Why one TV exec bumped network news for Brett Favre

It’s a sad world we live in when football interupts the WORLD NEWS.  Some people actually care about the important causes that are out there than sports.

After this farce is over could you PLEASSSSE restart the news at the point you cut us off; that is the people who would rather use their brains that sit like zombies listening to Mr. Favre regurgitate for the 100th time why he deserves to be back playing football????!!!!!!

 You actually have the BALLS to break in on the Nightly News when they’re talking about Healthcare Reform so I can watch Favre stand there with a stupid jersey??!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is absolutely insane! 

WCCO News Director Scott Libin has seen the comments left on the station’s website, and read the 50-some emails ripping him for preempting Tuesday’s CBS Evening News in favor of Brett Favre’s news conference.

“In a way, it’s refreshing to know that many people are that passionate about the network news, especially when analysts are always writing it off,” an unflustered Libin said on Thursday, two days after the Favreapoolza explosion.

Libin and his peers at KARE and KSTP made identical calls: When Favre’s presser, scheduled for 5 p.m., drifted into the following half-hour, all deemed the quarterback’s testimonial more important than anything Katie, Charlie or Brian were tossing out that night. (Fox doesn’t have a national newscast, so KMSP was spared.)

Near as I can tell, it’s the first time locals have preempted the national news for a local sports story. Libin says aside from the occasional severe weather or Election Night update, it’s the first time he’s done so in his two years at WCCO.

In return, the guy gets his gonads evaluated and his news judgment questioned.

“To me, it was still news,” Libin says. “To have the story unfold as suddenly as it did … three weeks ago, it wasn’t going to happen, and nine hours earlier, we had no idea it was going to happen. From the time [WCCO sportscaster] Mark Rosen broke the story, it was just such an accelerated pace. This was [Favre’s] first opportunity to speak as Minnesota Viking.”

Libin says he might have waited until the 6 p.m. local newscast “in the age before the 24-7 news cycle. … But we had to pay attention to the expectations of the audience. Remember, this was supposed to air at 5 [and] we’d been promising coverage for hours.”

Viewers seemed eager to watch. In the 5:30 half hour, WCCO scored a 7.2 rating among all households — tops among local news stations, and up from an average 5.6 rating in July.

(Confession: I didn’t touch my dial.)

What viewers missed: a fairly substantive last 18 minutes of the Evening News, including a report on Massachusetts’ health care reform foundering on a shortage of primary-care doctors.

Still, nothing on that night’s network newscast could fairly be called breaking news — though it deepened our understanding of something other than a diva’s diva-ness.

Would Libin — who saw the national rundown in advance — have gone live to Winter Park if there was a big breaking story at the network level?

“No,” he says flatly. “When the news conference didn’t begin at 5:30, I was at least relieved that we got in half” of the network stories.

He says the remainder of the Evening News consisted of “elective, discretionary stories” that viewers “didn’t have to see right then — it was all at CBSNews.com.”

Of course, that won’t placate the less web-savvy Evening News junkie, who skews older. (The 25-54-year-old rating was 2.1, not 7.2 — though that was up from the usual 1.4, Libin says).

Like some viewers, network execs aren’t happy when their shows are bumped. WCCO is owned by CBS, and the Evening News arguably lost ratings points by not being on in Minneapolis. It also lost revenue, since no commercials interrupted Favre.

Still, Libin says he had his superiors’ complete support.

“I remembered various training I provided about managing my bosses, so I called my supervisor, who I expect might’ve done the same thing in New York,” he says. “I was supposed to call Tom Kane, president of the stations division, on an unrelated matter the next day, so I knew I’d be talking to him about this. But when we spoke, he agreed with my so quickly I didn’t even have time to get to my argument. He doesn’t want our station to seem less than competitive.”

Libin says the Favre flap does not portent a more cavalier approach to network news — which, let’s face it, hasn’t exactly gotten more substantive in recent decades.

I asked Libin how 50 angry emails rank as outpourings go. “It’s pretty significant,” he says, adding that he was “surprised” to see the emails already piling up after the early newscasts.

Ironically, though, angry network news fans have nothing on mad golf junkies, who are apparently far more vituperative when a tournament gets interrupted for a severe weather alert.

“It’s worse when it affects a relatively small number of people,” Libin says. “If you have a tornado in, say, Waconia, you’ll hear about it from people everywhere else. Thankfully, what happened on Tuesday is different, more substantive, than people saying ‘I don’t care about a little town being hit by a tornado, I just want my golf.’”

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 08/20/2009 - 12:26 pm.

    “In a way, it’s refreshing to know that many people are that passionate about the network news, especially when analysts are always writing it off,” an unflustered Libin said on Thursday, two days after the Favreapoolza explosion.

    And it’s shocking to know how dispassionate a major market tv news director is about delivering the network news to his viewers in a timely fashion rather than reporting yet another overpaid, overpampered jock story. How pathetic.

  2. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 08/20/2009 - 01:12 pm.

    Thanks for this post, David.

    I also was upset with the decision to cut away from network news, and I aired my feelings in a series of Twitter messages addressed to the three stations (none responded, BTW).

    Not to pick on Scott, who as you correctly point out is the only local ND to explain his actions to viewers, I would like to make a few points of my own.

    1) Define “Breaking.” Okay, David, you and I may be a little more “plugged in” to news outlets than other people, but I don’t think anyone I knew was not aware that Farve was a Viking at the time the national news began. I didn’t see the 5 p.m. local news, but I’m sure that was their lead story. So this really wasn’t “breaking news” anymore, but a developing story that could have been covered 18 minutes later.

