Celebrity Smackdown: "News" Becoming an Afterthought at Newspaper Companies

You know, what nobody seems to want to talk about is that their newspapers aren't just going digital; the companies are gradually transforming into pure internet firms rather than newsgathering operations.

The fact is that it's just a whole lot easier to angle for hits in cheap ways than it is to do the hard work of journalism. So you get stunts and aggregation. My company is just as guilty as the next guy, but what brought my attention to the issue was the latest internal Sun-Sentinel email sent to employees with "need-to-know info at the Big S Media Company."

Not a word in it about any stories or work done by the reporters. Just a bunch of noise about deals and TV syndication (WSFL is picking up reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, and 30 Rock -- I just hope it's not dropping The Simpsons). The rah-rah note leads with the success of a news-free online game called "Celebrity Smackdown" that has generated more than 300,000 combined hits for the Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel. The game lets "users" -- it's not readers anymore -- vote for their favorite DJ or news anchor.

It's mindless, it's journalism-free... and it might just be the kind of thing to produce enough revenue to let go of more of those expensive bodies in the newsroom. Don't get me wrong: The companies that do best will have a happy medium between gimmicks and news, but things really seem to be tilting hard to the former.

You can read the email after the jump.

From: SS Administration
Sent: Wed 7/29/2009 2:24 PM
To: zzSSC.1Exchange.Users; zzWSFL.Group
Subject: QUICK HITS from the BIG S

Need-to-know info at the Big S Media Company
July 29, 2009

Breaking It Down
- Celebrity Smackdown - A Local Success!
- New Syndicated Programming Coming to SFL in 2011 
- Our Lucaya Resort Signs on for TV
- South Florida Parenting's "Cover Kids" Contest Goes Online
- Blood Drive in Deerfield Monday August 3

Celebrity Smackdown - A Local Success!
In an effort to drive local visits to their Web sites, Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel created "Celebrity Smackdown" to generate local buzz on radio and TV. The game is an online interactive bracket challenge where users can vote for their favorite local radio DJ or television anchor. After launching on July 13, the games have generated a combined total of 312,365 local page views on both sites to date. Sun Sentinel Senior Promotions Specialist Suzanne Sanzare and Marketing/New Business Development Manager Brooke Rodriguez in Orlando researched the local media markets for the top DJs and TV anchors and matched them up for the ultimate face off. Interactive secured a prominent presence on SunSentinel.com and OrlandoSentinel.com, while Communications notified the contestants urging them to promote the contest. Both radio and TV stations posted it on their own sites and multiple stations have mentioned it on air as well as in their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
See the games at: http://www.SunSentinel.com/celebritysmackdown

New Syndicated Programming Coming to SFL in 2011
Tribune stations recently secured a very important three-year syndication deal which will add new programming to the station starting in Fall 2011. New programs include 30 Rock starring Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey, as well as Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm. This new programming will freshen up SFL's proven programming line up. Demographics for Entourage are ages 18-49, while Curb and 30 Rock are ages 25-54. All of these programs will keep the station in line with the median age in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale market (age 43) and the median age for our station (age 37). "These are the best programs available in the syndication market and we believe they will prove to generate great results," said SFL Station Manager Ally Meyers.

Our Lucaya Resort Signs on for TV
Sales representative Tracy Pecci and Director of Multimedia for Florida Ken DeBritto recently secured a cross-media sale with Our Lucaya Beach and Golf Resort which represents 100% new revenue and included print, online and TV elements. Our Lucaya jumped into new territory with their television sponsorship including a ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen during the morning show, as well as a weather billboard (i.e. "The weather is brought to you by Our Lucaya Beach and Golf Resort"). The new revenue for Sun Sentinel and SFL-TV totaled $15,000. The client was able to accomplish two things simultaneously with the ads currently running - promote special deals and rebrand themselves from Sheraton to Radisson. They were extremely pleased with the outcome. 

South Florida Parenting's "Cover Kids" Contest Goes Online
This May South Florida Parenting brought the "Cover Kids" contest, now in it's 17th year, into the 21st century by transitioning from a mail-only entry contest to an online-entry form. This move saved on staff time in processing entry forms, made the entry process easier for parents, and in a challenging economy maintained the contest's participation level. An estimated 15-20% of the entries still opted for a mail-in form, but the remainder all chose online entry. With approximately 600 entries the contest generated an estimated $12,000 in revenue. Special thanks to senior designer Sharn Pisterna who worked with the third-party vendor to make the online entry process possible and Teenlink art director Reese Chiavari who made sure the online process ran smoothly. 

Blood Drive in Deerfield Monday August 3
The Community Blood Centers of South Florida is experiencing a shortage of platelets and plasma and will be in the Deerfield Beach Tour Auditorium on Monday August 3 from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. CBCSF are looking for as many people to donate as possible as they seek donations for our local hospitals. There will be a variety of giveaways such as: t-shirts, Improv comedy club tickets, free 30-minute massage certificates and more. For more information or to register to donate in advance visit: http://www.cbcsf.org

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman