By Anna Pulley
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Joe Eskenazi
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
The product often looks good, sounds good, or is written well, but seldom all three. Then again, in fairness, probably not even Edward R. Murrow could excel at three jobs at once. "Reporters don't necessarily make good shooters or [video] editors, and people who've worked behind the camera don't necessarily know how to convey a story," says Greg Lyon, the former KRON staffer.
Of the approximately 35 people at the station who underwent VJ training and who've remained (another 15 who were trained either didn't make the cut or left voluntarily), only about half a dozen have sufficiently mastered the complexities of their new roles to turn out news pieces on a daily basis. Most of them, including Estacio and veteran newsman Don Knapp, whose resume includes a dozen years as a CNN correspondent, are from the ranks of traditional reporters.
As a result, the news programs continue to rely heavily on "live shots" from the handful of two-person crews the station still deploys, with many VJ pieces relegated to back-burner status. Neither has the VJ campaign helped improve KRON's anemic news ratings. Up against a ton of competition from other stations and from cable, even the station's nightly 9 p.m. newscast, its most-watched news show, seldom attracts more than single-digit percentages of Bay Area TV households.
Last summer, the station's then news director, Chris Lee, boldly proclaimed that by putting an army of VJs on the streets the station would leave its competitors in the dust.
But Lee resigned last month, sounding somber. In an e-mail that made the rounds of KRON's pared-down and dispirited newsroom, the ex-news honcho said he needed time to "detoxify" after the "constant layoffs, downsizing, and calculating at just what speed the sky is falling."
Forty-five minutes into KRONs bread-and-butter 9 p.m. newscast, with the serious stuff safely out of the way, Gary Radnich, the stations resident alpha male sportscaster and its biggest star, is up to his usual mischief. His guest, his wife Alicia, has come on the show to read questions from viewers, and as part of the schtick, the ever-jocular Radnich is pretending to give her the star treatment. "OK, honey, I've given you a break to let you on the air here, but no matter what happens, you're not going to become a VJ," he tells her.
It's the latest in a barrage of good-natured jibes delivered by Radnich since the VJ model was unveiled (which includes his on-air needling of the station's "crack VJ coverage" and lightly mocking references to weekend sports anchor Vernon Glenn as "VJ Vern") that he shares with viewers as a kind of running joke.
And it's contagious.
At the end of the segment, after Radnich pitches it back to co-anchors Tom Sinkovitz and Pam Moore, and Moore allows as how she thinks Alicia is going to be "a star," Sinkovitz pulls out a phone from behind the anchor desk and chimes, "KPIX is on the line."
It's yet another inside joke for a station than can definitely use the humor. As KRON's fortunes under Young Broadcasting have declined, at least two dozen staffers have wound up at KPIX. "KRON has had some wonderful people, and we're lucky to have gotten some of them," says Dan Rosenheim, the KPIX news director, who was managing editor at the Chronicle before getting into television. So many KRON people have gone over to Rosenheim's station, whose downtown offices are near the eastern waterfront, those left behind refer to it as "KRON East."
Among those making the switch was veteran reporter Linda Yee, who shuffled to Channel 5 last November rather than stick around to see how the video journalism phenomenon unfolds. "I have lots of friends at KRON and they're doing what they have to do, but I didn't want to work there anymore because of the VJ thing," she says. Like other departed KRON staffers who do not have a high opinion of the VJ concept, she's reluctant to openly criticize her former station. "I still think of it fondly," she explains. Yee is part of a diaspora of veteran on-air talent who've fled KRON since the VJ model was first rumored. Other notables include investigative reporter Joe Ducey, who left for Phoenix, and reporter/anchor Ross Palumbo, who went to Los Angeles.
For many, the biggest blow came in January, when, after 33 years on the job, award-winning reporter Vic Lee, the dean of the KRON newsroom, left for KGO (Channel 7), even after management, in a bid to keep him from walking out the door, offered to exempt him from VJ duty. "When Vic left it was really crushing to a lot of us, both personally and professionally," confides Sinkovitz, the prime-time co-anchor.
Official word of the VJ switch arrived last May when Mark Antonitis, the station manager, gathered the troops into a first-floor conference room to break the news. "The station jammed the VJ thing down our throats," recalls an attendee, who didn't want their name used. "[Antonitis] pitched it in the name of improving the journalism, rather than cost-cutting, but that didn't impress many people."
Antonitis acknowledged that not everyone would embrace the VJ concept and for those who couldn't, "there is no dishonor in leaving," one attendee recalls him saying. "The higher-scale veterans took it as a clear signal to go and find other jobs," recounts one ex-staffer, who describes the video journalist program as "more the start of a purge than something visionary."