Tweaking the Hand That Feeds Him - Broadcasting & Cable

Tweaking the Hand That Feeds Him

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"A lot, and I mean a lot of print people hate my blog," wrote Rick Hancock, the Internet and technology reporter for WTIC-TV Fox 61 Hartford, Conn., in the introduction to a posting on "My Bread and Butter Is in Money Trouble … Newspapers Are to Blame!" on his ricksrss.com Web site. It's the introduction to his latest rant about Tribune, corporate parent of both his station and of newspapers including the Hartford Courant, the "dead tree" publication he often singles out for particular ridicule.

This particular posting was a riff on an Editor & Publisher analysis of Tribune's finances, which are being driven into a deeper hole by the financial woes of its newspapers in particular.

One reason why he feels the freedom to sound off is that after about 10 years as a political reporter and weekend anchor for Fox 61, Hancock is now a full-time journalism professor at the University of Connecticut. But he continues to produce a series of technology reports, also titled "Rick's RSS," that air every Friday on the station. Hancock also contributes to the station's Web content, although the ricksrss.com blog is a separate Web site he operates himself

The blog Web site also includes a standing "Memo to the Courant" feature, which explains, "My love-hate relationship with the Courant goes back to my time as a full-time staffer at 61. The Courant higher-ups at the time of the Tribune and Times-Mirror merger HATED dealing with us. They hated us because they have little respect for broadcast journalists, and they hated it even more that we are a Fox News affiliate."

"Part of it is tongue-in-cheek," Hancock said in a phone interview, but newspaper people really do have an annoying way of seeing themselves as "the royalty of journalism." The Courant's media critic regularly bashes the local newscasts, and Fox 61 in particular, so turnabout is fair play, he added.

"I also give them praise from time to time. There's a great multimedia package they have up right now about Barack Obama and the community," Hancock said. Another of his recent posts gave the Courant credit for getting beyond "gee whiz" coverage of the Internet and including the Internet angle of stories from many beats in its coverage. "It's what I try to do each week with Rick's RSS," Hancock said.

Hancock became more involved with producing material for Fox 61's Web site after introducing a political-ad-watch feature for the 2006 election (featuring the contentious contest between Sen. Joe Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont). He was also interested in reporting more about Internet and technology trends, having been an early adopter of such prototypical online services as AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy. So he made the case that what was happening online needed to be covered more consistently on TV.

"Connecticut has a very, very vibrant blogging community, and those people have great stories to tell. So I said, ‘Let's try to tell their stories not just for bloggers, but also features about people using the Web promote businesses, their passions, their hobbies their careers,’" Hancock said.

Despite regularly poking fun at newspapers, Hancock doesn't necessarily disagree with the idea that many newspapers are adapting to the Web -- and even to the use of video on the Web -- better than many TV stations. He thinks his own station is doing a respectable job with its Web site but could do better.

As for what he tells UConn students, he said it's not necessarily to write off newspapers. "The Washington Post and The New York Times aren't going anywhere," he said, "so if you want to be the kind of journalist where words are the most important part of what you do, go for it with all the gusto you can."

Besides, TV has problems of its own, "and you can't always tell the stories you want to tell," he acknowledged. "Hey, I could rant on the broadcast industry, especially local news, for days, as well."

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