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TVThere will never be another Don Alhart.

He’s a great news anchor and a great man. He’s contributed a tremendous amount to the Rochester community. That alone puts him in a category by himself.

But there’s something he’s done that few journalists, if anyone, from the Millennial population will be able to achieve: Staying at the same Rochester news outlet for 50 years.

There are fewer jobs these days in television, print and radio, thanks to the Internet and a shrinking ad market. (And corporate greed?) These jobs also pay much less. Consider the fact there are 25-year-old television reporters in Rochester earning $30,000 a year. That’s less money than I earned when I was their age 15 years ago. (WROC had a union back then. Only WHEC has a union for on-air talent.) That’s an astonishing drop in pay, especially when you factor in inflation. I know a veteran reporter in her 40’s who wanted to come back to TV, but was only offered $35,000.

As I said in a speech a few weeks ago to the Rochester Media Association, I was fortunate to have had a choice to remain in Rochester and build a career. My generation, The Gen X-ers, is the last to be able to stay here. I equated our pay roughly to teachers or police officers (without the nice benefits). But younger journalists won’t be able to make the same choice to stay and make a decent living. They will have to move on to bigger cities. Many moved on before the wage free-fall, but at least they had a choice to stay in Rochester.

Yes, wages have dropped and jobs have been cut in many industries. Our community has felt the pain all too well. But there’s a unique consequence when journalists can’t stick around and build a career. Institutional knowledge is lost, if it’s ever really gained. Reporters will often come from more affluent families that can subsidize their earnings. Public officials won’t be held as accountable, as young reporters, even the best ones, won’t know what questions to ask or whom to ask. In the worst case, stories will be done that will hurt people through inaccuracies or imbalance.

We need a strong, thriving journalism community in Rochester. I don’t think we’re done seeing the disruption caused by digital media, cord-cutting and live streaming. There are many, many talented, hard-working reporters in Rochester. I hope they can stay.

32 Responses to A Threat to Local Media

  1. June 5, 2016 at 9:17 pm Bob Erhart responds:

    What skills are required to do local news?
    What skills did your education give you that were absolutely required, and would have made it impossible to do your job on the 1st day?

    Is the college degree actually required?

    • June 5, 2016 at 9:52 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      A college degree is absolutely required.
      You have to be able to know how to analyze information quickly, write well, do statistics, solve problems (finding people, figuring out mysteries), meet deadlines, be accurate, be factual, etc. I could go on and on. I’ve actually wondered a few times how people I worked with obtained their degrees, they had so few skills.

      Journalism is no joke. You have to know what you’re doing. And even then, you’re always still learning.

      • June 6, 2016 at 1:09 pm Some Guy responds:

        I totally agree with you on the pay, it’s often shameful and practically assures that the community in the future will simply not have the people with the stones willing to pursue politically charged stories (not that this hasn’t been happening already for some time, but it will get a lot worse). But I don’t see that as any less of a risk than has always existed in the profession. What I see is a bigger risk is entities like the Rochester Area Community Foundation, with more than a quarter-billion in assets, using their tax-free status to buy favorable coverage for itself and advocate a divisive social agenda that is utterly short on facts, and undermining the middle and working class in the process. What they’re pushing is Bolshevism-lite, but it’s still Bolshevism, and will have the same societal consequences.

        But I totally disagree with your implication that the people who have those skills would not have had them without attending college, and not just because you then go on to acknowledge many journalism grads working in the field still lack those skills! Too many people go to college, and the only thing most get out of it is debt and a credential that entitles them to a career that pays them less with the piece of paper than anyone with a work ethic and a decent head on their shoulders would have been able to earn not even two generations ago. It’s all a scam, and the pressure to people of even slightly above average intellect to indebt themselves and lose years of work experience to learn material than largely would have been considered high school level not too long ago, has a deleterious impact on the rest of society. While many of the founders of the United States were lawyers, I don’t know that any received their legal training through a form other than apprenticeship.

        But on the flip side, there are probably way too many people going into these fields in the first place, and that is naturally going to depress wages in a free market. Teacher salaries don’t go down when there are hundreds of applicants for a single elementary ed position in Pittsford, and they should be market set, just like everything else.

