Once upon a time… many…many years ago, your humble Minifig newsie volunteered at WGBH-TV’s annual auction as the bid runner. I had no intentions to be on Boston’s Channel 2’s air, I just happened to be the second or third cut the TD hit on the opening day/hour of June 4th, 2006 at 3pm. A few things: One was it’s last one at the Western Ave Studios in Allston. Second it was the last traditional formatted auction for the station, the following year in Brighton was a bit different. Third they stopped doing the on air auction entirely, leaving options for an near-camera, non-intern experiences that didn’t involve answering phones.
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
In 1997, Dan Kennedy who was the media writer for the Boston Phoenix, the once “alternative” paper in the area; did a writeup on the inaugural week of Greater Boston. Kennedy brought this ol article back into light on his blog after the cancelation of Beat The Press a couple Thursdays ago.
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.
Revised in September 2022 for clarity purposes
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.
If you were a kid in the 1990s and was either channel surfing or happened to see this program after The Newshour, you actually weren’t seeing things. This was the show that succeeded The Ten O Clock News on WGBH-TV Channel 2. I am not sure specifically when The Group went on air, but this was the show that covered local affairs until a lady named Emily Rooney came along by 1997. Other than Say Brother, WGBH was relying entirely on their national programming as their identity. Nearly four years later, the station would rebrand to ‘GBH (albeit on the air) then more hell would break loose from the outside looking in.
The program was blaintely recession-era production value. Hell they didn’t even change the font package on the Chyron Scribe, it was the same title package from TOCN if you look closely enough.
The animation package for The Group was pretty advanced compared to the rest of the program
Apparently Marcus Jones was able to apply as a producer for this show, according to that spring comment on YouTube, but this program had much less people behind the scenes. There wasn’t much need to do a lot of producing if there was no host. I am unsure if WGBH had gotten robotic cameras (at least on the head for Pan Tilting and Zooming.) I remember albeit vaguely another set that looked like they were in Studio A, the big one, where I thought they literally taping a nightly program on backstage. I vaguely remember the WGBH logo was on some signage, and I could’ve remembered large bins and other weird props or BTS type of storage equipment.
Obviously if The Group was so successful, there would be loads of videos on YouTube, but there’s not. The show had that much impact in the market. That show was far from a dooszy… I kid. They needed Emily Rooney and her crew more than she needed them.
That should tell you right there how desperate the station was at that point. Again this went right into ’97.
There was a reason why I was really skeptical about the reboot of the ‘GBH branding. They are one program away from being from where they were on June 1st, 1991 if the
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 Press had 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.
It’s a sad day in local media in New England; and hoping this isn’t a repeat of history of what occurred to the same branded station 25 years ago.
I’ve been busy like a spring bee, buzzing around in my workspace to produce some content. (Another post)
But I have access to my MacBook and YouTube, and one overnight where I didn’t get sleep, I did a literal search for some of the on camera people of WGBH’s Ten O’ Clock News. In fact some of the earlier embeds was from a YouTube channel I ran into, and it turns out that same YouTube channel is Marcus Jones…
This guy circa 1987
After a quick verification and a gratitude of your humble news gathering hobbyist, he left a lengthy reply last Wednesday after your’s truly asked about his professional whereabouts… so below is his reply (some is edited for formatting and for ease of reading).
Dear Steven…For about a year after the cancellation of the TOCN, I worked part-time editing show open videos for “The Group” on WGBH-TV. “The Group” filled in for the TOCN for awhile before “Greater Boston” came along. In August of 1992, I began a 2-year run as anchor and news director of Lowell Cable Television’s nightly “NewsCenter 6” cablecast. I also did freelance reporting for FOX 25, New England Cable News, and WBZ-TV’s “Eyewitness News” from 1993 to 1995. For a brief period in late 1994, I even did fill-in lecturing in broadcast journalism classes at Northeastern University. In May of 1995, I moved to the Washington, DC area to become the main weekday reporter covering the District for Newschannel 8.
Through the years, since relocating to the National Capital Area, I’ve done various freelance reporting, videography, and video editing for smaller county cable operations and for my own projects.
As my young son progressed through the public school system in Prince William County, Virginia, I transitioned into the field of administrative support, as well. For more than a decade, I served vice presidents, executive directors, even the town treasurer, in roles such as executive assistant, special assistant and deputy. With what little spare time I had during this period, I also mentored and instructed aspiring high school journalists from 1996 to 2008 through the Urban Journalism Workshop program sponsored by the Washington Association of Black Journalists. I’m pleased and proud to say several of those young people are now working journalists in markets throughout the country. In 2004, I contributed to the “The Tom Joyner Morning (Radio) Show” as a DC correspondent for BlackAmericaWeb.com. In 2010, I added webmaster to my quiver when I launched an affinity site featuring classmates from my generation at Boston University. The site has been the catalyst for numerous reunions and other alumni events and activities.
In 2012, I became, and remain, an active YouTube Content Creator. My most popular channel is VideoCollectables. The channel has more than 230 news, event and human interest videos available (many more to come), collectively more than 103 million content views, currently 150,000 channel subscribers, and growing, and an audience which includes every continent and notable island nation on the planet. VideoCollectables is highly rated by SocialBlade.com and tracked as an influencer channel by Noxinfluencer.com.
