, saying it is one of the primary reasons why in-depth, public service stories have declined.

    Way too often, local TV reporters follow stories rather than find them. Today, a reporter is more likely to recap a hospital-issued press release or news feed than uncover a public health concern, the report says. Local election coverage is particularly lacking, the report claims.

    Greg Caputo, the news director at WGN, Tribune’s flagship CW affiliate in Chicago (DMA 3), says the beat system, under which reporters cover their beats — and only their beats — hasn’t existed in many TV newsrooms for years and the reason behind that make perfect sense.

    “A beat reporter may go days without filing a story,” says Caputo.

    Instead, WGN reporters with particular expertise or interests track certain beats, but do not cover them exclusively, he says.

    “It’s not a traditional beat system, but they know what’s going on,” Caputo says. The only WGN reporter dedicated to particular coverage is a medical specialist.

    It comes as no surprise that money and time constraints are cited as reasons for the demise of exclusive beats.

    The concept of reporters spending the bulk of their time working a beat for stories, often coming up empty handed, would be considered a luxury at best and an impossibility by many.

    Jerry Gumbert, CEO of AR&D, a local media strategy firm, says the No. 1 reason why TV news is flagging “has been a failure of news management to sustain focus on a formal beat system.”

    News leaders have to realign priorities and reinstitute beat systems — and the kind of enterprise reporting that comes with them — if broadcast journalism is going to survive, he says.

    Otherwise, TV newscasts will become increasingly indistinguishable from one another — a phenomenon already underway — as they become outlets for regurgitated or old news, he says.

    “The result of this is catastrophic. It’s killing us because it dictates that we can only do superficial or reactive storytelling.”

    In the last 15 years, the number of TV newsrooms operating with beat systems has plummeted to just one in 10, he says.

    Stations in top 20 markets largely maintain beats, as do the “the great shops out there,” Gumbert says. Other stations may assign reporters to beats but require them to do general assignment reporting as well, he adds.

    Today, Gumbert and others say, reporters will react in full-force to breaking news like fires and car crashes, but the concept of breaking stories through discovery is increasingly obsolete.

    Bill Hoffman, EVP, Cox Media Group, sees the situation differently. “I see a world out there where there is more local news coverage going on by strong news brands than ever before.”

    However, Hoffman says the kind of “beat reporter” labeling that once tied a reporter to one particular area of coverage has indeed changed. New systems, such as assigning reporters to particular geographic areas, have the same merits, such as fostering a familiarity among reporters, sources and community members.

    And creating such relationships is even more important now then in the past, he says. “If you are a super brand in the marketplace, if you are the market leader, you are trying to super serve your viewers more than ever before because the contact points of that station are richer than ever before.”

    Proponents of beat systems say the structure is indeed fundamental to their success.

    Susan Sullivan, news director at NBC O&O WNBC New York (DMA 1), says the proof is in the number of top-tier news stories that WNBC reporters have broken on issues including widespread political corruption in New Jersey and the Martha Stewart insider trading case.

    The station is reestablishing the consumer affairs and health beats, which were cut when business was bad, she says.

    Greg Dawson, Sullivan’s counterpart at KNSD, the NBC O&O in San Diego (DMA 28), says he understands “if you have fewer resources it’s certainly hard to carve out beats.”

    But during recent tough times his station consciously invested more in building a beat structure to distinguish KNSD from its market rivals, he says.

    Dawson says station executives figured there would be bigger payoff in producing the kind of in-depth and enterprise reporting that beat reporters are known for than making everyone a general assignment reporter just to get the job of basic news coverage done.

    “We have the only political reporter, the only education and only military reporters for TV and we have one of a couple of consumer reporters in the market.”

    KNSD reporters spend at least four out of five days on their beats, “more time and more days then they used to,” Dawson says. “These are important issues, so covering them I think was what helped set us apart.”

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