        This obsessive reliance on credentialism holds back society, and as you have discovered, often serves as a means to promote mediocrity as perhaps more important skill sets and aptitudes are forced to take a back seat to what has unfortunately become “the price of admission” for most people to the ability to retain a middle class standard of living. But when barely a third of the population works in a capacity that is even remotely considered as productive free market activity, everyone better get used to being poorer and losing those important things many used to take for granted.

  2. June 5, 2016 at 9:18 pm Henry Kavett responds:

    The Rochester scene in 1975, at WROC Radio and later WBBF/WNWZ featured news anchor jobs that paid MINIMUM WAGE!!!!

    So I left for NBC RADIO….in NYC

  3. June 5, 2016 at 9:36 pm Mark Giardina responds:

    One of the reasons I left radio news in 2004 after 31 years in the business is because I was making a little over $30,000 a year. Back then, as I am sure now, radio paid a hell of a lot less than a career in TV, so when I read this article I was somewhat surprised of the salary scale being paid to television reporters today.

    It is no wonder that a number of very talented individuals have left broadcasting and print journalism to seek other careers. $30,000 a year broken down comes to around $600.00 a week or $15.00 an hour. $15.00 an hour is what some fast food chains will be paying their employees in a few years.

    Not to put down any profession, but don’t you think that a person who attended college to get a degree in journalism deserves more money that someone serving hamburgers?

    The reason for the anemic pay reporters and other media personal are paid can be blamed in large part to deregulation of the broadcasting industry back in the 1980s and the Telecommunications Act of 1993 which allowed a few media corporations to purchase numerous broadcasting properties throwing thousands of talented people out of work; especially people once employed in radio news.

    Without competition companies can pay what they want.

    Ironic when one remembers that over 116 years ago President Theodore Roosevelt helped break up the big monopolies like oil, steel, and the railroads. Today just a few companies own most of the TV and radio stations in the country. How far we have regressed.

    • June 5, 2016 at 9:39 pm Henry Kavett responds:

      Yes, Mark… But as I recall–you could pretty much do it all… Hamburgers? Nah. Don’t do it? (Kidding)

  4. June 5, 2016 at 9:38 pm Bret D responds:

    Though I may not agree with you at times, you are spot on here. If we pay our local media poorly (or in this case VERY poorly), all we as a society are doing is allowing all media quality to disappear. Now, media executives may not care about quality, but their quest for profits will actually hasten their profitability decline if they forego paying for quality. If they want monkeys to read scripts, they will end up getting exactly that, by paying how they are paying today.

    P.S. Mr. Alhart is certainly a local icon that won’t be easily found again.

  5. June 5, 2016 at 10:28 pm Steve Trumbull responds:

    You nailed it in two words: corporate greed. Do the owners of the local media outlets even have local ties anymore or are they all owned by conglomerates?

    • June 5, 2016 at 10:39 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      All owned by large companies. But the ad market really has shrunk. Fewer people are watching TV news. The pie really is smaller. So it’s not one factor. But certainly some of these giant companies are making good money.

  6. you can thank the giant sucking sound of sending jobs to foreign countries and the corporations wanting to pay cheap foreign wages.ge

  7. Don Alhart is not just a very gifted anchor man, but a fine person. Had the opportunity to work with him on several occasions. He is so skilled at what he does that he makes that profession look easy.

    It isn’t just the journalist that’s taking a hit, it’s across the board. It has more to do with, beyond poor political leadership than the greed factor. Why do you think there is a push to get the burger person to a $15.00 per hour level. It’s the politicians answer to bolstering the middle class.

    Oh, wait,…I remember now, it was George Bush,….ya that’s it. Almost forgot. And the current administration has been mopping up after him for almost two terms now. It has taken over 20 trillion to clean up that mess. What we need is an extension to this current administration and its efforts, and that would be,..another Clinton. She can throw another 20 trillion at it and who knows, we may have it solved.

    It isn’t just the journalist/reporter/anchor person that is taking a hit.

  8. June 6, 2016 at 8:36 am Randall Williams responds:

    Very interesting Rachel! I thinking the same could be said for many industries today. The pay is just not going anywhere. I worked for a large mortgage company for 8 years and didn’t receive a raise for 3 years once and then it was 3%. HA. Who can live happily that way?! Of course that is a bank for you…
    Service industry for example hotel, restaurant, retail…I’ve worked in that industry also…Keep the pay low and profits going.

