Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hello Russian Winter

Tuesday's sunshine was swept away by an arctic blast on Wednesday as snow flurries accompanied my walk to the seminar which I took part in along the Neva River.  The snow really got going once I was inside and I was too busy to grab my camera to take a snapshot.  One thing Russians believe in is decent heating so despite my Florida blood the cold temperatures really weren't a bother.

I somehow managed to survive the second day of my lectures in one piece.  I was worried today because I discussed a topic that I really wasn't qualified to discuss.  They wanted to know why Americans are so loathe to follow world news.  I delivered my gut instincts about the lack of international news on American television.  First, we are an isolated country, protected by two oceans and with two neighboring countries with stable governments.  Second,  Americans are self-absorbed.  They care about their neighbors and their community but our interests don't go much farther than that.  Most Americans are worried about making their house and car payments and making sure they can feed their families.

Later in the day I was joined by some other Russian journalists who discussed the current state of affairs in their country.  The government has become more and more heavy handed in its censorship of the media.  And much to my relief, Andrei Radin, the gentleman on the right, backed up my assertions about Americans lack of interest in world affairs.  I've met Andrei in my two previous trips to St. Petersburg.  He is one of the nation's top broadcast journalists, certainly on a level as Ted Koppel or maybe a younger version of Bob Schieffer.  Andrei's love of journalism led him to a difficult decision to leave  this job running the newsroom of one of St. Petersburg's fast rising local news channels.

Andrei is leading the first effort in St. Petersburg to create an Internet television news operation.  I believe this is the website.  What I love about him is his brutal honesty.  He's disgusting by the dumbing down of Russian media.  Andrei and his friend sitting in the middle are both heart-broken by the crassness that permeates much of Russian television.   He wants to create a place where intelligent and critical reporting can thrive.  Andrei's the first to admit that he has no idea where this bold experiment will go and whether or not it will survive.  But I agree with Andrei on this one thing, Internet will kill the television business much as it is doing newspapers.  It only makes economic sense.  Why pay for an expensive transmitter and tower when you go accomplish the same thing on the web.  Once the technical issues are overcome in the next decade or so Internet television will rule all media.

It was an honor to be sitting at the same table as three important figures in St. Petersburg.  I sometimes feel inadequate when it comes to the intellectual prowess that these men and women bring to our profession but I make up for it with my passion and for my ability to draw from my gut instincts about basic human wants and desires when it comes to journalism.

Tomorrow I wrap up my visit to a local television and film college, my favorite stop in this wonderful city.  My host has promised me that I will have a chance to do a little sight seeing in the afternoon.  Today confirmed something in my heart in light of all of my professional trials and travails of the last six months.  I am good at what I do.  I understand what I do.  Unfortunately I don't have the ruthless nature that most TV news operations mandate of their managers in this day and age.

I say this because today I learned that one of my all-time favorite co-workers was essentially forced out of her job at KVLY TV.  Robin Huebner was quite simply one of the best broadcast journalists I ever worked with.  She was North Dakota television news.  Smart, compassionate, insightful, a leader, and just a wonderful person to work with.  KVLY sent her packing, the latest in a dozen or so high profile departures in the last year or so from KVLY.  It's another instance of a media company with absolutely no ties to the community it is licensed to serve completely ignoring its customers.  Hoak Media represents the egregious corporate mentality that is destroying broadcasting.  They're not alone.  Even once great corporate companies that once espoused the very best that journalism had to offer, Gannett to name one, has fallen victim to this and is charting its own path to irrelevancy.

Good luck Robin, you deserve the very best, I am so thankful that I had a chance to work with you, Charley, Tom, Daron, Dave, Julie, Mick, Jerimiah, Pam, Petey, Sean, Lynn, Doug, Dave Erickson, Dan, Andrea, Tracy, Carol, Heather, Sarah and Roxana in one of the best teams I've ever had the privilege to work with.  Fargo deserves better.

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