Thursday, June 4, 2009

Does Delaware need WHYY's "Delaware Tonight"?

Walter Cronkite said it best two decades ago: “Local TV news is irrelevant.” The man was a seer. He must have been talking about WHYY's “Delaware Tonight.”

Cronkite, of course, was speaking to a national audience about inconsequential teasers such as, “stay tuned for the update on the house fire,” and “latest video of theft of corner bodega” by glamorous and obsequious anchors alike.

Do we really need “Delaware Tonight?” It would not be so bad if this public broadcasting station out of Philly was self supporting, but they receive $500,000 from the state of Delaware for operations.

In this economy, that is difficult to justify.

After much ballyhoo for the Dover satellite station to open five years ago at a cost of $1 million, this facility is rarely used, and the promise to video live legislative sessions is rarely achieved.

News agencies should give us the power to make informed decisions and provoke us to action, but news from “Delaware Tonight” is boilerplate stuff.

Aisle Say spent three torturous afternoons watching Delaware Tonight at 5:30 p.m. The script readers appear to be the age of student interns and possess the glitz of high school dramatists. Compared to the green screens, smart boards and multiple camera angles of other networks, the production values were laughable.

On the cultural side, one former anchor responded in a recent letter to the editor that WHYY delivers “unparalleled cultural arts information to the state.” I am not sure the galaxy in which this individual lives, but I beg to differ. Over two decades, I have attended hundreds of arts-related functions of every genre, and if WHYY attended 10 percent of these functions, I would be surprised.

Moreover, they have been completely MIA since opening the Delaware satellite.

But at least one person is happy: WHYY CEO Bill Marrazzo.

In 2007, Marrazzo's overall salary package came in at $740,000, making him the country's highest paid local public broadcasting executive, when WHYY is by no means the largest public broadcasting market.

Marrazzo's smarmy statement on the reduction of his overall compensation this year was delightfully magnanimous: “These economic conditions made it a simple decision.” What a sacrifice, guy. Just the kind of news we want to hear. His 6 percent pay raise (to $528,800) came to light a few weeks after 16 full time employees were laid off to save $1.2 million.

This year, fully one-quarter of WHYY's expenses -- $7.2 million -- is devoted to fund raising. We should pay $150 for for CD's of big bands when they can be downloaded for $25?

Why should we fund Delaware WHYY at all? “The Most Trusted Man in America” had it right. Let's put the money into something that actually produces benefit for the state. We can still turn to Channel 12 for programs and derive benefit without the pain.d

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