  9. Standing applause for Don Alhart. He does what he does because it’s the right thing to do. And I was amazed that in 50 years he has NEVER taken a sick day!!!! That work ethic is sure not around much anymore.
    Thank you Don Alhart!!

  10. It’s not just the reporters who are being paid such low wages. My students who start out at local stations begin as assistant producers, generally part-time, for lower hourly wages than are paid to cashiers at grocery stores. The producers are responsible for a huge amount of the news decisions, the copy that is read by the anchors, and the stories that appear on the website, as well as social media. Fewer and fewer of our students are choosing the news business, opting instead for careers in marketing, advertising, public relations, and digital technologies. It was a sad day when our department changed it’s name from “Communication/Journalism” to “Media and Communication,” but that is the way the image of the media and the market has changed. Thanks to Rachel for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

  11. June 6, 2016 at 1:20 pm Some Guy responds:

    UofR’s Simon Business School just had their commencement ceremony this past weekend. Though judging from the occupations of most of the graduates, one should be left wondering why they bother calling it a business school instead of a non-profit executive salary augmentation program.

    Rochesterians used to do good things for the community without demanding a paycheck in return (let alone a heft one) because there is more wealth created when most people actually work in for-profit enterprises. Should we really think of the last 50 years as the result of progress, or is regression a more appropriate way of putting it? The tax code sure has perversely incentivized some wacky things.

  12. June 6, 2016 at 2:04 pm Timothy Hill, BSW responds:

    You made very valid points, all of which I saw coming ten years ago when I was in the business. It’s one of the reasons I changed careers at age 50 to social work. Don Alhart also represents the kind of journalism that can’t be done in today’s day and age. When he started there was only newscasts at 6 and 11 to fill with the news of the day. That gave the journalists back then to really research and gather information to craft a really complete and well-written story. Now people in the business are at the mercy of the 24-hour beast who needs stories constantly fed into it, and its appetite is never sated. There’s the pressure to get the stories on as soon as possible and certainly before anyone else, whether it’s on-air or online. Most stories now are just regurgitations of press releases and press conferences. It’s not the fault of the reporters, just the demand the public has grown accustomed to for the latest news when they want it….now when it’s ready to tell. Rachel, I consider you one of the last investigative journalist in our fair city. For that you have my everlasting respect and gratitude.

    • Tim is right. The growth of technology along with the PIG mentality (Personal Instant Gratification) today makes it so the importance is shifted from being correct and informative to being first.
      The need for investigative journalists is probably greater than ever, but no one will spend money for a reporter to spend weeks or months tracking down leads and facts.
      Often, when I am watching the 6:00 or 11:00 news I hear (or even say myself) “Yeah, I saw that online earlier today.” It getting so it can’t be called `NEWS’ if it’s something that happened two hours ago.
      Also disappearing – the impartial reporter. In the past one didn’t know who an anchor was going to vote for; they just reported facts and let people use their own free will to decide. Seemingly every network anchor is very predictable in his/her preferences and it influences they way the news is presented. The term `Reporter’ should be changed to `Influencer’.

  13. June 8, 2016 at 11:39 am orielly responds:

    I am not in the broadcast industry but .. there are less jobs in Broadcasting today locally? Compared to when? Today there are news TEAMS on all three channels at 5 AM till 7AM. there are noon newscasts and I understand channel 8 has a 4PM news show. Then the local news runs 5 to 6:30 on all channels. There is a 10 PM news on 31, there is channel 9 on all day. How do they do that with less total people than say 1995? How about weather and sports? TEAMS of 3 and four deep in each where before there was one or two in earlier years.. Then you have the pool of reporters as before. There is no way there are less jobs in broadcasting in Roch than say 20 yrs ago. And there is far more “on air time” for them. Maybe “the reporters” don’t make much or there are less of them… but then they don’t report much any way. Seems its either a murder or car crash and that’s about it.

