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Wednesday, May 10, 2000

Bart Feder Defects to Dot-Com Land … Lose Pounds! Battle Anorexia! … Jerry Nachman Does Playboy

by Jason Gay

Wednesday, May 10

Used to be that being the top dog at a high-profile, successful television newscast in New York was enough to keep a newsguy or newsgal happy. No longer. Late last week, WABC news director Bart Feder became the latest top-shelf journalist to flee broadcast television for dot-com land–specifically, the Feed Room, a New York-based online company that plans to deliver personalized newscasts over the Web via broadband technology.

"I think this was the right time and the right place to take the leap," Mr. Feder told NYTV.

Mr. Feder’s departure should unnerve the remaining flat-earth types who think that broadcast television isn’t directly under siege from the Web and broadband. After all, Mr. Feder, a 40-year-old Brooklyn native, didn’t exactly need to go out and get a new job. At WABC, he presided over ABC’s flagship news operation. By his own admission, it was a dream gig. And with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire beefing up the entire ABC operation, the good times figured to roll on.

Despite this, Mr. Feder will join the Feed Room as its vice president of news at the end of the month (he’ll stay at WABC through the end of sweeps). And he joins a growing list of New York TV journos who have made similar jumps. His boss-to-be at the Feed Room, company founder Jonathan Klein, is the former executive vice president of news at CBS. Other defectors include ex-WCBS news director Bill Carey–now director of affiliate relations at Zatso.com, another online news outlet–and another WCBS news director, Dean Daniels, currently at Theglobe.com. There’s also Lou Dobbs, of course, who famously bailed CNN’s Moneyline News Hour to help launch Space.com (though there are rumors that Mr. Dobbs wants to return both to earth and his chair at CNN).

There are multiple reasons these broadcast newshounds are leaving for the Web. One reason, of course, is the challenge of doing something new. Another reason, obviously, is the potential financial payoff: Many of these news executives are promised stock options that, despite the recent market volatility, could still pay off handsomely. But there’s also the bald fact that today’s television news biz, while cutthroat, can also be a little, well, tedious and repetitive.

Jonathan Klein cited the tedium factor in an interview Monday at his Feed Room office. A shiny trio of Emmys sat on a shelf over his right shoulder. "The television news business doesn’t reward creativity and innovation, it rewards imitation," Mr. Klein said. "A lot of these guys [news executives] are pretty intelligent, and they’re not using most of their brain. You watch local news these days and it’s pretty cookie-cutter and unimaginative."

Mr. Klein thinks that the uncharted new-media landscape is just the ticket to get a bored news exec’s creative juices flowing again. The dot-com revolution struck big-time electronic journalism relatively late–by comparison, print reporters migrated to the Web in greater numbers earlier–but as technology has improved necessities like video on demand, there has been increasing faith in its future.

"There are people who would say that you don’t walk away from a job in a top market, having reached the pinnacle of news broadcasting and running an entire news operation in New York," said Zatso’s Mr. Carey. "There are other people who say that to not jump into and help shape the future is the missed opportunity of a lifetime. I came down on the latter, and I think a lot more people will be leaving the world that they have grown comfortable in to take the risk and the challenge."

Indeed, while there is always a risk when leaving an established news outlet for a start-up, it doesn’t appear to be particularly reckless. Broadband–a high-speed Internet connection provided by an upgraded cable television or telephone line, allowing for TV-quality video broadcasts and interactivity–is becoming increasingly commonplace. There are now 30 million broadband users nationwide, Mr. Klein said. Though most are business users, home usage should nearly double by the end of the year.

And that broadband future is proving too enticing for TV news professionals to pass up. "I talk to several people a day trying to make this decision," said Sreenath Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor who specializes in new media.

Still, Mr. Feder may find that, at least at first, the dot-com environment is a tad less adrenaline-filled than a big-city newsroom. Right now, the Feed Room is little more than 40 casually dressed employees and a warren of windowless offices–though that is expected to change soon. The company, which partners with local news outlets, which in turn supply streams of video that Feed Room staff members then edit and repackage for individual users on the Web, launches in June.

Mr. Feder did not take the decision to quit lightly. He said he continues to "bleed Eyewitness News blue." And he said he didn’t consider his departure to be emblematic of broadcast television news’ demise.

"Television news is still going to have the bulk of the eyeballs for a long time," he said. "There’s nothing wrong with being a television news director or a network correspondent. That business is having one of its best years in a long time. I don’t think I’m leaving a dying industry. I think the field is expanding, and now is just the right time for me to get in the game."

Tonight, catch some of Mr. Feder’s handiwork on the late Eyewitness News. [WABC, 7, 11 p.m.]

sree.net | stuff | quotes: ny observer