Please tune in at 6:55 pm Eastern Time on Friday, September 10th, 2021.
It’s pure coincidence in my VHS tape library, an airing of the Beat The Press Year in Review from roughly 20 years ago. Friday September 10th, was supposed to be the return of BTP on Boston’s Channel 2 after the strangely planned “Hiatus” and was officially canceled by the station in mid August. The tape was originally recorded as a rerun on Channel 44/WGBX at midnight either the Friday close to Christmas or New Year’s.
And WGBH, despite a tradition as the “Tiffany” station in the Public Broadcasting System [ahem… “Service”], is no exception. ’GBH is a national powerhouse, producing shows such as Frontline (the one shining exception to PBS’s public-affairs vacuum), Nova, This Old House, and Masterpiece Theatre, filling about one-third of PBS’s prime-time line-up. But when it comes to local programming, WGBH’s call letters for most of the ’90s might as well have been AWOL.
Dan Kennedy, The Boston Phoenix February 7th, 1997
I am not going to quote the very lengthy article in verbatim (because that’s what alternative papers are, long-winded) but I would like to bullet-point specific parts that relate to what ended The Ten O’ Clock News, how Christopher Lydon moved over to WBUR-FM and actually this year marked the 20th anniversary of his dismissal at ‘BUR; because this article highlights the midpoint of Lydon’s career at 90.9.
And just to clarify, Emily Rooney quasi-retired from WGBH-TV at the end of 2014, when Jim Bradue came from NECN to take over hosting the program, while her show Beat The Press (of which she owns the registered trademark, not WGBH) continued and she hosted to it’s very end. The article does not state this program because it didn’t go on the air till the following year in 1998.
Given the news that Beat The Press being canceled by Boston’s Channel 2 a couple weeks ago today, and I miss my own deadline for writing this letter on my site. Not knowing her affiliation with the station, I didn’t want to risk sending an email and have it be bounced by their postmaster in their messaging system (if she had been let go, most local media freeze email and logins solely to the station’s legal folks.) Regardless with the cancellation of BTP, and her leaving Greater Boston in 2014, she was quasi-retired, so I assume she’s off their books.
I only met Emily once in my lifetime, but I felt like I have known her for years. I had watched BTP off and on probably since its inception (I think it was really 1999 to this year.) That time I did meet her was in 2016 at the First in the Nation Primary in New Hampshire. I had lived in this market my entire life, and have walked around many of the local media talent in their live shots.
Before meeting her…
I never did hi-mom shot at all. One time circa 2010, there was a WHDH ENG crew was at my local high school and I had walked the drivers side while I took pictures of the crew, but never met them in person or introduced myself. I’ve been known to take pictures of people shooting video in live shots or things of that nature. In 2012, I did have an encounter with Dick Brennan from WNYW as they were based out of Saint A’s college in Manchester with the Fox News crew, as I snapped their vehicle. ENG field people rarely get appreciated. That was the reason. Before the mid teens, when MySpace was the only popular social media platform of it’s time, Facebook was barely existent to public-figures; and Twitter was really new, and Instagram wasn’t existent yet. I think it was with Instagram with selfies and selfies with local public figures is where I think I felt most comfortable.
Back to ’16…
Many of the local press converged at the Center of New Hampshire expo center, which at the time was part of the Raddison chain. Outside of First of the Nation, the first floor is an open lobby, but it’s all split apart when the primary time comes along. WGBH (FM and TV along with PBS IIRC) was camped out, adjacent to Merrimack Street (I’ll get to that later see the facility on the right side.) The setup was on camera and producers were sharing tables and the small studio was on the lobby side. The set looked a lot like what was later used at the Boston Public Library; I could be mistaken. They literally brought studio grade equipment to Manchester and the magic of modern day newsgathering, you can bring a studio via broadband computer network and most of the heavy lifting is done back in Brighton, roughly 50 miles south.
I looked like a lowlife guy, because I and my mother had came into the building from a cold day outside about 5 minutes before. I had frequented Manchester and didn’t think differently, and didn’t think I was an outsider. Despite the minifigures, I did manage to do two packages for a reporter that tagged along with me. So I did feel (in my objective opinion) felt I was part of the press.
I know from an acquaintance Emily is short, just over 5′ (yes TV does add height!) in fact in less than a minute, I didn’t need do a stakeout, because she walked by. I asked if it was her, she confirmed, and asked could I get a selfie. She was reluctant at first, but I was able to get a snap, said she didn’t think she looked alright, and despite the reluctance, she was better dressed than your’s truly. I did say I was a fan of her show and watched for many, many years, since again she really was doing BTP completely at that point. I kept myself short and sweet. It was interesting why she was there early in the week, when media affairs is a fraction the overall coverage; but it happened….
I write this because ironically nearly five months after I met her, I would on every Wednesday before the pandemic, I would cross the other side of Merrimack Street, on an alley way, that would be two blocks down from where WGBH was setup on that eve of the Primary Election in 2016. On those Wednesdays, I would have my own throwback, being nearly a 500′ of line of sight of where I met her back in 2016. In fact without going into my personal life, it came unexpectedly. There was never a day that went by for a number of years where I couldn’t forget that moment in my life.