    You say people don’t watch the news as much? Could it be that there is no real news reported, and what is reported, is so biased that most don’t pay attention anymore? Or its just reading press releases from various organizations.
    Local reporting is agenda driven with a main focus on not reporting on the power brokers of this area or challenging any of them. Did anyone ever challenge the UR on anything? Did we ever see it reported locally that SU recently agreed on their own to give the City of Syracuse 9M over 5yrs to support the services they use from the city? Funny how we can hear countless stories on SU Sports but nothing on that one. Can you say censorship? The local media didn’t want to make the UR look bad? How about College town? City of Roch gave the UR the land, and its tax free basis and the UR hires a Ohio based development company to build and run it? SO the profits from the tax free rent goes to Cleveland? No local company could be found for this development? No strings were attached to the land give away to use area developers?

    Did anyone ever ask Wilmot to defend why he needed tax breaks to improve the food court at his Greece Mall? Why the Kodak Board with Seligman a main player kept Perez as Kodak CEO while the company crashed? Kodak would fire any sales person with similar results. How many praise reports have we seen on Ms. Burns at Xerox while she has sent 1000s of local engineering jobs to India? Now Xerox, forced to go back into the document creation business has long ago dismissed most of its local skilled workers. How about questioning the local head of the RACF, a nonprofit, or one of their board members, on why their President needs to make 260k a year, twice as much as the County Executive to lead a small team that runs that nonprofit? If she was paid the same as the County Executive who manages 1000s, couldn’t some local non-profit or needy group use that additional 130K? Those are just a few of the stories not reported by the local “press”. Go after stories like that and see if people tune in?

    • June 8, 2016 at 1:58 pm Some Guy responds:

      oreilly makes an excellent point concerning the matter of why so many people feel as though local news here (and I’m sure elsewhere) is so often simply not worth watching/reading: so much in terms of actual newsworthy material is deliberately avoided out of fear of bothering advertisers and/or SJWs.

      I wonder how much the UofR spend on its marketing budget…or how the non-profit/tax-exempt RACF has “donated” so much to the for-profit Gannet local paper attempting to force “diversity” in name only on everyone else when it has so little actual diversity among its own employees (specifically as to opinion, sex, or dearth of attractiveness). Like it or not, that sort of influence buys more than 30 second ads or forums well-attended by virtue of the fact that everyone who attends has a paycheck riding on the diversity/poverty pimp industry.

      If the local media covered those stories with integrity, those eyeballs would mostly tune back in, and legitimate advertisers who actually pay taxes would pay commensurately for those time slots.

      • Some Guy,
        For years I have seen you put United Way and RACF in your cross hairs.
        This latest missive of yours again lashes out at RACF. Do you understand what they do, how they get money, who they give it to and how that is determined?
        I would be interested to hear how you would create an organization to produce the same results.
        Please don’t go off on a tangent, just give me your business plan. Please be specific.

        • June 9, 2016 at 1:11 pm Some Guy responds:

          The Community Foundation, while claiming to be a donor-advised fund, is really just a giant tax write off for the very wealthy, and a financial boon to poverty pimps and all of their vendors who have absolutely nothing to do with anything charitable nor do the goods or services they provide actually do anything but make poverty worse while creative perverse financial incentives for more and more people to find out more ways to get in on the racket.

          For the local role in the criminally obscene property tax rates, there are two primary root causes: First and foremost is Maggie Crooks, her felon husband, and his felon golf buddies agitating for tens of millions of tax dollars to be directed towards entities they used for skims. On the other side are all of the “social activists” who basically extort the taxpayers to underwrite what are fundamentally PRIVATE goods/services, like daycare subsidies. And most of those Bolshevik-lite organizations simply would not exist absent the funding by the RACF. The RACF does actual harm to the community.

          Now onto what used to be called the Community Chest (now the United Way). It used to be run by mostly volunteer socialites (usually empty-nester wives of executives in Rochester’s formerly vibrant private sector) who actually did good with plenty of their own money, and encouraged others to do the same. Now, it’s run by former a former 60’s SDS radical who is well on her way to changing the “business” model from privately supported to government-funded.