I do appreciate the last paragraph (boldface is emphasized by your’s truly)
But, enough about me, your message reminded me of a significant upcoming anniversary. I have mentioned to some of my colleagues from the TOCN, we should cobble together a video memoir reflecting on our experiences with the TOCN. I haven’t given up on the notion – which is why I fully endorse and encourage your project to memorialize what all of us, to a man and a woman, agree was the best news job we ever had.
I won’t say the packages that aired on WGBH’s Ten O’ Clock News was inherently a hit-job to Channels 4, 5 or 7 and 56 for the time; I’d say the tone of the stories on the local commercial media was mildly jealous?
This story was on if the local media (Boston, that is) that reports negative crime stories in certain neighborhoods would reflect that said locale badly as a whole. I think it’s a no-brainer for confirming such theory.
In the 1988 First in the Nation Primary, Channel 2 sent their crew to follow CBS News’ setup up here. The audience of the PBS world is a bit different than the commercial world; meaning that most average viewers who consumed commercial broadcast media at the time; kinda knew the behind the scenes and many of the PBS type of viewers still thought news was still “filmed”. I’m just speculating, since the story was in a way “educating” those very upper crust people how the news is produced, while us lower end peeps just know or just do it.
This package around 1989 was on the subject of local weather on commercial TV. While TOCN did do a weather segment in the form of a text based Chyron of the next 36 hours; following the live on set interviews before either anchor would walk back to the anchor desk, around 18 after; this package seemed to show what it was like to prep for a weather piece for that time.
Obviously this was for apparent big-weather events, like coldsnaps, blizzards and snowstorms, and those once in a generation hurricanes like Gloria in 1985 and Bob, just a few months after the end of the program in August of 1991, and the no-name hurricane in Halloween of that same year.
30something years later, “Weather” is the very reason why I do not watch local news. The weather department for a lot of ways was fused into the news department, and the news is dependent on even trivial events like downpours. WCVB these days love to promote “we are following the timing for your weekend/morning commute.” If it impacts my life or property (like a random unpredicted thunderstorm) you better damn well put it on the a-block!
Interesting the reporters at Channel 2 had guts to interview lower average people for those man on the street interviews. I suspect given how big the Boston market is, and how say Middlesex County as a whole has more people than the residents of Boston, that most people who lived in Boston then and as they do today, are not in tune to the average media consumer. With the no-answers on the weather guys in 1988 should say a lot!
In 1990, a woman named Pamela Smart had an underage student of the school she worked for kill her husband. Described by Christopher Lydon as “quaint” Derry, N.H… I am not sure if that should be taken as a complement or an insult. I turned 4 when the trial took place and this story didn’t just impact Manchester, but the Boston media as well. TOCN had even gave the alleged-star reporter Bill Spencer at WMUR-TV in Manchester face-time, as he had plenty of face-time across national programs like Geraldo‘s daytime talk show, and Bill O’Reilly’s Inside Edition.
Other reporters did MOS (really teenagers) closer to home, and it’s interesting how school age students could have a voice before FERPA, over protective mama bears, and other privacy policies forced no cameras allowed to easily tape students, especially giving them a voice when the 90s came to a close.
I cannot confirm if this was the only time WGBH ran with this story; but for the competition this was one of their first wall-to-wall stories they carried live and uninterrupted. Channel 9 OTTH had even the audacity to do a nightly recap of the events. I also felt in the Boston area, the Pamela Smart events gave them the open license to cover any sex or standard crime without any careful editorial judgement. Don’t read me wrong, I’ve done stories on BCOP-TV, that was completely more edgier and kinkier, but it never ran at the top of the A-block at 6:00. Some of those crazy sex stories would be at the end or somewhere in the B-block. Anyways back to “reality” I have suspected that after the trial, for WMUR-TV, they would cover any sex or murder story or trials that followed in almost a very raw and special-snowflake type of coverage, for decades after.
I actually know someone who once knew Pamela Smart professionally, I can see both sides to the coverage and what happened. She’s guilty of the crime, but the specific details is where both the Manchester and Boston press went too far, and that’s where the sensationalism began, and the facts got lost. Ironically, given what Bill Spencer had acted, that I suspect after this trial, he hadn’t been seen on local TV since. I don’t ever recall seeing him. I recommend that people watch the 2013 HBO documentary on the trial, and how the subjects indicted the media; which I would concur.
When The Ten O’ Clock News aired for the first time in 1976, art was almost virtually traditional in medium. Except for text, everything was not digital at all.
The Character Generator WGBH used at the start was the Vidifont, developed by CBS, and was the first marketable CG for TV to migrate away from type written paper that required a camera, and with magic of keying, the text would appear on screen.
It was very manual in nature, and designing titles for same day events would be so expensive. You want to design analog lower thirds? Go to your local Michaels or Hobby Lobby, buy stick on letters for whatever the price, use construction paper (use say blue color), take your camcorder, and do a still shot, and use whatever you use to edit to “key” in that blue, and that’s where sub/titles came from. And for 1970s dollars, it would get expensive really quickly.
Even with CGs, many over the shoulder graphics were still shots with traditional artists or media. In this full screen, this is a still photo of some trees. For WGBH-TV’s standards, this was used in various fashion, till 1987 where it more of an electronic look. They did migrate to a Chyron III and IV during the rest of the series.