20 years ago, I was on my way back home, after just accepting a job as a news producer at WDIV-TV in Detroit.
Thinking back to the newsroom I was hired into, it easy to see what the media business is challenged by change, as there has been so much of it. Beyond the obvious – such as the advent of online news – here are some observations as I think back on the WDIV newsroom in 1996:
-We produced newscasts on DOS-based computer terminals. A Windows-based desktop system was still more than a year away, along with laptops inside news trucks.
-All TV was still what’s now called “standard definition” (and is unacceptable to most viewers and incompatible with new TVs). I wouldn’t even see a demonstration of HDTV until three years later, while visiting Los Angeles.
-All news was shot on, edited on and played back from tapes.
-Reporters were generally given one minute and forty seconds “on tape” to tell their stories, plus, if it was a live report, about 15 seconds for an introduction and 15 seconds for a live close. “Tape time” is generally closer to one minute now and many stories that would have been live 20 years are are now “look live,” with recorded openings and closings.
-The only cell phones used to cover news were docked permanently inside live trucks. The only texting was from a keyboard terminal at the assignment desk that could send messages directly to pagers.
-If we went a crew outside of the immediate market area, it required a satellite truck to uplink news via a satellite in space in order to cover the story. Today, much distant reporting is done via Internet connection or even cell data.
-I was originally hired to produce the station’s Noon newscast. If I remember correctly, we had to earn about an 8 household rating to win the time slot. Today, an 8 rating will win Prime Time locally.
-The 11:00 news was often dependent on the network’s Prime Time lead-in. In 1996, “ER” would attract 30 million viewers nationally on Thursday nights for new episodes. By comparison, new episodes of the current Prime Time smash, Fox’s “Empire” attracted about 17-18 million viewers nationally.
What hasn’t changed is that in Detroit especially, TV news is highly-competitive – a daily battle for audience and attention in a news town that is diverse and compelling. 20 years later, it’s still a privilege to be a part of it, just from a different vantage point.