          So in a land whose political founders strictly intended to limit the sources of taxation to uniform excise taxes and import/export duties (tariffs), today we have the polar opposite, a government of rent-seekers, by rent-seekers. All of it enforced at the barrel of a gun. Private charity can be an amazing and wonderful thing, but publicly-funded political agitation masquerading as charity is cancerous to civilized society. Civilized people don’t steal and call it charity. Civilized people don’t condone the initiation of violence for people who choose to not support what the self-serving and perverse-minded deem charity. Civilized people respect the right of free association to help the less fortunate with those of like mind, which includes the right to exclude proto-Bolshevik and proto-fascist alike. And they also respect the right of others to choose to not help, or do it in their own way, and not infringe on the rights of others in the process.

          L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs

          • Again, a rant. Out of curiosity is 78 words you record for an opening sentence? (I suggest journalism school) Also, after using all those words you forgot to answer the question.

            My question was simple,… how would you structure an organization to gather nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in a little over a decade to give to agencies in need, ranging from orphans, to veterans, to animals to churches and on and on?

            It seems your big gripe is that they are not paying property tax.

            Let’s assume RACF went away and their offices on East Avenue were back on the tax rolls. Would those few thousand of additional taxes fund all the needy agencies that were left behind?

            So i will reword my question for you. If you were to do away with UW and RACF, how would you raise the funds to support the many organizations than depend on them for staying in existence?

            This is not a political issue, it is business economics. Leave out political rants and state facts.

            If your reply is another thesaurus riddled rant than I will realize you are unable to answer a simple question simply.

          • June 9, 2016 at 3:42 pm orielly responds:

            I’ll take that one. Eliminate the RACF. Let those charities they support find their own funding and those that can’t will go away. Or they’ll have to cut back on services and employees just like a business…if you have no product or service of value you go out of business. Hard to imagine I know, that Rochester could survive without the race display at the museum or the various Unite Rochester meetings, self serving polls and liberal socialist agenda of the elitest that run that group but trust me we all would survive just fine. In fact in the end we’d likely be better off.

    • On the topic of U of R dodging bad press – – – I will preface this that this posting is not based on first hand information, but bears the need for followup to verify.

      On a radio morning show today one member of the broadcasting team says he heard of a food fight at East High that had escalated. As the story goes, police were called in and then the police were the targets of `water balloons’ filled with contents from fire extinguishers and others filled with bleach.

      The broadcaster was surprised this wasn’t in the local news. Comments were made that trouble in west side schools makes the news but that trouble in the eastern suburbs does not. A member of the team said, that East High wasn’t a suburban school. Another commented that East High was currently being run by U of R.

      There may be the possible connection. IF the event took place as reported, did U of R flex it’s muscle and keep it out of the headlines?

      Since the event did not make the news we don’t know if it occurred, but the event is supposedly supported by credible sources.

      Food for thought.

      • June 16, 2016 at 1:48 pm Some Guy responds:

        “On the topic of U of R dodging bad press”

        Leads me to believe their advertising dollars appear to have the rather interesting effect of limiting negative press, lest those dollars go to some other media entity that was more of a “team player”.

  14. Rachel – two things –
    First, good luck on your upcoming campaign.
    Secondly, will the Rochesterian continue?
    I agree with some views and disagree with others which I guess is the point of the Rochesterian – to promote discussion. It would be a pity not to be able to continue to see and share views with others here.

  15. June 12, 2016 at 1:45 pm A Concerned Citizen responds:

    I would be more sympathetic regarding compensation for local media folks, however most people in this country have seen their wages slashed in the last 15-20 years, and our standard of living has eroded significantly, along with purchasing power. There are people in this region who wield the power to keep private sector wages lower than other comparable metros, so this is not an industry-specific issue. Interestingly enough, public sector wages always rise, they get cost-of-living increases, etc.

    To equate private wages with such public sector folks as school teachers and law enforcement is a bit of a stretch. I work for a local small business as an engineer, and make roughly what the average school teacher in Monroe County makes, I think they’re in the $62K/year range. When rookie cops with little or no education beyond HS make over $100K/year with all the overtime they can get, plus a generous benefits package and retirement, there’s something wrong with how the public sector beast is being run. My deductible for my family is $12,500, and I pay over $150/week for the health premium. I know people who pay more per week around here, and they’re doing it on one income. Benefits in local manufacturing have been cut again and again in recent years. So when I see a cop at Wegmans buying their lunch, while shoppers like myself chase down bargains at a variety of local stores and the Public Market, I’m not convinced that law enforcement and most other public employees around here are struggling financially.

