For a long time, things have been tense in the newsroom at KRIV, the Fox station in Houston. Now, TV-news types across the country are getting a look at just how bad things are.
The Web site www.fuckedtelevision.com has, in the space of a few short months, developed into a place where on-air and offscreen talent goes to find out who's being fired (or "fucked," in the site's parlance), which general managers are horrible, which media chain is doing what unspeakable things to one of its stations.
It's a frat-house free-for-all on the discussion boards, with plenty of flame wars flaring up among the stations in one market or another, with threads featuring topics such as "Best Tits (Not the Biggest)" and anecdote-swapping about getting caught having sex at work.
(By the time you read this, by the way, the site may have completed its planned switchover from being free to charging a subscription fee.)
Houston has never played much of a role on the boards. Until October 28, that is, when someone posted -- anonymously, like almost all the posts -- a question about who will be replacing Denise Bishop, Fox's departed news director.
The floodgates were opened wide. Within days, 90 posts from people at least claiming to be current or former Channel 26 staffers -- or friends of them -- hit the board, and almost 1,200 surfers had taken a look at the entertaining thread.
Frustrations over a lack of basic hardware -- a chopper that hasn't been replaced since it crashed a year ago, a Web site that's nonexistent -- burst forth. Accompanied by a lot of bitching, some of it very personal, about management. There was even a racial note to it all, as some folks complained that GM D'Artagnan Bebel, who's black, seemed interested in hiring only other blacks.
Anchor Melissa Wilson and sports reporter Mark Berman were generally noted as strong assets for the station, but seemingly everyone else who works there was a target at one point or another in the very public debate.
Here are some excerpts, with grammar and spelling improved and unsubstantiated ad hominem attacks deleted:
"Way to go," one post read. "As they say, the truth shall make you free! Get after 'em After all, this place sucks so bad no one watches us at all. Hell, at the rate we're going the Spanish stations will be ahead of us after the November [ratings] book."
"Well, it's about time that the truth about this screwed-up station got out," another poster said. "I have friends who work in that hellhole and I can tell you that they are about to pull their hair out. The one point my friends always make is that they never spend any time working on the news. It's always about the inside problems."
Bebel, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, was roundly criticized for surrounding himself with sycophants.
"This station is in need of a leader. Not another boss," one said. "We're out of control -- this Web page proves it We're a joke in the Houston media. Five or six years ago other stations were very concerned about KRIV. Not anymore."
"Boy, this is all the rage!" someone noted. "The whole station is logging on to fuckedtelevision.com to see what comes up next! We have the worst leadership of any station I have ever worked for. It is like one big game of 'Let's Top This' for the biggest idiot prize."
Other cities watched in awe as the ranting continued. "This thread sounds like a war. I work in L.A. and we're reading it daily," one poster said. "I have been in TV a long time but I have never watched a station 'vent' every single problem in one week! It's like this stuff has been building for a while and you guys and gals are just sick and tired of it."
Noting that such an outpouring of complaints usually signals a management problem, the poster added mysteriously: "I can assure you that what you're saying is not going to deaf ears. More on this later."
Not all the posters from inside the station were negative. When someone criticized the station's chief photographer, another posted, "The chief photog is an OK guy; he is in the same boat as the rest of us To the rest of the bitching, if you are so unhappy, try to make KRIV a better place."
Even more positive was this post: "KRIV is not that bad at all -- people are just afraid of change, especially when that change is done by a GM of color," it read. "The station needs aggressive middle managers, and Keith Rollins and Randy Parrott are aggressive enough to do that I think the station has the best photogs in town, great reporters, anchors who kick ass, and a desk leader who will kick ass if his support staff would get in line, and I think they're almost there Life isn't as bad as many portray it to be. Just imagine not having a job, like most of America is experiencing right now."
As might be expected, that post completely calmed the waters and everyone took a deep breath and counted to ten. Maybe.
"This had to be written by Parrott, Rollins or Dart himself," a reply said. "I know Rollins reads this; he was bragging about it the other day Before I came to work at KRIV, I worked in two No. 1 news departments. Time and again, I have tried to give these people ideas to use that were big ratings winners. They have brushed me off each time, so I finally said 'Fuck it.' The only way this station knows about breaking news is by watching KPRC, KHOU and KTRK."
"All I can say is WOW," another person wrote. "This link seems to have hit a nerve. This staff has had all of this crap built up for years now, and it seems to be flowing. I don't think anyone who works here is bitter, we're just 'mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.' "
Whoa: "I don't think anyone who works here is bitter"? Geez, we'd hate to see them if they ever turn bitter.
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Helpful headline of the week, from the October 31 Houston Chronicle: "Residents Told It's Safe to Live in Texas City."
Officials were reassuring Texas City residents, the story said, "that they need not be alarmed by high levels of cancer-causing pollutants found near oil and chemical plants recently."
Residents were not told, though, to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.