On that initial print from Boston-dot-com, they got a quote from Dan Kennedy from his personal blog (not related to his employers) his remarks of the cancelation of Beat The Press, that it appeared he was be blindsided by the mismanagement * ahem * bright minds at the highest powers at WGBH-TV in Boston. Kennedy mentioned that “I haven’t had a chance to talk with Emily yet, but I wish her all the best. She is a legendary figure in Boston media, as news director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), at the national level and, for the past quarter century, at GBH News. It will be interesting to see what she does next.” Kennedy also stated that “It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling right now. For so many years, heading over to GBH to record “Beat the Press” was simply what I did on Friday afternoons. I hugely enjoyed getting to know Emily, Callie Crossley and everyone else.”
One remark, to Dan Kennedy’s logic, Emily began hosting “Greater Boston” in the mid-’90s.” I suppose 1997 is considered “mid 90s”, I guess I learn something new each day.
Another mention was
“After that show had run its course, Emily pitched “Beat the Press” to WGBH executives (yes, the station still had a “W” back then), and we were off and running.” (for kicks, she owns the trademark… it’s not owned by anyone other than her!)
Actually not true at all. The on-air branding was ‘GBH2 and I believe WGBX was replaced as ‘GBH44, again during the dark days of local content. The 2020 rebrand actually impacted both on air, and it’s corporate branding. The only time you see that W is on the hour per to FCC regs for Station IDs. It’s only a matter of time “‘GBH Educational Foundation” as an incorporated name will appear.
Quoting some of his observations, smashing the commercial stations a bit unfairly.
It’s crucial that ’GBH get it right. With commercial broadcasters in full retreat from serious news and public affairs, public-broadcasting stations are the last redoubt. Boston’s two major public stations — WGBH-TV and WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) — are among the most admired in the country. It’s by no means clear, however, that the people who run those stations are willing or able to fill the gap created by the commercial stations’ retreat into sensationalism and frivolity.
His article goes very lengthy on the history of the local programming, but no one in Boston in 1997 wanted to call out the lack of investing local programming on the flagship public broadcaster
WGBH-TV, meanwhile, has been struggling for decades to define exactly what its local presence should be, starting with the late Louis Lyons reading the news in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, through The Reporters in the early ’70s, and, finally, The Ten O’Clock News — co-anchored, ironically, by Chris Lydon — whose run from 1976 to ’91 was second only to that of Lyons’s show. Following a period of retrenchment over the past six years, when the station’s only regular local public-affairs shows have been The Group, the black-oriented Say Brother and the Latino-oriented La Plaza, ’GBH is at long last attempting to renew its commitment with Greater Boston.
Kennedy also paints all the comm-stations with a broad brush, when in reality WHDH really was the worse offenders in sensationalism. But remember unlike WSVN in Miami, the substance had an uptick for it’s time (whether you like it or not.)
At commercial stations, cost-cutting and competitive pressures have turned local TV newscasts into crime-and-celebrity-drenched triviafests, their rapid pace owing more to MTV than to traditional journalistic imperatives. (New England Cable News deserves some credit for bucking the trend, but not everyone gets cable, and not everyone with cable can get NECN.)
The “not everyone with cable can get NECN” could imply the old Haron cable systems in Northeastrern Mass, Southern New Hampshire and most of Maine.
On Thursday, Boston.com reported that WGBH-TV’s local media affairs program, Beat the Press has been canceled from the production of GBH News. Mis-management told the digital publication that they are changing the “focus on audience-centered local stories, and concentrating its editorial efforts on the critical issues of education, social justice, Covid/public health and politic[s].”
“This was a difficult decision,” Pam Johnston*, general manager of GBH News, said in a statement. “‘Beat the Press’ has been one of GBH’s longest running news shows and has provided viewers with informative and thought-provoking insight, commentary and perspective on the workings of the media. We are grateful to Emily Rooney for her award-winning work, her dedication to her craft, and her many contributions to GBH over 24 years.”
* Your humble publisher never heard of this manager before.
The site did cite the “hiatus” of which your’s truly had posted almost immediately seeing a yellow flag.
Earlier this year Beat The Presshad a very apparent misunderstood but tense discussion on Ken Burns and PBS’ alleged favoritism on white men vs. younger people of color trying to get documentaries on the PBS content pipeline. After an apparent misunderstanding of Rooney’s defense of PBS, apparently the phone system at WGBH broke, within a week later, Emily Rooney had to issue an apology, but it was published on YouTube early that Friday morning to then be included as an intro for that week’s BTP.
I will not enable the Speculation Monster 5000 in this post.
With the end of BTP, this leaves no station in the country on a local level discussing the public affairs in the media industry. A lot of things have been going wrong since the infamous ‘GBH rebrand of last September. Joe Mattheau left his morning drive show on the FM station to Bloomberg’s DC bureau; other WGBH programming has been canned, like Arthur, and Kara Miller a former panelist on BTP in the late 00s, has lost her job doing a public radio program called Innovation Hub. She hasn’t been seen on TV since 2010.
The program would’ve been celebrating it’s 23rd anniversary on the air as the show replaced a Friday night edition of Greater Boston in 1998. During the initial COVID pandemic, they temporary halted BTP because of a lighter load on media affairs issues.
Because my life is really tied up for a living, I want to issue a special post directed to Emily Rooney specifically. That post should be published no later than August 17th.