    2)Define “Competitive.” Scott says of his boss “…He doesn’t want our station to seem less than competitive.” How is doing EXACTLY what the other stations are doing “competitive?” I doubt if WCCO viewers were surfing channels during the evening newscast to cover an story they very likely knew, but I could be wrong. Frankly, I have a hard time uderstanding the mind and motivations of hardcore Vikings/Farve fans.

    3)Finally, whoever made the decision to begin the news conference at 5:30 p.m (it started late) put Libin and the other news directors in a tough spot. The Vikings communications staff should have known better.

    Unlike David, I DID switch the dial from WCCO-TV to MSNBC (after first checking other local channels)were to our horror, former North Dakota sportscaster Ed Schultz announced they were cutting away to cover Farve!!! Thankfully, a merciful God interceded, and technical difficulties prevented the story from airing!

    Praise Jesus, who clearly is a Green Bay fan….

  3. Submitted by James Blum on 08/20/2009 - 03:10 pm.

    Many people seem to take their own preferences as a reason to criticize Libin’s decision (understandable, but not really germane to the decision). No matter the call, some people would’ve been irritated (had they left the Favre news conference before it was over, there may have been a similar number of angry emails).

    A more thoughtful angle would be to try to discern which course of action would have helped or harmed the station most. That is the crux of Libin’s decision. I don’t know what the correct answer is, but “I’m mad because I didn’t get to watch what I wanted to watch” isn’t really a good argument.

    I’m a bit surprised anyone was particularly irritated by this, as the switching costs are so low for both possible results: if ‘CCO stayed on Favre, anyone could get news from other TV channels at the same time or a later time, or get news at the same time or later from the internet, newspapers or radio. Likewise, had Libin switched off Favre for news, folks could’ve caught the news conference on another channel, radio, or later on the internet, in the paper or on a later news broadcast. In fact, in the end I’m not sure this is something worth complaining about.

    The takeaway for me is that apparently Brett Favre = tornado (when it comes to interrupting scheduled television programming, at least).

  4. Submitted by John Jordan on 08/20/2009 - 04:45 pm.

    Who would have guessed that all 50 of Katie’s viewers were from the Twin Cities?

  5. Submitted by Andy Driscoll on 08/20/2009 - 04:53 pm.

    What Mr. Moffit said.

    However, this is not merely about a single decision to preempt more important news with a sports jock’s self-serving news conference. All news is more important than a sports jock’s self-serving news conference. And if stations like ‘CCO are convinced that this is what boostsratings and solidifies competitive position, then shame on us as well as ‘CCO and any othe news director who sees such little value in the news people really need to know and that real news is only defined as “breaking,” otherwise of no value to stations and their news deciders.

    It all bespeaks, as David is wont to note, decades long decline in mature news judgment on all network stations (and cable news for that matter), and more to what defines news in the closed culture of commercial news operations everywhere.

    Although it’s hard to admit that some 70-75% of adults still seek out their “news” at 10 o’clock where infotainment has taken over serious coverage of information citizens require to understand their world and keep it in perspective, it illustrates just how degenerate the state of commercial (and some public broadcasters’) newscasts and why it’s important that all news gatherers and consumers accept a higher order of respponsibility to accurately report on the decisions that affect our daily lives.

    We can only hope thinking consumers will simply stop viewing this stuff.

    Andy Driscoll
    TruthToTell-KFAI

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 08/20/2009 - 05:16 pm.

    Sports is trivia, not news. Folks like Libin have rendered local TV news completely irrelevant. Between the bizarre weather coverage, advertisements pretending to be news, and sundry focus/question/extra whatever crap there is simply nothing there. I have literally completely given up watching local news at any time. Channel 11 couldn’t find a news story if one landed on it’s head, five is all crime all the time, and I’m not impressed Amelia and Frank’s parenting skills or marriage advice. It’s just completely useless.

  7. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 08/20/2009 - 10:50 pm.

    I think the real anger about this is the symbolism. Sports ego is more important than network news. It’s a bad message to send.

    Not that I’m going to be able to convince some of the commenters above, but “news” has never solely been about what’s the most important story. It’s sometimes about the most timely. Or most interesting. Or most local.

    Sports makes up half of the traffic to StarTribune.com. Vikings games are probably the most watched programming on television, period. So people care about this stuff. It’s news in their world. Hearing from Brett Favre was important at that moment.

    20 years ago people would have waited until 6 p.m. and been fine. But since the news conference was supposed to start at 5, people expected it to happen any minute, I think it’s fair that viewers would expect it to be covered when it started.

    Hopefully, as stations get more comfortable with their new digital channels (4.2; 5.2; etc.) we’ll be able to put the preempted program there, so people will have a choice. And if people consistently choose hard news, then you can bet that’s what stations will provide.

  8. Submitted by Adam Wolf on 08/21/2009 - 03:22 pm.

    I feel most people would have a hard time arguing that sports coverage is less important than national news, even if they would rather watch the Favre news conference. The fact remains however that the novelty of Favre makes it more “News worthy” for local news stations. More news worthy meaning more eye balls, which is what television is, regardless of what we think it should be.

    Beyond that there really isn’t anything wrong with being both curious about the circus surrounding the Favre signing and being up to date on more substantial news.

    For some people I can see television as their best option for news, such as the elderly or those who cannot afford internet, computer, etc. So perhaps for them this concern is more valid. Ultimatly however it is the right of a TV station to show us whatever they want. They are a business and what we expect and what they owe to us are two very different things.

    It’s good to see people voicing their opinion to the stations about their preferance, it is the best way to make a change, as long as it was done with the understanding that we are not entitled to any certain program over another or making reference to how anyone who would want to watch Brett Favre coverage is a lesser person.

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