There's big news in the professionally lit newsroom of KSWB-TV, the runt of the local TV news scene. News director Suzanne Black is out after five years of guiding the news operation to its leadership role in stories about dating nightmares. That means KSWB reporter Bryan Black has also disappeared from local screens, since, after all, he was married to the boss.
Black left to take an assistant news director job in Austin, a serious step down on the TV news ladder of success, leading to all sorts of speculation and wild reports of a palace coup. Black reportedly told colleagues she was simply returning to her beloved Southern roots, but rumors persist that not all is smiley faces and s'mores in the halls of one of San Diego's most visible media operations.
Black was one of the original employees when KSWB launched its news operation in 1999, rising to newsroom jefe after the station burned through two news directors in its first two years. She managed to survive in the top spot for an impressive run, navigating the treacherous landscape of Tribune Broadcasting, which is why her decision to skip off to Texas is the buzz of the local industry-even though, as of press time, it hasn't warranted a single word from the news wolverines covering media for the San Diego Union-Tribune, the daily diary of record in Des Moines of the West.
For followers of San Diego's burping and stunted media scene, it was a sign of hope when KSWB decided to enter the news game, right around the time the local Fox affiliate also initiated a news operation, under the theory that the more players in the news game the better. Newspapers like the San Diego Evening-Tribune were dying off, but maybe a flood of eager, fame-hungry TV reporters would emerge to bitch-slap shenanigan-happy authorities.
Instead, six years later, KSWB is still the smallest of players, content to produce a half-hour newscast each night and win awards in "small newsroom" categories. The station's only sign of life came in March, when management announced the debut of "WB News in the Morning," which is little more than a warmed-over broadcast of the morning show of its L.A. sister station, KTLA.
More than adding to the depth and breadth of local news, the KTLA move seems more about "corporate synergy," a lame attempt by Tribune to make a few extra bucks off its L.A. show without investing any money.
In many ways, KSWB's fledgling news operation reflects the modern state of local TV news, which is all about illusion. These days it's not so important to actually cover important news, break stories and provide "exclusives" and "in-depth" reports; it's far more important to look like a serious news organization providing "exclusives" and "in-depth" reports. It's not so important for an anchor to be smart and sincere, but they must be able to act smart and sincere.
It certainly doesn't take a deep-thinking San Diego State communications professor to figure out KSWB's master plan: Toss out a hunky anchor and a cutie sidekick in their 30s who will work cheap and woo a young audience with their dynamite great looks and serious news-reading ability. Add live reports from a few junior-college speech-tournament finalists standing in front of dark buildings where news was happening only hours earlier. Fill in the gaps with the crime of the day and weather reports and, there you go-professional TV news that'll almost certainly draw bigger ratings than reruns of 7th Heaven.
Black's big move was to hire anchor babe Lynda Martin, who was on the outs from rival XETV, after the Fox affiliate decided to bail on its radical, two-babe anchor approach and hire stately newsreader Brian Christie in 2002. But Tribune has steadfastly refused to expand the nightly show to an hour, maintaining the perception that news is slightly less important than reruns of Will & Grace, which it airs instead at 10:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, the ratings for the KSWB newscast continue to slog along, usually trailing both KUSI and XETV, which is fairly pathetic. After consistently posting ratings in the twos and punching it out with XETV, KSWB's numbers have slipped into the 1.5-2.0 range, suggesting that the audience is letting out a big yawn.
Part of the problem is certainly the weak lead-in provided by the WB, still best known as the network with the frog. But there has to be some blame placed on the product, a generic, blue-stripe version of TV news, hitting all the obligatory notes without a drop of originality or flair.
Like many local TV news operations, KSWB executives don't seem to understand that audiences get it, that they know when there is nothing behind the curtain. TV news directors program for illiterate soccer moms who will be fascinated by new developments in the wrinkle-cream industry, and then they are shocked to learn that viewers don't take them seriously.
But that probably won't come up when KSWB's honchos gather, in the wake of Black's departure, to evaluate why San Diegans don't seem to give a crap about their newscast, to breakdown ways to better excite the intellect and interest of their viewers and provide them with a dynamic program. More likely they will ponder and consider and pay consultants, and, after a few weeks, they'll announce plans to build a new set.
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.