    The local media have completely dropped the ball regarding big government, and why it costs so much at the state and local levels here in NY. The big reason why people don’t tune in anymore is they can pick and choose where they get their information from via mobile and other electronic devices. My go-to source for local investigative reporting years ago was City Magazine, when Jack Bradigan Spula was with them. Nobody in the local media can hold a candle to what that guy did for Rochesterians. He went after COMIDA, the county, the city, you name it. I looked forward to every issue of City when he was with them, and miss his in-depth reporting on local corruption.

    Nobody in the local media truly hold public employees’, the poverty pimps’, the union heads’, the school admins’, etc., etc., etc., feet to the fire. The same holds for local business owners putting out their hands to taxpayers, and large corporations which do the same (really? $20M to keep food processing factories here in NY( the Heinz-Kraft deal last year)). The Potemkin Village stuff has to end. We’re not looking for puff pieces about how great everything is locally, when in reality the majority of people in this region know we’re in big trouble. Nobody in the media speaks for us, in fact I’d argue that we can’t relate, really. Like the D&C, local broadcast news will whither on the vine, and we’ll see more commercials during the “news” for motorized wheelchairs, medic alert devices, and the like.

    • June 14, 2016 at 10:08 am Some Guy responds:

      Concerned Citizen nails it. If people are not getting timely, accurate, unbiased news from traditional sources (including local media), then they’ll go somewhere else. Here it is, more than two days after the Orlando nightclub killings, and the local media is still reporting the false narrative that this was anti-gay “terrorism” from a religious extremist, even though the shooter has been confirmed to have been gay by his ex-wife (the father called him gay but would obviously rather have a serial killer for a son than a serial killer for a son who is also gay) and (so far) DOZENS of people in that microcosm in Orlando. Political Correctness is killing what is left of the mainstream media that hasn’t already died.

      Here’s a small sampling of the local headlines that seem to go to great lengths to avoid reporting the basic facts, or updating information now known to be false.

      D&C

      Rally at Bachelor Forum after mass shooting in Orlando

      LGBT community stands united after Orlando shootings

      Don’t wait for another mass shooting

      Andreatta: Shoot, weep, repeat is America’s shame

      Jim Memmott: Caught in a deadly agenda, innocent die

      WHEC

      LBGT community shows support for Orlando victims

      WHAM-TV

      Hundreds gather in Rochester to honor Orlando shooting victims

      Political correctness means that the why behind the enormous statistical disparity in sexual orientation of male serial killers can never be properly studied. Political correctness kills innocent people.

      I tend to believe that the so-called “leadership” of the gay community speaks for most people who are gay to the same degree that Maggie Brooks — spouse of a felon who aided the mass ripoff of taxpayers — speaks for Republicans who want integrity and fiscal responsibility in government. Or how the mail-order ministers in the city who do not preach against the behavioral causes of poverty don’t actually speak for most people in the city. But the reporters who should be calling these people out every single time they use the media as their private PR firm (and no, a private PR firm is not an oxymoron!) are MIA.

      With few notable exceptions (including the proprietor of this blog), the local media long ago abdicated its watchdog role as poverty and big government combined to destroy the economy of this region to the extent that government and poverty are the largest segments of the region’s economy. Two-plus days into the biggest story of the month, and the people who depend on timely reporting of facts are once again let down.

  16. June 14, 2016 at 1:16 pm orielly responds:

    I’m wondering when the Islamic terrorists strong anti gay obsession is going to be tied into the Benghazi ambassador murder. Hillary placed an openly gay ambassador into a Muslim country, then failed to protect him when they came after him. But that gay connection is never exposed or mentioned by the press or both parties likely due to political correctness. Like it or not Muslims have the right to be anti gay in their own country until things change there.

    • June 14, 2016 at 1:20 pm Henry Kavett responds:

      Sure, you are free to express your “Bengazi” theory. Just as I am free to express my shock and amazement that anyone could make such an absurd linkage. Ridiculous!!

      • June 14, 2016 at 1:36 pm orielly responds:

        Please read how the Ambassador was tortured and how his body found… symbolic of how gays are murdered by Muslims before you express your shock… if one plays with fire you’re going to get burned.

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